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Trinity Sunday - The First Sunday after Pentecost
May 26, 2013
Sermon: "A Word About God"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.
You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
A Word About God
Today is Trinity Sunday. That means that today, we are supposed to say a word about God. Of course, we say a lot of words about God every Sunday; about God’s love for us, how God wants us to live, how God helps us to live, how to draw closer to God as God draws close to us. But this day is different. This Sunday is meant to be a day to say a word about God’s own self; God’s own nature.
So that’s just what we’re going to do now; speak about God. One Scripture reading appointed for this morning, but which we have not heard from yet, is Psalm 8. Here it is, in part.
“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;…O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
A closer look into Psalm Eight gives us guidance on just what to speak about God this morning, along with some help from a new academic discipline called Big History.
Now don’t panic. I know that few people come unglued with excitement over the study of history. Too many teachers with voices like Ben Stein’s have put students to sleep with dusty names and dates; bygone information without a context; facts to memorize; a clutter of info to cram, reproduce and then dump in the mental recycling bin after the exam. For too many students, history is the cod liver oil of coursework: “It tastes awful, but it’s good for you.”
But Big History is different. It places the normal telling of the history of humanity within the entire known cosmic past; the beginning of the universe up through life on Earth today. It’s an interdisciplinary approach that includes astronomy, physics, anthropology, paleontology, philosophy, math, geology, and even theology. While half of us will enjoy history and half may pass on it, all of us have our interest piqued by this General-Ed course catalog. Therein lies the beauty of this interdisciplinary approach. It’s science and the humanities playing nice.
Big History connects all the dots. Explaining how everything has become the way it is now helps us understand our position in time and space in a way no other approach to history can offer. It is the history of everything. It’s probably the History 101 that our kids and grandkids will study; total history, big-picture history; history from 40,000 feet.
Psalm 8 has the same multidisciplinary approach when it comes to what it says about God. So let’s take our Psalm and this Big approach, and see what it has to say to us about God. And let us start where the Psalmist does in verses one and three; with the big picture, with astronomy.
“O LORD, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established…” (v.3)
The Heavens, the moon and stars…speaking of stars, look what your Smartphone can do for them. This may be old news for some of you, but “smart phones with the Android operating system offer an amazing app called Google Sky. When the phone is held out to the horizon, the screen shows the stars and constellations visible at that trajectory. It’s the digital equivalent of star chart wheels we played with in science class. It’s really cool, and it’s an amazing learning tool. But it can teach you theology, not just astronomy. Picture the psalmist, the poet shepherd David, lying out on a Palestinian hillside. Black skies are pierced by stars in a way that most of us in electrically lit cities don’t even know how to imagine. He’s just stunned; stunned into worship and reflection.
If God’s glory has been set above the heavens, then imagine God’s astonishing glory given how almost incomprehensively vast the universe is.
• If our solar system, sun and eight planets, (depending on what you want to do with Pluto,) were the size of a quarter, that would make our galaxy the size of North America.
• If you were to count the stars in our galaxy, one per second, it would take you 2,500 years to count them all.
• Consider, then, that the Milky Way galaxy is only one of at least 200 billion galaxies.
Now consider this: in contrast to how big God is, this vast universe is simply tiny. After all, as we’re told, God’s fingers (v. 3) push the stars into their places. Isaiah tells us that God’s massive hands are billions of light years wide, holding the heavens in his palms (Isaiah 40:12). God even numbers the trillions of stars, speaking each of their names as he counts (Psalm 147:4). Of course this is what we call anthropomorphic language. God doesn’t actually use hands and fingers. But it’s the only way we can begin to wrap our minds around just how majestic God really is. That’s the big picture the Psalmist would have us see this morning.
Now let’s look at the small picture. Let’s follow the Psalmist, with the use of physics and anthropology, and philosophy. If God is that big, then what is God doing paying attention to something as small as you and me?
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”(v.4)
If the Solar System is that quarter somewhere in North America, then our state is less than a molecule of dust on it. And you and I are barely a quark in one atom of that dust. Forget the telescopes. Forget the microscopes; we’re nowhere to be found. Given this comparative sizing, how heart-stopping is the realization that God is mindful of, caring toward, each of us quarks in that dust atom on this quarter?
While God counts and names the trillions of stars, God goes so much further with each of us, designing us each uniquely. God knows what makes us tick, hears our prayers when we cry out, and cares about each one of us. Are you beginning to feel the awe, the honor? All that beauty to look at, and God pays attention to us.
Philosophers, scientists, and theologians all ask, “Why does the universe exist?” What if the primary purpose of the universe were to be a mind-blowing, infinite art display of God? What if it is so vast that its purpose is to dwarf us and magnify its Maker? What if the reaches of the cosmos serve to remind us that God is better to us than our small perspectives suggest?
That’s how the combined disciplines of Big History stun us, and make us mindful of the wonder of God. In just this way, the hillside psalmist is stunned into pure theology.
“Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (v.5)
Who are we mortals? Verses five and following echo the Genesis account. When God spoke each day of creation into existence, God called each day’s handiwork “good.” But on Day 6, the Almighty also called the creation of humanity “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
Part of infusing us with the Imago Dei, the image of God, means that we carry a functional likeness to God; by creating, cultivating, filling the earth and exercising sovereignty. The sun didn’t get this responsibility. Neither did the trees nor the fish.
This psalm reminds us of our uniqueness; our divinely inspired value; the glory given us by the Glorious One; our purpose in the sweep of all of time and space. In the same way that Big History attempts to expand the scope of cosmic history by showing the recent arrival of human history, this psalm gives God his place and puts us in ours. God is our Sovereign: creating all, ordaining all, and bigger than all we can see or even imagine.
So what does all this mean for us, the students of this interdisciplinary praise chorus?
First, God is bigger than we can describe, and we just aren’t that big a deal in the grand scheme. In essence, we are significant by our insignificance.
But second, and more importantly, when we see things in their proper order, as the Psalmist does this morning, first God, then us, we remember how valuable everything really is.
And third, and most importantly, that value and worthiness, that fact that we are of value and worthy, because the Creator says so, should inspire our gratitude.
Thank you, O Lord, for the artwork of the cosmos!
Thank you for being transcendent and powerful!
Thank you for even glancing at us, and much more knowing us perfectly!
Thank you for caring for us!
Thank you for giving us value and purpose!
Thank you for giving us a role in praising you!
Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!