When we look into the vastness of creation and up to the skies, our presence on earth can feel insignificant. We are tiny in the great scheme of history and the universe, yet we are created and beloved by God. Join us as we consider what it might mean for us to be human beings on this earth.
(Due to technical complications, the video below contains audio only)
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!
The word “psalm” in Hebrew is mizmor, which literally means “a melody.” The psalms are songs, melodies, poetry to music. And like most songs, they capture the joy and the pain of living in ways that a sermon or the written word can’t always accomplish.
But the psalms are more than just songs as they are also prayers, communal prayers sung in the context of worship and individual prayers written from the depths of the soul.
They reveal intimate exchanges with God. And no other book of the Bible consists entirely of collected prayers.
If you’re concerned that no one else has felt the way you do right now, whether you’re ecstatic and full of joy or whether you’re sad and full of grief, I would consult the Psalms, chances are, you will find that someone else has not only felt the way you do, but they’ve written about it and prayed about it and that they were loved and met by God no matter how they were feeling and no matter what they were going through.
Many of the psalms are personal and deal with day to day struggles and circumstances. But many of them are also expansive, encouraging us to wonder and ask the “big questions.”
Questions like, “What are human beings?” and “Who or what is God?”
These next two weeks, as we close out the month of May, we will be considering these big questions and looking to the Psalms to hear what they might say to us still today.
The Psalms were written in a pre-science world. So if you’re looking for the chemical make-up or the evolutionary history of human beings, there are many people of faith who are also scientists who could explore that with you. In fact, Derek Pursey, who is a physicist and a member here at Calvary, led a four week course on “God, Science, Technology, and Us” back in April. So we’re not afraid to consider things of science from a faith perspective here at Calvary.
But to insert science into the Psalms would be anachronistic.
This morning, when we ask, “What are human beings?” we ask this in relation to God and in relation to the rest of God’s creation.
Psalm 8 is a psalm of praise.
It is a psalm that looks outward, then inward, then outward again. It begins by looking out to God and acknowledging God’s majesty and glory. The psalmist marvels at how God works in this world, in two particular ways.
The first is that through babies and infants those who would oppose God are silenced. I love this notion.
It’s so tempting to believe that God uses the wise and the eloquent, the scholarly and the strong, those who wear robes and collars, to defend Godself. But instead, God uses the cries and the coos of newborn children.
This makes sense; after all, God brought about a revolution of love not through the mighty and the powerful, but through the birth of a baby in a manger. The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson is a version that uses contemporary language to paraphrase scripture, and it says it like this, “Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs that drown out enemy talk.” So, the next time a baby cries in worship or a toddler talks (or screams) through a sermon, know that God is simply doing God’s work in this place. And remember that perhaps the holiest sounds of all aren’t the words of a sermon or a beautifully crafted prayer, but the sounds of children doing exactly what God created them to do.
That is how God works, and the psalmist marvels at this.
The second thing the Psalmist marvels at is the work of God’s hand in creating the heavens- the moon, the stars, and the skies. It’s pretty amazing to me that the moon and sun and planets that the psalmist saw and wrote about thousands of years ago are the same moon and sun and planets we see today. We are connected in that way, and that is remarkable.
Think back to a time when you looked up into the night sky and just let yourself get lost in the vast darkness as the small orbs of light seemed to twinkle infinitely. I think it must be a universal human experience, to stare into space and to feel in absolute awe of creation. And then to wonder, who am I to matter in the great scheme of the universe? All of it is so big. And we, in comparison, feel so small, so insignificant.
Indeed, we wonder: “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?”
And maybe it’s not the night sky that does it for you. Maybe it’s the roaring ocean or the majestic mountains. But something in God’s good creation is bound to make us wonder:
with all this beauty to praise and delight God, why would we even matter?
From the outward glory of God and God’s creation to the inward question of who am I? And why do I matter?
The author of this psalm answers his own question. What are human beings? Psalm 8 says, we are crowned with God’s glory and honor; we are created a little lower than God.
