Monday, October 28, 2013

Encouragement... God Sends an Unlikely Angel On A Morning When I could Simply Pack It All In...

AS Monday is my day off Tuesday's are my Monday mornings, and today I was full of the "not another week syndrome". . And its not the greatest way to start the week either...Tuesday Morning Starts with me taking the rubbish out at Church. I was rather down about stuff and feeling like I could easily pack it all in... It was a whats the point kind of point.

Outside my door appears a very unlikely angel with words of encouragement and solace. A Filipino women who has a wonderful ministry of prayer and care. She does home care for people suffering with age and dementia. We meet one time out on the street out side church. The week I was going into hospital for surgery. We talked and prayer for each other. Today she simply appeared outside my office. She asked me to pray for her and then started bring words of encouragement. Speaking straight into my situation and where my heart was at. Even addressing a part of my life where there is a big scar on my soul.

For me the Kereru ( New Zealand native wood pigeon) is a sign of the Holy Spirit and while it would have been amazing to have one fly into the church at that moment. It didn't, but there lying on the pool table outside my office. Yes I have a pool table outside my office... and in typical Church manner its got a table cloth and lace covering on it to hide it... but on that table was the news sheet from the weekend with a Kereru on the cover looking straight at me.

Thank you God, thank you that you speak into our lives at the right time, in the right way, to bring encouragement and correction.
To let us know you are about and your care... more than we realise...
and that you ordain our time.
We can forget the joy of the Lord,
we can forget the wonder of  not being anxious but being able to bring it all to you in Prayer,
 it is easy to forget your hand on our lives even from our mothers womb,
 it is easy to forget he great source of life we have in your word that we can read each day.
Thank you for your angels, both those we cannot see who are creatures of light and travel across the universe...
and the unlikely and unexpected that bring your word in broken English and arrive in old green cars.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Habitat and Bio-diversity: Dwelling in the Providence of God in Psalm 104

This is the third in a series on Nature Psalms. In as eries Called Theo-cology: The breath print of God and renewal of care for creation in the nature Psalms. The other two are Psalm 8 and Psalm 19 . Psalm 148 was used as a call to worship.
James Mays, no not the top gear presenter, says ‘Contemporary people have a variety of ways of viewing and speaking of the world and the forms of life it sustains-scientific, economic, aesthetic, re-creational. This Psalm (Psalm 104) offers the view and language that is appropriate for faith.” It’s insistence that creation calls forth awe and wonder transcends the barrier of time and is as relevant to moderns and post moderns today as it was for those who heard it so long ago. Our understanding of how it all fits together and works may be fuller and more mechanical, but I don’t know about you but it simply increases the wow factor.

More than any other, Psalm 104, stimulates ecological awareness, it paints the picture of our interdependence and how it all works. That the world with all its bio- diversity, its life giving elements, all its habitats and food is a gift of God’s creative power and  a sign of his prevenient grace: that he cares and provides for the whole of creation. Leslie Allen says “Divine activity systematically integrates every aspect of life on this planet, including trudging to work in the morning.’ In the psalm humans are not above creation, but like all creation dependant on God for our life and sustenance, Allen continues “human preoccupations are framed with an enormous landscape and seascape designed by God”… and can I add for which he cares and in which he delights.

Historically the psalm was seen as a solo song of praise, the worship leader would sing it, Which is why It starts with the personal ‘Praise the Lord O my Soul’ and the congregation would add the hallelujah or Praise the Lord! that seems to sit out of place at the end of the psalm.

It is seen as an enthronement Psalm, possibly used at New Year festivals, to acknowledge and reaffirm YHWH’s sovereignty over all the earth, over all he had made. The opening verses are full of royal imagery, God clothed in light, establishing his dwelling pitching his royal tent above the heavens and that the elements are simply his household staff. Like a conquering King he has vanquished his enemies and bought peace and order. For the people of the ancient near east water was a sign of chaos, and in ancient near eastern religions it was the battle between forces of chaos that resulted in the world being created but the Psalmist acknowledges that this was not the case it was God who created everything, who bought order. The psalm tells the story of how God changed water from being a force of chaos to be a life giving source, fulfilling his purposes for it. That like a benevolent ruler, God has provided for all his subjects.

