Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendour and majesty.
2 The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
4 He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
Worship of God in the psalms is frequently linked to creation in some way. I did a quick scan of all the psalms and picked out 18 that link worship, creation and God.
• The glory of God is described as reflected in creation – Psalm 8 and Psalm 19
• Creation is described as being God’s – Psalm 24 and Psalm 33
• The elements are described as being in God’s service – Psalm 29 and Psalm 97
• The elements are seen as instruments of God’s judgement – Psalm 18 and Psalm 50
• Creation is under his authority – 65 and 66
• Creation called to worship – Psalms 96 and 148
• Nothing in creation is hidden from God – Psalm 139
There is conflict as well. Creation is majestic and powerful, but it is also recognised that God brings about judgement and destruction through creation – Psalms 18 and 46. Famine comes and goes as we see in the story of Joseph and the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. The creation of God is majestic and powerful, but seems unforgiving and indiscriminate as well when people suffer because of its actions.
One of the things we know about climate change and the way in which we have not been good tenants of the King, is that our actions have exacerbated the weather conditions in the world. Remember the cartoon video of a South Sea island Wanda showed last week — it’s not just a cartoon but real life. It is the changing weather conditions that affect the sea levels and the seasons and threaten life for so many people – and not just those living on islands. The UN has estimated that by 2050 there will be 150 million environmental refugees – all looking for places to live, food, employment, a future. We are struggling to cope with the refugee crisis at the moment, so how will we cope then? Surely it is in our own interests, as well as the interests of the whole world, that we become better tenants of the King.
It never ceases to amaze the amount of money that can be found for space exploration, the ingenuity that overcomes the tremendous problems of travelling vast distances across space and living in space. There is a competition running for the invention of a lunar loo. If you can design a toilet that works in lunar gravity, you could win £28000. I have no doubt someone will come up with a design. Of course one of the problems of space now is pollution – space junk. So gigantic nets are being designed to catch the waste that is orbiting in space. We are doing the same out there as we are doing on earth. We can find the money for these projects, but simple things like providing basic sanitation for every community in the world have to be funded through charity and are thought to be too difficult.
We are becoming ever sophisticated in our willingness to develop the ability to wipe out whole populations, and only need one ship to sit in the middle of an ocean to track or send missiles, yet we can’t solve problems of disease without linking it to profits, or providing enough food for the world.
What we see in the Psalms in their celebration of God through creation is that people did not treat creation as being separate from them, but the place in which they lived and through which God is worshipped, God demonstrates his majesty and power, God provides and God judges. The story of the people of Israel is wrapped in the land of God’s provision, the place in which they were to live, to tend, that would provide home, shelter, food, comfort, security. Land is integral to the story of God’s people and a sign of God’s covenant with his people. The picture painted in Isaiah of restoration is placed on the holy mountain of the Lord to which the nations will come and where there will be peace and harmony. The story of God is expressed in the world he brought into being and in the relationship God has with the creatures he has made.
David Bookless suggests that we need to live the acronym WORSHIP in order to get back into a right balance with creation – and it begins with us. I am indebted to him for this next part of the message.
‘What is life if full of care…’ William Henry Davies
Just in case you are wondering, this doesn’t come from the Bible! However, it expresses a pleasure in the world around; more than that, it is the need to take time to enjoy and absorb what is in nature around us and get off the treadmill. Easier said than done. As we work our way through the acronym WORSHIP, we begin with the word:
When I see the beauty
Of the sunset’s glory
Across the evening sky
When I feel the mystery
Of a distant galaxy
It awes and humbles me
To be loved by a God so high
We sang this a couple of weeks ago and Linda has referred to it when leading worship. David Bookless suggests we need to get out of our church buildings and worship God in the world he has brought into being. We worship with eyes closed, when actually we need to have eyes open to see the world that points to the God who created. We need to open our eyes to be filled with the wonder of worship. We have got locked into worshipping through music – and I say this as someone who enjoys playing and listening to music – when we need to get out there and worship in creation. Actually, this is a way in which we can enjoy fellowship with others as we go for our socially distanced walks in whatever numbers we are allowed; when we invite people into our gardens and share a cup of tea – appropriately distanced.
