June 10, 2018
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Psalm 8
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
A fourth century bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus, wrote: “The Majesty (of God), or as holy David calls it, the Glory, is manifested among the creatures that it has produced and governs. These are the back parts of God, which he leaves behind him, as tokens of himself like the shadows and reflection of the sun in the water, which show the sun to our weak eyes, because we cannot look at the sun himself, for by his unmixed light he is too strong for our power of perception.”
As of late, I have been thinking a great deal about the glory of the Lord and how our worship and labor is to center around this glory, how our satisfaction is to be found in desiring, experience, and delighting in this glory. I am also reminded of how difficult it is for us to find our satisfaction there, there seems to be a million distractions when I make time to pray the daily offices, a thousand places for my mind to wander suddenly find their way into my brain when I sit to pray or read the scriptures. Or worse yet, I seem to tell myself that something else will bring me satisfaction – if only I have this trinket or complete this life goal then, finally, my heart will be less restless, and some how my walk with the Lord will be perfected. But, the truth is, if I am not finding my satisfaction in the Lord now and finding my glory in His glory, how can I possibly think that I’ll find it else where. If we are not satisfied in the Lord in the here and now, we will not find it if we get a new car, a new toy, a new spouse, a new house, a new job. No, as the church and as Christian individuals our corporate and personal satisfaction is found when we learn to delight first in the Lord.
This morning we recited Psalm 8, a Psalm that proclaims the majesty of the Lord, and not only the majesty but His creative ability, and how all of creation proclaims His splendor. This Psalm is a prime example of what a hymn should be. It celebrates the glory and grace of God. It rehearses who God is and what he has done for us. It relates us and the world to God. Finally, it is full of the joy and awe that the Christian life strives to exemplify.
The superscript that we find in our Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer isn’t the superscript found in the Psalter in your Bible. The one in the Bible and in the original text is translated something along the lines of what is found in the English Standard Version: “For the choir director, on the Gittith. A Psalm of David.” From this, we know that this Psalm was written to be sung – written as a hymn of praise to our Holy Lord. We also know that it was written by King David. However, we’re left with this odd word “Gittith,” most orthodox, modern scholars are unsure of what to do with this word and conclude it’s either a place or a common tune that would have been used for worship. Some go so far as to say that it was a common tune known for its joyous manner and in reading the rest of the Psalm we can see why this is a conclusion they would make.
However, in the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew text, renders the word “winepress”. This interpretation of the word Gittith captured the imagination of the early church fathers – drawing analogies between the grapes, the winepress, and the church and much ink was spilled in explaining why this is important.
Drawing from the word winepress used here and in speaking of right living – Didymus the Blind wrote: One who tends the cluster of grapes also enjoys the clusters of truth on that vine, which are necessary to gather in due season and to collect into the winepresses, so that the wine by its compression may make the hearts of people glad; and some press out doctrines of truth; others, spiritual works. Nor is there one winepress; indeed, there are many useful virtues, and a winepress is prepared for the individual fruit of each one, as those who are celibate bear their fruit in respect to the winepress of modesty, and those who keep the marriage bed pure [bear their own fruit], and so forth. Many are the presses of everyday life to which the teachings apply that press out different principles of truth.”
That is to say – in the winepress of Christian living, we are being sanctified by the working of the Holy Spirit and being created into a very good wine, which glorifies the Lord. Our lives are being made into lives that reflect the glory of God, His goodness, and His majesty. Yet, we have to pass through the press, we have to pass through the struggles that sometimes accompany the righteousness we find in God. In this sanctification we are finding our way to being content in God. We can see this being draw into sanctification, being drawn into the glory of God in the Psalm today.
Psalm 8 starts and ends with the same phrase: “O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world!” We are reminded of so many good truths in this – We are reminded of God’s excellence, his majesty, and how stately and grand He is. Is it our experience therefore that when we come before the Lord, whether it be when we are worshipping, when we read scripture, when we fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we partake of the Lord’s Supper are we given to awe? Are we amazed that the Lord would come down and dwell among us, that the Lord took our place and die for us on the cross? Are we amazed that the person sitting next to us bears the very image of the living Lord?
Do we earnestly desire to experience God’s glory, and in that find ourselves regularly amazed at His glory? Or are we looking for our satisfaction elsewhere? This week, make time to think and pray about this, and then strive again and again to be satisfied in the Lord and His goodness.