The psalm speaks of God’s provision shown in habitats being created for different creatures. There was Land that can be used for human purposes, crops and grazing, wine and oil. But also land that was for other creatures to live in: The birds have trees in which to roost. The Hebrews were essentially desert people and  for them trees planted by reliable sources of water were seen as a real blessing from God. The high mountains were set aside for the mountain goats.

Even this wonderful furry little creature (see right) gets a mention. The Hyrax, had crags in which to hide. The rock hyrax is a major source of food for leopards in Africa and the black eagle, so for the ancient Hebrew’s it was a sign of God’s care that they had shelter from the air.

The hyrax may look like a Guinea pig  and you’d be forgiven to think of it as member of the rodent family, however it is its own genus, and its closest living relative is the… elephant. Maybe it’s the dim dark secret of the elephant family, the cousin they never acknowledge, unless it’s to scrape them off their hooves. The psalmist probably didn’t know the biological stuff about the hyrax, but it is both a sign of the wonder of the diversity of creation and God’ providence to see that this insignificant animal is acknowledged as being gifted a place to live on God’s earth.

Our modern understanding of evolution would want to talk about mutation and adaptation as to how the hyrax can flourish where it does. I’m happy to see that as the mechanism by which God has provided for this creature. This Psalm does not see God as an absentee landlord, or a designer who simply started it all and walked away but actively involved in the care of his creation.

Even time says the psalmist is a sign of God’s provision and grace. In Hebrew thought the day started at dusk, and in verses 19-23 you get, like time-lapse photography in words and phrases, a portrait of an average twenty four hours: The sun setting at the time that has been appointed to it…The forest and countryside becoming alive with creatures that roam and stalk the night… In the darkness the lion roars, and in the psalmist understanding this is not something to be feared but rather it is a prayer to God for its food, its saying grace… giving thanks for its place in God’s created order and that its an object of  Gods care… The psalmist says the night is thei

r time… In our house we have a saying, “that black cats (our cat is black) rule the night, except if they sit in the shadows outside the toilet door.” … The sun rises, again at its appointed times with the seasons, and those animal give way to the day animals and the trudging labour of humans.  Primarily the Hebrew’s were rural folk, attuned to the rhythm of creation, in that they saw God’s order and room for all.

The sea, whose depth was impenetrable till last century, is also viewed as God’s provision, and under God’s control. WE are still are discovering new life forms in the waters but unlike the psalm are becoming aware of the limits of life in the sea. It’s not beyond number. But again there is a sense that there is a balance between human use, those who go out in ships, and its enjoyment as a habitat for sea creatures. The word leviathan is used to denote some sort of sea monster, in canaanite thought they were to be feared, be it whales or crocodiles or something else, But in this psalm you get the idea of animals playing and delighting in what God has made for them.

Then the Psalmist turns to talk of Gods provision of food and that the rise and fall of generations is also part of God’s provision, of refreshing the earth. If you’re a fan of Disney’s Lion King you may be familiar with the song’ the circle of life and Mufasa trying to explain to the young Kimba, that the antelope eat the grass and the lions eat the antelope, but when the lions die they feed the grass. Again the Psalmist acknowledges this is part of God’s providence and care.

The psalmist then gives praise to God for all his works. Even the earthquake and volcano are seen as a manifestation of God’s power. The wonder of what God has created, the abundance and balance of God’s provision inspire the psalmist to praise and to give thanks. To lift up his voice and join creation in singing Gods praise. Bio diversity and the habitat’s for different animals and interdependence and the splendour of it all are to fill us with awe and wonder. The secularist will say isn’t nature great, where as we turn and acknowledge that God is good. In the genesis creation story when God says that ‘it was good’ you get the idea of the creation showing the mastery of its creator.

The palmist also responses by desiring that his meditation, the way that he thinks and acts would be pleasing to God. Worship is not just song and standing with one’s mouth open in gob smacked amazement, it calls us to right thought and right action, it is life’s work. Ethics how we live is an essential part of our worship. It is like that in terms of creation. The psalmist may be way ahead of his time, he sees that human sin can impact and unset that balance. That’s the call for all sinners to be removed from the earth.

How does this psalm speak to us today…

Firstly, It calls us to live thankfully, to see it all as gift. To see everything we have and use and consume as God’s providence; God’s provision. To be treasured and used sparingly. Modern western society is built on consuming and on a particular standard of living that is not sustainable anymore. That has a negative impact on the balance in nature that was a reflection of God’s creativity and goodness. To see it as gift, to live knowing that God provides calls us to simplify our lives. It’s interesting that people often point to the population explosion as to the main cause of pollution and animals habitats disappearing into housing and food production. But when you have a look at food consumption and consuming of energy resources, you see that it is a few nations that consumer more than their population should. We live in one of those nations.

