On Psalm 104
Our scripture is the ending verses of the much longer Psalm 104. Interestingly we left out one part of the last verse. Weíll talk about that shortly. I want to explore Psalm 104 this morning. The psalms are a wealth of understanding God and our relation with God and Godís good creation.
Psalm 104 is a hymn to God and Godís grace and providence. It celebrates the gift of Godís presence in nature and all of creation.† Godís spirit flows through the creation. In our modern age of deep scientific discovery and understanding, I think, it is appropriate that we remember that it was God who set the cosmos in motion and established the laws and processes that science continues to this day to uncover. At a physical realm science is largely self-contain and need not Ė indeed, should not, invoke God. But science can only deal with the material. It cannot analyze and uncover the spiritual. The material is just the realm that our physical senses and our logic can reach. There is also the spiritual realm, deeper than science, embracing the scientific material, but going beyond it often in ways that defy possibility.
It is psalms such as Psalm 104 that brings us back to embrace what the ancients intuit Ö that the creation is not just profane, it is also sacred Ė it is also enchanted with spirit. Psalm 104 is about Godís relationship with nature and therefore with us.
The Psalm begins:
1Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, 2wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, 3you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, 4you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers. [NRSV]
The Psalm opens with the notion that God is clothed by the creation and the creation transports God. Around God is the nimbus of radiance much as ancient gods were depicted. Nature, Godís magnificent creation, is an icon of God Ö not God or a god, but a window into God.
In the opening verses significantly Godís house rests on the chaotic waters and God is transported by the wayward clouds and winds. We think of God as bringing order out of chaos and indeed the processes of science expresses the order that God has given the creation. Yet God does not shy away from chaos. God does not abolish chaos. Rather God embraces the chaotic and builds upon it. The creation has its chaotic moments.
And we as creatures of the creation also must face chaos. Probably most of us, if not all of us, have experienced chaotic periods of feeling like we are drowning Ö in debt or in worries or in demands and that we are being batted around like a stormy wind, not knowing where to begin and how itís all going to end. Yet God covers us with grace and visionÖ that deep inside of us we know that there is hope to get beyond the chaos. Godís tent is faith Ö the faith we need to believe that if we step up to the chaos in our lives with a clear mind and loving soul, we will make order out of the chaos. And Godís chambers hold the wisdom into which we can tap to ascertain how we move through the chaos of our lives. And then like God we can ride the chaotic wind to a calm, serene place in our lives.
The psalm continues:
5You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken. 6You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight. 8They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them. 9You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. [NRSV]
This passage is a reflection on the great Flood. Flooding has been a bane to us from time immemorial.† Water is a necessity of life. We drink it. We boil with it. We bath in it. We swim in it. Yet water can be enormously chaotic and destructive. This year alone we have experienced a terrible monster tsunami in Japan and historic floods along the Missouri and Mississippi. We are now facing a rise in the sea level that threatens coastal communities. And when we face the floods, our lives become chaotic. Our routine lives are turned upside down. Homes and businesses are destroyed.
In these verses the poet is looking to a time when God will stop the floods. But we are part of Nature, not separate from it or set above it. Nature affects us and we affect nature. And Mother Earth is very complicated far beyond what we can control. Indeed Chaos, i.e. uncertainty, is built into the creation. And when such devastation comes then the only certainty that we have is Godís grace and providence. It is these verses that offer hope that we can sort it all out and restore boundaries if we call upon God for help.
The psalm continues:
10You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, 11giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. 12By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. 13From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, 15and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart. 16The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees. 18The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys. 19You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. 20You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out. 21The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. 22When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. 23People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening. [NRSV]
These verses express how intimately we are related to nature and dependent upon it. Without nature we could not exist let alone thrive. Even our moods are effected by nature. How often have you looked forward to a beautiful Spring day? How often do you hear people comment on it when we have such a day? We are uplifted and energized by such a day. Nature is an interrelated web of life that includes us, but does not exist for us. Nature doesnít need us, but we need nature. God calls upon us to celebrate the divine gift of nature and be good stewards of it.
We are in relationship with GodÖ we are born that way, just as all of creation is in relationship with God. We may not nurture that relationship. We may not accept it. We may not even know itís there. But God is active in the world through the scientific processes that God set in motion and God is active in our lives not only in the physical realm of science but most of all in the spiritual realm of faith and belief.
