Psalm 19, James 3: 1-12, Mark 8: 27-38
August 13, 2015
Weather today at the lake... Wonderful scriptures... Outside, look at Psalm 19.
As I considered today's reading, I couldn't help but relate this Psalm to our time outside worshiping in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” And our question for today: is this true? Is God really revealed in the wonders of the heavens and the wonders of the earth? For some, it seems to be so; for others they observe the laws of nature, see the mountains and valleys, study the cycles of nature and are able to leave God out of it completely. This thought reminded me of the Alaska Cruise Julie and I went on. We went into Glacier Bay and got up close to a glacier “calving”. Unbelievable grandeur and power and colors. A gentleman standing close by said that it was worthy of something Walt Disney would create. I said—maybe aloud maybe not—that I thought this creation went a bit above Walt Disney's pay grade. This morning, I want to encourage us recognize God in the wonders of nature.
First, as I've talked about, nature, creation is a sign that God is. The heavens declare, the moon and stars established by God. I'll get back to this.
2. God's presence, God's care is constant. “Day after day” and night after night, the heavens and the skies reveal knowledge. Not by speech, no words, no sound; yet the psalmist says, “their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” It is in the glory of creation that we hear this silent voice, this inner voice that declares God is God.
3. It is worldwide. God's revelation is not limited to any one place, any one nation. It is a universal revelation. And since it is non-verbal, there is no language barrier.
4. It appears that the sun is almost a special messenger. The psalmist makes special note of the sun and it courses across the sky. In his bible translation The Message, Eugene Peterson put it this way, “God makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome! The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith.” Nothing can hide from the sun, it exclaims God's being by its regular, steady, life-giving presence; warming our hearts to faith...if we let it.
Now we all recognize that there are many who fail to recognize God in creation or in any other way. I'm not sure I can say with Paul that there is no excuse...there are scientific theories that explain how the universe works, how atoms and molecules are building blocks of life, a theory about creation taking place in a sudden big bang. In the time this psalm was written, there were no conflicting theories in Israel; God created. Now we have brilliant minds who have denied the creator. Names like Dawkins or Hitchins or O-Hare tell us that there is not a creator-God. In truth, we have a choice of what evidences we choose to believe. As Christians living in the 21st century we are not to bury our heads in the sand and pretend these critics don't exist. We also don't look at the scientific evidence and ignore hypothesis that could be used to deny God. Marshall is fond of reminding us that our spiritual life should be based on faith and reason. We are not to take the word of a scientist because he or she happens to be brilliant. Scientific facts are disproved on a regular basis. Reason, discernment, study are to be our guides with prayer for understanding and the leading of the Holy Spirit part of it all. And we also must understand that none of us will ever understand the whole story in this life. If we were able to understand, we would be God. There is mystery involved in the relationship between human beings and our God. Some people have a hard time with mystery; we want to know for certain who, what, when, where, and especially why. All these are not answered either in nature or completely even in God's word. Faith, we read in Hebrews is is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. We walk by faith and not by sight in so much of our spiritual journeys. The heavens declare the glory of God...
At communion with Harlan on Wednesday, we read and discussed this passage. He lived so much of his life in nature; working the fields. He acknowledged feeling and seeing a presence of God there; but we also recognized that the revelation of God is not nearly complete in nature. We can gaze at the heavens with wonder; but like ancient humans, not know the God of love revealed by Jesus Christ. The pagans would create gods to explain happenings in nature. So even as we gather to worship the God of creation here at the lakeshore, we understand that more than nature is required to grow in faith. And so the psalm continues, leaving the poetry of creation and lauding the power of God's word. “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” God's Word fills in the questions that are left when we recognize a god in creation but wonder who this God is. John wrote the the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. So who does scripture say God is? That's an interesting segue to the gospel. Jesus who is self identified here as the Son of Man asked the disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." Matthew's account adds “the Son of the living God!” Here we have a record in the scriptures of Peter recognizing God's messenger to us as the Son of God. Jesus came to reveal the love of God. He did this in his parables and teachings. He did it by showing love and compassion, especially to the outcasts. He did it by opening the gates of heaven when he suffered, died and rose again---from today's gospel, “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Not that the disciples understood, Peter rebuked Jesus for this preposterous suggestion. But we know the end of the story. Jesus is finally revealed as fully God and fully human; a mystery beyond our comprehension.
So our challenge and our opportunity this morning is to recognize God the creator and God the Savior through the witness of nature and the scriptures. The Life Application Study Bible put it this way, “We are surrounded by fantastic displays of God's craftsmanship--the heavens give dramatic evidence of his existence, his power, his
love, his care. To say that the universe happened by chance is absurd. Its design, intricacy, and orderliness point to a personally involved Creator. As you look at God's handiwork in nature and the heavens, thank him for such magnificent beauty and the truth it reveals about the Creator.” And as we acknowledge God creator and savior, we are to give our thanks and offer our praises to the Lord. As we look out from our shelter—the sunshine moving across the sky bringing warmth and light—a messenger of God as creator. We see the glimmering lake, the sturdy leaves changing color already, the green grass, the blue sky—magnificent declarations of God's goodness and creativeness. And we offer up our voices in praise. Another jotting from my sermon notebook-- “An honest expression of praise or thanks from us gives God more glory than the mountains, the stars, the sun...nature because we have a choice. They are created and their presence gives God praise. We need an act of our will to offer God praise.” Let's take this opportunity to praise our God and our Lord, our creator and our redeemer. And we do this in community. We've heard the statement/excuse: “I can worship God just as well on the golf course.” And God is there and can be recognized in the beauty of the outdoors. But in Christ we are called to an active relationship with him and with each other. Just as we cannot fully comprehend God from nature, we cannot fully worship in isolation. We praise God best when we do it in community. And so we are gathered in community to worship and pray and sing God's praises. Our next hymn is a familiar one lauding the greatness of God. It highlights that God can be recognized in nature: stars, thunder, birds singing, lofty mountain grandeur, the brook and breeze. But the hymn doesn't stop there: God sent Jesus to bear our burden and sin; and Christ will take us home where we can worship God—How Great Thou Art. Let us sing...
Hymn: How Great Thou Art