We like to think things are about us, don’t we?
That’s how Marci Glass once put it
as she reflected about this reading from the Psalms.
I mean, we look around at creation,
and we say to ourselves “Isn’t it great that God
created all of this beautiful world for us to enjoy?”
And that is partially true, of course.
Someone once asked me what life is for,
what is this whole living thing all about?
So deeply philosophical.
Though, when she asked me,
she was being quite serious.
Its one of our basic human questions,
something we ask that makes us unique, as it were.
But when we’re down,
–or when we’re struggling
–or when we’re trying to make big decisions
–what school to go to
–what to do with our lives
–whether to stay in that job
–whether to keep on going with that treatment
–whether to let go
that’s precisely when these sort of questions come into play.
Why are we here?
What is all this about?
And, well, there are a lot of answers to that one—
–to maximize enjoyment and minimize pain
–to propagate the species through diversification of the gene pool
–to lay in wait until the Royals win another World Series? How long, O Lord?
Someone pointed out that its entirely possible
that we’ll have a Cubs-Royals World Series this year.
The whole meaning of existence might weigh in the balance…
And some, truth be told, say that there is no why?
That all of this is just capricious, just there
and we do our best accepting that and ordering ourselves
the best we can to get through.
Suffice it to say there are many answers out there,
but the Christian one stresses this:
the meaning of life is love
and if God is love, then the meaning of life is loving relationship with God.
So it is that The Westminster Shorter Catechism opens
with the question of why we are here.
It uses 17th century language for it, but still, that’s what its asking:
What is our “Chief End”?
And the answer is that the chief end of humanity,
the “why” of the question “Why are we Here?”
is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. (7.001)
Being in relationship with God. Our chief end. Its why we are here.
God wants us to enjoy this life that we are living,
and I suspect that the beauty of creation is part of how we enjoy God.
I spent this week stuck inside a hotel conference center
as I was at a board meeting for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
There were times, during that meeting,
I questioned the why of existence.
That’s how meetings go sometimes, I guess.
When I was done, I went outside and sat down on a bench
and I breathed in deeply
and reflected on how I had spent the last 72 hours
inside the same place.
From Tuesday to Friday, inside.
It was too long. Too long.
And I was so grateful to be outside again,
even if on a bench outside a hotel’s parking lot.
Have you ever had those experiences before,
where you had been so disconnected from nature
that your re-exposure just shocks you awake again?
There’s something about this world that God created
that reminds us of what life is really all about, I think.
And as I was flying back home
I was reading Marci’s reflection on this text before us today
when she was describing her morning run
when she was at a clergy retreat near Malibu, California.
[How lucky was she?]
Well, it was a run down to the ocean,
but a slow slog back UP the mountain to the retreat house
and on that run, she said,
she had to keep stopping to take pictures of the plants.
I don’t know the official names of many of them, but I made up my own names.
I’ve been told this one is Aloe. But I like “swirly starfish cactus better”
The “swirly starfish cactus” and the “giant fern tree” were among my favorites.
There was also Bird of Paradise and giant shrubs of rosemary and lavender.
I saw flocks of green parrots fly through the sky
while a hawk watched it all from a telephone pole.
There was seaweed that had washed up on the beach
that was exactly the color of autumn.
There were cranes and herons.
I saw baby ducks learning to fly.
I could have stood there all day,
cheering for those ducklings as they figured it out.
This retreat afforded me the gift of spending time with other clergy,
and we would gather together in prayer throughout the day,
while God’s beautiful creation surrounded us.
How can one not feel grateful in such a setting?
My guess is that many of you have had similar experiences
maybe have some of these sorts of picture on your own smartphones
or slides at home.
I’ve mentioned some of my own to you here before,
the major times where I’ve been shocked by this world we live in
–the beauty of the mesas in Abiquiu, New Mexico
–the sight of a meteor shower,
while camping out one night
–the powerful, calming roar of the surf
pushing the breeze over the beach at sunrise.
Though for me, I have often been too mesmerized
to remember to take out my camera, their memory lingers nonetheless.
Besides, too often my smartphone is filled with selfies.
I probably ought to do better at noticing the beauty around me.
And maybe that is partially the point.
Creation is not just the stage on which the drama of our lives play out.
Creation is not merely our back drop.
Creation is one of the actors, too.
And this reading from Psalm 19 is a helpful reminder.
In the Psalm, creation, itself, is praising God:
The heavens are telling the glory of God.
The firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
And I get that.
Whether seeing pictures from friends’ runs along the beach
or walking through the Kirk’s peace park
or a leisurely walk through our neighborhood,
I can see creation praising God.
I can see creation praising God.
But it can be difficult sometimes to hear creation’s voice.
And it is the voice of creation that is held up in this psalm.
Heavens are telling.
Firmament is proclaiming.