In the second and third verse we are reminded that the proclamation of His glory starts from the meekest among us – those in the cradle and extends all the way beyond the earth and the sea, all the way to the heavens. All of creation proclaims the majesty of His name. For all of creation was created by God, all of creation was created to glorify Him and do we not see this as we live our lives? In the birth of a child or grandchild, our hearts delight and we are given to worshipping God, not only because the child has come safely into the world and his mother is of sound health, but because it is a truly amazing thing to hold this little one in our arms. The land around us – is not only beautiful – but there is an amazement how it functions – even if we understand the science of how a grain wheat or a beautiful flower grows – it is amazing, and the process of development is beautiful. Then the stars, we know what science tells us of them – but have you ever paused and thought about how those fiery balls that could consume our planet in a blink of an eye are all created by the Lord. Have you ever let your breath be taken away by the amazement of how tiny we are in light of how majestic the Lord is and yet, he cares for us?
There is not one thing under the heavens that was not created by God. But here the psalmist takes it a bit further – the creation is the work of God’s finger. Now, first we must remember that his is poetry and is not be read literally, but to be understood metaphorically. We want to take care not to delve too deeply into the theology of God creating only with his fingers – for we know from the first chapter of Genesis that God spoke creation into being, and we know from John chapter one that the words that God spoke was Christ Himself. We can be comfortable with the metaphorical language here, because it is not written to be literal, but to help us grapple with the majesty of God.
We can learn a great deal from this poetical description. We come to understand at least three things. First – that the creation of the visible takes the least amount of power, for the fingers are some of the smallest parts of the body – and yet even the stars are created by Him. With this in mind – think of the Sun which is massive, yet we know it is not the biggest of the planets – if God used his fingers to mold this how much bigger is He?
On contemplating this grandeur, Cyril of Jerusalem, another fourth century bishop writes: “Now this Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not circumscribed to some place, nor is there heaven beyond him, but “the heavens are the work of his fingers,” and “the whole earth is holden in the hollow of his hand.” He is in everything, and yet nothing contains him. Do not imagine that God is smaller than the sun or that he is as large as the sun. For, as he made the sun, he must have been already incomparably greater than the sun and more resplendent with light. He knows what is to come, and nothing equals him in power. He knows everything and does as he wills. He is not subject to any law of sequence, or genesis, or fortune or fate. He is perfect by every measure. He possesses unchangeably every kind of virtue, never less and never more, but ever in the same degree and manner.”
As we ponder this, we are also reminded of the working of a potter or a painter. Much fine, beautiful art has been created with the mere movement of the fingers. Think even of the writer who only moves her fingers and out of those flicks of the finger come powerful words that can change the world, or inspire an individual. Yet, the products are often fine and even fragile, the destruction of which can be so very easy. A clay pot can be dropped, and it shatters, a painting can be ripped up and destroyed, and even a sheet with a poem scribble across it can be crumpled, and tossed into the fire, and it is gone forever. We are reminded that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and yet, we are delicate, fragile and easy to break, as is the world around us. Be gentle therefore with those around you and be grateful to God for the gifts which you possess.
All of this points to one more thought, creation is amazing and all of the heavens and the earth declares the glory of the Lord but we must take care to not worship this creation, for it is far easier than we’d care to admit to erect false altars in our hearts. It is likely that none of us will be tempted by pure paganism and fall down in worship of the great pine tree, or erect a rock to worship remembering the a forgotten god. However, haven’t we all been tempted to forego church to worship in the cathedral of the pines, when really, we just want to go for a walk and not deal with other Christians? Or perhaps justified sleeping in, over giving time to our devotions and prayers, because life is just too busy and tiresome? Have we fed ourselves the lie, that we just need one more thing, then, finally, satisfaction will be found?
It is easy to slip into a mindset where we worship the creation, or the gift, where we forsake the things that we know to be good for our soul – whether that creation be nature, or another person, or a material possession. So often, instead of delighting in the creator of all, we think if we possess just one more thing – that then, finally, we will be satisfied, but we will never be satisfied, until we find our satisfaction in the creator of all things.
