Sermon - 4th October 2015
Our relationships with God's creation
Scripture - Psalm 8
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link at our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Today’s Scripture reading is from the Book of Psalms, a collection of 150 pieces of Hebrew poetry, over half of which, including today’s Psalm, Psalm 8, are ascribed to have been composed by David, Israel’s second king, although from the style and content, Biblical scholars believe the book to have been written by several people over a few centuries, and then compiled by Jewish scholars.
Many of the Psalms include a heading referring to music. Even the word “Psalm” itself refers to a song sung to the accompaniment by a plucked stringed instrument. The Hebrew name of this Book of the Bible is “tehillim”, meaning “praises.” Even though we might not always be aware of it, many of the hymns and songs that are sung in churches everywhere have their roots in the Psalms. The book of Psalms is also the Scripture from which Jesus most quoted.
Traditionally, the Book of Psalms is divided into 5 smaller sub-books. The first sub-book, comprising the first 41 Psalms and including today’s Psalm, Psalm 8, consistently uses the Hebrew word “Yahweh”, translated as “the LORD”. In later Psalms, the word “Elohim”, or “God”, is more common.
Like any collection of poems or songs, the book of Psalms covers a wide range of themes, and today’s Psalm, Psalm 8, falls into the category of a songs in praise of God’s majesty.
Today’s Psalm, ascribed to King David, is quite short, with only 9 verses and it divides itself up into 4 sections. It begins and ends with the identical words, proclaiming the supreme greatness of our God:
“O LORD, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world!”
David, when writing this Psalm, looked around himself and looked inside of himself and realised his position: that is our position as humankind, in the created order.David was aware that the world is a big place; he will have looked up into the sky at night and seen countless stars. David was awestruck by the size of creation and saw that it reflects the infinite majesty and power of our God.
For us, the world can sometimes seem quite small. Whereas King David might have managed 50km on horseback in a day; we can fly 18,000km to New Zealand in the same time. So, let us think big … really big.
If you have ever been to Jodrell Bank Visitors’ Centre, you may have walked in their arboretum, where they have a scale model of our Solar System which is on the scale of 1 to 5 billion. There in the car park is the model of the Sun, and you can find Earth a mere 30 metres away. But to get to the dwarf planet Pluto you have to walk a whole kilometre to the far corner of the arboretum.
In reality, Pluto is 5 billion kilometres away. In July this year, the New Horizons space probe flew by Pluto, and it had taken 11 years to get there, travelling at 64,000 km/h, which is 25 times faster than Concorde flew. Indeed, you may have seen pictures released by NASA of Pluto, a frozen and rocky world. Our God created the Solar System.
On Monday this week, NASA also released news of their findings that liquid water flows on the surface of Mars, making the probability of some form of very primitive life a real possibility. Our God is the awesome Creator, and He is not limited to our world which we call the Earth.
But our Creator God is yet bigger! The nearest star to us is Proxima Centauri, and on our scale model from Jodrell Bank, that star would have to be placed 8,000km away in Beijing! In the words of Douglas Adams, the author of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’:
“Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.”
The Hubble Space Telescope has been able to see 125 billion galaxies, and in each galaxy there about 100 billion stars, so we get a number with 22 zeroes, a number so big, we do not have a name for it. Our God is even bigger than that! Our God created them!
In David’s words in the Psalm:
“When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places - what are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them?”
David was awestruck by the majesty of God’s creation. Even though we can see so much more of God’s creation, are we awestruck?
We have looked upwards and outwards: now let us look inwards. The average human body contains 100,000,000,000,000 (100 quadrillion) cells. Amazing! And yet each one of us originated from just 1, when egg and sperm fused. And in that one cell, the DNA from our parents contains 3,200,000,000 (3.2 billion) pieces of information.
Scientists have identified and named about 1.8 million different species on the Earth, each one different from the other through different DNA. God specialised in amazing diversity in the Creation.
In David’s words in the Psalm:
“What are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them?"
