Scripture Passage: Psalm 19 (Lent 3B Psalter)
1The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. 2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. 3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; 4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, 5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. 6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; 8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; 9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. 13Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
This is a familiar psalm. Centuries of composers have helped bring its words to life for us. (Thank you Bach, Beethoven, Handel, and Haydn, to name a few!) Our Jewish brothers and sisters recite the words of this psalm at Shabbat and Yom Tov. C. S. Lewis declared Psalm 19 “the treasure trove of the Psalter.”
You can look at it in three parts. The first part is a recount of Creation, the Creation that God spoke into being and that still proclaims God’s glory not with words but with an eternal voice that is part of its very being. The second part (beginning with verse 7) points to the voice of Scripture, the laws, histories, stories from the oral tradition that helped to shape how people understood God and how people understood the Creation surrounding them. And the last part is a prayer, a prayer that all these words, both spoken and unspoken, be the very representation of Emmanuel, God with us. Now I read a commentary by someone that said that you shouldn’t try to distill this Psalm down into a single theme. So, that suggestion notwithstanding, I think it’s about “voices”, about the voices of Creation and the voices of humanity joining together in prayer, proclaiming God’s glory with a cacophony of sound. It is the sound of God’s voice speaking through the creatures. It is the sound of glory.
In his book, Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner says that “glory is to God what style is to an artist…The style of artists brings you as close to the sound of their voices and the light in their eyes as it is possible to get this side of actually shaking hands with them. In the words of Psalm 19, “The heavens are telling the glory of God,” it is the same thing. To the connoisseur, not just sunsets and starry nights, but dust storms, rain forests, garter snakes, and the human face are all unmistakably the work of a single hand. Glory is the outward manifestation of that hand in its handiwork just as holiness is the inward. To behold God’s glory, to sense God’s style, is the closest you can get to God this side of paradise, just as to read King Lear is the closest you can get to Shakespeare. Glory is what God looks like when for the time being all you have to look at him with is a pair of eyes.”
Last year, I went to the funeral for the father of my best friend from college. There weren’t a lot of people there so after greeting Cindy and her mom, I slipped in toward the middle of the large sanctuary. In his day, Jim (Cindy’s dad) had begun work in 1960 with a newly-formed government program that had recruited the “best and the brightest” scientific and engineering minds from around the country. That program would become NASA. Well, most of you know the rest of the story. So, in that sanctuary were remnants of that original program—the few early astronauts that are still around (many now in their 90’s), the engineers that went unnamed (like Jim), all of those who pursued the great beyond and finally landed humans on the moon and set the groundwork for our current exploration of Mars.
The text for the funeral was this one. Now, I’ve never heard this used for a funeral but how perfect! It was perfect because these people understood it. They understood that they were not “conquering space” but discovering it, entering it, staying as long as they dared. They understood that there was something beyond themselves, bigger than them, that invites us to look at it, to hear its voices, to come closer and closer, and even to enter the very tip of its being. By being a part of that, they had the opportunity to touch the very hand of God.
We are not different from them. We are all invited to hear these voices—if we listen. We are all invited to touch the very hand of God—if we put down what is in ours. We are all invited into the glory of God. This season of Lent is about getting out of ourselves, learning to see with new eyes and hear with new hearts. Because, see, if you do that, if you truly walk away from yourself just for a moment, you will hear the very glory of God in the voices of the creatures.
Fr. Richard Rohr in (I think I have the right one of his books!) Everything Belongs, talks about the notion of the earth and the heavens, this life and the next, overlapping a bit. The old Celtic thinkers would have called it “liminality”, an Old English word that means “betwixt and between”. Rohr says that during our faith journey, we need to allow time in that space of liminality. He exhorts us to stay as long as we can, as long as we dare. We can’t live there because it’s probably a little much for big doses of it right now. But it is there that we will see the very Glory of God. It is there that we will hear that cacophony of voices proclaiming God’s handiwork. It is there that we will know that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, part of a voices that spoke everything into being long ago and continues to speak to us in still, small voice. So, tonight, go outside. Look at the moon. And you’ll understand.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)
Grace and Peace,