Rev. Charles Svendsen
God, Our Creator, Jul 2, 2017
This Tuesday, our nation celebrates its Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago on July 4th, 1776. During the American Revolution, the legal separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain in 1776 which actually occurred on July 2 when Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June by Richard Lee of Virginia. After voting for independence, the Committee of Five with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author debated and revised the Declaration: finally approving it two days later. The father figure of that Continental Congress, Benjamin Franklin, allegedly declared as he signed the Declaration, "We must all hang together or, assuredly, we shall all hang separately." So we remember the sacrifices of those men and women who mutually pledged to each other "their lives," "their fortune," and their "sacred honor." As we gather with our families and friends this Tuesday.
So today we are re-starting, re-beginning, last summer's Summer Psalms sermon series. We began with Psalm 1: Happy (Blessed) are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path that sinners tread or sit in the seat of scoffers; rather their delight, the happy ones, the blessed ones, delight in God's law, God's Torah." And we said that the law of God was honoring God in all that we say and do, and the law, the Torah of God, is not simply obeying God. It is all about loving God; the law of God is an obedient, joyful interpretive "dance" with God.
So Psalm 1 paints a beautiful and blessed picture of "God, our Life." Our delight is in the law, the love of the Lord, and on this live-giving Torah, the believer is to meditate day and night. We also said, last summer, that the Book of Psalms is an anthology of some 150 compositions. They are a collection of praises, prayers, petitions, pardons, and proclamations, all telling us about the personality of God. A couple of more things about the Psalms. The Psalms are composed of five books. In the pew Bibles, you can see this.
Book 1: Psalms 1-41
Book 2: Psalms 42-72
Book 3: Psalms 73-89
Book 4: Psalms 90-106
Book 5: Psalms 107-150
Psalm 90: "Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations," from where we based the great hymn "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past." Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength from which Martin Luther wrote "A Mighty Fortress is our God."
And, of course, these five books of Psalms mirror the five books of the law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The law is life, and we are to delight in "God, our Life."
On another note, most of these Psalms were set to music so you see in the inscriptions: "With stringed instruments" or "for the flutes," or "according to the gittith"... What's a gittith!?
Psalm 150, the last Psalm, mentions trumpet, flute, tambourine, dance, strings, pipe, clanging cymbals and, David's favorite, "loud clashing cymbals." Last summer we looked at Psalm 1, 8 (Rev. Burnett), Psalm 23, 46, and 84.
So today, the majestic Psalm 19, "The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork," "God, Our Creator." This Psalm 19 has been set to countless musical pieces: Bach, Handel, Haydn all used "The heavens are telling the glory of God." From the Scottish Psalter, we sometimes sing "The heavens above declare God's praise. The work God's hands have made, day after day, the tale is told, and night by night displayed." So, let's look at this Psalm 19. Psalm 19 testifies, gives witness, to the "inseparable involvement" of God, both with God's cosmos, God's world, and with God's humanity with us. Psalm 19 is often divided into two sections. Some commentators even treat these two stanzas as separate Psalms. The first chorus (vs 1-6) sings a glorious song to creation. And, by the way, Psalm is the Greek translation of this part of the Hebrew Bible, psalmoi, or psalms. So the first section of Psalm 19 is a hymn to creation; the second section is a hymn to humanity. But we shouldn't treat these sections separately because to do so would be to miss the essential message of Psalm 19, and that is God is the revealing God in creation and God is the involving God in humanity. Now to be sure, verses 1-6 do focus on creation.
I often go up to Griffith Park Observatory near my home in Silver Lake, and I talk to the rocket scientists to get a few astronomical factoids for you. The universe is 14 billion years old (give or take a few million years). We are in the Milky Way galaxy which contains 400 billion starts like our sun. The Milky Way is one of the more than 54 of galaxies in our local cluster. The nearest galaxy is Andromeda, 2 million light years away. Going out from our local cluster of galaxies are 10s of millions of light years of gap (nothing). Fifty million light years from earth is the Virgo cluster, much larger that our local cluster. Virgo has 1000's of galaxies as well. The Hubble deep field images are bringing back pictures of stars 200 million light years away! So the images of these stars just arriving now may have died millions of years ago!
I looked, last winter, through a telescope at binary stars, stars that orbit one another, and those binary stars are 110 light years away!
British astronomer, J. D. Haldene, said, "The universe is not only more mysterious than we suppose. It is more mysterious than we can suppose."
"The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament displays God's handiwork." Notice the actors or the speakers or the singers are all of God's created ones in Genesis 1: "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth." And God said, "Let there be a dome of firmament in the midst of the waters, and let that dome separate the waters... and God called the dome the firmament. God called it sky." The ancients actually believed a "dome" covered the "flat earth." So, the heavens, the firmament, the day, the night, the sun are not only created by the hand of God, they with one voice and many voices, they all sing, "God made us all!" The heavens tell out the glory of God, and the dome displays God's handiwork.
Without literally speaking, the universe itself offers eloquent testimony that God is to be glorified. And what is God's glory? It is the zoom button on your cameras or iPhones! It's a larger and lovelier picture of God. In worship we glorify, we magnify, we "zoom in" on who God is for us: Creator, Redeemer, Friend, Companion along the way of life. So there is praise to God by God's own creation and there is also instruction or knowledge to us. In verse 2, "Day to day pours forth speech and night to night declares knowledge. And what is that knowledge? What is that instruction?
