April 15, 2012 Psalm 19, All Creation Proclaims God’s Handiwork!
Acts 4:32-35 Psalm 19 1 John 1:1-2:2 John 20:19-31
The heavens are telling the glory of God, all creation proclaims God’s handiwork! Our psalm for today is composed of two very distinct parts. As seems to be a common practice, it appears that two independent poems were joined into one. This psalm truly is a gem. It ranks as one of the best examples of Hebrew poetry, using fresh poetic imagery and theological insights. The first, verses 1-6, declares God glory in heaven and on earth, the second, verses 7-14, extol the wonder of God in his law. They are different in style, point of view and poetry. So what do they have in common? Why are they linked together? Let’s look at them separately first.
The heavens are telling – what are they telling? Usually a hymn begins with a call to praise the Lord, ie. Psalm 113, 135, 136, 146, 148, 150 to name a few, but not so in this case. The hymn has already begun, in fact it began it the moment of creation as we hear in Job 38:7 “While the morning star sang in chorus and all the sons of God (angels) shouted for joy?” It began then and has not ceased since then, the heavenly chorus sings endlessly, day by day, night by night, it never ceases. There is a music in the universe and in each one of us. Is it any wonder that music has such a power to heal and inspire? It speaks to the very young, the very old and all ages in between. Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients that are withdrawn and hard to reach will respond to the sound of a favorite song from their youth. That’s why I always bring hymns with me when I lead services in health centers. Those hymns are more important than any words I might have.
Each day tells its story, sings its song, to the next day; night to night declares knowledge – the planets, the moon, the stars, all have their own story to tell, they are witnesses to the mysteries of creation. One characteristic of Hebrew poetry is personification of inanimate objects, so the trees clap their hands as we see in Isaiah. In Psalm 19 day and night and the sun are given human characteristics. As one commentator states, “each day had a life of its own, and is pictured as coming forth from its dwelling to play its part at the appointed time, with a primary duty of declaring to its successor that God is glorious.” (Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4 pp. 102-103) Night also has its story to tell. But then we hear that even though they are constantly in dialogue, yet they do not speak: “There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (3-4) How can this be? They are speaking in profound ways, yet they do not use words. Sometimes the strongest messages are not the ones spoken but ones encased in silence; their silence speaks louder than words. Who hasn’t been left speechless at times by the beauty of God in nature, in a sunrise or sunset, a rainbow against a mountain, autumn trees or cherry blossoms in spring? Nature speaks so loud it needs no words, yet we, human that we are, struggle to put into words that which needs no words, that is expressed best in silence.
The sun is personified as a bridegroom, arising each day, bursting forth from his tent and joyfully running a race across the sky, running out of sheer joy. Thus the first section which focuses on God’s glory in nature ends appropriately with the greatest of the celestial beings, the sun.
The second section speaks of God’s glory in the Law. It lacks the poetic brilliance of the first, yet comes from a devout heart. The psalmist uses six different terms for the law, each introducing a different aspect. 1. The law is perfect, reviving the soul; 2. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 3. The precepts are right, rejoicing the heart; 4. The commandment is pure, enlightening the eyes; 5. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; 6. The ordinances are true and righteous altogether. So the law is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean and true. It revives the soul, makes the simple wise, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever and is righteous, all good things. The law is perfect so we don’t need anything else, we just need follow the law. It is clean, not defiled, it is true, we can count on it, it’s not changing, a good thing in this ever-changing world where it sometimes seems there is nothing we can count on to remain the same. It is pure, literally meaning “shining”- it shines like a lamp, sheds light on our path, much as the sun lights our day. The writer then goes on to say it is more desirable than gold, sweeter than honey (10).
There is reward in keeping the law, it provides a warning light to let us know when we might be going off the path of righteousness (11), for “who can discern his errors? (12) It is so easy to be misled so the writer prays that God will guide him and keep him from sin so that he can be blameless before God (12-13). The psalm ends with a beautiful prayer, often used in liturgies, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (14) Where else does sin arise but in our thoughts which lead to unkind or untrue words. If we can but keep our thoughts, the meditations of our hearts, pure, then our words and actions will be true.
While each section is distinct, unique, they both declare God’s glory, one in nature, the other in God’s law. While each can stand alone, they are stronger together for they support each other. Reflecting on God’s wonder in nature can lead to wonder at God’s law, God’s word. There also is a natural law, God’s law as written in nature. These concepts are connected psychologically in that the person who stands in awe at God’s majesty is not likely to slight his laws but would follow them. Emmanuel Kant linked the starry sky above with the moral law within (Interpreter’s Bible, p. 101). There is a connection. “The law is no less a marvel of divine creation than the majestic order of the celestial bodies,” as one commentator states (p. 101). Both are from God and lead to God. God’s law is written in nature and within the human heart. The theme of light also connects the two. The sun lights the celestial sky, God’s law lights the mortal mind, so we are led by the sun in the physical world, the law in the moral world.
Our reading from John’s first letter starts with a prologue, much like John’s gospel. It begins with God’s word, reminding us that Jesus was God’s word in flesh. Much like our psalm, it begins with the beginning, the beginning of all creation. The writer has a story to pass on to others, just as each day has a story to tell. In telling this story he finds joy: “we are writing this so that our joy may be complete.” He then goes on to tell how God is light and we need to walk in the light.
In our gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room. He offers no words of condemnation, rather he chases away their fears with words of peace. “Peace be with you,” he says three times. Once was not enough, it needed to be repeated, echoing his earlier words from John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” There is no word of reproach or recrimination, no mention of sin on their part, rather he gives them a mission to go out into the world, empowered by God’s Spirit; they are given the ability to forgive sins just as he forgave sins. Jesus appears in bodily form, yet transformed. He is no longer of this world and yet of this world. He is recognizable and can even be touched. He is the epitome of peace, the peace the world cannot give but that is ours in the next world.
Inspired by God’s spirit, we see the early Christian community in our reading from Acts of the Apostles, living together in a unity and peace, unparalleled at any other time, and short lived. But for that short time they experienced the peace that Jesus spoke of, a peace only God can give.
God’s law and God’s word are linked in Scripture. They are one and the same. I have a friend who likes to find words, single words that she believes express God’s message to her at this point in time. In prayer she waits for a word. Once the word comes to her, she holds onto it, reflects on it, until it no longer speaks to her and it is time for a new word. God doesn’t speak to us in a lot of words. Like nature, God is always speaking, but more often than not, there are no words. When God does use words, they are sparse yet powerful. We know they are from God. God does use words at times in order to reach us, tell us of his love and give us guidance. God’s most perfect word is Jesus.
So what word does Jesus have for us today? I would venture to guess it is the word Peace. If all were living in accord with God’s word, in accord with God’s law written in nature and the human heart, then there would be peace, peace in our hearts, peace in our communities, peace in our world. Jesus in resurrected form is the epitome of peace.
We all have a story to tell, our own unique story that needs to be told to those who come after us, a song to be sung, just as each day tells its story to the next. There is a joy in telling that story, the story of how God has touched our lives. If we live our story and follow God’s law then the peace of Christ will prevail, a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Robertson, copyright April 2012