The Psalmist then begs the question: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” The depth and breadth of this question can only be answered in light of the incarnation, death, and reign of Christ and ultimately Christ’s life does give us these answers. However, we want to pause and think about the Psalmist’s hints at the nature of humanity under a creative, good, and just God.
This question – “what is man, that God is mindful of Him?” is asked three other times in scripture. First in Psalm 144 where the arrogance of the rebel is mocked and the answer is: Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. Then in Job 7, where Job cries out, a plea for a respite from his suffering, but only asks questions, and fails, then, to find an answer. Finally, again in Job 25 where it shudders at the gravity of human sin. However, in this psalm there is no tinge of pessimism, but only astonishment at the fact that the Holy God is mindful of us.
The answer we find in this Psalm points us to Christ and then to those who would follow him in obedience. Man is to display and celebrate the great Love of God. It is through our redemption in Chris that we can do this, it is in Christ that our hearts are freed from the restlessness that they so often face, and it is in Him that we find the rest which we long for.
In the Psalm, we see that humanity is crowned with glory and honor. This glory and honor leads to dominion over all of the earth. Though, we have been tainted with sin, and in the fall of man, all creation fell, still we see this ordering. We see it in our ability to farm the land, to be stewards of all of creation. We see in all of this – how we are created in the image of God – how we are called to watch over all of His creation, how we are able to create as His created, and how we are able to procreate, how we are able to bring new life into the world.
Let us not be tempted by hubris here. For although we are created in the image of God, although we are created to be stewards, and creators, the glory which we enjoy, the glory that has been bestowed upon the church is a humble glory. Let us not forget the example of Christ – of whom it is said – he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Christ’s right place, as the son of God, and the second person of the Trinity is to be seated at the righthand of God, yet he gave up that position, dwelt among us, and not only that but he died a shameful death, the death of a traitor, a rebel, the death of one who held the lowest place of shame and sin in society. He bore this death that our sins would be cleansed, and that we would be able to share in His glory, and gaze with joy upon the throne of the Lord.
We are to humble ourselves, as Christ humbled himself, we are to mimic this grace and in that humility – God exults the lowly. Let not our desire be for fortune or fame, let not hubris rule our heart, but rather, let our lives point to the glory of the Lord.
On this – C.S. Lewis writes in his phenomenal essay “The Weight of Glory:”
“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. ...
"It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit. ... Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object”
The glory of the Christian is not a glory that draws men to himself, but through humility of seeing others as the image of God, and through the kindness of bearing the burdens of others, and selflessness of giving up our own selfish desires, we glorify God, and draw men to the redeemer of souls.
In verses five through eight we notice that the world is profoundly ordered. We live in a time where there is a pervasive lie – that all of this is random, but it is not random and the lie of an arbitrary life is nothing new to the human race. No, humanity has often viewed the world as profoundly chaotic, and even, at times meaningless, but the Lord is not a blind watchmaker who cranked up the time piece, let it go and is in some far of country hoping for the best, He is not some distant sky fairy who is there to grant us our wishes, but otherwise is content to let us do our own thing, he is not even some distant judge who will only condemn us for our sin. No, the Lord is intimate, and searches out our soul. The Lord is active, the Lord and His creation is ordered. The Lord is so intently interested in His creation, that he descended to earth, was incarnate, died, and rose again that His creation would be redeemed. Make no mistake, the world follows his order, though tainted with sin from the fall of Adam, we still see reflection of his glory through out all of it.
Our Psalm ends with the same words that we started with: O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy Name in all the world!
In this pattern we are reminded – that just as all of creation began with the glory of the Lord, and magnifies it throughout all time, that in the end of this time, and the recreation we look forward, that in the final redemption from sin that we long for will pronounce, loudly, the glory of the Lord. For this is the point of all creation – that all matter, all creatures, and all of humanity would glorify the Lord.
Today, as we recited and meditate upon Psalm 8, we are reminded that God’s glory is at the center of creation, at the center of life, and at the center of our much anticipated recreation. We are challenged to see not only the beauty of creation – but how grand God is, how much bigger than all of creation he is and yet how intimately he knows us. We are reminded to find our satisfaction in the Lord of Lords, the king of kings, the creator of the heavens and the earth. For all creation will proclaim His glory, let us therefore be individuals, and a church that lives in the humble enjoyment and proclamation of the glory of the Lord which is reflected in His creation.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.