Reviving the Soul, Sept. 13
Psalm 19, September 13, 2009
Three monkeys sat in a coconut tree,
Discussing things that are said to be;
Said one to the other, “Now listen you two,
There’s a certain rumor that can’t be true:
That man descended from our noble race,
Why, the very idea is a profound disgrace!
“No monkey ever deserted his wife,
Starved her babies, and ruined her life;
And you’ve never known a mother monk,
To leave her babies with others to bunk,
Or pass them on from one to the other,
Till they scarcely know who is their mother.
“And another thing you’ll never see,
A monkey build a fence ‘round a coconut tree,
And let the coconuts go to waste,
Forbidding all other monkeys to taste;
Why, if I put a fence around a tree,
Starvation will force you to steal from me!
“Here’s another thing a monkey won’t do:
Go out at night and get in a stew,
Or use a gun, a club or a knife,
To take some other monkey’s life!
Yes, man descended, the wicked cuss,
But, brother, he didn’t descend from us!” (author unknown):—
And, now . . . REVIVING THE SOUL
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote these famous words: All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen. The writer of Psalm 19 understood our true relationship with God as Creatures made by a loving Creator.
We can focus our energy, intelligence, imagination and love on the challenge of making our words and meditations acceptable to God. We can begin this by acknowledging that it is God who is at the center of the universe, not human beings. God is the intelligence at the core of life, and according to Psalm 19 God has chosen to reveal his love to us in Creation (vs.1-6), Torah (vs.7-11), and Prayer (vs.12-14).
CREATION – REFRESH -- VS. 1 – 6
Harvard's preacher Peter Gomes began his career at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he read an interview with the school's most famous teacher and researcher, George Washington Carver. Dr. Carver, late in life, was asked by some writer what he thought was the most indispensable thing for science in the modern age. Carver replied, "The capacity for awe" [i]
The capacity for awe. What a strange thing for a scientist to say! However, awe is what opens our finite minds to the infinite intelligence of God.
Awe is what connects our limited hearts to the limitless love of the Lord. Awe is what helps us to see God's glory in the sea and the land and the moon and the sun. How can one not be awed when you consider the Blue Whale, which is longer than three dump trucks, heavier than 110 Honda Civics, and has a heart the size of a Volkswagon Beetle? It needs four tons of krill a day to sustain it's huge size— that’s three million calories! A baby blue whale can put away 100 gallons of milk every 24 hours.
When a blue whale surfaces, it takes in the largest breath of air of any living thing on the planet. Its spray shoots higher into the air than the height of a telephone pole. Now compare that with the size and intricacies of a caterpillar, a butterfly, or even the tiny gnat.
And what is the sun, anyway? A ball of hydrogen and helium that is scheduled to burn for about another 6.4 billion years, God willing?
Well, yes, but it is so much more than that: It is also a life-giving part of divine creation, a "strong man" in the heavens who runs his course with joy. "Its rising is from the end of the heavens," says Psalm 19, "and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat" (v.6).
Scientists and psalmists agree that the sun is the source of virtually all the energy used by living things. The sun's light causes photosynthesis in green plants, its heat causes winds, and its energy enables every animal and person to survive.
The sun burns with praise for God, and so should we. It plays its awesome, life-giving role for the welfare of the solar system -- as we should, too. Instead of getting bogged down in the life-sapping, energy-depleting, anxiety-producing hassles of 21st century day-to-day existence let's open our eyes to the invigorating, inspiring and incredible activities of God's glorious creation, a creation that has thrived for not thousands but billions of years.
Like the sun, let's run our course with joy, and give life to people around us. Like the rest of creation, let's live our lives with cosmic creativity, and give praise to God in unexpected ways. As good and faithful creatures, our acceptable words and meditations are those that are offered to God with gratitude, contentment, energy, imagination, intelligence and love.
Since we are made in God's image we have that ability. One of the Constitutional questions asked of ministers and church officers is, "Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?"[ii]
As children of God, we are called upon to live life using all the faculties of our mind, soul, and body.
AS CREATION REFRESHES US, TORAH RENEWS US (VS. 7-11)
The psalmist’s attention turns in the next section of the psalm (vv. 7-10) to the “law of the Lord,” described in verse 7 as “perfect,” which translates the Hebrew word temimah, which actually means “complete, sound, entire, having integrity, healthful.” The Hebrew torah, customarily translated “law,” has a much broader and far less legalistic range of meaning than simply “law.” The underlying root means “to cast, throw, shoot” and the implication is directional: Torah is that which provides direction for its devotees.
