“Join Creation’s Choir”: An Earth Day sermon (Psalm 19)

Earth Day Sermon- April 22, 2012
Text:
Psalm 19

I.

When springtime comes around every year, our family has a routine of cleaning out the house and turning our attention to all of the outside activities that have been missed all winter.  We get out the sprinklers, the swimsuits and beach balls, the toy shovels and hoes.

We don’t have a beach and we don’t have much of anything in our yard, but the kids have enough fun to stay outside most of the season before summer’s heat gets too unbearable.   Really, all you need to do to keep Haleigh busy is give her a butterfly net; and Hayden only needs a good patch of dirt and some monster trucks, and we have all the ingredients for fun.

As for me, I try to clean up the yard and sweep the pine straw from the grass.   I nurse our lovely weed gardens—our pride and joy.   And I make it a point to look for other Spring-time things happening around our house:

I try and listen closely to our chimney, awaiting the pecking sounds of birds aspiring to roost in our rotted siding one more year.  I remind those birds—have been for the past five years—“Don’t get too comfortable; next year we’ll have the real stuff installed and you won’t be able to get through.”

Many people would try to patch up those holes as soon as the birds take up residence; but, we figure since God blessed us with a home, we can bless those birds with a home too for the time being.

I also look for my favorite Spring-time creatures: carpenter bees.  You know, those are the huge black bees that thankfully don’t sting people.   They are territorial and whenever I see them in our yard, I praise God:  They chase the wasps away.  That’s a good thing: Unlike the bees, wasps sting.

I can watch those bees for hours: How they hover and pivot around with such precision you wonder if they are mechanical.  Then, when they spot an incoming bogey, they take pursuit and chase off the bugs as far as the eye can see.

The carpenter bees are like the birds, though. It’s hard having those things around:  The bottom of my front porch banister is shot-full of holes that the bees have called home year after year.    Good southern hospitality has its benefits and its costs.

II.

We are a church full of gardeners and farmers, naturalists and hikers, so I don’t need to go on and on and tell you how much creation can communicate to us the beauty and majesty and artistry of the God who created the birds and the bees and the wasps too.

We don’t need to be reminded how much all creation speaks to God’s glory, how much spiritual insight we gain by looking at flowers in bloom or hummingbirds in flight.

I think we do need to be reminded of the fact that we need to slow down sometimes and revere God’s creation and be aware of our surroundings—not so much to enjoy creation, but in order to join creation’s choir in singing praises to our Creator.

If there is anything to learn on Earth Day, it’s that we need to be aware of those things that we overlook in our lives and keep Sabbath with the trees and the weeds because they are much better at trusting God with their every-day lives than we are and they can teach us something.

III.

Since last week, we’ve been discussing the importance of praying the psalms in our personal life and in community.  Our psalm for today—Psalm 19–is appropriate for Earth Day.  It is what scholars call a Creation psalm:  It is poetry that gives voice to voiceless Creation and ties the beauty of creation to the wonder and awe and artistry of God’s presence in our lives.

If you read the whole psalm in your devotions later, you’ll notice that the psalm is actually split into two parts:

The first part (v. 1-6) tells of creation’s testimony to the power and majesty of God.  Creation, the poet writes, gives God glory even though we may not notice it all of the time.   “Each day,” explains verse 2, “tells a new story.  Each night’s order of worship–of shifting constellations and the moon’s waxing and waning—bears testimony to God’s faithfulness.”

The second part (v. 7-14) celebrates God’s wisdom and law.  Just as all creation reveals God’s holiness, so too does God’s instruction bear testimony to God’s righteousness.   Just as creation is beautiful and patterned after the harmony of the Creator, so too is God’s law perfect, sure, right, clear, pure, and true—to be desired more than the finest gold, to be sought after more than the sweetest honey.

But, just as we fail to hear creation’s call to praise God, so too do we fail to meditate on God’s law—to slow down and become aware and take note of what all God’s words—in creation and in scripture—have to offer.

Wisdom and creation are connected and these two parts held in relationship to one another in the psalm because of the role that wisdom had in the life of ancient Israel.    Wisdom, notes Douglas Burton-Christie had two functions in the life of God’s People:

  • One, to help God’s people—and us—understand how to live: It was an invitation to live in harmony with God’s creation.
  • And, second, to communicate the “deeper pattern and rhythm in things.”

This interconnectedness, this pattern and rhythm and harmony, reminds us that we belong to God and must relate to God in an intimate, powerful way.  If the sun travels from east to west in obedience to God because the sun is married to God’s perfection providence, then we too are expected to orient ourselves and move towards God as a holy people called to be wedded to Him too.