It is this: find anything in all of creation. God to the ocean floor in India and find a dark, murky slab of mud. Go and climb Mt. San Gorgonio and look under a wild flower. Go and park your spaceship next to Polaris. Go look behind the ear of a child in the Sudan and you will see invisibly stamped: "Made by God." That is what the heavens are telling. That is what the sky is proclaiming. That is the speech of the day and the knowledge of the night. "I am made by God." That truth is relentless and that voice will be heard for there is no speech nor are there words (where and when), their voice is not heard. So penetrating, so pervasive is that truth, that "God in glory made me!" That the Psalmist uses the metaphor of the sun in verse four, "The sun is set in the canopy of heaven." The sun rises in the canopy of heaven.
By the way, I preached for two years in Bellingham, Washington. I never preached Psalm 19 because no one in my church had even seen the actual sun. But it works around Jerusalem and Los Angeles! The sun rises like a joyful bridegroom or a strong runner. And the sun's radiation touches everything. So all creation sings, "God is to be glorified!" And all in creation bears the stamp of God: made my me.
The second part of Psalm 19 is verses 7-13, and this section alone is about nine sermons. But not for Westlake Village because you already know that the law of God, the Torah of God, is the life, the dance, of believers.
We spoke with our three high school interns getting ready to spend a significant period this summer in West Virginia before they're joined by over forty other students from WPC, and reminded our interns of something they already know and that is not the only way but certainly a primary way that God speaks to us reading, meditating, reflecting on the Scriptures. We need to daily read the Bible. Begin with Mark. Sixteen chapters. One-half chapter a day and you will read it in a month.
What does the law do, what does reading the Scriptures, the law, the Word do? It "revives our souls." They make us wise. The Bible "enlightens our eyes." They have us honor God for the the psalmist sings, "more to be desired are they than gold, sweeter than honey."
So we read the Word, and we hear the Scriptures taught and preached and loved. And in the end, the psalmist urges himself or herself to be blameless. Blameless is a word we'll have to unpack; to be blameless is not to be "perfect" or "sinless." A better rendering is to be dependent. If you are here at the church Monday-Friday, you will see a lot of children. The little ones come in the arms of their parents; some come in strollers, and they are here to drop off or pick up older sisters and brothers at our Westminster Pre-school. These little ones are completely dependent on mom and dad and grandparents and nannies. They are this word: "blameless." "Then I shall be blameless," that's a prayer for you and me.
Where's the gospel in Psalm 19? Where's the good news? God, our Creator, creating the cosmos, creating humanity to love the Creator. That's good news!
Living blameless in dependence on God, childlike living is all good news. But it's that last blessing that I want to notice again. It's a familiar benediction, a good word.
Finally, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable (be pleasing) to you, O Lord." Let my speech, my worship, my life, my life on Tuesday honor you as well as on Sunday. "Grant us thy peace upon our homeward way; with thee began, with thee shall end the day. Guard thou the lips from sin, the hearts from shame, that in this house have called upon thy name."
Let my word, my meditation be acceptable, be dependent on you, O Lord, for you, Lord are my rock. O Lord, you are my redeemer.
God, our Rock. God our Redeemer, is the good news that the God who flung the stars into galaxies is the God who calls us by name: Charles, Jessica, Janet. It's the same God who restores us upon the merits of Jesus Christ. It is the same God who is the God who bids us to follow the Christ, our rock and redeemer.
A brief word about Matthew 10:40-42. Two things Jesus told the twelve as they were beginning their adventure of mission with him that whoever welcomes them welcomes Christ.
That means that the disciples, and we as disciples of Christ, are to be be people who are welcomed into the lives and hearts of others - we often put it the other way around. We are to be a welcoming people, a welcoming church. We ought to have welcoming homes, but here in Matthew 10, Jesus said to you, you disciples are to be welcomed by others. Why? Not because you are so indispensable and self-important, but that by welcoming you, folks are welcoming Christ. We as Christ's disciples are Jesus' first and lasting impression on others. By welcoming us they welcome and invite Christ into their lives. That's important. Yet, how do we do it? So the second thing Jesus gives us here, be a welcomed people by giving especially to these "little ones," a cup of cold water. Who are the "little ones?" This last week we took to heart and hand the "God, Our Creator" of Psalm 19 and the welcoming of Christ with the "cup of cold water" to little ones in our Vacation Bible Camp. The theme was CCC (Creature Care Corp.). There were 115 little children, 70 student leaders, 50 adults all singing, dancing, learning about God's creatures with live red-tail hawks, silver foxes, king snakes, centipedes, millipedes and glow-in-the-dark scorpions. Birds, reptiles, mammals, crustaceans. The heavens and the earth are telling the glory of God, and the welcoming of Christ. This courtyard was absolutely buzzing with young families, children, grandparents, neighbors enjoying tacos, quesadilla, horchatas. What was welcoming Christ in this place, and the "cup of cold water" to the little ones? That would be the huge inflated blue and multi-colored water slide with several super soakers - it was the Gospel of abundant cold water Thanks to Adam I can speak from personal experience on Thursday morning. I was baptized in the Holy Ghost!
So with the creating God of Psalm 19, and the welcoming Christ of Matthew 10, in our hearts and minds and souls we come to this table of grace. We come as we are with nothing in our hands. For our hands are indeed not full of ourselves but full - full of the merits and immeasurable love of Jesus Christ for you and me. Come and dine.
For the grass withers, and the flower fades but the promises of God abide forever.
Westminster Presbyterian Church