It is this divine relationship that God wants. So God made the processes of nature understandable and sensible so that all of creation, including us, would be able to thrive. But God has not made nature an Eden where we idyll away our lives in risk free simplicity. Rather God has given us freewill and set the laws of nature such that we can exercise our freewill. It is through that wonderful gift of freewill that we create Ö that makeís us just a little less than God.
But freewill is chaotic. God did not constrain our freewill to the sensible, to the just, to the compassionate. We can turn in any direction we want. We can wrought great good or great evil with our freewill. Indeed, freewill is chaotic: what any one person or any one group might do in any given situation is unpredictable. We try to predict it, but as the weather forecasters and political pundits know, nothing is for certain.
Our freewill at times has taken us into terrible waters. It has whipped up violent storms. With our freewill we can choose to ignore God or even dismiss God as a reality. We can freely break our relationship with God. We can then face the consequences and learn to deal with them. But it is by Godís providence and grace that we are always given choices and therefore opportunities to rectify what we have done. Our wayward ways can be redirected towards God and our relationship to God can be restored, by the grace of Godís infinite forgiveness.
And finally we come to the passage that we read this morning.
24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. 26There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. 27These all look to you to give them their food in due season; 28when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. [NRSV]
God is the source of all good things. When we face God and welcome God into our personal and collective lives we will experience a far better world. If we follow what God has taught us, the world will be a healthier place. God calls us to be good stewards of the creation: to partake of its resources, but moderately; to replenish what we take; to treat it with respect, not as an infinite source of food and energy; to live in the creation as a part of nature, not as an outsider raiding a enormous shopping mall of all that it has.
If we live in nature as a family member in good standing of the great family of nature then we will find God in the nature. But when we take from nature and give nothing back, when we raid itís resources with no thought for future generations, and when we pollute the air and the soil, then we have turned from God Ö the poet is wrong that God hides Godís face. Rather we turn from God and donít dare look on Godís face.
The psalm concludes:
31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his worksó 32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. 33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. 35Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord! †[NRSV]
Ė Psalm 104, NRSV; from Oremus Bible Browser (http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Psalm+104&vnum=yes&version=nrsv)
This passage calls us to praise God for the wonders that he has given us. But thereís that left-out half of the last verse. Verse 35 begins with ďLet sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.Ē Suddenly out of nowhere comes this curse, this condemnation of sinners. What the poet had been doing all along was describing the perfect creation. But the poet knew that the world was imperfect and he (or she) believed that sinners were to blame. And thatís all we know about this strange half-verse.
Yet it must alert us that we can sin against the earth, just as we can sin against another human being. This takes us to the controversy of global warming. Sharon Begley is the science writer for Newsweek magazine. She had an article in the June 6, 2011 edition about the terrible weather that has ravaged the earth this Spring. She writes about the record breaking number of tornadoes that have ravaged the center of this country. She mentions the unprecedented flooding in Australia and Pakistan. She points out how the Artic, the Antarctic and Greenland are all melting. She suggests that the ďstableĒ weather we have had for generations is now at an end. We will now have to learn to live with rising oceans and exceptionally violent weather.
She describes various plans that are being develop to preserve cities and land from the ocean Ö or plans to move inland. One plan is recognizing that Lower Manhattan will need to be turned into a Venice-like canal system. Maryland is already fighting the rising ocean.
All of this was triggered by our decision Ė our exercising of our freewill Ė to burn oil and coal in extreme amounts to fuel are ever energy-hungry economy and our unwillingness to make the hard decisions to move to sustainable energy sources. The shift into this situation has been far too sudden for proper preparations to be made.
So ironically the poet had intuit that ďsinĒ, i.e. our profligate use of natureís resources would harm the creation. In a strange way, the poet had put a warning in this ancient poem that we did not heed.
But God does not back us into a corner. We may back ourselves into a corner, but God will not. In fact, God will offer us ways out if only we have the spiritual sight and will to look and act. And God does not arbitrarily punish us Ö indeed God never punishes us directly. God does not rejoice in our suffering; God weeps instead. But the creation is constructed such by God to have consequences. And if there is a divine punishment it is these consequences. And this Spring we are facing the consequences. God may forgive us, but nature may not.
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö