Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega

The Twenty-fifth Sunday After Trinity

Jesus in Genesis

Alpha and Omega

If you’ve ever driven through Central Texas you probably noticed the residue of a migration of Germans way back when.  You roll through towns named Schulenburg and Weimar and New Ulm and New Braunfels.

It’s no surprise, then, to discover smack in the middle of Austin, four blocks from the state capitol, a Texas landmark named Scholz Garten – that’s with a “t,” as in bier garten.  Since time immemorial, football fans have been chugging brews and assistant professors have been washing down chicken-fried steaks and chicken-fried philosophy and legislators have been cutting unsavory deals in that glorious old dump.

It’s the oldest business in the state and as such a piece of history.

But there’s history and then there’s history.  Scholz’s, as the regulars call it, turned 150 this year, and that fact is worth noting only by way of pointing out that it turned 100 in 1966.  A red-letter date requires a celebration, of course, and Scholz’s would hardly allow its 100th anniversary to pass without a sudsy commemoration.

That date was August 1 and to tap the proper spirit Scholz’s put its primary product on sale.  You could slosh down draft for five cents a mug or a quarter a pitcher, all day long.  And that was a pretty price even in 1966.

So the air was heavy with history, but history has a way of overflowing its banks and carving its own channels.  Aug. 1, 1966, was the day a tow-headed, flat-topped engineering student named Charles Whitman made his way to the 28th-floor observation deck atop the University of Texas Tower, just five blocks from Scholz Garten, and opened fire.

Before he advanced on the tower with an arsenal of rifles, handguns and a shotgun, Whitman murdered his wife and his mother in their homes.  In all, he shot 49 people that day.  If you count an unborn child – and I do – and a fellow engineering student who died decades later of complications from his wounds, Whitman killed 18 men, women and children.

Horror on this scale arrests a nation’s attention, and the events of that day became the grist for a number of movies.  The fascination still hasn’t dimmed: I read a few weeks ago about a new documentary due for release this year.

A number of Whitman’s victims learned of the rampage in progress from media accounts and wandered outdoors to have a look, failing to realize the range the former Marine Corps sharpshooter commanded from 28 floors up with two M1 carbines and a hunting rifle.  I might have been one of them.

It was the summer after my freshman year of college and I had snagged a job on the Austin American-Statesman sports desk.  We worked nights, putting out the morning paper, and a group of us always went out to eat when we got off around midnight.

I got to bed at 2 or so and woke up late.  I turned on the radio and heard something like, “And the sniper atop the University of Texas Tower has now claimed his seventh victim.”  It didn’t occur to me to go outside.  I stayed by the radio.

Eventually, the police killed Charles Whitman.  Not knowing what else to do, I did what I had already planned.  Some of us who had the day off had arranged to meet late in the afternoon at Scholz’s to do our part in commemorating the anniversary.

I’ll never forget what happened when one of my co-workers, a fellow named Richard, arrived.  A few of us were discussing the obvious topic.  Richard asked for some background, as though he had just walked in on a conversation about particle physics or Hindu meditation: Put me in the picture.

We thought at first he was making a rather awkward joke but it turned out he had no idea what had transpired.  He had passed that day, now far spent, in Austin, Texas, and had somehow managed to remain unaware of an event that shook the nation and echoed around the world.

So I understand the reaction of two men on a certain Sunday many years before.  A group of women have gone to the tomb of Jesus and discovered His body is missing.  A couple of men – actually angels – tell them He is risen.

The women rush back to deliver this startling news to the disciples, but the disciples dismiss them.  “And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).  The disciples begin to scatter like rabbits on a bomb-testing range.  If the Roman authorities would crucify their Master, what would they do to them?

“Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.

“But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.  And He said to them, ‘What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?’ Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?’  And He said to them, ‘What things?’” (24:13-19).

“What things?”

We learn from this episode in the final chapter of St. Luke’s gospel that “their eyes were restrained,” suggesting some supernatural intervention that kept them from recognizing Him.  It’s worth mentioning, too, that we are still pre-Pentecost, and all the disciples continue to walk about in their fog until the Holy Spirit descends to illuminate them.

In any case, they reveal that their personal grief over their beloved Master’s death is compounded by the distress that has befallen their nation.  Like most of their fellow Jews, they had believed “it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21).

Now He is dead, and gone without a trace.  His body has been stolen.  All hope has scattered like dust on the wind.

“Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’  And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (24:25-27).

He had been there, with them and their fathers, all the time – in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Yes, He was the One come to redeem Israel, but He was on a mission of a far grander scope.  As Moses, the author of those first five books of the Bible, and the prophets had made manifest so many centuries ago, He would be the light to lighten the gentiles.  He had come to save not Israel alone but all the nations.

For those who have eyes to see . . . for those who have ears to hear . . . this is the testimony of the Old Testament.  When we read it, we must not miss Jesus.

Beloved, we have come to the conclusion of our study of Genesis, like the rest of the Bible a story about Jesus.  This is the story the Scriptures tell and retell.  It commences in the very next breath following the fall of man:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed,” God says to Satan.  “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (3:15).

The Seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, will overcome Satan and conquer sin and death.  St. Paul, the witness to the gentiles, will spell it out in his letter to the Galatians:

“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (3:16).

I recall Bp. Sutton saying in a seminary class that when you’ve read the Bible for the 100th time it changes from black-and-white to living color.  I started too late; I won’t make it to 100 – not in this life, anyway.

But I have an idea of what he meant.  When I made my belated entry into the faith of Christ and the church of Christ I began to read His Scriptures.  The truth contained in them set my mind to spinning.  I had stumbled through the door of a storehouse stuffed with treasures.

It had been there all along; I had walked past it any number of times, taking no notice of the entrance.  Now, as I walked around in it, those bright treasures beguiled me.

And I needed to understand what they meant in relation to one another.  I began to take classes.  Godly men skilled in the word guided me in seeing how all those shiny objects fit together to make up a picture . . . but more than that; perhaps a play.  I found it thrilling.

The creation story and the redemption story were all of a piece because they were all part of God’s design.  The elements were revealed incrementally, over thousands of years, but they all fit perfectly because they all flowed from a single source and an original plan.

Viewed as a coherent whole, the Scriptures display an internal logic that achieves a dazzling beauty.  They come alive in living color . . . because they reveal the mind of God.

This is the lesson of the greatest Bible study ever held as Jesus teaches two disciples on the Emmaus Road that all of their Scriptures speak of Him.  Even before the fall, had He not been there with the Father . . . in the beginning . . . engaged in the work of creation?  The Lord of redemption, risen from His tomb, is in fact the Author of creation.

From beginning to end, the Bible gives us a history – but not a human history of apparently random events that overtake and surprise and confuse and confound us, of suds and celebrations and snipers.  It shows us the history of the Creator’s redemption of all He has made – in, through and by His Son.

When we read the Old Testament, we must not miss Jesus.  If I could bestow one gift on you, beloved, it would be this: an appreciation for how all the myriad stories of the Bible fuse into one story.  It’s a story of two seeds . . . two sons . . . two gardens.

It begins and ends in a garden, which is the place of meeting of God and His people.  We gather with Him for communion there.  In the garden of the beginning are trees bearing fruit, which are beautiful to the eyes and pleasing to the taste and which sustain life.

Man is a hungry being, but as we saw last week, his real hunger is for God, the Provider of the fruit.  The garden is an arbor, a cluster of trees, and it is a sanctuary, a safe place for meeting.  As we progress through the Scriptures, we see this arboreal sanctuary patterned again and again.

It appears in the tabernacle God’s people transport through the wilderness, where images of the trees are woven into the fabric of the walls and the menorah, or candle-holder, represents the tree of life and the laver, or basin, the water source, the rivers that flowed through the land of Eden.

God dwells there in the holy of holies, upon His mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant.  He has communion with His people there.

This picture reappears in the temple King Solomon builds as the permanent residence for the ark and for the Lord, using the same images and furnishings to project the same message of a garden cathedral in which God meets with His people.

And when St. John is allowed a glimpse of paradise, what does he see?  Amid the splendor of the streets paved with gold and walls encrusted with jewels he arrives in a garden:

“And (the angel) showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:1-4).

The broad church once grasped the importance of keeping the arboreal sanctuary front and center for worshipers better than it does today.  Even now, however, we need not venture afar to find it.

When Marjorie and I took a class in the architecture of downtown Tulsa churches this fall we ran smack into it – in a rather surprising place.  It showed through most vividly at First Methodist.  I was startled to find the arboreal sanctuary motif running through a church so firmly rooted in the Reformation, down to the holy of holies represented in the chancel, until I learned the genesis of that grand edifice that sprang from the oil boom of the 1920s.

Those who conceived it set out to honor the Anglican heritage of John and Charles Wesley, the first of whom established Methodism and both of whom were Church of England pastors until their dying day.  The Anglican theology woven into the architecture brings forward the thought that infuses the great church buildings of the Middle Ages, which recapitulates the story that flows out of Eden and into tabernacle and temple.

In that first garden the two seeds and the two sons appear.  The seed of the serpent steals the first son, Adam, and his children from God, winning them over to his rebellion.  Cosmic conflict arises with the proclamation that the Seed of the woman will prevail over the seed of the serpent, quashing the rebellion and reclaiming Adam and his children for God.

This Seed is the second son, the second Adam, who will preside throughout eternity in the renewed garden, the new heaven and new earth.  John tells us from his vision:

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:3-4).

This is the site of the marriage supper of the Lamb with His bride the church, the banquet that has no end.

Have we not already seen Joseph appear, representing Christ, to bring healing and solace in time of famine, and to feed the nations?  This is the story of the sacred Scriptures, told and retold.  This is our hope.

Beloved, Advent is looming.  As we approach it let us remember that wherever we turn we must not miss Jesus.  For He is with us as He was with them, in the Old Testament as in the New. Amen.

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Posted on: November 13, 2016Ed Fowler