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- [00' 00"] An introduction to Psalms and Psalm 8
- [03' 52"] Psalm 8 (NIV)
- [05' 00"] A big question: “Why am I here?”?
- [09' 01"] God is greater than all
- [19' 55"] Our place in this world: faithful stewards
- [20' 49"] A final reflection
- [22' 18"] Closing prayer
An introduction to Psalms and Psalm 8
Somebody was telling me this week that they quite like the summer so long as it’s not over twenty degrees. And I quite like it about twenty five degrees, so perhaps I’ve come to the wrong part of the country. [Laughter]
Psalms: poems, hymns or songs expressing human life in its range of emotions — joys, sorrows, confusing doubts. All within a framework that relates to God.
Psalms. They can play a special role in one’s spiritual life as they can challenge, comfort, and strengthen our faith. Whilst nobody wishes to have great upheaval, I’m grateful that people like King David, who wrote many of these psalms, were able to put their feelings down so eloquently in verse. Who knows if Ruth Priestly-Yates was around at the publication of scripture perhaps even her rendition of various poems might have made it in. I’m sure that the poem that I wrote about the gerbil when I was eleven would not have made it. [Sympathetic laughter] It wouldn’t have.
Over this summer holiday period we’re going to be looking at just four quite memorable psalms. The four I have opted for us to look at engage us in different ways and they are amongst my favourites so it’s pastor’s prerogative.
But it’s also interesting to note that Jesus quoted the Psalms more than any other part of Scripture in the Old Testament. So if it was important to him, it’s important to us.
Dick, can we have the first slide, I think. There are some slides coming up. That’ll do. That’s a good one.
So we begin today with my favourite psalm, Psalm eight. Having never really preached on this book before I thought I’d start with something quite familiar I didn’t know though that there were so many various categories of Psalm. I just assumed that they were happy or sad, or perhaps mad. My learned friend the Reverend Andrew Emison, from the Methodist Church, suggested that I got this book: a huge commentary on the Psalms. And it tells me at the front there’s a whole list of what the Psalms are, not just happy, sad, and mad.
There are laments, community laments and individual ones; hymns of thanksgiving; prophetic warnings; wisdom, royal and enthronement psalms. There are trust psalms and Zion psalms. There are even psalms known as general.
Yet out of the hundred fifty Psalms that we have. Only five are about creation and Psalm eight is one and I would suggest the most descriptive.
It is as Walter Brueggemann, this chappie who wrote this book — don’t worry we’re not going to read the whole thing today — he put it as: an envelope of a psalm with humanity within the body but God at the edges who holds it all together. And that’s what Psalms do best: whatever the contents, God is always there.
So let’s read Psalm eight. All nine verses.
Psalm 8 (NIV)
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens.
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
A big question: “Why am I here?”?
Have you ever wondered about your place in life?
I think it’s the next slide, please, Dick.
Have you ever thought about your place in the world. That question, “Why? Why why am I here?”, comes to us all during life some time or other. But before we can even start to think about that, we should probably respond to it on a larger level, to that macro level, that invites us to ask, “What’s the place of mankind in this world? Why did God put us here?”
If we understand why God put human beings here, then we have a better chance of responding to ourselves about why we’re here. And Psalm 8 is a beautiful hymn of praise to God. You can imagine the young shepherd David, long before he became a mighty king, looking up at the expanse of the darkness, looking at the stars in the universe, in absolute amazement, wondering these exact thoughts, “Wow! i’m so, so tiny compared to this brilliant display of stars, planets, animals, fish, birds, including the sheep that I’m looking after here. How amazing!”
David is addressing God twice at the beginning of this poem. Next one please, Dick, I think. Yes.
