(This morning’s message at East Church, for the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, and based on Psalm 8)
That summer had been incredibly hot and humid, and up at the lake at our family’s camp, we’d been going for a lot of “night swims” before going to bed – friends, there are few things in life more refreshing than swimming in a spring-fed pond in the dark of a hot August night! And this night was special: it was about 11:00, there was a new moon, the sky was dark and unbleached by city lights, and one could see the Milky Way stretched wide across the expanse of the heavens. Moreover, it was the night of the Perseid meteor shower that year, and for a good couple of hours floating there on the water, as John Denver used to sing, we saw it “rainin’ fire in the sky!” It was incredible, amazing, spectacular and awesome — and what I remember most about it is that all the while this was going on I was filled up with this incredible sense of wonder and it made me feel utterly and amazingly …puny.
It was one of those moments of life that comes around once in a while when you suddenly realize what a speck of dust you are in relationship to the universe! I mean, it’s one thing to feel a part of nature in a way that’s up close and personal; but to literally be enveloped by an infinite canopy of stars, bearing witness to the grandeur and might of God’s creating power, you cannot help but feel so very small in comparison – not only to the world around you, but also in relationship to that world’s creator!
“O LORD, our Lord,” sings the Psalmist, “how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens …when I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place; what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
Now there’s one of the big questions of life – maybe the biggest. It gets down to the basics of our very existence, yours and mine: why would God would ever be mindful of us, anyway? Why should you and I even think of ourselves to be any more than mere specks on the vast horizon of the universe, just another entrée on the lower end of the cosmic food chain? Not to sound callous, but how can we possibly count for anything more than that in God’s eyes?
How, indeed! And yet, the good news is that we do. As W. Sibley Towner of Union Seminary suggests, what’s clear from the opening verses of scripture is that in the beginning “God set all this teeming creation in motion for one reason above all others – to make human life possible …[to coax] from this buzzing mass of creatures a creature so like God’s own self that it was said to be the very image of God …the crowning glory of God’s creativity.”
Or as the Psalm puts it, “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” A little lower than God? Amazing! Rather than being regarded as small and utterly insignificant, it would appear that in God’s sight we have no equal in creation!
What’s interesting is that biologists and anthropologists speak of how it is our ability to speak and communicate and reason that sets humanity apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. But theologians say that of all the creatures of the earth, we humans are the only ones invited to talk to and work with God – in other words, ours is a direct relationship with the Divine, the result of “God’s own image” of what we should be. In other words, as compared to the vastness of the heavens, we might well be infinitesimal, but in God’s eyes we are great, important and, and in a very real way, “large and in charge;” and because of that, entrusted as stewards of all creation, keepers of the relationship that God has with that which he loves.
And knowing that’s what we’re meant to be, friends, has a way of changing how we view things: the way that we care for our environment, for instance; and how we regard sanctity of life in all its many forms. It forces us to see that we have some responsibility regarding dominion we’ve been given over the works of God’s hands, and how we’re to care for the many gifts we’ve been given – most especially each other. Yes, to be a steward of creation is to be steward of the people around us, the people whom God has created and loves. And that will have everything to do with our relationships with one another, the choices we make in this life, and the differences those choices make in the care and nurture of those around us.
Way back when I was still both a student pastor and single, I was a regular patron of the local movie theater. I just liked to go to the movies – still do (!) – and I went to almost all of them that came to town! But I could always count on the fact that if the movie was, shall we say, questionable, the woman at the ticket counter (who happened to be a distant relative of mine, and knew I was a pastor), God love her, would lean over and very quietly say to me, “This one’s probably a little rough for you, dear.”
At the time, that really offended me – I was an adult, after all, capable of making good and right decisions for myself, thank you very much! But over time, I began to realize that some of my choices, especially as a young pastor, had an effect on others – such as on the kids in my congregation who got busted for sneaking into an R-rated movie they were too young to see, but told their parents it was OK because “Rev. Lowry was there!” In retrospect, it wasn’t even that bad a movie, but that wasn’t the point. I realized this wasn’t the kind of message I wanted those kids to get from me; that by inadvertently glorifying something violent or degrading, I was not only devaluing my relationship with them, but also, in a very real sense, my relationship with God!
A small thing? Maybe …but the point is that if we’ve been created to be “a little bit lower than God,” than it follows that our lives ought to reflect the same kind of care and love God extends to his creation – and the people who are part of it!
Not that the world sees things this way. Have you ever noticed that whenever we hear of someone who has been caught at some kind of immoral or unethical behavior – we’ve actually seen this in the news this past week – inevitably this is described as “a human failing.” And often, such behavior is explained away by saying that he or she was “only human, after all.” As if being human means that we’re bound to be failures at every level of life; as though our “human tendencies” are the lesser parts of our personalities!
God’s intent, however, says that ultimately, our humanity is not what’s bad or undesirable about us, but rather what makes us precious in the sight of the Lord! Yes, friends, we are human, and we’re human because God made us that way: crowned with glory and honor as we live out our lives in partnership with God; carrying out a vision of creation that’s been in place from beginning of time; equipping us and empowering us to take care of the world with joy and delight, protecting and nurturing one another with love and justice. By the grace of God, dear friends, we are the very pinnacle of all creation – you and me! Our challenge is live that way.
Truthfully, we do have that propensity toward self-involvement, and we do turn away from God far more often than we ever should – and if you want a theological term for that, it’s “original sin.” Moreover, you and I tend to fall into the temptation of not believing what we’re really worth – and that’s where patterns of despair, self-doubt and self-hatred take root. But that’s why it’s good for us this morning to remember another central truth of our faith:
That when God came wanted to show the world his great and limitless love, God chose to come as one of us, as the example of the very pinnacle of his own creation – wholly God, yes, but also wholly human: in Jesus Christ our teacher, our brother, our Savior and our friend.
What other assurance do we need of our place in God’s creation and our role in God’s plan?
Something to think about as we come to the Lord’s table this day. Thanks be to God, and
AMEN and AMEN!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry