Psalm 104:24-35 – Listen to Creation

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
    In wisdom you have made them all.
    The earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
    teeming with life of every kind,
    both large and small.
See the ships sailing along,
    and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea.

They all depend on you
    to give them food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
    You open your hand to feed them,
    and they are richly satisfied.
But if you turn away from them, they panic.
    When you take away their breath,
    they die and turn again to dust.
When you give them your breath, life is created,
    and you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
    The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
The earth trembles at his glance;
    the mountains smoke at his touch.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
    I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord….

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord! (New Living Translation)

The earth is a complex ecosystem, alive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature. All of creation knows and depends on its Creator. The earth bears its Creator’s fascination.

The world is wonderfully intricate, its vast natural systems working in sync to flourish across the earth. All creation lives with confidence in God’s sustaining grace. Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of the powerful Spirit.

This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus. 

Just as we listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; and, just as we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us in the name of Jesus Christ, so we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God.

In a society expectant of all things fast – fast food, fast cars, fast service, fast everything – there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down to listen to God’s Spirit speaking through God’s creation. Even though we, at times, encounter difficulties which limit us and slow us down, these very situations afford us the opportunity to listen.

Today, when you eat your meals, I invite you to take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite. Connect with the reality that eating comes from the earth’s generosity.

When walking the dog, do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you. Hear the wind blowing, the trees swaying, the water rushing, the birds singing. They all give praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with divine splendor.

The lack of listening, the refusal to truly hear, was at the core of Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise. Ever since, people have been tainted with spiritual deafness. We must, once again, learn the vital skill of listening well.

Opening to the sounds of creation can reopen us to our divine image, which has never been lost – perhaps just buried so deep within that we are many times not in touch with it. Listening to creation also enables us to hear how it groans under humanity’s poor stewardship of the earth.

The whole of creation is always singing; it is just a matter of whether we are listening, or not.

When spending time in nature, ask yourself:

How is God’s glory and love reflected in creation?

In what way is your hope renewed or your heart stirred in response?

How might I be a proper and faithful steward of this earth around me?

Do I feel a connection with the land? Why, or why not?

Every morning for generations, the Native American Iroquois people have greeted the dawn with thanksgiving.

“It is an honor to be a human being and to have been invited into the circle of Creation,” they say to the Creator. Beginning with the grass and the trees, the Iroquois express gratitude for the other plants, the water, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the stars.

I myself have also found a deep connection with God in the morning amongst nature. Greeting the Creator, as well as the oak trees and lilac bushes near my home, give me the ability to frame my upcoming day with awareness. As I am present and mindful to creation, so I find myself more present and aware to the people who need my focused attention.

Sadly, there are people who have never known the joy of walking barefoot through the grass; the wonder of staring into the night sky full of stars; and the sublime silence in which to hear the voice of God.

There are whole segments of our global family who have never had clean water or enough to eat. There are people who have lost their very identity because of exploitation of resources and greed. So, we need to connect with creation.

We must discern that our connection with created things fosters a stronger and deeper connection to our fellow humanity.

For when we observe the beauty in all things, we train ourselves to see the beauty in others. And where there is beauty, there is appreciation, gratefulness, and compassionate care. God speaks to us through creation. Nature is our teacher. Let’s make sure and treat her with the respect and care she deserves.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, does all creation belong.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through Brother Sun,
bringing us the day and giving us light.
He is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Most High, he bears your likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water.
She is very useful, humble, precious, and pure.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night. He is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth.
She sustains us and governs us; she produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living person can escape.

Woe to those who die in sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Let all creation praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility. Amen.

–A Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi

Luke 2:1-20 – The Sound of Salvation

Host of Angels by Mike Moyers

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (New International Version)

Out of all the sounds of the season, the best of all is the sound of salvation.

The Sound of Activity

The Roman census brought a crowd of people to small village of Bethlehem. Because most were related to one another, it was like one big family reunion. There was lots of noise, with people talking, laughing, and sleeping.

We are a busy society and a busy people. The Christmas season only seems to exacerbate our busy-ness. Jesus can get lost in all the noise. We can miss the point of it all because of our preoccupations with all those seemingly necessary things in our lives. And it can be hard to hear and to listen to God. The sound of activity eventually needs to give way to another sound….

The Sound of Silence

Bethlehem was so busy that no one paid attention to the most cataclysmic event ever to take place. But out in the fields, all was quiet. The shepherds were there, quietly watching over their sheep. In the silence, they were able to experience the sound of good news.

Like a good pot of tea, we must allow the Word of God to seep in us, allowing the heat to do its work so that we might listen well to the divine voice. If we come at the Word with a cold heart, it will likely not do us a lot of good – we need to be hot and receive the Word with humility and respond to the Word with wisdom. As we allow God to seep in us, we become acutely aware of a beautiful sound….