Five synonyms for torah, explaining what comprises the instruction of torah, follow (vv. 7-9), with no firm distinction in meaning among them. “Decrees,” “precepts,” “commandment,” “fear” and “ordinances” of the Lord collectively make up divine revelation/instruction — torah (God's written word). It is beneficial and desirable above even the most highly prized possession, “much fine gold” (v. 10).
Following God’s torah brings joy and blessing to those who are obedient; those who turn away from following God’s ways receive the reverse.[iii]
The law, prophets and writings of the Old Testament and the books of the New Testament alike seamlessly alternates between God’s warnings and God's promises.
The psalm writer is aware that torah-obedience is not solely, perhaps not primarily, an outward matter. It is a heart-matter.[iv]Jesus.
The New Testament picks up on this theme throughout. "You have heard it said, . . . but I say unto you . . . . " Not only our actions, but our intentions, concern
AS CREATION REFRESHES US, TORAH RENEWS US,
PRAYER REVIVES US (VS. 12 – 14)
The psalmist’s prayer is a humble recognition of the contrast between human fallibility and the perfection of divine revelation, both general (creation) and specific (torah).
The psalm writer regards the Lord as his “rock” and his “redeemer.” God is the one who ultimately protects and delivers him (not even God’s created world and God’s law can do that). And while he's praising God for strength ("rock and redeemer"), he remembers his human weakness: "Clear me from [my] hidden faults," the song-master writes (v.12).
By recognizing that he may not have kept God’s torah thoroughly, Psalm 19 concludes with a prayer (vv. 12b-14). In answer to his question “Who can detect their errors?,” he recognizes that only God can clear him (declare him free from punishment) from even hidden faults. And he prays that God will keep him away from the insolent (or “from proud or presumptuous thoughts).
This focus on human need may seem depressing at first, but in fact it frees us up for true Christian joy. Wondering why so much of Protestantism today has become a joyless religion, New Testament scholar Leander Keck suggests that perhaps . . .
"we are more impressed by the problems of the world than by the power of God. Perhaps we have become so secular that we indeed think that now everything depends on us; that surely ought to make us depressed. Perhaps we have simply gotten bored with a boring God whom we substituted for the God of the Bible."
is always joyful -- even in the face of sin and human shortcomings -- because it is grounded in the power of God, our rock and our redeemer. As people of faith, we do not have to save ourselves -- we can depend on Christ our Savior. And the God of the Bible is always living and active, full of grace and mercy and steadfast love -- he is an exciting God of history and nature, not a boring God of our own making
.[v]David’s desire is that his words, that his work, might do the same.
V.14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." The good news for us today is that God finds our best efforts acceptable.
The One whose existence is proclaimed by the natural world gladly accepts the praise we offer, however human it may be. God simply wants us to give him the best we have, and to rely on him.
The work of God speaks. It tells us of his power. When we listen, it declares the depths of his love and the heights of his grace.
Creation refreshes us, Torah renews us, and Prayer revives us.
Whenever we take the time to take in something bigger or more beautiful than that which is built by mere mortals, there’s a proclamation that takes place. There’s a declaration that surpasses the boundaries of language and says something to every single soul. “I am small. God is big. I am weak. He is strong. The sun is always on time. I, however, am often late. I am creation but He, He is Creator.”
Albert Einstein once said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand in rapt awe, is as good as dead.” Strong words. When was the last time that you stood confounded with awe? How alive is your sense of wonder? Perhaps one of the best exercises we can do to refresh our perspective and revive our faith is simply to sit back and stare at things we can’t comprehend and could never compete with.
Question 1 of the Westminster Larger Catechism reads, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” Do we who claim to follow Jesus Christ, the one who fully reflects the imago dei, glorify God by our own words and lives, thoughts and actions?
Let us pray . . .
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
First Presbyterian Church
[i] (Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book [New York: William Morrow and Company, 1996], 321).
[ii] Question 8; Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Order, G14.
[iii](similarly Psalm 1 [all]; Psalms 111 and 112; Deuteronomy 30 passim)
[iv] (See similarly Deuteronomy 6:1-6; 30:11-14 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 and frequently elsewhere in Jeremiah.)
[v] (Leander E. Keck, The Church Confident [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993], 41).