Psalm 104:1, 5-24
We live in a beautiful world. John Calvin once insisted that the earth is the “theater of God’s glory.” That’s a tough statement to dispute. Living here in the Northwoods, we don’t have to go too far to be immersed in the theater of God’s glory. But I began to wonder what other places people held close to their hearts. So, like any good post-modern person, I turned to social media. I posted, and tweeted, a simple question: “where’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?” Here are some of the responses: Ireland, Montana, Idaho Switzerland, New Zealand, Cable Wisconsin, two said Hawaii, there was a Colorado, one person said anywhere my whole family can be present and another said wherever I am in the moment.
Now, I’m putting the same question to all of you. What the most beautiful place you’ve ever been? Take a moment to think about it. Okay, now I want you to close your eyes and visualize that place. Take your mind back to a day when you were there. Try to recall the feeling of being there, the people surrounding you or the silence of being alone. Try to remember the smells, the sounds, the temperature, your movement, were you standing still or walking or hiking? Maybe you were engaged in some other activity. One last thing before you open your eyes, try to recreate the sense of awe or reverence you felt in the moment. All right, open your eyes.
Congratulations! You just had an experience of God. My friends, sometimes we think of an experience of God as something unusual, something outside the norm. But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, God is in the extraordinary, the miraculous, the exceptional moments, but God also shows up in the ordinary moments in life. The challenge is to realize and acknowledge God’s presence in those everyday moments. The sixty-cent theological term for this concept is revelation. The word revelation simple means “an unveiling.” So, God’s revelation in our lives is an “unveiling” of God’s presence.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, understood and expounded upon this idea. He understood God’s revelation, God’s unveiling, as taking place in four ways. Four general categories if you will. He said that God comes to us through Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.
I think Wesley was on to something here; something that’s maybe been lost as we’ve moved into the twenty-first century. Too often, the revelation of God has been limited to only a forth of Wesley’s quadrilateral; namely, Scripture. But as we investigate Scripture, and specifically for this evening Psalm 104, I think the other three modes of revelation will become apparent.
First Scripture. Psalm 104 is a hymn to God the creator. But even more than that, it’s what we call a “creation narrative.” There are several creation narratives in the Bible. The most familiar of course are the two creation narratives found in Genesis 1 and 2. Most scholars, however, contend Psalm 104 is the oldest account of creation in the Bible.
Which leads us directly into tradition, the second of the four ways God is unveiled in the world. Tradition is an interesting animal. It’s the proverbial “two-edged sword.” Tradition can sometimes bog us down. We, especially as a church, can get stuck in the mode of “we’ve always done it that way.” And, of course, that’s something we want to avoid. But, there is a place and a good reason for tradition. I’m willing to bet that you have time-honored and treasured traditions in your family; especially around the holidays, right? The Harvest Home Dinner is a tradition and a good one. But even beyond that, tradition can be a good thing because it helps us remember. It causes us to remember not only the good times and our triumphs, but also our defeats, our missteps, our mistakes. Tradition helps us to remember, both as individuals and as a community, our experiences of God.
And that’s the third of Wesley’s concepts, experience; experiencing the unveiling of God in our midst. Remember the thought experiment we did earlier? Remember the feeling of awe and reverence that your beautiful piece of creation brought? That feeling of being in the presence of God? Friends, nature inspires reverence. For myself anyway, if I’m struggling or down, a walk in the woods clears thing right up. It takes me to a place of realizing that my problems are small in comparison to the vastness of the universe.
Which brings us finally to reason. Realizing our place, that the world doesn’t finally rotate around me and my desires or u troubles, that, I would contend, is the beginning of reason. Joan Stott, in The Timeless Psalms says that, “Psalm 104 is a song about the timelessness of creation and its Creating God, as it moves beyond this ‘me first’ concept and ‘my’ importance in the great scheme of things; to rejoice in the wonder and glory of God’s creation and taking an ageless approach to the life of the universe.”[i]
I was moved by that final part of that statement. “…taking an ageless approach to the life of the universe.” My friends, this is where we find ourselves today. We have a responsibility in caring for the natural world. God is calling on us, challenging us and future generations to “take an ageless approach” as we think about the environment.
As we finish up here, I would like you to once again close your eyes and go back to that most beautiful place. Once again hear the sounds, take in the smells, the feeling of being in the presence of God in that sacred space. Are you there yet? Okay, this is why environmentalism is so important. This place that you’re in, this sacred space where God is present for you, this is why we must work so hard to preserve not only your sacred place, but all sacred spaces. And protecting your place, protecting the environment, the plants and animals and oceans, preserving the water and the forests and the air, this is a theological issue. Caring for, have a responsibility for the natural world, is finally a matter of respecting God. It’s a matter of being grateful to God. All right, open your eyes.
One final thought for this evening. As we gather this here to celebrate God’s presence, the season of Thanksgiving, and to continue the tradition of Harvest Home, this idea of gratitude moves to the forefront of our thoughts. Tonight, or tomorrow, of on Thanksgiving Day itself, I invite you thank God for all the blessings that have come into your life, pray for the wisdom and the courage to live into the challenges, and I would also invite you to be grateful for this beautiful, wonder-filled earth that God has created, and especially for your sacred space, where ever that space may be.
And finally, I would invite you to put that prayer into action. I can’t tell you exactly how or where or what that action might look like, but I can tell you that the Spirit will place opportunities to make a difference, a positive difference, in protecting God’s creation. My prayer for all of you is that those opportunities will become apparent and that you will be moved to act upon them.
I offer these words in the name of the Risen and Living Hope of all humanity and creation; Jesus Christ. Amen.