In Genesis, it says we are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27). We bear the image of God to the world, we are god-bearers. And we are beloved children of God. We belong to God.
Friends, this is the good news: that no matter how much beauty and majesty there already is
in this world and in this universe, God still chooses to create us, to love each and every one of us, and God still claims us.
Jesus in the gospels says that even the hairs on our head are all counted, that we need not worry for God knows and loves us intimately (Luke 12:7).
You are special. You are beloved. You matter, not because of how much you make, what college you’ve gone to, your GPA, or your title. You matter because the God of the universe loves you and says you matter. So, what are human beings? We are beloved and treasured creations of God.
As we move through Psalm 8, we go from outward praise of God and God’s creation, to an inward affirmation that God loves us, and then we move outward again. So then what?
God is great. God love us. Now what are we to do with that?
These particular verses of scripture remind us that God has given us human beings “dominion” over creation, the sheep, the oxen, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. That word ‘dominion’ used in this verse is mashal. It is synonymous to the word in Genesis 1:26 which is radah.
Genesis 1:26 says,
“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air (and so on and so forth) and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
Both mashal and radah have been translated as dominion or rule in the English language. But in the Hebrew, it connotes a responsibility for and a stewardship of this creation.
Michael R. Stead who is an Old Testament scholar and an Anglican priest says,
“…the kind of ‘rule’ over creation that humanity is given is patterned after God’s ‘rule’ – that is, a rule that protects and nurtures, not a despotic rule that exploits. … By creating humanity to ‘rule over’ the creation, God has not granted to us an absolute right to exploit the creation for our own ends. Rather God has delegated to us a responsibility to protect the creation and care for it.”
Too often, our own greed and self-interests have been involved in interpreting scripture.
But when we read it in context with the cultural and historical understanding of when these words were first written, we are better able to grasp what the original intent of the writers were.
The psalmist would be horrified at the ways in which we have ravaged the earth and depleted its resources. The impact human beings have had on this earth: the pollution, the extinction of species, climate change, or just the sheer impact of our trash, would have been unthinkable to those living in the psalmist’s time.
Radah and mashal come from an agrarian culture, where the idea of gardens and farming were how you engaged with and “ruled” the earth.
So what are human beings?
We are caretakers of this earth, gardeners tilling and working so that the earth may thrive. We are responsible for the wellbeing of this planet and all who inhabit it. We are to tend and care for the earth. We are stewards of the many mysteries of God found in nature.
Recognizing that God is good; accepting that God loves us, then precipitates some outward action on our part. And in Psalm 8, that action is caring for creation.
We do that in many different ways, by saving water, by turning off lights, by driving less, by composting and recycling, by looking for different kinds of energy, by caring for endangered species, by planting trees. There are so many ways we can be better stewards of God’s good creation.
And we cannot call ourselves Christians and neglect to do this. For being a Christian means we have to love not just our neighbor but the earth that houses us, this planet that allows for our survival, and the animals with which we share a home.
Gus Speth is an environmentalist who has worked with presidents on matters of natural resources, energy, and the environment, and he says this:
“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change.
I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems.
But I was wrong.
The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy. …
…And to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation.
And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
But you know who does know how to do that? The church, the body of Christ, all of us gathered here together this morning.
Maya Angelou once said, “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.” And that is our call to action, the final looking outward this morning.
How can we, in micro and macro ways, tread on this holy ground called earth and be good caretakers as God created us to be? How can we change a culture and spirituality of selfishness, greed, and apathy, so that the earth and all who are in it may thrive and live in harmony?
This movement found in Psalm 8, of out, in, and out, then concludes again with praising God. For God is our beginning and our end.
And this movement is hopefully how we experience worship here at Calvary, moments to look outward to God and experience God’s amazing presence and work in our lives, moments to look inward to consider who and what we are called to be and do, and then to look outward again to commit and make the world a little better than how we found it.
People of God, we have been entrusted with God’s most precious creation.
Touch the earth. Be in awe of its beauty. And help heal the ways in which it is oh so broken. For this is God call to us.