Psalm 104; Mark 10:35-45
“Bless the Lord, O my soul. You are great.”
Psalm 104 is an ancient adaptation of a poem that has its origins in the Egyptian Tradition. Some scholars suggest the Psalm might be a treasure that the Hebrew people brought with them when they escaped the tyranny of Pharaoh. It is the oldest creation story in the Bible, outdating the Genesis stories by more than 500 years. Yet when we read the Psalm, its poetry shows no age.
You stretch out the heavens.
You ride on the wings of the wind.
You set the earth on its foundation.
You cover the deep with a garment.
You make the springs to gush forth.
You water the mountains and the earth is satisfied.
O Lord, our God, how magnificent is Your work.
The poet managed this imagery in a land known for its barrenness. Can you imagine her words if she had lived in Rockfish Valley? Every morning I awake to a landscape that puts Monet to shame. Each evening I witness subtle shadows that can never be duplicated. Words are not adequate to describe what we see from below. Yet seeking more, we ascend to the hills where no artificial lens can capture what we experience.
I hope all of you have driven the Parkway or the Skyline Drive. While it is a joyful experience my preferred mode of transportation is a bicycle. At my age, going fast is hardly an option. Every flower stands ready to be examined. Every sound is amplified through the woods. There is nothing quite as exciting as hearing a bear crash through the brush as he flees from a two wheeled monster on the road above. Such is the mystery and grace of God’s creation.
May the glory of Your creation endure forever.
May we rejoice in all You have created.
You open Your hand and the earth filled with goodness. May I rejoice in the Lord for as long as I live.
May I sing God’s praise as long as I have being.
For three thousand years God’s people have been singing this song. We are born and we die yet the mountains remain. Wars come and go yet the streams continue to flow. From the advent of humankind we have worked to the point of exhaustion and then retreated into God’s creation to be restored. Our songs of praise find their rhythm within God’s gift of gentle breezes and calm waters. It is the way it has always been. It is the way we assumed it would always be. God is great! So why aren’t we?
Last month Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations declared that climate change has become an existential threat to the planet earth. He said, “Climate change is moving faster than us.” He noted record breaking temperatures, wildfires, storms, and floods leaving a trail of death and devastation. He pointed to the recent monster hurricanes in both the Atlantic and Pacific, disappearing Arctic Sea ice, the threat to food chains from oceans becoming more acidic and the rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. He called on the world to shift from fossil fuels to clean energy produced from water, wind, and the sun by no later than the year 2020. His final words were sobering. “We have reached a point of no return. If we fail to act by the year 2040, we are assured a dark and dangerous future.”
As a rule I tend not to be impressed by hyperbole. At any given time we can find someone holding up a sign claiming the world is going to end. And anyway, how many of us plan on living until the year 2040? Isn’t this just another cycle of nature? Won’t Mother Earth figure it out and make the necessary adjustments. Psalm 104 has been celebrated for 3,000 years. Give me one good reason it won’t be celebrated for another 3,000? Maybe the answer to that question is in the last verse of the Psalm. “Let sinners be consumed from the earth. Let the wicked be no more!”
The Psalmist believes there is an intended harmony to creation. The existence of the world is based on a critical balance between what God created and how humanity responds to this gift. Look at the story of Noah. Creation is threatened by the wickedness of humanity. The story ends by God telling Noah the generations to follow are responsible for the livelihood of the birds of the air, the fish in the sea, and the streams that run down from the mountains. The writer of the Noah story knew nothing about climate change or fossil fuels. But even 3,000 years ago the poets knew that human greed can easily mess up a good thing. Psalm 104 warns the earth will remain healthy only if we are obedient to our planet's needs. But if we put ourselves above what nature requires, a crisis will arise.
I am reminded of the conversation Jesus had with James and John when they asked to be given the place of honor. Jesus’ answer was quite simple. If you want to be great, you must be a servant to all. To put that in ecological terms, if we want the earth to survive, then we must become its partner rather than its master. The year 2040 seems so far away. Many of us cannot imagine living that long. But think of it this way. In 22 years my grandchildren will be 32, 28, 26 and 23. How old will your grandchildren be? What kind of world are they about to inherit? Are we willing to change our habits as a ransom for them? I sure hope so. Amen.