The Sound of Joy

The shepherds heard good news of great joy from the angels. And then they shared their joy and went to worship the newborn Christ. It was a great celebration. After all, how often do a multitude of angels show up with an unsolicited concert of joy!?

We can imagine the sound of the shepherds’ unbounded joy at hearing the good news that the promised Savior has come! They just had to go and see Jesus, and then told everyone about it. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

There’s nothing quite like hearing good news, then sharing good news. Sadly, however, the story does not end there because not everyone was happy about Jesus being born as the King….

The Sound of Crying

King Herod saw Jesus as a potential rival, and he callously had every baby boy in Bethlehem killed when he found out the news. (Matthew 2:1-18)

We must keep in mind that not everyone is joyous at Christmas. Past grief associated with the holiday season can make it difficult to participate in the celebration. So, we need to be aware of the lamenting folks around us and hear their sad crying so that we can be agents of comfort and grace.

And let us also not forget, another sound of crying is the baby Jesus. Yes, he really cried. Jesus is truly human with all the sounds and experiences that go with being human. (Hebrews 2:10-17)

Conclusion

The sounds of activity, silence, joy, and crying are all part of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. To truly experience a full-orbed Christian spirituality, we will pay attention to the range of sounds occurring around us at this time of year.

Eternal God, who breathed this world into being, and placed stars into the heavens: You are the God who entrusted Jesus to the care of ordinary people, becoming vulnerable so that we might know the power of Love – a mystery so deep it is impossible to grasp, and so beautiful it is impossible to ignore.

Circle us, Lord, with the light of your presence, bright within this dark world. Enable us to be overcomers of fear and temptation, and victors over sin and despair. Circle this world with the joy of your salvation. Where there is sickness and disease, bring healing. Where there is hunger and despair, bring hope. Where there is bondage, bring freedom. Lord of our salvation, circle this world with the light of your presence. Amen.

1 Samuel 3:1-18 – Speak Lord, For I Am Listening

Stained glass of the boy Samuel at the bed of Eli the priest

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So, he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore, Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore, I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So, Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” (New Revised Standard Version)

There are two different ways of being silent.

Old Testament narrative stories are typically arranged in such a way that we can perceive clear contrasts between two different people. In our lesson for today, the boy Samuel and Eli the priest are contrasting characters. They each display a different way of silence – one good, and one not.

Stained glass of Eli and Samuel in Christchurch Cathedral, Oxford, England

Samuel takes a posture of listening. He is quiet so that he can hear the voice of the Lord. Samuel responds with few words. 

Eli is also quiet – but for all the wrong reasons. His sons are also priests who receive sacrifices from God’s people. However, they do not handle their responsibility with any care for what the Lord really desires or wants.  Eli knew what his sons were doing, and he was silent about it.

Wisdom knows when to speak and when to be silent. And when being quiet is required, it is to be for the purpose of listening. 

Listening is a lost art and a forgotten skill today. Many people are so concerned to express their opinions and say what they want to say that the virtue of listening is not valued. Yet, God puts a premium on taking the stance of listening.

A person who talks too much gets into trouble. A wise person learns to be quiet.

Proverbs 10:19, ERV

Busyness and constant locomotion are the bane of listening well. Taking precious time to stop and truly listen to another is very much needed in today’s world. If we are to hear God’s voice, it will require being still and silent for long enough to listen to what the Lord is saying to us.

Many folks are also quite uncomfortable with silence. They seek to fill any quiet space with noise so as to avoid facing what is really going on inside the soul. I once attended a pastor’s retreat in which I got to know a church planter in an urban ministry. He grew up in a large family and incessantly talked. The man was a beehive of words and was constantly moving. 

Having been to these types of retreats before, I knew what was probably going to happen, and it did. The retreat host made a pronouncement after dinner on the first day that there was to be absolutely no talking until lunch the next day. There was to be a full eighteen hours of total silence.

Some might think this is some sort of punishment. However, that line of thinking likely expresses how much we prize our words and how much noise means to us. 

The sole purpose of the retreat’s imposed silence was for listening to God. Some of us are so busy moving from one thing to another, and constantly talking, to the point of drowning out the voice of the Lord. 

When we broke our silence the next day, the pastor confessed that in his whole life, he had never been quiet for more than fifteen minutes. He said this:

“Those eighteen hours of silence were the loudest hours I ever experienced. My mind was so noisy and so filled with stuff that the evening nearly drove me nuts. But in the morning, as the noise started to fade away, I could begin to hear the still small voice of God.” 

This wonderful brother went back to his church a different pastor, determined to sit still long enough and be quiet long enough to hear what God wanted for his life and work.

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”

Blaise Pascal

If we want to hear God speak to us, we can take the same approach as the boy Samuel and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Then, be quiet and listen…. 

Any fool can babble on about their gripes and opinions. But in the Bible, talking is generally viewed as being overrated. Solitude and silence are prized so that we might listen and learn.