David is addressing God twice here at the beginning, “O LORD, our Lord”. Even though it’s my favourite psalm, I had never connected the fact that the Hebrew here is using two different words for Lord, for titles for God, “O LORD, our Lord”. The more adept of you at Old Testament Hebrew, will know that the word in capital letters LORD, in capital letters L O R D, appears in the Bible when the translators use this as the name of God, Jahweh. Jehovah, perhaps, as it was. J H W H, the name of God. The name that is used at the burning bush, when God sends Moses to the people of Israel to rescue them. When Moses says, “Suppose they ask me what is God’s name, what shall I tell them?” And God says, “I am who I am” or, “I will be who I will be”. “This is what you are to say to the Israelites, the I am has sent me to you.” The capital letters in the English translation L O R D, capital letters. Note that this is the actual name of God, “I am.” Oh, Jesus said that was his name, too. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” “I am the gate.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” Yes, that’s because Jesus is God. Clever, eh?
And the second title that David uses here, in Psalm eight verse one, is Lord with a capital L, just a capital L. As in the Lord of the manor. In Hebrew this title is Adonai. And so, right at the start of this amazing psalm, we have a God who is. Yahweh, his personal name, and Adonai, his title. “O LORD, our Lord”. This majestic God. Even his name refers to who he is and what he’s all about. He’s big. He’s great.
And so David is saying in this first verse that there’s no place on earth where God’s power and greatness cannot be seen. God is great because his name is majestic in all the earth. I think the next slide, please, Dick.
God is greater than all
Continuing this theme in verse two, God is greater than all the earth because he set his glory above the heavens. His glory and majesty not only fill the earth and the universe, which as we will see presently is pretty big, but it’s above all created things. Even King Solomon, when he dedicated the newly built temple, asking God to bless it with his presence prayed, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built?” (1 Kings Chapter eight verse twenty-seven.)
God is not contained by the universe. God is greater than all.
Even the smallest created human people praise God for his bigness, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise”. And then we have this rather little odd phrase, “Because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”
In this commentary that I was reading. We’re reminded that this is Psalm eight. Beforehand we have seven Psalms before. Clever that, eh?
So the seven Psalms are mainly laments: they’re complaints, they’re worries. Some say that Psalm seven and Psalm eight belong together as a package and so the context makes a bit more sense. Psalms three to seven talk about enemies in tough times of the writer, but yet they know God is in charge. This little verse in verse three suggests that God is not in the least threatened by his enemies; even the praise of little children can defeat those who would stand against God.
And so Jesus uses this when he quotes to the chief priests and the religious leaders in the temple after the children have, rightly, shouted Hosanna to the son of David. Being indignant, the teachers try to shut them up and ask Jesus if he can hear what they’re saying. Characteristically, Jesus replies that of course he does, and then kind of taunts the leaders a little bit by reminding them of this Old Testament portion, “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.’?” God can indeed silence his enemies from the lips of children.
Here’s a thing that Psalm eight teaches us that’s probably pretty glaring. Sharing the universe is very big and we are very small.
Returning to the idea of David, the shepherd looking up at the amazing stars. He had some idea of the bigness of the universe.
He would be totally astounded by what we know of the universe today; the Hubble Space Telescope and other things that are orbiting somewhere around the universe. Take a look at these slides.
So, here we have the earth at the front on the left hand side there. Now, in comparison to Neptune we’re pretty small. In comparison to Pluto, which is no longer a planet — or has it been re-classed as a planet now? I don’t know — we’re pretty big. And then compare it to Jupiter; well the Earth is pretty small. Next one, please. And then we compare ourselves to the Sun. Well that’s pretty humungous, really, isn’t it, compared to even Jupiter, which is pretty large compared to us?
And then the next one, Dick. Just for fun. So the sun is the tiny little one on the left and then we’ve got other kind of big things that I don’t really know what they are in space. And then the next thing. I don’t even know how to pronounce those but it’s something to do with space and it’s something to do with the fact that we are so, so tiny in comparison to the universe or universes or whatever else is out there. And I’m sure that more of you who know physics and astro- bits and pieces could probably tell me a lot more. But I’m just bowled over by the bigness of whatever is out there compared to us here. This scale and size of our universe and the miniscule information that we have about it despite having been around for hundreds and hundreds of years means that there’s still a lot to learn.
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers”. What a fantastically poetic way that David describes God’s intimate and very personal act of creation.
This world, our world, was created by God and we see the beauty of the creator in his creation.
I love that verse in the hymn, O Lord my God,
“When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.”
and I often remember walking through the Blue Forest National Park, just outside Sydney in Australia, and that was a real revelation because I was up a mountain-type thing, and you could see down into these valleys. And I could hear the brook and feel a gentle breeze. It was amazing. Oh, what a perfect day that was. Then sings my soul, my saviour God to thee, how great thou art.
And so it is very appropriate for David to ask in this psalm, “What is man, mankind, that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
What is planet earth compared to all the stars and planets and galaxies? What is our place in all of this? Why are we here? Do we even matter? Are we alone in the universe?
Next one please, Dick.
An astrophysicist by the name of Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden believes there are seven hundred quintillion planets in the universe. But only one earth. Seven followed by twenty zeroes apparently: 700,000,000,000,000,000,000. So that’s what seven hundred quintillion looks like in numbers. This terrifying, yet beautiful, thought means that Planet Earth is likely to be the only one.
Planet Earth is in what can be known as the Goldilocks zone. We’re not too close to the sun to be too hot. We’re not far enough away from it to be too cold, We are just right.
Zackrisson found that Earth appears to have been dealt a fairly lucky hand. Zackrisson found that Earth is a very fortunate place to have life.
We are humbled and amazed that the God who created everything notices, and remembers, and pays attention to, little people on a tiny little planet, right in the middle of this vast universe.
And so, if God is concerned for mankind, and for the planet in which we inhabit, then so should we.
Not only does God pay attention.We find that God gives us a special place within that creation, made a little lower than the angels or heavenly beings, means that humans are significant in this universe.
You and I, as we’ve been finding out through Mark’s Gospel, are created in the very image of God.
We are the extreme pinnacle of God’s creation. What greater honour could God bestow upon specific members of his creation than to create them in his image?
[Sneeze] Bless you.
David goes on to remind us that God made us to rule over this very unique, as far as we know, creation. “You made him ruler over the works of your hands. You put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds and beasts of the fields, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea.”
In Genesis chapter two, we were told to work the Garden of Eden and to take care of it. The Hebrew word for work in this context is to serve, to take care, to guard, to watch over and protect.
Can’t remember if there’s another one or not, Dick. Not yet.
We are commanded and commissioned to serve this world and to take care of it.
We have been given both rulership and responsibility.
“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
Are these verses applied to Jesus the Son of Man in the New Testament? There are bits of 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen and Hebrews chapter two that seem to suggest that Jesus fulfils our rightful place in the world after it’s been undone.
As we learnt from Mark sixteen a couple of weeks back, Jesus didn’t only come to restore people to a right relationship with God: he came to redeem the whole of creation.
Our sin of ignoring the world’s needs, our sin through neglecting to care for one another, our sin through disobedience has been pardoned through the death and the resurrection of Jesus.
Our place in this world: faithful stewards
And so what is our place in the world?
It’s to be a faithful steward using the gifts God has given you and I in this world to bring him glory.
The things that are true, and noble, and pure, and right, and lovely, and admirable. We put those things into practice. We bring the kingdom of God.
We serve God through our worship by taking care of that which is closest to us.
Our world is not just our world. It is God’s creation, full of wonder.
It is down to us to worship God because he is majestic in all the earth.
A final reflection
We going to respond by looking at a song. The words are on the screen, as well. If you know the song you may want to sing along with it, but you might want to use these next four or five minutes as a reflection. Thanking God for this world and spending time, perhaps, remembering places that you’ve been where you felt very, very close to God.
[The song was Who can know the mind of our creator? by Martyn Layzell, copyright © 2005 Thankyou Music]
[This recording has a minute’s silence here]
[Gill Morgan] Father God, as we go from this place into the world this week, be with us. Help us to know how awesome you are. And how incredible we are in your sight. And how special and precious each one of us is. And we thank you for that, Lord Jesus.
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Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and within the talk are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.