Homiletical theory suggests that the genre of a text should determine how it is preached. When it comes to the Psalms that bit of advice poses a problem for me. Since I’m not a poet, trying to write a poetic sermon might not work all that well. But, even if you’re not a poet, it is good to regularly visit the Psalms. That’s because they speak powerfully about God and God’s creation. So, in the coming weeks most of my sermons will draw from the Psalms. However, I do want to put your minds at ease. I won’t be writing any bad poetry to share with you!
The Sunday after Pentecost is known as Trinity Sunday. It’s on this day in the church year that we focus our attention on the nature of God. From a theological point of view, the doctrine of the Trinity is a good reminder that God transcends our attempts to define God’s nature. When we look to the Psalms for guidance on such matters there is a Latin phrase that captures the essence of this: Lex orandi, lex credendi. This translates in English to “the law of prayer is the law of belief.”
The hymns and prayers that we find in the Book of Psalms can lift up our hearts to God in praise and thanksgiving. They also give us the words to share our laments and our complaints. Anyone who says that you can’t argue with God has never read the Psalms!
Psalm 8 is an invitation to join together in worshiping the Creator of all things by singing “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name.” Many of our own hymns and songs reflect the message of Psalm 8. They speak of standing before God in awe, celebrating God’s creative work. In our opening hymn this morning, we sang boldly: “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voices and with us sing; Alleluia, Alleluia!” In a moment we will sing “Womb of life, and source of being, home of every restless heart, in your arms the world’s awakened; you have loved us from the start” [Ruth Duck, Chalice Hymnal, 14].
There are different ways of expressing the name of God, but first among them is this declaration that God is our Creator and the source of our being. With this in mind, the Psalmist invites us to lift up our eyes and scan the heavens so we can put things into perspective. Who are we that the Creator would pay attention to us?
In the vastness of space, we seem so small and insignificant. Even so, God created us to be bearers of God’s image. God created us to be God’s representatives on earth. As God’s viceroys, we have been given responsibility to care for God’s creation. Therefore, when we are good stewards of God’s creation, we offer up praise to God.
I want to invite you to pause for a moment and envision the massive nature of the known universe. Although, we’ve only recently discovered planets lying outside our solar system, science and science fiction have long assumed that there are other worlds out there. Even though we don’t know whether there are any other inhabited worlds, science fiction and fantasy writers, along with films from Star Gate SG-1 to Star Wars, have taken us to star systems and galaxies far, far, away. Still, even though our imaginations can take us to the edge of the galaxy and beyond, we remain earthbound, wondering what to make of it all.
Even as we revel in God’s majesty, the Psalmist reminds us of our place in God’s story. We may live on a small planet that sits in the middle of this vast expanse that is Creation, with the stars and planets beckoning us to imagine the unimaginable, God still takes notice of us. The Psalmist declares that we are “a little lower than God,” and that God has “crowned them with glory and honor.” Just as the author of Genesis 1 declared, God has given to humanity “dominion over the works of your hands.”
This word “dominion” is easily misused. I think a better word might be stewardship. The Holy One, who is revealed to us in Jesus, and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit, has commissioned us to take care of the “sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
If you’re like me, you may wonder why God would do this. Why would God entrust creation to our hands? That is the mystery of God. All we can do is declare “how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
We could spend all our days gazing into the heavens, wondering about its vastness, but unless we’re employed as astronomers, that is probably not our primary vocation in life. It is good to stop and ponder the vastness of the universe, and wonder why and how God listens to our voices. It’s good to sing, as the old hymn puts it:
“For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies, Lord of all, to thee we raise this hymn of grateful praise.” [Folliot Pierpoint, 1864].
But even as we lift up our hands and voices in praise to our Creator, the Creator invites us to attend to the world around us. We’re responsible for the sheep and oxen and beasts of the field. We’re responsible for the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. This is our spiritual worship to the one whose name is majestic.
Ruth Duck closes her hymn “Colorful Creator” with these words:
God of truth and beauty, Poet of the Word, may we be creators by the Spirit stirred, open to your presence in our joy and strife, vessels of the holy coursing through our life. [Chalice Hymnal 457].
As vessels of the holy, created in the image of God, we are stewards of God’s good earth.
In the second creation story, God creates Adam and places him in the Garden to till and keep it (Genesis 2:4-10). Steve Kindle, who wrote a brief book on stewardship, suggests that this call to till and keep can be interpreted in this way:
“To till it,” is to bring out that which it was intended to produce. “To keep it,” is to insure that the next steward (generation) will be able to continue tilling (deriving) that for which it is intended. In this way the succession of generations will have an unbroken bounty to call upon to sustain themselves and all that proper tilling and keeping depends upon. This is the formula for perpetual sustainability. [Kindle, Stewardship, p. 7].
While some of us have gardens, I expect that very few of us have been farmers. We haven’t been tasked with tilling and keeping the land. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be good stewards of God’s creation.
Since this is Trinity Sunday, we celebrate not only the creation of the universe and our role in tilling and keeping it, we also celebrate the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus to redeem and reconcile that which is broken. As Paul put it:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has become new! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Cor. 5:17-19).
This is our spiritual act of worship. The God whose glory is revealed in the expanses of the universe has created us just bit lower than God to till and keep and join with Christ in the work of reconciliation. What we do here in worship extends out into what we do in our daily lives as children of the living God, created in God’s image.
Who are we that God would attend to our voices? We are the apple of God’s eye! Alleluia! So we sing:
Mother, Brother, holy Partner; Father, Spirit, Only Son: we would praise your name forever, one-in-three, and three in one. We would share your life, your passion, share your word of world made new, ever singing, ever praising, one with all, and one with you. [Ruth Duck, “Womb of Life, and Source of Being,” Chalice Hymnal 14, vs. 4].
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
May 22, 2016