Genuine listening can be scary. We might want to avoid what God is saying because it may be something we don’t want to hear. Eli got bad news from Samuel’s listening to God. Yet here is where words are to follow listening. When we take the time to listen to God, we must do and say what God tells us. And God might tell us to say or do something we may not want. 

Therefore, we must take up the shield of faith with which to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one who wants to keep us trapped in either a cycle of constant chatter without listening, or continual silence without acting upon what we hear from God. We need to have times of silence so that we hear God speak, and we must act in faith to say and do what God calls us to.

Loving God, we admit we are uncomfortable with silence; we do not like to listen because it is such hard work.  We confess to you our idol of filling every nook and cranny of our lives with being busy and productive, achieving and doing. There are so many words and so much information we hear every day that we do not hear your voice. We admit we keep looking for you to act without first listening to what you are saying to us.  We confess we feel that we cannot get away with you; and feel powerless over the forces at work in our lives.

Today, we choose a posture of listening to your Holy Spirit speak to us through your Holy Word. As you speak and have spoken, fill us with the courage to act upon what you tell us to do. We lean into the faith we have in the Lord Jesus so that our lives may be shaped and formed in ways that please you. Be gracious to answer us and lead us to the green pastures and quiet waters of your sacred space. Amen.

Job 7:1-21 – Why God?

Why is life so hard?
    Why do we suffer?
We are slaves in search of shade;
we are laborers longing
    for our wages.
God has made my days drag on
    and my nights miserable.
I pray for night to end,
but it stretches out
    while I toss and turn.
My parched skin is covered
    with worms, dirt, and sores,
and my days are running out
quicker than the thread
    of a fast-moving needle.

I beg you, God, don’t forget!
My life is just a breath,
    and trouble lies ahead.
I will vanish from sight,
and no one, including you,
    will ever see me again.
I will disappear in the grave
or vanish from sight
    like a passing cloud.
Never will I return home;
    soon I will be forgotten.

And so, I cry out to you
    in agony and distress.
Am I the sea or a sea monster?
    Is that why you imprison me?
I go to bed, hoping for rest,
but you torture me
    with terrible dreams.
I’d rather choke to death
    than live in this body.
Leave me alone and let me die;
    my life has no meaning.
What makes you so concerned
    about us humans?
Why do you test us
    from sunrise to sunset?
Won’t you look away
just long enough
    for me to swallow?
Why do you watch us so closely?
    What’s it to you, if I sin?
Why am I your target
    and such a heavy burden?
Why do you refuse to forgive?
Soon you won’t find me,
    because I’ll be dead. (Contemporary English Version)

Few people have ever suffered such agonizing loss as the Old Testament character of Job. He literally lost everything but his life. All his children were killed in one horrific event. He was so racked with physical pain and ill health that even his closest friends barely recognized him. 

Yet the most severe suffering of all came from the grinding silence of God about the whole affair. Job acutely experienced the spiritual pain of a seemingly distant God. He felt like God’s target, being pierced with sharp arrows, one after the other. It seemed to Job as if God was burdened with his very presence on the earth.

Indeed, when one is in the throes of grief, and there is no response from God, the suffering seems pathetically senseless. 

We are currently living in a world of pandemic. There is social and political unrest everywhere. Hurricanes and natural disasters wreak havoc. Religious persecution is on the rise. It may cause one to wonder where God is, in all this human suffering.

As families grieve the loss of home and property, as mothers lament the loss of sons and daughters, and as communities reel in shock over neighborhood violence, how can the loss of life and safety square with a God who is supposed to be sovereign over all creation?

And then there is the very real psychological suffering of mental illness, brain disorders, and unfeeling friends and family who fail to understand the biology and pathology around it – not to mention the extreme trauma of complicated grief.

“Does God understand? Is God even seeing any of this? Why doesn’t God seem to give a @#$!? Am I so odious to God that he’s left the room?” we might say, either out loud or in the deep hurt of our hearts.

It’s the silence that can hurt so badly. Groans, laments, and anguish seem to fly up and away with no easy answers and no immediate relief. 

Yet, God hears. God sees. And God knows. 

We, as readers, have a big picture perspective of Job’s life. We know the end of the story. We even know why Job suffered, even when he himself never knew. However, even with the understanding we have, there is still a large mystery to the ways and the silence of God.

It is a great temptation for many people to give neatly wrapped answers to life’s most difficult realities. But the book of Job does not allow for it. What we have is a man who never understood all that happened in his life yet held onto his integrity and his faith in the God he never fully understood. 

After all, if we understood all there is to understand about God, God would not be God at all.

Invisible God, you are not only unseen physically, but many times spiritually and emotionally unseen, as well.  Open the eyes of my heart so that I might catch but a glimpse of your working. Even though I am but a child and know so little, yet I trust in your steadfast love even in the most difficult experiences of life. Amen.