This is the sermon I preached yesterday.
1 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals[a] that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,[b]
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
As my sisters and I were growing up, my parents worked to instill in us a love of nature and an awe of God’s creation. My mom loves plants and gardening so there was never a shortage of flowering plants and trees in any of the homes we have lived in.
In the house where I grew up, she had planted a delicious-smelling gardenia, lemon trees, and several green plants that produced great big leaves, perfect for making water dippers for our outdoor “adventures” as kids.
Because Brasil is a predominantly Catholic country, and since my sister and I went to a Brazilian school, quite often, we would have days off from school when the nation as a whole would stop the pace of life for a moment so that its residents could celebrated the life of one of their many saints.
On these days, my family would drive out of the city to a state park, a local farm or a cave for a family adventure, surrounded by the beauty of nature. My favorite was the time we went to a cave. As an avid Reading Rainbow watcher, and having just seen the episode where LeVar Burton goes spelunking through a cave, I was fascinated by the ecosystems that caves seemed to contain within themselves.
That day, we saw stalagmites and stalagtites, a few bats hanging from the ceiling, and we found an underground pool of water where my sister and I pretended to be pirates panning for gold.
Our family adventures extended to mountain top picnics, and tree climbing, and my mom taught us how to make elf houses from twigs and fallen pine needles. The pollen pods of the pine tree are actually elf corn cobs, my mom informed us. We would spend hours outside making little elf neighborhoods and setting up for their tea parties and such.
We grew to love the outdoors very much and have a great appreciation for God’s amazing handiwork. My grandfather on my mom’s side lived on several acres of land. There were all kinds of hiking trails behind his house, beautiful paths lined with greenery and flowers, mineral springs and great rock bluffs.
A bluff is a kind of like an open-air half cave. It’s a rock formation covered by a rock overhang. My whole life I’ve wanted to find my own, real native American arrowhead – from real flint stone. My parents told me the bluffs were an excellent place to look.
I never found one, but my sister and my cousins and I would love going out to the bluffs to hunt for arrowheads, and pretend that we were native Americans sitting around a fire pit fashioned from a weather-worn indention in the rock, sharing stories of exotic plants we had found on our adventures for the day, over baloney and cheese sandwiches and juice boxes.
The bluffs were cool and secluded and a good place to feel close to God – in the smoothness of rocks well-worn by hundreds of years of wind and rain, ice and hail; in the towering majesty of a great white pine; in the afternoon praises of the local birds; in the knowledge that the wondrous creator of all this beauty, had us in mind when these glorious works were created – lovingly for our enjoyment.
My most memorable experience at Mineral Bluff –as it was called – was the afternoon my dad, my sister and I had gone there to have a picnic lunch. We’d eaten, and we were relaxing in the coolness of the rocky shelter, collecting flat rocks to take to skip on the lake later, when a flash thunderstorm struck out of nowhere.
Of all the natural processes of the earth, storms freak me out the most, and make me feel most in awe of God. There is nothing like curling up with a good book when there’s a torrential rain going on outside, and I’ve never felt the need for God to come close to me more than when there’s been a tornado sighting.
That afternoon at the bluff, when the rains started pouring and the thunder started rolling, was one of the most terrifying days of my young life – but also one of the most memorable because of how absolutely safe I felt, having my dad there with me, assuring me that the storm would eventually blow over and we would make it home ok.
He took my sister on one knee, and me on the other, and we had a time of prayer – in praise for God’s wonder, and petition for protection – and we watched the rains fall, each drop hitting a different leaf or rock, raising the praises of the earth toward the heavens and our own souls joined in the refrain “how great thou art, how great thou art.”
The Psalmist echoes a similar refrain, in awe of the brilliant creator. After a series of Psalms that reflect human suffering and prayers for deliverance, the flow is interrupted by a Psalm of praise, that tells us something important about the God that we and the Psalmist pray to.
The question asked is “what makes us humans so significant to you, God, that you would notice us?”
In the course of this hymn of praise, the Psalmist answers the question: we are important to God, because God has invited us into a partnership to join God in caring for the earth and the earth’s people. This is such a comfort, especially to the Psalmist, because this partnership between humans and God means that God has chosen us to care for God’s creation, but it also means that God cares deeply for each of us.
Out of suffering, whatever it might have looked like for the writer of this Psalm comes a beautiful hymn of praise exalting the magnificent creator of the universe who also created and cares for us. The language of this Psalm is universal, but, what do you think it would sound like if it were written by us, the people of Scott Boulevard Baptist Church, in light of the things that this church has been through and the journey we are about to begin together?
Out of our suffering, a beautiful hymn of praise would arise.
Maybe it would sound something like this:
“Holy God, our God, who created the heavens with a whisper and humans as shaped clay from the dust of the earth, breathing into us the life-giving breath that only comes from you,
In all the earth that you’ve created, there is no greater name than yours, O God. Your name is so great and your glory so vast, that even little babies praise you with their mouths.
Whenever we gaze into the night sky, to see a full moon perfectly silhouetted against the piercing backdrop of the sky, when the stars twinkle above us uninhibited by clouds or city skylights,
when we sit with our loved ones on a freshly mown summer lawn, the sweet smell of cut grass lingering in our noses as we watch lightning bugs light up the summer twilight,
We can’t help but wonder, ‘why us? Why have you, the wonderful creator of life-giving things, chosen us to be special in your eyes?’
You have called us, the people of this congregation, to join you in your mission – to care not only for your brilliant created natural world, but also for those around us who live in isolation.
You’ve put inside our hearts and minds a special and specific mission, and you’ve equipped us to carry it out, and we praise you for this.
We know that you have been with us during our decision making, and we know that you will carry us as a congregation through the hard times we will face. In our sorrows and in our joys, we give you thanks, we give you praise, and we recognize that there is none like you, o Holy God, our God.”
Our majestic and creative God has set in motion a wonderful world for us to enjoy. We wake in the mornings to sun sparkles twinkling on our windows, birds singing the praises of their creator and trees that provide shade from the morning heat as a gentle breeze rustles their leaves.
Inevitably, a world in motion brings with its beauty a sharp and often intrusive contrast to beauty in the pains we feel in our lives. Natural aging processes and sickness threaten to keep us from the communities that we love. The earth gets hotter as trees get scarcer and high rise buildings become more common.
Children move away, we say goodbye to loved ones, and sometimes we must say goodbye to homes we have grown to love and worship spaces that we hold dear.
In those moments, God the majestic creator becomes our loving caregiver, gently cradling us with the same powerful hands that painted the desert skies and formed the Grand Canyon. The same meticulous care that placed the rocky cliffs of coastal California in contrast with the piercing blue ocean now turns to us and we are comforted, we are cared for, we are loved.
It’s a comfort to know that the God who created the sun and the moon, land and sea, stars and planets is the same God who created us to receive God’s care and extend it to those around us.
As we continue to move forward as a church in the ministry to which God has called us, let’s remember that we are loved by a wonderful, creative, majestic God.