We need to discover the awe and wonder of God’s creation to inspire us in worship as we go through life, but also to remind us of the responsibility we have been given under God to be good tenants and stewards. We don’t need to go far in the Gravesham area to experience the wonder and majesty of creation. I go out cycling with David from time to time or on my own. Frequently we will visit the Hoo Peninsula which although not chocolate box, is one of my favourite places and I enjoy the creation of God there. The other day I took a long route to the church and went via the prom and just looked down the estuary. In spite of the industrialisation, there is still majesty and beauty as the river flows out towards the English Channel.
In our enjoyment of creation and worship of God through creation, we must not confuse the created thing for God in our worship. However, as we stand and stare and are filled with awe and wonder, we can allow God to speak to us through creation:
• When I have stood on hillsides in Yorkshire or the Lake District and looked out, I have been reminded of my smallness and insignificance in creation and the power and greatness of the Creator. Yet as the psalm 8 declares in wonder, God is mindful of us and raises up.
• The hills remind me of the faithfulness and eternity of God
• I am reminded of his power and my weakness and as with psalmist I am awed and humbled.
• I am also reminded of the short time we have on earth
All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures for ever.’
We have become used to air travel in the west and want to be buzzing across the world. David Bookless suggests that perhaps we need to learn to be more rooted in the places where we live. A sense of place was important to the people of Israel: the land was important. When exiled they longed to get back to their homeland and rebuild it. At the end of the Passover celebration it is traditional for Jewish people to pronounce, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ It reflects rootedness and redemption.
I have used the phrase ‘grow where you are planted’ regularly. It is important that as Christian people we are part of our community, get to know it, understand its needs, improve its environment where we can.
We have become a 24/7 society. We are not free from the demands of work, because of mobile ‘phones and email. We expect instant responses, delivery in two hours and the people who serve us to be always available. We have lost a sense of rhythm in our lives established in creation.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
A dreadful line in Kipling’s poem ‘If’. It speaks of unrelenting activity which perhaps reflected the age in which he lived, but certainly reflects our age and the expectations placed upon us. I rarely look at email on Fridays, may look on Saturdays but can’t guarantee to answer and try not to on Sundays. We can put the brakes on and get some rhythm back into our lives – the rhythm of creation. God built the Sabbath rest in for the whole of creation, because the whole of creation needs it – not just the people. If God rested on the seventh day, we should be following his example- and delighting in the world he has made.
God created a garden and people the gardeners. From the beginning there was a connection with the earth. It has become clear that there is a link between mental health and access to green space. When people can get out and engage with the environment they feel better in themselves. Gardening in lock down has been a life saver for those with gardens or allotments. The public spaces also generate friendships and help people talk and share their joys and sorrows. Getting involved with gardens and green spaces reminds us of our dependency on the natural world and helps us understand the interrelationship of creation.
That is why the church garden project is a good one – there are so many benefits as we work in God’s creation. Watch this space.
We know that worship is more than Sundays and should permeate all of life, but we have become good at comparmentalising. This is why we speak about the environment as being out there and separate from us, rather than the place where we live. Church, leisure, work, friends, family are all an offering that can be presented as worship to God and if we approach things in a more integrated way, it will help us see the world in a different light, as well as our relationship with God our Father.
Pray for God’s Kingdom
We pray for people, for healing, for those suffering, for governments. We also need to bring the created world to God in prayer. We need to be praying for the healing of the earth, our part in that and the ability and will to play our part.
We have reached the end of our series on Creation, and it is one I have enjoyed preparing for. As I said last week though, if we don’t change individually or as a church, then it is all very nice, but hot air. Don’t leave it to someone else; when we engage as a church don’t think it is not for you: we have all been given responsibility.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
We look forward to the picture painted in Revelation 21. We believe that God will bring about the renewal of the earth and we will enjoy his presence forever in resurrection. He has given us charge of the world until then.