SERMON from 10.9.11: “How Majestic?”

Psalm 8
1 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants, you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? 5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. 6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

How Majestic?

Have you ever found yourself sitting alone and reading a psalm—or any other passage of scripture? You’ve just sat down in your recliner or chaise lounge. You reach over your head and turn on the lamp hung over the chair. At that point, you reach over and grab the cup of steaming coffee from the side table. After taking that first sip—and the steam fogs up your glasses—you the cup down and reach for your Bible. After you leaf through those thin pages to find the passage you want, have you ever had the urge—once you read a particularly amazing line—to give an audible sign of how incredible it is. It’s different for everyone, but mine bubbles up from my seat and goes, “ee-yah.” Psalm 8 isn’t the psalm that everyone thinks of when they think about the psalms, but this is one that makes me say, “ee-yah.”

The opening and closing remarks of Psalm 8 are the same. “O Lord, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” That’s pretty good on its own. Let me propose this: think of the opening as ending with a question mark. What does the rest say in response to that question? God’s glory is seen when even the cry of an infant can rouse the Lord to protect it from it’s enemies. It goes on to say that God made us a little less than God, and crowned us with glory—giving us dominion over all the expanse of creation. Earth to sky. River to river and sea to sea. Then, there’s the good part. “When I look at your heavens…” Imagine with me you are watching a Discovery Channel special. The camera opens on a herd of stampeding cattle, the shot widening to reveal the expanse of plains into which this herd is heading. The camera continues to slowly pan away to reveal the center of North America, then the Northern Hemisphere. As the North Pole and South America begin to come into the shot, the image gets cloudy as the camera experiences the farthest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. Then it’s earth, then Mars—then the rest of the planets to reveal the solar system. That gets small and gives way to another cloudy image which turns into one of those Hubble telescope shots of the Milky Way. Another cloudy shot appears to reveal the Milky Way galaxy to be contained within a single pixel of a sonogram. “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?” That’s the question, right? That’s the answer to the question “so what?” Right? So, if the opening ended with a question mark, the close should end with a gigantic exclamation point. “O Lord, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Ee-yah!

Emily—my wife—loves fall. She loves to wear fluffy sweaters and cute little jackets. Most importantly, she has an excuse to pull a purse from her “favorites” stash—or get a new one altogether. I, on the other hand, dislike it—a lot! The sky turns a new shade of grey everyday and the leaves you didn’t have time to clean up turn into a slimy, brown mess. The worst part of it is the horribly huge coats. Everyone begins to look like gigantic hand grenades. What is it, then, that can put a smile on our faces? Reaching into our coats, pulling out our hands, and finding that $20 dollar bill we forgot about. What do we say when that happens? “Oh, ee-yah.”

That realization is great. Somewhat similar to what I mean by that realization from the psalms, but we’ve got to understand how awesome the psalmist’s words are in this scripture.

I can declare the glory of God until I am out of breath, and probably will until I take my last one. David has nailed it with this psalm. God’s gift of presence in our lives is only so amazing because God is so amazing. You’ll miss how amazing that realization is if you don’t stop and savor it. It is similar to what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 12.9, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The power of God can only be seen with such amazement because our weakness is so prevalent. What are human beings that you are mindful of them, indeed! An investment banker hauling his briefcase down the hall is nothing, but a strongman pulling a semi from start to finish is amazing. It takes a powerful force to obliterate that guy. God can kick that guy’s butt. God’s grace enough to pull us from here to eternity—or from here to tomorrow—is amazing. And should make us say, ee-yah.

In my first year in ministry, I was constantly depending upon to the United Methodist worship planner to help me learn the order and content of a typical Sunday service. This book contains lists of hymns, prayers, images and the lectionary texts for each week. As I was planning the services for Christmas time, I ran across a service called “Watch Night.” Anyone know what I’m referring to when I say that? Well, it’s a service that dates back over one hundred and forty years to the Civil War era. On December 31st, 1862, slaves in the southern states were having trouble sleeping. Why? They were waiting for midnight, when the Emancipation Proclamation finally went into effect. They were waiting—watching—to experience that, at last, they were free. This “Watch Night” service is held in remembrance of that joyous event. While millions await the New Year with champagne and glitter-covered hats, many black churches are remembering back to the day they began to legally fight for their freedom.

A young slave boy—at age five—is yanked from his mother’s arms and sold to a plantation in the next county. For the next few years, he is put to work in the cotton fields. His fingers bloodied to the bone from peeling the cotton from its harsh plant. Once he passes out due to the heat and lack of sufficient nutrition, he is lashed across his back until sufficiently motivated to arise and resume his labor. The years go by and his teenage years are full of more labor from before dawn ‘til way past dark. At some point, he meets a girl and falls in love. As they are both slaves, they are unable to officially marry—so they get married in a private slave ceremony. Once they have a child, the boy-turned-man is sold to another farm in the county still further away from his original home. This new farm is even worse than the last. He receives even more lashes, which pile new scars on top of his back—which is covered with the old ones. The pain never ends. The nightmare never ends. Then, one night, a small group of ecstatic slaves comes bounding the old dirt road shouting, “We’re free! We’re free!” That’s not an “ee-yah” moment, that’s a “YES” moment!

We need to know to what degree this “Yes” moment is awesome. Let’s fast forward to get an idea.

When I was younger, my family used to vacation frequently at Three Braves campground in Michigan. It was a typical campground. They became a community all their own. There was a campground store where my siblings and I would go to get Bottle Caps or candy cigarettes—it was a different time where that didn’t seem wrong. All the campers were lined up in their rows, each with décor which separated them from their neighbor—paper lamps and tiki torches. Of course, then, everyone lived in their bathing suit. You see, Three Braves was seated right on a very nice lake that was the hub of activity from dawn to dusk. We would play different games, but the best games were played out past the blue and white buoy rope which tells swimmers the water is pretty deep past this point.

One day, we were playing a game that was very similar to water polo. However, this was a rudimentary game more akin to youth soccer. The ball went one way, and the big group of swimmers followed. On this occasion, I was stuck in the middle of the pack. I could swim, but evidently not that well. At one point the group started moving, and I couldn’t keep my head above water. Every chance I got, I chose to breath rather than scream for help. After so long, I began to be unable to even do that. I got that feeling that you get when you get the wind knocked out of you. I just couldn’t get my breath—I was drowning.

All the sudden, I felt my sharp tug on my arm. As if I was being scooped up from the chaos around me, a lifeguard caught on to my dangerous plight and pulled me too safety. When I was free of the crowd, I was able to get that first breath. It was like a burst of light! I got my first breath and slowly came back from the chaos my mind had slipped into. My lungs filled with air and the terrifying anxiety I felt in the midst of that horror began to subside. I was going to be okay, and I was grateful. That lifeguard didn’t have to save me, but he did—and it was like a burst of light.

That burst of light—the same one felt by me, the slaves of the American south and the psalmist—can illumine our eyes as well. He has delivered us from our slavery. He has hauled us up from drowning—from death, into light! These aren’t ee-yah moments, they’re “YES” moments. YES! God answers the cries of the insignificant and innocent. YES! God makes us just a bit lower than God’s self. YES! God’s creative and awesome power is not too much to prevent him to be mindful of each of us. YES! May you experience the burst of light which comes from the realization of all that God is and does for each of us. AMEN.

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