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“Sermons in Stained Glass: Creation”
Genesis 1:1-5


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Pentecost Sunday—May 27, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This morning we are beginning a summer sermon series on the stained-glass windows in our church.  Our windows were specifically designed not only to be beautiful, but also to be meaningful, to tell in pictures the Bible’s story of sin and salvation.

The three largest windows at the front of the sanctuary, including the final window that will someday be installed, have several different levels of meaning.  First of all, they symbolize the three Persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They also symbolize the primary work that is traditionally ascribed to each Person of the Trinity, Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification.  Finally, they portray in pictures the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

We begin this morning at the beginning of all things, with our creation window, representing the primary work of the first Person of the Trinity, God the Father, and beautifully portraying the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

The most widely used symbol for God the Father is a downstretched hand.  This symbolizes first of all that everything is God’s handiwork, in the beginning he created all things.  As Genesis says, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,” and Psalm 102 says, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

The downstretched hand not only symbolizes divine creation but also God the Father’s continuing care for all that he has created.  As Psalm 145 says, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”  That is why this series of windows begins with an open hand, to symbolize all of creation and every good gift pouring forth from our heavenly Father’s open hand of blessing.

God’s continuing care for all that he has created is called the doctrine of preservation.  Some people believe in what is called a “watchmaker” God, who created our marvelous universe like the intricacies of a complicated watch, but then simply wound it up and stepped back to let the universe run on its own, without anymore divine intervention.  But, the Bible says the exact opposite, that God is still actively watching over, caring for, and sustaining his creation.  As Jesus said, “Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  Paul says in the Book of Acts, “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. . .  he gives to all people life, breath, and all things. . . for in him we live, and move, and have our being.”

This doctrine of perseveration and God’s continuing care for our world is also portrayed by the beautiful scene at the bottom of the window.  As today’s Introit from Psalm 104 says, “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, bringing forth food from the earth. . .  the earth is full of your creatures.”  As representative of animal life on earth we chose the silhouette of an elk against a river.  In their journals Lewis and Clark reported that elk were very numerous in this area, and the Native Americans named this entire vicinity between the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers “Elk Point.”  So, this scene at the bottom of the window is reminiscent of what it must have looked like in Dakota Dunes before this area was settled, looking across the river plain up to the Loess Hills in the background.

The book of Hebrew says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.”  Our window’s very beautiful depiction of the stars and planets spilling out from God’s hand testifies that divine creation is not just of us and our world but the whole universe.  As the Lord says in Isaiah, “I have made the earth and created mankind upon it. My hands stretched out the heavens and commanded the stars to shine.”  Psalm 136 says, “He made the great lights, the sun to govern the day, and the moon and stars to govern the night.”  This scene of the window illustrates a verse from 2nd Peter that one modern version translates this way: “Long ago all the galaxies and this very planet were brought into existence . . . by God’s word.”

The crown of all God’s creation was humankind, represented in our window by the first humans, Adam and Eve.  The sad part of the story is hinted at by the forbidden fruit they are just about to take and eat.  Genesis reports that God put two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life.  God tested Adam and Eve by forbidding them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “For when you eat of it you will surely die.”  But, Satan appeared in the form of a serpent and tempted them to eat of it.   In Romans, Paul explains the tragic results for all of humanity, including us: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men.”

But, in his love God immediately promised fallen humanity to one day send a Savior into the world.  Paul continues in Romans with the Good News of your salvation through this promised Savior: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . .  Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. . .  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, you are made righteous in God’s sight, your sins are all forgiven.  As Peter says in today’s Reading from the Book of Acts, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

A question has been asked about the sun at the bottom of the window.  Is it supposed to be the rising sun, or the setting sun?  It looks like it could be either.  Actually, it was intended by the artist who designed the window to be the rising sun.  Because, along with the graceful silhouette of a bird over the sun, it symbolizes the final prophesy of the promised Savior, in the last few verses of the Old Testament: “But for you who revere my name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings.”  Just as that sun in the window could be either a sunrise or a sunset, from our perspective when we or loved ones pass away it seems to be the sunset of our lives.  But, really our passing from this life is not the sunset but the sunrise of eternal life.

Jesus promises in Revelation, “I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”  That’s what the single, large tree at the bottom of the window symbolizes, the tree of life, which humanity forfeited our right to partake of in the Garden of Eden, but which by God’s grace we will eat of in heaven and live forever.  The tree of life itself has a deeper meaning, symbolizing the cross of Christ, by which we live forever.  There’s a prayer in our liturgy that puts it this way: “In your righteous judgment you condemned the sin of Adam and Eve, who ate the forbidden fruit, and you justly barred them and all their children from the tree of life. Yet, in your great mercy, you promised salvation by a second Adam, Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and made his cross a life-giving tree for all who trust in him.”

People also often ask about the red ribbon running throughout the three large windows, what does it represent?  This series of three windows is designed tell in pictures the Bible’s story of sin and salvation, from in Genesis in the first window to Revelation in the final window that will someday be installed.  The ribbon running through all of them and tying them together is red to symbolize the blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness of sins, because that is the unifying theme of the whole Bible.  Our creation window beautifully portrays the beginning of this story of sin and salvation, the first Person of the Trinity, and the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” 

Amen.

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