Passage: Psalm 104:1-34
Date: April 20, 2008
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
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Perhaps America's most influential naturalist and conservationist, John Muir was born 160 years ago tomorrow. This tenacious Scotsman became "the Father of our National Parks." Tuesday, we mark Earth Day, we citizens of this wondrous and fragile planet. Today's non-lectionary scripture reading celebrates God as both creator and provider. There are but a few places in the biblical witness which idealize the natural world as we do in the northwest. The people of Israel lived in a hostile arid environment in which water was precious and subsistence farming precarious. Moreover, neighboring peoples worshiped the deities of fertility, the Baals, an anathema to worshipers of Yahweh. So they found it essential to distinguish clearly between their creator God, and the gods of rainstorms and soil, sun and moon. Nonetheless, they clearly believed that their God, our God, deliberately generated the earth, and that the creation was proclaimed good. Moreover, the biblical witness places humankind as part of that earthly, from the mud of the ground, creation. Psalm 104 delights in the creator God. We will pause to hear pieces of it through the sermon. As we begin, listen to the first 13 verses. (Read 1-13)
Water, H2O molecules, freely flowing out of my morning shower, warm and fresh. Water, life-giving, cleansing, refreshing, absolutely necessary. I wonder where it came from. Oh, probably from the Bull Run watershed. But, before that? How many of those myriad molecules rose into the atmosphere from the Amazon's mighty delta. Did any cascade over Victoria Falls? Perhaps a few joined billions of others carrying sacred ashes in the Ganges River. Or dwelt inert in crystalline form for centuries before cracking off the edge of the Antarctic ice. Or flowed past ancient castles on the Danube. Or even, even evaporated out of the Dead Sea after melting on the steeps of Mt. Hermon and traversing the length of the Holy Land in the Jordan. Finally in the majestic mystery of our blue-green marble shooting through space, finally falling as intricately beautiful snow flakes on the flanks of Mt. Hood. How wondrous it is to gaze at one solitary crystal of snow landed on a dark sleeve. Water leaped out of vapor and air to arrange itself in such spectacular form. Wondrous mystery of God's creation, spewing out my shower nozzle, to return again to the sea and to alight somewhere else, bringing consecrated life.
Psalm 104, verses 14-23. Listen.
Last Thursday as I mowed my lawn, my three-year-old neighbor Matthew and his mom and infant sister stopped by. Soon, he tried to do what children and child-like adults have done for ages. Grasped tightly in his little hand he held a perfect dandelion seed sphere, waiting to scatter itself on the breeze. Matthew looked, and then puckered his lips and blew, and blew again, and the seeds magically took flight. How long since you have gazed into such beauty, such magnificent symmetry, and been touched by God's wonder?
The noted northwest author David James Duncan writes of wonder:
Wonder is my second favorite condition to be in, after love-and sometimes I wonder whether there's even a difference: maybe love is just wonder aimed at a beloved. Wonder is like grace, in that it's not a condition we grasp: wonder grasps us. We do have the freedom to elude wonder's grasp. We have the freedom to do all sorts of stupid things. By deploying cynicism, rationalism, fear, arrogance, judgmentalism, we can evade wonder nonstop, all our lives. I'm not too fond of that gnarly old word, sin, but the deliberate evasion of wonder does bring it to mind. It may not be biblically sinful to evade wonder. But it is artistically and spiritually sinful. (God Laughs and God Plays, p. 8)
Wonder. The wonder of God's incredible generosity in all of the created order, think of it! Recall just one aspect: a spectacular sunset at Gerhart, or Mt. Bachelor, hues changing and transforming, without price, just gift. Walt Whitman penned reflections on such, a "Prairie Sunset."
Shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver, emerald, fawn,
The earth's whole amplitude and Nature's multiform power consign'd for once to colors;
The light, the general air possess'd by them-colors till now unknown,
No limit, confine-not to Western sky alone-the high meridian-North, South, all,
Pure luminous color fighting the silent shadows to the last.
Psalm 104:24-30. Listen
In celebration of God's good earth, Garrison Keillor has agreed to read a poem for us this morning, a wonderment about God and creation.
Morning Person by Vassar Miller
God, best at making in the morning
tossed stars into planets
singing and dancing rolled Saturn's rings spinning and humming
twirled the earth so hard it coughed and spat the moon up,
brilliant bubble floating around it for good.
Stretched holy hands till
birds in nervous sparks flew forth from them
and beasts, lizards big and little, apes, lions, elephants, dogs and cats
cavorting, tumbling over themselves dizzy with joy.
When God made us in the morning too both man and woman
leaving Adam no time for sleep,
so nimbly was Eve bouncing out of his side
till, as night came
everything and everybody, growing tired, declined, sat down
in one soft descended "Hallelujah."
French paleontologist, priest, and mystic Teilhard de Chardin, points, points toward the truth, this immense truth. "By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers." Winter, spring, summer or fall, all nature sings and round us rings the music of God. Wonder. Astonishment.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. (Ps. 104:24)
Here in our northwest, one intensely important creature, Salmon. For David James Duncan, these magnificent creatures embody nothing less than the gospel itself. Listen to how the divine assails, penetrates, molds us in just one created being. Duncan writes:
As a huge fan of the gospels I must add that when salmon feed their young bodies to kingfishers and otters and eagles, and their larger oceangoing bodies to seals, sea lions, orcas, and their magnificent, sexually driven, returned-to-the-river bodies to bears and Indian tribes and sport fishers and fly fishers, then even their spawned-out bodies to flowers, they have served us, from one end of their lives to the other, as a kind of living gospel themselves. When a salmon's nitrogen-rich body feeds trees and flowers, it is literally "considering the lilies of the field." When its flesh feeds even the most intractable salmon haters among us, they are literally "loving their enemies and doing good to those who hate them." ...big salmon of all six species have forever climbed our rivers like the heroes of a wondrous Sunday sermon, nailing their shining bodies to lonely beds of gravel not for anything they stand to gain, but that tiny silver offspring and three hundred salmon-eating species of flora and fauna may live and thrive. When these blessings no longer come, the Northwest's living image of self-sacrifice goes silent: no more sermon. (Same, p. 167)
"By means of all things created, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us."
...if each and every day the Divine Voice does issue from Sinai, and if every inch of Creation is pierced by Its song and every dot, point, cell, particle, field is so moved by the Music that it loves to sing, swell, shrink, leap, divide, transform, and bear all fruit and all life and all death and all regeneration in response, well then ahhhhhh! (Same, p. 226)
...then we sing with the psalmist:
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works-
who looks on the earth at it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord. (Verses 31-34.)
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia.