WELCOME to our post for this Sunday. For the full service plan please see the Bulletin document, elsewhere here on our website. We had no children present, so Peter did not tell his children’s story. Here is a lesson from one year ago:
PRAYERS of the People: God of justice, Master of truth, Lover of creation: we call out and pray for justice today. A verdict was given in the United States that we heard around the world, and we pray in solidarity with black and brown people who strive for justice every day. By Your Holy Spirit, challenge us to see right and do right and live rightly.
All-seeing God, Parent of all peoples, we pray in the face of the pandemic and all its impacts. For a huge nation like India that tragedy is so terrible: Mercy, have mercy, we pray. Our provincial lock-downs and troubles pale in comparison, but we ask also for help to live wisely here, that people be freed from their fears, and encouraged in the midst of the losses that are faced.
We are creatures of earth – carbon and water and all – so fragile, and yet so incredible in body and brain and heart and mind. We thank You for life, in all its fullness, even in all its challenges. You know our prayers, and we open our hearts before You, Compassionate God. Bless, we pray, Carolyn, Dwight, Mary, and Wayne – that their bodies may be sustained, and their spirits. Bless John and Jackie and Heather and Tryson and others from whom we have been asked to pray: we ask for Your grace to touch them. We pray for folks isolated in homes for special care: Donna, Marguerite, Diane, Barb, Irma, Geraldine, Grace, Ramona, Marina, and many others. As we come to the end of Parkinson Awareness month. IBS Awareness Month and World Autism Month, our prayers ask for blessing in the lives of those living with such conditions, and those who care deeply for them.
Ever-present God, we are creatures of the earth. We see that we are brothers and sisters of the animals and plants and all that surround us, that shelter us, that feed us, and that rely upon us. Even the stones and the sky and the seas are our companions in this life. We give thanks for all. We confess our foolish selfish behaviour. We aspire to do new things for the good of all. We call upon You, Creator and Planner of the universe. Touch this earth with the perfection of the heavens, we ask, even as we pray the prayer we learned from Jesus: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name… AMEN.
(Psalm 104; Habakkuk 3:17-19) J G White ~ 11 am, Sunday, April 25, 2021, UBC Digby
Have you ‘looked upon the earth’ lately?
Have you observed any things of significance?
That cold day we had – when it was windy, and it snowed! – that was ‘Earth Day.’ Perhaps on other, warmer days last week you looked out and appreciated some wonderful creatures. A maple tree budding and blooming red. A black squirrel foraging in your neighbourhood. Strong surf crashing on the water. A crimson cardinal singing loudly in the morning. A rock that’s older than us, encrusted with a thin layer of lichen.
Our morning journey today through Psalm 104 joins us to the praises and wonder of people over thousands of years. As people have looked out upon creation, they have also been aware of the Creator looking upon it all. A God …who looks on the Earth and it trembles… Who enjoys his creation.
When we stop and pay attention, look at something, look into something, a lot can happen, a lot of good. The reverse is also true. When we ignore what is all around us, when we don’t ‘stop and smell the roses,’ we miss out, we even fail, and we are less healthy. In this new millennium, don’t we hear about younger people, spending less time outdoors, having nature deficit disorder? Things might not be quite right when we are out of touch with creation, and our part within it. Yes, we humans are animals, within the created order.
We can take some cues even from our spiritual tradition, to pay attention to the earth around us. There are a few things for us here, in this lifetime. As God looks upon the whole earth, you and I: do the same. For reasons such as this…
Look upon the earth for beauty, for joy, for enjoyment, even for a spiritual connection. People are always doing this, eh? Sometimes I wonder how beauty works. Why does one tree seem more beautiful to our eyes? The song of a bird ringing out in the morning? A rocky cliff washed by the ocean.
I remember a few years ago when my step-daughter, Terissa, was studying philosophy, including philosophical aesthetics – which I think is the study of beauty and artwork. I know nothing of these theories. I just know that we find things beautiful, meaningful, poignant – including things that are simply part of nature.
Sometimes, it all seems a matter of taste. I see fields of dandelions in bloom and it is spectacular! Perhaps you don’t agree: you see weeds! Or, you are like my Aunt Jeannie and dislike the colour yellow. Yuck!
Yet we all look upon the earth – and listen – and smell and touch – seeking beauty, seeking enjoyment, seeking a connection with Something Greater, with Creator. Even with the limits we have, we know the joy of the natural world. Like the man I knew years ago who was a rock and gem collector – polishing the agates and jaspers and all the stones he found – yet he was colourblind, and could even enjoy a sunset. Or the woman living at Tideview Terrace who comes alive with joy when her son sends mayflowers.
The long list of creatures, and elements of this planet, in Psalm 104 is but one ancient and poetic example of all that is impressive in our world. And it can do just that: impress us. So be impressed! When you are awestruck, you are influenced, you are changed, you are guided.
Aside from things beautiful or awesome, we also look upon the earth for its challenges, its barriers, and the work that is involved in living upon it. The dangers also guide us. The mountains blocking our way inspire our creativity. So enjoy as much as you can stand in the world today.
Psalm 104:31 exclaims, “May the Lord rejoice in his works,” or, as Eugene Peterson worded it, ‘Let God enjoy his creation!’ Join your Master in rejoicing in the earth.
