A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.
We like to think things are about us, don’t we?
I mean, we look around at creation, and we say to ourselves, “isn’t that great that God created all of this beautiful world for us to enjoy?”
And that is partly true.
God, who created us, does love us and want us to know joy and beauty.
Westminster’s Shorter Catechism opens with the question of why we are here. What is our “chief end”? And the answer is the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. (7.001) Praising God, enjoying being in a relationship with God, is our chief end. God wants us to enjoy this life we live. And I suspect the beauty of creation is a part of how we enjoy God.
I was on a clergy retreat recently in the hills near Malibu, California. And on my morning run down to the ocean (followed by my slow slog back UP the mountain!) I had to keep stopping to take pictures of the plants. I don’t know the official names of many of them, but I made up my own names.
The “swirly starfish cactus” and the “giant fern tree” were among my favorites.
There was also Bird of Paradise and giant shrubs of rosemary and lavender.
I saw flocks of green parrots fly through the sky while a hawk watched it all from a telephone pole.
There was seaweed that had washed up on the beach that was exactly the color of autumn.
There were cranes and herons. I saw baby ducks learning to fly. I could have stood there all day, cheering for those ducklings as they figured it out.
This retreat afforded me the gift of spending time with other clergy, and we would gather together in prayer throughout the day, while God’s beautiful creation surrounded us.
How can one not feel grateful in such a setting?
But creation is not just the stage on which the drama of our lives play out. Creation is not our back drop. Creation is one of the fellow actors, also.
Psalm 19 is a good reminder of this. Because in this psalm, creation, itself, is praising God.
The heavens are telling the glory of God. The firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
And I get that. Whether walking through the hills of Malibu, or the hills near my home in Boise, I can see creation praising God. But it can be difficult sometimes to hear creation’s voice.
And it is the voice of creation that is held up in this psalm. Heavens are telling. Firmament is proclaiming. Day pours forth speech. Night declares knowledge.
And this is where we run into trouble. Because we don’t hear creation’s voice. “There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
The voice of creation is there, moving through all the earth, to the ends of the world.
And we don’t hear it.
The poet Rainier Maria Rilke wrote in one of his love poems to God:
“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you; at times
we just hear them more clearly”. (i.45)
All things sing you. All creation, every bird, leaf, rock, tree, star, and snail sing God. At times we just hear them more clearly.
This suggests to me that we are called to listen to the voice of creation, as much as we are called to listen to the voices of the people we love, the voices of the people we don’t quite love yet, and the voices of peoples long silenced.
If we were to listen for the voice of creation, what would we hear?
As we read the news, and look around at the planet, I suspect we would not uniformly like what we might hear creation saying to us. As species face extinction, and waters become polluted beyond repair, I suspect the voice of creation might be calling out for help.
Psalm 19 moves from its glorious opening passage about heavens, firmaments, and glory and then gives us a recitation of the gifts of the Law.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
At first glance, I wondered what this section about the Law had to do with creation calling out its praise to God. But as I thought about our inability to hear creation’s voice, I began to wonder if, perhaps, our adherence to God’s Law might be the piece we are missing. How would we hear creation’s voice differently if we attended to God’s Law?
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
We tend to think of laws as restrictive, as things that keep us from doing something, and the Law of God does intend to keep us from committing acts that would harm or kill. But God also intended the Law to free us, to allow us to be free to glorify God and enjoy God forever.
Reformer John Calvin described the Law as a mirror, which reflects back to us God’s intention for us, convicting us of our place in creation. Calvin also saw that the Law could be an instrument to help us in giving God honor and glory.
Because the truth is we can’t be free to enjoy and glorify God when our disregard of God’s Law, of God’s intention for us, leads us to abuse the earth , keeping creation from singing the song it was meant to sing. We can’t enjoy God and glorify God forever as long as we have brothers and sisters whose voices cry out for justice, for peace, for food, for shelter, for safety, for health, or for life.
Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Imagine the great reward of being able to hear the heavens when they declare the glory of God. What must it be like to hear the voice of the firmament as it proclaims God’s handiwork?
The psalm ends with a reminder to be careful with how we use our own voices.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
It is not just the voice of creation to which we are called to seek in the silence. We are also called to heed our own voices. Are they acceptable to God, our rock and redeemer?
Do we lift our voices in praise, glorifying God?
I do. At times. When I’m not lifting my voice in complaint and whining. I try to lift my voice in praise when I’m not making snide remarks. I’ve been told my sarcasm is not praise of God, no matter how much God may have gifted me in that arena.
But are our voices calling out in love to the ones we love? Does the way we use our voices with our friends and neighbors proclaim the glory of God?
When we raise our voices, are we calling out for justice? Or are we trying to perpetuate our own comfort?
This week, I invite you to listen to the voice of creation. Attend to the beauty of the heavens when you see the night sky and listen for what it is telling you about God. As you observe the firmament, what does it proclaim? As you watch snowflakes fall from leaden skies or notice hawks soaring on the breeze, listen for the voice of creation.
Because creation’s “voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
May we attend to that voice, and join in its chorus of praise, thanksgiving, and joy, giving thanks to the God who created the orchid, the hedgehog, and the heron; the God who strewed the stars across the heavens; the God who created us, in the very image of God, intending our joy, our enjoyment, and our praise.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
4 thoughts on “Creation’s Voice”
Psalm 19 is my favorite psalm and has been since my conversion to Judaism (it’s part of the morning prayers for the Sabbath). The line that got me initially was “the judgments of the lord are true and altogether just.” And I agree, there’s something going on here about the unity of natural law and divine commandments. (I can’t resist noting: reminiscent of the the epistemology of Thomas Aquinas.) Just as the sun goes upon its daily circuit at the command of G-d, and indeed can do no other, its entire circuit allows it to do nothing but praise even though it does not speak, obedience to divine commandments would allow us to do the same without the need for superfluous words. The psalmist seems to imply, to me, that if we recognized the righteousness of G-d’s commands, we would tell the glory of G-d just like nature does, since we are part of G-d’s creation.
Lately (the last six months or so) the thing that I’ve been focused on when I pray this psalm is the request of the psalmist that G-d cleanse him from hidden faults. Do not let me be controlled by my sins, even those I am unaware of. The law is not supposed to make me feel gratified by my capacity to be obedient to it, but rather warn me not to be presumptuous. If the law is to make us wise, for instance, we have to accept that we don’t always understand or see our own disobediences and ask for divine help in laying them aside.
The last line is a regular preface or conclusion to other Jewish prayers besides the psalms.
Thanks for adding to this sermon!
It isn’t a Psalm I had spent much time with before, but it just won’t let me go now.
Oh, and I should have said, in case the implication is not clear: great sermon.
Pingback: Sermon: A Big Tent