The following is an excerpt from the sermon I delivered yesterday
at Highlands Presbyterian Church entitled
"Nature Preaches the Sermon"
This morning’s reading of the 104th Psalm invokes the memory of the God of Creation through the voices of nature. The natural world does what God created it to do, authenticating the presence of God in a more convincing way than words. There is no dividing line between God and science. Science reveals but a portion of the work of the Creator, providing an occasional glimpse of the wonders of the Creation.
Recall the words of Deuteronomy 29:29. 29The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever. Science and philosophy are but revealers, the exercise of human curiosity aided by the God’s gift of God of intellect. God endowed each of us with an insatiable desire to know, asking not only that we be awed by the mysteries but that we seek to know the truth that underlies them.
The Psalmist looked at the beauty and mystery surrounding his or her world and saw God not only in the beauty but also the mystery…and sang…
1Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, 2wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, 3you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind, 4you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers. 5You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken. 6You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
At the time the psalm was written, worshippers understood nature to be a gift from God. The psalmist didn’t know how the mountains were created but knew God was the creator. The psalmist had no understanding of how the sun created light but knew it was the light that wrapped itself around the God he worshipped. The psalmist could look into the sky without today’s telescopes, satellites, space stations, and computer models and readily understand it all formed a boundless tent for the heavens…that the clouds moved around the vastness of the skies as a chariot, that natural winds and fires had something to do with God’s message.
The psalmists would be stunned by those who say God must be understood separate and apart from science, as some conservative Christians have drawn a line in the sand, making it a litmus test. They say you can either believe in God or evolution but not both.
The psalmist could look upon the natural world and although he could not understand the scientific process that caused water to flow, rains to fall, wind to blow, lightning to cause fires, mountains to appear…he knew it was the handiwork of the God he worshipped…and he had no difficulty in looking upon all of nature’s immense mystery and finding God in its creation.
13From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, 15and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart. 16The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17In them the birds build their nests; the stork has its home in the fir trees. 18The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rabbits.
19You have made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. 20You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out. 21The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. 22When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens.
It may surprise you to know that as the early Christians began to unravel the secrets of science, they too saw God behind it all. They could read the metaphors of creation and the poetry of nature on the pages of the Bible and yet accept the discoveries of the scientists who used the intellect and the curiosity God gave them to look beyond the surface.
The existence of the mountains itself spawns the questions about how is something so marvelous created? The movement of the sun and the moon, the schedules on which animals emerge to look for food at night and rest during the day, the fact the earth naturally produces the food the cattle need, the trees in which the birds make their homes…the devout had no issue or even a thought causing them to separate the mystery of those processes from the wonder of God.
10You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, 11giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. 12By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches.
One of the greatest of the church leaders was Augustine who lived 400 years after Christ. Augustine could not imagine a god who would endow humans with the capacity to learn and understand and yet reject that which humans came to learn and understand. Indeed, Augustine was clear that whenever scripture clashed with science, the church must respect the science. He believed the failure to do so would bring scripture into disrepute. Indeed it does. Those who read the creation story as literal history do bring disrepute on scripture in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of when and how the planet was created.
One of Augustine’s contemporaries, St. Denys taught “Creation is not something that happened once in the distant past but is a continuous, timeless process in which God is fully involved.” And for that, the psalmist praised God.
24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 27These all look to you to give them their food in due season; 28when you give to them, they gather it up;30When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
Yet at some point in rather recent time, some in the church became threatened by science, sensing it would replace rather than help explain God and God’s role in the universe. And certainly there are those scientists who have attempted to explain God out of existence through the discovery of natural process in the environment. They have drawn Christians into an unfortunate public battle in which they seem to be armed with knowledge and we with an indefensible and literal interpretation of writings that were never intended to be science nor to conflict with science.
In her book The case for God, Karen Armstrong frames the conflict. “While religion clung timidly to the unchangeable truths of revelation, science forged ahead giving us telescopes, barometers, canals, hospitals, schools, the telegraph, calculus and more.
Having framed the debate as either God or science, the scientists are seen as those who can liberate the world from religious fanatics. It was not supposed to be that way. The psalmist could look on the wonders of nature and see God’s face, God’s plans, God’s hopes and God’s presence…and sing:
31May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works— 32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. 33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
Next week we will bless the harvest and think about the process God created that starts with soil, water, sun and seed and in a few short months produces life giving and nurturing food. We’ll bless the animals as a way of honoring a God who set into motion the scientific process that provided us with animals for food, for toil and for companionship.
Every leaf of lettuce or tomato grown in our community garden, every pet that brightens our day…we bless as a way of thanking God for creating a world full of mystery knowing that a God who can set into motion a chain of events that turn seeds into grapes and grapes into wine, a God who can convert sunshine and water into grain and through the use of fire can transform the grain into communion bread…that is a God worth worshipping.
And the psalmist concludes with a closing prayer.
34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. 35 Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!