When we look at the diversity in our world, are we awestruck by the diverse creativity of our God?
Verses 5-6 are key in our Psalm and in our understanding of our place in the Created order:
“You appointed [human beings] rulers over everything you made.”
David was anointed King over Israel by Nathan the Prophet. He knew his power as King came from God. And David reflected this in his Psalm. Do you think humankind has forgotten its place? Have we forgotten God, the Creator of the universe so infinite that our minds cannot begin to comprehend the immensity of it?
The current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has said a lot about our Earth and the environment. Speaking in January this year in Manila in the Philippines, a country which has suffered many natural disasters, he said:
“As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family. When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling.”
The Psalm tells us that humankind has mastery over “everything” and goes on to list animal-kind, birds, fish and the seas. Since the 16th century, over 800 mostly animal species have become extinct, and it is estimated that thousands of others have been lost each and every year without us noticing. How many of you have seen the stuffed extinct dodo in the Natural History Museum in London?
Every day, 80,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed – that’s about the size of Greater London. All life on Earth needs oxygen to live, yet we are ripping out the lungs of our planet. Plants and trees absorb carbon-dioxide and release oxygen. We are contributing to global warming by removing the very thing which would help control carbon-dioxide levels.
We are all aware of the appalling situations in which many humans in our world find themselves as a result of famine or flood, arising from extreme weather patterns of drought and monsoon. Even in the UK, we are experiencing longer, colder winters and wetter summers.In a Papal document released in May, Pope Francis wrote these harsh words:
“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an mmense pile of filth.” And these even harsher words spoken in a visit to Bolivia: “Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin.”
Returning to our Psalm and reflecting on how God gave humankind mastery over the Creation – are we good rulers? Humans form communities and communities form countries. Some countries respect the Creation better than others. Other countries respect their citizens better than others. Diversity of all kinds is treated in so many different ways in itself.
Each one of our lives is made up of relationships: our relationships with friends, family, partner, work-colleagues and others. For our relationships to be successful, one of qualities we treasure is faithfulness. When our relationships are strong, respectful, loving, sacrificial and selfless, it is much easier to be faithful than when our relationships are based on personal gain, expediency, manipulation or self-preservation. This is as true of our relationship with God as it is of our relationships with other people. That's why God willingly gave God's Self to us in Christ.
In Psalm 8, we get a wonderful picture of the kind of relationship that God seeks to have with us, and that God desires for us to have with our world. Although God is so great and majestic, God takes notice of humanity. Though we are insignificant in comparison to the size of this vast cosmos, we are not insignificant to God.
Clearly, we have drifted far from the ideal, the order as David the Psalmist expounds: God, the Creator, created humankind to be ruler over the Creation, and the book of Genesis tell us that God created us in God’s image and that which God created was said to be “very good”. But, the Created has largely chosen to forget its Creator. But, what God intended was that we would care for creation and develop a deep, loving relationship with all that God has made.
We proclaim a Gospel of social justice: feeding the hungry, recycling the rubbish; fighting against injustice, not wasting precious water; helping the asylum seeker, reducing our carbon footprint. These things are all one and the same, enveloping a love for all of God’s creation. The Creation itself, whether in the infinite size of the Universe or the microscopically small world of cells, DNA, molecules and atoms, they all point to the Creator, our God.
Each of us is just one of 7 billion, but the Psalmist says to God and to each of us: “You made them inferior only to yourself” and that each of us is “crowned them with glory and honour”.
Our Communion video reflection today is a well-known musical setting of this Psalm with the refrain “How Great Thou Art”. Where has each of us lost sight of the Creator? All of Creation points back to our amazing Creator God. Where has each of us abused the Creation? Jesus, our Redeemer, died for us and all our wrong-doing and has reconciled us to God. The Psalmist tells us that each of us has been made “ruler over the works of [God’s] hands”. What kind of ruler is each of us?
And God’s Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, teaching us the way.
“O LORD, our Lord, your greatness is seen in all the world!”