“Created” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! This is our last in series of three sermons on the psalms, and maybe (maybe!) the last time I will get to ask you, Which tree are you? [Slide grid] For the past two weeks I’ve put up this grid of tree photos at the end of the announcement time and the beginning of the sermon to set a bit of context for the psalm we were preparing to consider. Our first psalm was Psalm 22, a psalm of lament: brokenness, pain and alienation which was most like Tree #6. Last week we talked about a psalm of protection, most like #8 the tree in the storm. Today Scott read for us the first 13 verses of Psalm 104, a song of creation. As you might guess, the tree which is the closest to the spirit of this psalm is Tree #1 — although 9 is a close contender. I wasn’t sure I could say Palm Psalm more than once in a sermon.
[Slide Tree 1] This is a healthy tree with sunlight coming through its leaves. Psalm 104 mentions a whole lot of aspects of creation — and there are more which Scott did not read; this psalm is 35 verses long. The skies, the clouds, the waters, the grass, the animals. Trees aren’t even mentioned specifically, just a reference to “branches” in verse 12. But this tree is kind of a stand-in for the sense of this psalm, which one of my commentaries described as “goodness, order, and abundance” — which is a pretty awesome combination, if you ask me. I was standing in line at the post office this week, looking idly at the rack of greeting cards, when one caught my eye: the front of it said, “Suddenly, everything went terribly right.” Psalm 104 is a portrait of a world gone right.
It is worth noting that very little of this psalm is about human activity, and that the only human activity is about blessing and praising the Lord. The psalm opens with the command Bless the Lord, O my soul; and ends with, I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; Praise the Lord. The rest of the psalm is about God’s goodness, God’s creation, God’s provision, God’s renewal, God’s life, God’s glory . . . you get the idea. This is a very different tone than the lament of Psalm 22, which was about personal abandonment, pain and illness. And yet these two exist in the same collection; and I think they are two of the many facets of human experience which we need to acknowledge and make emotional space for. [Slide down]
Two weeks ago I mentioned that part of the power of the psalms is that they articulate our experience. This is particularly important with lament, when our suffering may be too raw or too overwhelming to speak aloud: because there are psalms which give voice to that kind of pain, we know that God is familiar with our pain, whether we can articulate it or not. Knowing that we are not alone helps us to supervise our experience — that is, to put it into a context where we can put some form to it and understand it better, and maybe even find that there are other people who understand what we’re going through. When we are in the midst of a storm, and especially after we have weathered a storm, praying the psalms and seeing — maybe in the rearview mirror — that God has been with us and is with us can transform our experience. Something which at the time we experienced as only pain and loss can, with time and faith, be a new opportunity or a new insight. We love and serve a God who can bring new life from death. That is the resurrection message of Christianity. But in order to experience resurrection we have to go through death. Not necessarily physical death, but the death of our plans, our control, our idea of how things were supposed to go. These are not things which are easy for anyone, and some people give up or lose hope before they get to the other side.
I want to share a bit from my own experience, not because it is so bad or so wonderful, but simply because it is the experience that I know best. A significant part of my work is to sit with people who are going through some kind of pain or loss. I shared yesterday at Betty Lamb’s service that it is a privilege to be invited into those emotional spaces: they are sacred precisely because they hold the possibility of transformation. For people who believe in the promises of God and the salvation of Christ, hopelessness is never the end of the story. But those spaces can also be exhausting. Although they are not members of my family, I have come to love the members of my church family, and when they experience trouble or death, it weighs on my spirit, too. The news of Lois’ passing on Friday evening is a loss to everyone who loved her.
And that is why a psalm like Psalm 104 is so important to have. Psalms like this joyful song of God’s goodness in creation broaden our experience. They remind us that even though times are rough, sometimes things go terribly right. And that doesn’t happen by chance — things go terribly right because that is the way God created them: with goodness and order and abundance. The natural state of God’s world is goodness. This is a significant point, and I don’t think the church has always gotten this right. It was a major point of conflict between the Roman Church, which emphasized the fallenness of Creation and the original sin of human beings, while Celtic tradition believed that God is revealed in Creation, and that fundamental identity of every person is the image of God, no matter how much that image has become distorted by sin. God’s goodness is all around us — so are ugliness and sin and pain and loss. We can’t avoid the pain and loss, but even in the midst of that, we can be touched by God’s goodness.
I have a practice which is nothing amazingly spiritual, but is meaningful to me. I often pray on my way to work; I put on a favorite CD and pray for people in our church family, or my own family, or whatever other things are on my heart. Sometimes I don’t articulate anything as much as I just try to pay attention. This is especially rewarding in October, because I’m driving west to the church when the sun is coming up behind me in the east. My family knows and Jan Birr knows and God knows that I love autumn. I love the low, buttery golden light in the morning, and I love when the trees begin to turn. I love that I can describe those colors with things I like to eat: toffee, butterscotch, caramel, candy apple red. Without really doing it on purpose, I have begun to track my favorite trees along the drive: there’s a big one at the base of the hill on CR 28 which has started turning red in the past week, and the red maple on the south side of the Church building that I see when I turn up the driveway. It may not sound like a big deal, but seeing the beauty of creation makes my heart sing; it reminds me that God is a work even when I am not paying attention. It lightens my spirit; it gives me the strength to face another day. It is an antidote when the world seems sick or I am weary. It is a gift which I receive nearly every day, and it helps to set the attitude and the course for my work.
I hope you have places and activities which do this for you. The author of Psalm 104 certainly did–rocks and trees and skies and seas — these are all the good work of God and evidence that God’s intention is to provide for us. If you are fortunate enough to travel to the mountains or to the ocean or to someplace renowned for its natural beauty, you are fortunate indeed. But you don’t have to go away from home to see God’s goodness — there was a beautiful full moon last week; that’s free for anyone anywhere. For those who have cultivated an attitude of awareness and gratitude, God’s goodness is visible everywhere. If we practice wonder and pray with gratitude on beautiful sunny days — when it’s easy to be thankful–that practice is more likely to become a habit which stays with us when the clouds roll in, as they are going to this afternoon. We all have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days like Diane shared with the children two weeks ago. There are psalms for those days, but there are psalms which invite us beyond those days; psalms which tell us those days are not the only days which we have been given; psalms which remind us that we are a part — and not a big part — of a creation which God put in place and which is good. The more practiced we are at finding God’s goodness, the easier it will be to find our way back to it when we have been highjacked by trouble or pain or loss. This psalm is a touchstone for praise.
We have experienced the pain of when something goes wrong — the car that didn’t stop in time, the medical test which shows evidence of cancer, the accidental overdose which was fatal — those are the tragic realities of this world. But there are also times when things go terribly right, when we get a glimpse of God’s sovereignty and majesty and grace. The appropriate response is: Praise the Lord! How great are You, God! I pray for moments — and they may be only moments — in the coming week when things suddenly go terribly right: When you are aware of God’s goodness and care, and are in awe of God’s creation. Praise the Lord! Amen.