May 22 2016 “What I See”

SCRIPTURE READING   Psalm 8

     To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.  O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens.  Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.  O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

MESSAGE    “What I See”   Rev. James Renfrew, Teaching Elder

NOTE:  This message was accompanied by a variety of power point images of the sun, moon, planets, stars, and galaxies.

Here’s the key phrase in Psalm 8, “when I look at your heavens…”.  It is said that David, the boy who defeated the mighty Goliath and later became King of Israel, wrote many of the Psalms, including this one.  Besides being a king David was a poet and a musician.  All these centuries later we have his poetry, but the music has been long forgotten.  There’s even a musical instruction at the start of the Psalm:  play it “according to the Gittith”, but no one knows what “Gittith” means any more.  It might refer to the combination of instruments to play it, it may refer to a particular musical style in the way we talk about polkas, waltzes, tangos, or jazz, it may refer to the tempo, or the rhythm, or to the melody.  No one knows.  All we have left is David’s poetry, “when I look to your heavens …”.

I’d sure like to hear that music from long ago, but all I can do is imagine it.  Most Sunday afternoons I sit in with a group of musicians in Brockport.  Everyone who plays is supposed to bring a song to teach the others.  During the past week I was thinking about what song to bring, and I finally stumbled across it while playing music in my car.  It’s a very old Appalachian tune, “Shady Grove”.  It wasn’t the words that got my attention. It was the music, the D Minor key is beautiful.  If not for the music, I would hardly have noticed it.

But Psalm 8 has no music, just words.  I’ve read it probably a hundred times, I’ve probably passed over it a thousand times.  But it got my attention a few weeks ago when I was thinking about Bible readings for upcoming services, and so for the first time I’m going to preach from it.  Maybe the long forgotten music was calling to my subconscious?

Whether you can imagine the music or not, the words are all about God, and they’re all super-sized.  God is described with some amazing adjectives – sovereign, mighty, majestic, awesome, all of which attempt to describe the immensity of God.  Big, large, gigantic, huge … none of these words even begin to describe God.  But let’s think about it for a moment.  When are the times when you have seen, or experienced, the full majesty of God, God on the grand scale?

My own answer to that question is with the cover of the bulletin, and the slides on the screen.  Seeing, or remembering or contemplating the universe is what inspires my awareness of the grand scale of God, and that whatever scale I use, God is always off that scale.  Bigger than the biggest thing I can picture.  Larger than the largest thing I can imagine.

So every so often I find a time and a place to give my full attention to the universe.  One time I was on vacation in Maine, far from city lights and I laid back on a picnic table and looked up to see the night sky for what seemed many hours.  That night the moon was below the horizon, so the stars were incredibly bright, there were meteor trails, and arching above was the Milky Way, our galaxy seen edge-on, so many thousands and millions of stars that it’s just one big smudge of light from one horizon to the other.

Here are some of the things you might see when you look up into the sky, some visible while lying on a picnic table, others only with very powerful telescopes.  Sun, moon, planets, solar system, stars, galaxies.  The more I study these images, the more I just want to say “wow”.  And that “wow” is genuinely and truly a prayer.

I suspect that David was flat on his back one night all of those centuries ago, looking at the stars just the way I did that night in Maine.  He took it all in, and the next morning he began to compose a song about it.  “[God] when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

David did not know as much as we know about the shape of the Universe and the celestial phenomena that fill it, but he was astounded by what he saw just the same. I feel astounded when I realize that our tiny solar system is one of countless thousands and millions of solar systems in the Milky Way galaxy, and that the Hubble space-based telescope has seen thousands and even millions of distant galaxies.  It just boggles the mind.  That is how immense and majestic God is.  No matter how large you can imagine God, God is larger than that.  One of the biggest mistakes people make in their theology is to think that we can contain and control God to suit our own purposes.  For centuries one nation or another, our own included, declares from time to time that God blesses one nation or ideology above all others.  Psalm 8 is a good reminder to be extremely cautious about making such claims, because God’s domain extends far beyond any border we might draw.

So I am delighting in the majesty and immensity of God this morning, but I have to be careful how I state it in my message.  The bigger the scale, the more insignificant we may feel.  How could God care about any of us while managing the millions and billions of galaxies that exist in the Universe?  That seems to be David’s exact question:  Does God even know who I am, does God even care about me, and why would God stop to help someone as small as me?

So here is the powerful insight we learn in studying scripture and reflecting upon all that we see.  God is both majestic and intimate, God is off the scale, beyond measurement, but easily able to deal with the small.  The domain of God is off every scale we might bring to measure it, and at the same time God is close at hand!  God knows who you are, God knows your name.  God knows your successes and struggles. God knows what you want and what you need.

On the one hand the power, love, mercy and creativity of God are off the scale, but on the other hand our ministry is all about the intimacy of God, as we enjoy being in a family of faith, as we visit and care for people in the hospital, as we serve food to our community, as we pray for one another, and whenever we feel that incredible spirit of invitation and belonging.

     O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! 

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