Also, we look upon the earth for food, for shelter, for clothing, for work. We get practical, of course. Our survival depends upon it, though our Western, middle- class lifestyles are far removed from the survival skills in the world that keep us alive and well. We have a huge infrastructure that keeps us fed and watered and clean and warm and cozy and mobile.
Perhaps, if you pray to give thanks before you eat food, you give God thanks for the farm workers, the fishermen, the truckers, the factory workers, the workers in stores, and so forth, who brought that meal to your table. & do you say grace for the pills you take each day? Who created them?
In the days of Psalm 104, food production and commerce were simpler. The vision is quite direct here. God and the Psalmist look upon our primary resources.
You make grass grow for the livestock,
hay for the animals that plow the ground.
Change gears for a minute and remember those poetic words from Habakkuk chapter 3. Chapter three is in the form of a Psalm, as you may have noticed. I had Bev read those three beautiful verses that basically say: I will give thanks, whatever happens. Just as Paul later suggested, in 1 Thessalonians 5. What would we say, around here, if we make Habakkuk’s psalm our own?
Though the apple tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the blueberry bushes;
though the produce of the corn fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the scallop is cut off from the dragger,
and there is no lobster in the traps,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
In the days of the prophet, Habakkuk, it was human enemies of the people who had oppressed them and wrecked their economy. Whatever the causes of crop crashes and fishery failures – human or nature or both – we may cling to our God. And in dire circumstances, we face up to the fact that we need the creatures of the earth to survive: to be clothed and fed and sheltered and watered and healed and all.
Look out upon the earth with wonder – our lives depend upon it all.
Look upon the earth for inspiration, for creativity, for perspective. How many times in Bible stories do we find someone out in the wild, and they get inspired? By a river, upon a mountain, in the wilderness, they receive a divine message. How many times does Jesus, or other storytellers, speak in parable form of various crops, or elements of nature, animals or plants in the wild?
Joseph sleeping upon a rock, dreams of a stairway from the heavens. Moses stops to watch a burning bush. Elijah stands upon a mountain amid the earthquake, wind, fire, and silence.
Jesus says: the kingdom of God is like yeast… is like a mustard seed… is like weeds in a wheat field… is like a lost sheep… is like a budding fig tree…
You may well have had the same experience. The moment of some ‘natural thing’ speaking to you at a deeper level. You may have even got an answer to prayer by way of some signal in nature. Or you got a ‘bright idea’ as you were out there, away from it all, and your head and heart got clear of the busy problems of your life. Notice that, regularly, Jesus went away to some hilltop or garden for quiet prayer time: often alone, often through the night.
Yet the smallest, simplest thing can also inspire. Perhaps you have heard of the Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, who lived in the middle ages. Her book, ‘Revelations of Divine Love,’ is the first book written in English by a known woman author. In one of the visions she received – she called them ‘shewings’ – a mere hazelnut of a thing taught her of God’s powerful love.
At the same time, our Lord showed me, in a spiritual manner, how intimately he loves us. I saw that he is everything that is good and supports us. He clothes us in his love, envelops us and embraces us. He wraps us round in his tender love and he will never abandon us. As I understand it, he is everything that is good. He also showed me a tiny thing in the palm of my hand, the size of a hazelnut. I looked at this with the eye of my soul and thought: ‘What is this?’ And this is the answer that came to me: ‘It is all that is made.’
I was astonished that it managed to survive: it was so small that I thought that it might disintegrate. And in my mind I heard this answer: ‘It lives on and will live on forever because God loves it.’
So every single thing owes its existence to the love of God. I saw that this tiny thing had three properties that were essential to it. The first is that God made it; the second is that God loves it; the third, that God preserves it.
Sounds to me much like what Psalm 104 sings, about God sustaining every creature: (29-30)
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.
This awesome universe puts things into perspective. And we look upon the earth for learning, for lessons, for insight, for knowledge.
It has been said that nature is the first ‘Bible.’ The scriptures even suggest this in a few places, such as in Rom 1:20. Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.
And today’s Psalm, 104, does this very thing: show the Creator in all the things of creation. In the school of life on earth there is so much to learn.
How we live in this world matters. We learn this from the Creator and the creation. We learn how the garbage we produce persists, and harms so much. We also learn that we have no idea how to change our lives so that we don’t wreck our home on earth. We learn from a new virus, in all its strains, what a strain (of a different sort) it puts on our human system globally. We learn about life and death, which is part of everyday life around us. I think we still have much to learn about our place in the world. We do have a wonderful, privileged place in creation, but we are smaller and more fragile than our egos tell us.
Perhaps the posture of worship is one of the best ways we do get trained. We look upon the earth with awe and wonder. In praise, we get to enjoy Creator and creation; and we get to know our place, bowing low before it all.
What a wildly wonderful word, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side. Let God enjoy His creation! O my soul, bless God!
PRAYER after the Sermon Let us pray.
Jesus, our brother, kind and good, we bow to You who lived the humble life on this planet, submitting to the limitations of humanity, even to pain and unfairness and death. Son of God, Creator, who entered creation fully, teach us more of how to be human, how to be created, how to be mortal, how to know You.
If there have been any bad influences upon us this morning, shield us from them and help us forget. If there have been wonderful moments of inspiration, by the Holy Spirit, help us always remember them.
In Your name, Lord Jesus. AMEN.