Hearing the Heavens
It is always a little dangerous for me to identify my favorite parts of the Bible. Once after I described a particular passage as one of my favorites, a parishioner responded that it seemed like every part of the Bible was my favorite. He was mostly giving me a hard time, but there was truth to what he said. Different parts of the Bible speak to us in different ways depending on what we need to hear at different times.
But our Psalm for this morning has consistently been one of my favorites. And it is particularly appropriate today, when we commemorate Saint Francis and conclude Creation Season, which began back on September 1.
Sometimes we pray the Psalm without thinking much about the words, so I am going to read verses 1 through 4 again. Think about what they are saying.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork. One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.”
I love that.
The heavens talk to us! So does the firmament, and the day, and the night. It is as if all of creation is constantly preaching a sermon about God’s goodness and love, a sermon that goes to all lands and to the ends of the earth.
As I hear it, the message of creation communicates at least three things.
First it is soothing.
Particularly early in the summer, when things were really shut down, I found myself spending virtually all day every day inside at my computer. After a few weeks, I could feel the tension building up in me. Finally, Carrie suggested I spend a little more time outside. I began reading in a chair in our backyard. I began walking in a nearby park while making phone calls.
I wasn’t necessarily thinking about God. Mostly I was still taking care of business. But just being outside was soothing. Even without knowing it, I was absorbing the message from the heavens about the glory of God. And it helped during that stressful time.
Then there is humbling.
I miss worshipping in our building. I look forward to moving back inside in a few weeks. But worshipping outside has had its own peculiar rewards. This may sound a little crazy, but I have appreciated the unpredictability of being outside. I think it is one of the ways that the heavens speak to us.
As those who were here on our first Sunday outside will recall, the very loud generator next door went off for twenty minutes just as our service began. It turns out the generator goes off every Sunday at 10:00. In nine years, I had never noticed that because I’ve always been inside. We couldn’t change the time the generator went off, so we changed the time of our worship.
Over all, we have been fortunate in the weather so far. But it’s been too hot some days, and it’s likely to be too cold before we are done at the end of this month. It’s been windy sometimes, which is disruptive for anyone up front trying to read a book! We haven’t had much rain, but one day we got a little wet.
None of that would have mattered if we were worshipping indoors. But since we are outside, we have had to adjust. That is creation speaking to us, the heavens whispering something about the glory of God. When you worship outside, you learn pretty quickly the humbling lesson that you are not in charge. The unpredictability that comes with being outside reminds us that we don’t come together for our comfort or convenience. We come together to worship God, the Lord of creation and our Lord.
And of course, creation can be inspiring. At this time of year, that’s easy to see. Driving around in New England in the fall is a joy thanks to the colorful leaves. These days, every time I come to Saint David’s I see more dramatic leaves. They are like God’s art show.
More is going on here than simply enjoying nature’s beauty. Our Psalm is an invitation to learn to see nature more deeply, to see all of creation as shimmering with the light of God.
There is a parallel to the Eucharist. In a few minutes, we’ll bless the bread and wine. At the climax of the prayer, I’ll lift up the consecrated wafer. What you will see is going to look a lot like ordinary bread. Actually, it won’t look as good as ordinary bread! But for those who look with the eyes of faith, Christ will be present in that apparently ordinary bread. That apparently ordinary bread conceals within itself the creator and redeemer of all creation. And, to those with eyes to see, that apparently ordinary bread reveals the creator and redeemer of all creation.
In a less strictly sacramental way, the same is true when we look around us right now. What we see is a parking lot, a few plants up front, a few gardens around and behind us. But like the Eucharistic wafer, the bits of creation that we can see conceal the creator and redeemer of all creation, since they are so ordinary, and also reveal the creator and redeemer of the universe to those who look at them with the eyes of faith.
All of that is an invitation. We are invited to hear what creation is saying to us all the time, to see through the ordinary things of creation to the God who created and sustains them all.
But after all that great stuff about creation, and some more great stuff about the law of the Lord reviving the soul, the Psalm ends on a surprisingly sobering note. “Who can tell how often he offends? Cleanse me from my secret faults. Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me.”
I don’t know what inspired the Psalmist to write those lines. But given the current climate crisis, I hear them as a warning. If creation shimmers with the glory of God, if creation invites us to glimpse God just beneath the surface, then it matters how we treat creation.
We are always careful with the Eucharistic elements. After this service, we’ll treat with reverence anything we have consecrated but not consumed. We’ll put it in our tabernacle, where we have kept a light shining all through the pandemic because of the presence of consecrated bread and wine. Virtually no one goes in there to see the light. But that doesn’t matter. We keep the light shining because we want to show our respect for the sacrament.
Creation is not technically a sacrament. But it is sacramental in the sense that it reveals God to us. That means we shouldn’t wreck it. We shouldn’t treat it with casual disregard. We are called to be careful stewards of creation just as we are called to be careful stewards of God’s mysteries.
Unfortunately, we are often guilty of presumptuous sins with regard to God’s creation.
And so, on this commemoration of Saint Francis, the patron saint of creation, I pray that we can see all of creation as a revelation of God, that we can repent of our failure to care for it properly, and that we can commit to treating it with the respect and love every revelation of God deserves.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
10/5/2020 09:16:01 am
What a perfect psalm and a perfect sermon for the last day of Creation Care season! They are also a great lead-ins to the blessing of the garden and grounds set to take place after our service.
10/6/2020 12:05:47 pm
Nature has always been my refuge, even as a child growing up in a city. I find it inspirational, but also humbling, a constant reminder of God’s greatness and our need to be submissive to/accepting of God’s and its power. Most of my praying is done outdoors as it is there that I feel closest to God.
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Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan