Any Sunday before 4 October 2022: Creation Time
Handiwork, heavens and honeycombs
Context: reflective evening worship with Holy Communion, in a village chapel of about 25 members
Aim: to meditate on God’s creative communication methods
Ronan Keating’s 1988 hit – yes it really was that long ago – suggests we say things best when we say nothing at all.
Messages are best communicated through a smile perhaps. ‘The smile on your face lets me know that you need me.’ Or through a meaningful look. ‘There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me.’ Through the power of touch, potentially. ‘The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me wherever I fall.’ And so, he concludes, ‘You say it best when you say nothing at all.’
This is appalling news for preachers of course. We’re conditioned to speak, not to be silent. Words and how we use them matter. No preacher wants to overhear comments after service that go, ‘Couldn’t hear a thing they said.’ Or, even worse, ‘Couldn’t make sense of anything they said.’ It’s precisely this kind of conundrum that Psalm 19 helps us with today. How can any human language however colourful or any human communicator however articulate, even begin to communicate the majesty and messages of God with anything like competence and clarity? Well, says the Psalm writer, God has a few ideas about that.
Verses 1-6 of Psalm 19 open a picture window onto an ancient Hebrew world refreshingly untainted by modern science. Come gaze and gawp with me, invites the writer. Stare upwards and stagger around in speechless wonderment until you develop a crick in your neck. Someone or something utterly glorious and uniquely creative must have brought the heavens and earth into being. Just look at them! Here we have the finest handiwork on show and the creative force behind it is worthy of all praise. God speaks with the volume at max, yet no words are uttered (verse 3). The cosmic architect simply allows design to dazzle, perhaps more than doctrine ever can. So, we don’t need to feel too guilt-ridden if, on occasion, God uses the sunrise to speak to our souls more effectively than the sermon. This sermon being the exception of course!
There is grand movement going on in the hand-made heavens. This also speaks a thousand words, chiefly illustrated by the light and heat of ‘Sun’ running its daily course. Don’t you just love the picture of ‘Bridegroom Sun’ in verse 5 leaping out enthusiastically from his tent each morning to pleasure a new day? Sun gods and goddesses were commonplace in the religions Israel lived alongside so no wonder some of it rubbed off on them. In 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33 we read that altars were built ‘to all the starry hosts’ in the Jerusalem Temple. Prophet Ezekiel (8:16) even encountered some wayward souls with their backs to the Temple, prostrating themselves before the sun. Psalm 19’s writer longs only for ‘Sun’ to speak of the handiwork and glory of the one true God. Nothing in ‘Sun’ is to be worshipped of itself. In marvelling at its rising and setting, its regularity and reliability, we are left enlightened and eternally grateful to the Source. See how brightly the Creator’s loving care and provision shines on us and blesses us, communicating life-giving love we’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve.
Finally, verses 7-10 lead us into God’s written and spoken word, but not at all depressingly so. Here is a hymn to Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) which is overflowing with the same kind of delight as that overexcited bridegroom. God’s commands, far from constraining and draining the life out of us, revive the soul, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes. We long for their brightness and sweetness: an attitude in marked contrast to some Bible studies we may have attended. God’s speech can’t be solely via the silent picture windows of the world, marvellous though they are. God also needs to speak through texts, concepts, and ideas in the Old and New Testaments that require some hard graft from us to get the best out of them. Do you and I shy away from this? Psalm 19 suggests we might be missing out on sweet treats if that’s the case: honeycombs dripping with delight, even.
Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord. You always know how to say it best.
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