IV.

Psalm 19 challenges us to pay attention to this orientation and movement, to not be lazy lovers or complacent spouses who get so used to our Divine Partner that we forget to send a love card now and then or buy chocolates “just because” or give a hug as we say, “I was thinking of You today.”

It was philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who noted that we must pay attention to the universe above us and the universe within us, lest we miss the love cards and sweet nothings that God sends us too.

When we are too busy to notice such things, we get bogged down in the synthetic and genetically engineered illusion that we often call real life:

  • Our computer screens replace landscapes and beautiful vistas of thick, life-nurturing woods and rolling hills.
  • Our homes become a place of isolation that keeps us from a community filled with neighbors: people and deer and bunnies alike.
  • Our careers and to-do lists overwhelm us and hide our obligation to join creation’s choir and pray much-need prayers.

We need to pencil in our relationship with God into our day-timers because we simply forget God too often.  When we forget God, we forget that we are human; and then we become gods unto ourselves.  Even our sins become hidden to us: We forget the difference between right and wrong.

“Cleanse me,” responds the poet in verse 12, “From my hidden faults, from those sins that lurk deep within me but I fail to recognize because of my busy schedule.”

The words of creation are worthy to sing God’s glory.

The words of God’s law are holy enough to communicate God’s divine plan.

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to God so that we too can bear testimony—to have a story to tell—worthy of a relationship of deep intimacy with the Creator of the universe.  A relationship fully alive and awakened to all that God is in our life.

Sources:

[1] Douglas Burton-Christie, “Wisdom: The Hidden Face of God,” Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life vol. 17, # 4 (July/August 2001), 8.

In time for Earth Day: The Creation Message of Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. God makes me lie down in green pastures; the Creator leads me beside still waters and restores my soul.”

This Psalm — the 23rd — is one we hear often at funerals. It is one of my favorite psalms, but it makes for more than a great funeral liturgy. When we look closer at its words, we can sense that it also has a creation message. With Earth Day coming up this week, perhaps we can read Psalm 23 with a different pair of eyes.

I think people love this psalm because it addresses the healing and rest that we long to experience. During a funeral, while grief is in full effect, God’s presence enraptures us with a refreshing declaration of divine sustenance. This is profound because it alludes to the rest that all of creation seeks.

Psalm 23 provides us a vision for spiritual serene pastures, but I think it also encourages us to preserve and conserve pastures that our children, families, and neighborhoods can enjoy in the here and now.

The vision of the psalm begins with the overriding claim that God is shepherd. This is a powerful, earthy metaphor for God, who uses a “rod and staff” to navigate all of creation into the heart of the Trinity’s love.

The author of the psalm, David, was a shepherd, so he did not use this term lightly. He knew that shepherds exist to care for their flocks. Having the geographic know-how to find flourishing greenery and water resources — a love for the earth — was a necessity. There is a relationship between shepherds, sheep, and the land in which they reside.

The sheep are not without some responsibility. As followers of the Creator, we are obligated to care for the environment because our relationship to God is tied to our stewardship over what God owns.

Economics and politics aside, working to better our environment is a moral obligation. Consider that the rise in asthma, cancer, and obesity (to name a few consequences resulting from environmental scruples) can all be tied to the pollutants that we expose to our environment and food supply.

In recent months, our society has seen a shift in public opinion toward environmental policy because of scandals surrounding several e-mails from climatologists. Although a majority of Americans still believe that climate change is partially man-made, a recent Gallup poll reveals that skepticism toward climate change rose nearly six points in the past year.

For Christians who long to see the vision of Psalm 23 realized in their neighborhoods, such arguments play a small part in creation care. We care because God calls us to be stewards, not because we feel the need to appease some sense of corporate guilt for our shaded past.

Nor should political and economic maneuvering usurp God’s commandments that reach as far back as Genesis, in which God creates a “good” creation for humans to tend, to the end of all history as recorded in Revelation, which states that God will judge those who “destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:16-19).

As God leads us beside still waters and green pastures, we approach this Earth Day in a posture of humility and confession. A prayer for Earth Day, penned by the National Council of Churches, is appropriate: “O Lord, You have created a fragile world in perfect and delicate balance. Thinking too much of our own importance, we have upset that balance. We ask your forgiveness, Holy and Righteous God. We yearn to join the mountains and valleys, the rocks and the birds … in singing Your praises. Amen.”