Sometimes, events happen that simply must be addressed in a sermon. Unfortunately, this is one of those times. When the president and first lady tested positive for the coronavirus, that pushed its way to the front. It’s a tragedy when anyone contracts Covid-19. It has happened tens of millions of times worldwide. Over one million people have died.
I don’t think I’m going too far when I say 2020 has been a year unlike any other for every human being alive on planet Earth. (I know we’ve said that for various years in the past—but this time, it’s really true!)
Aside from the global pandemic, which is way more than enough, demonstrations have spread across America, the political landscape has been incredibly volatile, the ice caps continue melting, the oceans are getting warmer, but guess what? The Spirit of God is moving.
And I trust the Spirit of God was moving me when I wrote this sermon.
In July, I started noticing something else about 2020. I began a frequent ritual of gazing into the night sky. From our vantage point, Jupiter and Saturn have been doing a nocturnal dance since early this year and will continue to do so for the rest of 2020. The two largest planets in our solar system have recently begun sharing the sky with our neighbor, Mars. I often like to await the appearance of Jupiter as the sky gradually darkens. It becomes visible well before any stars.
Seeing those planets has been a gift. They are my cosmic friends! I have been reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, our problems—as genuinely serious as they are—still are part of a vast intergalactic tapestry. Contemplating such matters has become almost a spiritual discipline. It has been therapeutic.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” So says the beginning of Psalm 19.
That psalm is one of my favorites. It would seem I’m not alone in that. It has been celebrated down through the ages for its poetic beauty. A prominent writer in the 20th century also had great admiration for it. That would be C. S. Lewis, professor at Oxford and author of numerous books, including The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. A professed atheist, he came to Christ, partly due to his conversations with his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Lewis’ praise for the psalm has been widely quoted. “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter,” he wrote, “and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” I wish he had said how he really felt!
He spoke of how the psalmist describes “the sun, the bridal joyousness of its rising, the unimaginable speed of its daily voyage from east to west… The key phrase on which the whole poem depends is ‘there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.’ It pierces everywhere with its strong, clean ardor.”
He’s really passionate about this psalm!
Psalm 19, which displays the eternal word of God, is laid out in three sections. The first part, verses 1 to 6, is an exaltation of the majesty of creation. Verses 7 to 11 glorify the written word, with the benefits thereof: it is perfect, sure, right, clear, pure, true, and righteous.
It revives the soul. It makes wise the simple. It rejoices the heart. It enlightens the eyes. Its beauty puts gold to shame. And how does it taste? Sweeter than honey, child! Psalm 119 agrees. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v. 103).
We end with verses 12 to 14 with a prayer of repentance and protection—and that includes protection from oneself. You did know we can be our own worst enemy? The psalm ends with words that might be familiar. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (More about that one later.)
So there’s a lot in this psalm, but I want to focus on something I know I need help with—silence.
I started with speaking about admiring my friends, those radiant beauties in the night sky. I think of how long it’s taken their light to reach me. (Minutes? Over an hour?) I can’t hear them, but they proclaim the work and word of God.
Verse 3 speaks, “There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard.” Recall the line from our call to worship: “Without a word being spoken, all creation bears witness to the goodness of the Lord.” Their voice is not heard, and yet, “their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (v. 4).
Maybe if I would just shut up, I could hear their silent statements, their wordless words. Maybe if I weren’t too busy thinking about what I could say about them, I could listen, and my soul would be enriched. I could pass that blessing along to others. But no, I have to focus all my attention on myself.
Sometimes my dog joins me on these nightly sojourns. After a little play time, he will lie down and occupy himself with chewing on a stick, or he’ll walk around, sniffing stuff. He doesn’t say much. I could take a lesson from him.
I want to revisit that final verse: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, etc.” The word translated as “meditation” is an interesting one. It carries the meaning of a “murmuring sound.” It’s compared to the sound of a harp when struck. There’s that lingering sound as it begins fading to silence. It’s not like a drum, something percussive, something rat-a-tat. It’s smooth.
Another translation speaks of “the whispering of my heart.” It is as loud as a whisper.
We’re reminded of the prophet Elijah when he is on the run from the wrath of Jezebel, wife of King Ahab. Elijah has presided over the killing of the prophets of Baal. Jezebel is not happy, and she gives orders to her hitmen. That’s when Elijah hits the road.
In the desert, the word of the Lord comes to him. It isn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. It isn’t in any of the sound and fury. It is in sheer silence, a small still voice. It is “a light murmuring sound” (1 Kg 19:12, NJB).
We tend to be quite uncomfortable with silence. We can notice that in worship. Moments of silence can seem to go on and on.
There’s another thing I want to mention in this psalm. Verse 13 says, “Keep 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.”
The poet wants protection from the insolent, the arrogant ones. The plea is to be shielded from the harm they would do. However, as before, the Hebrew word (אֵל, el) can have another nuance. It also refers to “proud thoughts.” It can also mean inner insolence. I wonder if that isn’t the meaning that better applies to most of us.
You know, I have my opinions. (And of course, they are always the correct ones.) But at the end of the day, they pale in comparison with Jupiter and Saturn and Mars, who keep doing their thing. The noise we humans make doesn’t affect them at all. And my opinions pale in colossal fashion in comparison with the one who says in Isaiah, “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:9). Period.
Our proud thoughts affect the way we treat others. They affect the way we treat planet Earth.
Besides being World Communion Sunday, today is also the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. He is considered the patron saint of ecology. He was noted for befriending the animals!
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been doing prayer walking. Last Monday, I considered something with which St. Francis would be an excellent guide. I reflected on how we called to tread lightly on the earth. Indeed, walking on God’s good creation can be an act of prayer in itself. Think of it. We easily disregard that. We pave over everything. Our bombs and weapons of war kill more than just humans. Lord only knows how many plants and animals we kill. We dump poison and plastic on land and in the sea. We foul the atmosphere.
We destroy ourselves, and in doing so, we defile the presence of God within us. We grieve the Holy Spirit.
As I move toward my conclusion, I’m not going to tell you to do anything. Just turn off the noise. Open yourself to the word, however it appears. When we befriend silence, we can better hear the word of the Lord; we can better hear those wordless words. Let that sweetness fill you up. “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8).
from Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harper One, 1958), pp. 73-74.
 הׅגָּיוׄן, higgayon
 New Jerusalem Bible