Day pours forth speech.
Night declares knowledge.
And this is where we run into trouble.
Because we don’t hear creation’s voice.
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
The voice of creation is there, moving through all the earth, to the ends of the world.
And we don’t hear it.
Why don’t we hear it?
The poet Rainier Maria Rilke wrote in one of his love poems to God:
We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
Sing you; at times
we just hear them more clearly. (i.45)
All things sing you.
All creation, every bird,
and snail sing God.
At times we just hear them more clearly.
All of this suggests to me that we are called to listen to the voice of creation,
as much as we are called to listen to the voices of the people we love,
the voices of the people we don’t quite love yet,
and the voices of peoples long silenced.
Pope Francis and I have our differences,
but I think that this is much of what he is trying to say
as he visits with us this week.
And Jesus reminds us, in Mark,
of how we should attend to all those who speaks truth to power
in Jesus’ name
how anyone who gives a cup of water to drink because
we bear the name of Christ shares in Christ’s realm.
So I was listening to Francis, too. He is asking us to listen to creation.
If we were to listen for the voice of creation, what would we hear?
As we read the news, and look around at the planet,
I suspect we would not uniformly like what we might hear creation saying to us.
As species face extinction,
and waters become polluted beyond repair,
I suspect the voice of creation might be calling out for help.
All of this made sense to me, so far.
But did you notice,
Psalm 19 moves from its glorious opening passage about heavens,
firmaments, and glory
and then gives us a recitation of the gifts of the Law.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
That had me scratching my head a little bit.
At first glance,
what in the world does this section about the Law
have to do with creation calling out its praise to God.
But if we think about our inability sometimes to hear creation’s voice,
one might wonder if, perhaps,
our adherence to God’s Law might be the piece we are missing.
How would we hear creation’s voice differently if we attended to God’s Law?
…the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
We tend to think of laws as restrictive,
as things that keep us from doing something,
and the Law of God does intend to keep us from committing acts
that would harm or kill or hurt.
Laws are good for that. For sure.
But God also intended the Law to free us,
to allow us to be free to glorify God and enjoy God forever.
the guy who launched the reformed tradition
once described God’s Law as a mirror,
which reflects back to us God’s intention for us,
convicting us of our place in creation,
reminding us of our place in this BIG TENT
God has made
with purpose and meaning not just in our lives
but in the existence that surrounds us.
Calvin also saw that the Law could be an instrument, a tool, an aid,
to help us in giving God honor and glory.
Because the truth is we can not be free to enjoy and glorify God, to love God,
when our disregard of God’s Law, of God’s intention for us,
leads us to abuse the earth,
keeping creation from singing the song it was meant to sing.
We can’t enjoy God and glorify God forever
as long as we have brothers and sisters whose voices cry out for justice,
for peace, for food, for shelter, for safety, for health, or for life.
Moreover, by [your law] is your servant warned; [the psalmist says]
in keeping them there is great reward.
A great reward. Something about God’s justice brings reward to us.
Imagine the great reward it is, when we are to hear the heavens
when they declare the glory of God.
And the psalm ends with a reminder to be careful with how we use our own voices.
Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Have you noticed that the subject shifts,
from creation, to our own voice.
We are also called to heed our own voices.
How is our voice speaking praise to God?
Do we lift our voices in praise, glorifying God?
So I wonder, how do I do?
I succeed. At times.
When I’m not lifting my voice in complaint and whining.
I try to lift my voice in praise…when I’m not making snide remarks.
But are our voices calling out in love to the ones we love?
Does the way we use our voices
with our friends and neighbors
proclaim the glory of God?
When we raise our voices, are we calling out for justice?
Or are we trying to perpetuate our own comfort?
Sometimes we need a reminder
about our place within the big tent of God’s created order.
This week, I invite you to listen to the voice of creation.
Attend to the beauty of the heavens when you see the night sky
and listen for what it is telling you about God.
As you observe the world and its beauty, what does it proclaim?
In our part of the country,
the leaves will soon be changing
the temperature beginning to show a chill in the morning.
As you see these things, listen for the voice of creation.
Because creation’s “voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.”
May we attend to that voice,
and join in its chorus of praise, thanksgiving, and joy,
giving thanks to the God who created the orchid,
the hedgehog, and the heron;
the God who strewed the stars across the heavens;
the God who created us, in the very image of God,
intending our joy, our enjoyment, and our praise.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
 The scope of this sermon, and in some places the content, is adapted from Marci Glass’ sermon “Creation’s Voice” preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho on October 7, 2012. Grateful for her permission to reuse and reapply her work in my own context.
 From Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (New York, New York: The Berkley Publishing Group. 1996) p.105
Cover Image: Guatemalan Hillside, picture I took in 2010.
Other images from Marci Glass, op cit.