It calls us to be part of an alternative vision for life. I think it’s a vision that the church has often found its self on the wrong side of. It’s a vision that calls us to see our fellow creatures as objects of God’s grace and love, that their part in creation is a gift from God. I know a few Christians who see their Sunday worship as going and being involved in replanting some of our Hauraki Gulf Islands for example. It calls us to be at the forefront of movements like the community garden movement. In Europe monasteries, faith communities were the centre for learning about local food production, reconnecting us with soil and place..

Secondly, I want to make one comment about how I feel this psalm speaks to us. Because of the reference to the spirit giving life in verse 30 in the Christian church this psalm is often used at Pentecost. As I was reflecting on this passage I had a conversation with Forbes Worn who works here at the presbytery Office. Forbes told me to speak about spring. He’d been up to Helensville and come down through the kumeu area and seen people whose fields had been planted. Maybe strawberries, and other wonderful summer fruit. he said That this, St Peter’s is a spring church, the winter is going and spring is coming. I wanted to pass that on to you as encouragement, because I know many of you have been toiling through what must feel like a long winter, and you have been faithful and planted seeds, and the sovereign God who orders the seasons is able to bring new life. We are a Spring Church AMEN.

LASTLY, I went to Pukematekeo, on Thursday evening, which is the northern summit in the Waitakere rangers. I stood there for about forty minutes. It put things into perspective. My soul again rejoiced, I caught a glimpse of how awesome and big God is in his creation. The skyscraper canyons look so small from up there. The sound of traffic was drowned out by wind sweeping across the bush and the sound of birds, there was the smell of native clematis (I think) in the air. It was afternoon so the green carpet of the rangers was lined by the silver gleam of the Tasman Sea.  And I caught something of the awe and wonder of what the psalm 104 says. It invoked a hallelujah. But also I became aware of just how much impact humans have had. While the bush is tall and full, I know that the big trees are not there, they’ve been felled. The streams that flow to the coast are in places choked with the remains of logs that had been flooded out to the beach as the first step on their journey to the mills. The calm blue jewel like lake in the bush was behind a damn, and the water fall was the run off down its face.  I got home and a friend had posted on facebook an article about floating masses of litter in the pacific and that sullied my view of the pristine nature of the ocean. Along with Psalm 104 I couldn’t help but think of Paul in Romans talking of creation groaning as if in pain. I realised that we live in the tension between the wonder and awe of psalm 104 and the challenge of Romans. And there we need the grace, provision and renewal of God’ spirit in Christ.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reflections of the Greatness and Goodness of God from the Books of Nature and Scripture in Psalm 19.... Theo-cology (Part 2)

Last week when we were looking at Psalm 8 we talked about the historical way that science and faith were viewed. Not as being in conflict with each other but rather as two books, the book of nature and the book of scripture, through which God reveals himself to us. Psalm 19 picks this up and gives thanks for the two ways God has been revealed, in nature and in the Torah, or law.  In response the psalm finishes with a humble prayer for forgiveness, a desire to live in right relationship with the creator.

In psalm 19 the emphasis for thanks from the book of nature is again the glory of God declared in the heavens. Like a display case full of jewels they speak of majesty and the great craftsmanship of their creator.  In our modern vernacular the psalmist might say ‘these things speak for themselves’.  Without words they speak of the one who made them.

 Of course with technology like the Hubble telescope, we are able to look further and deeper and deeper into the night sky than the psalmist, and it has simply increased the wow factor 

In our call to worship this morning I used this image, it’s the sombrero galaxy, with its Billions of stars and that bright star creating mass in the middle.

Even the dust left over from some cosmic event becomes beautiful and awe inspiring. This is the horse head nebula.  It was chosen by the public as what they most wanted to see, for the Hubble telescopes tenth anniversary. You can see why it’s called the horse head nebula.

This is the cat’s eye nebula. I could go on, but the Psalmist draws our attention to something closer to home and possibly two things that we take for granted.

The first is the sun, our star, the psalmist points to the majesty of the sun. He uses the metaphor of a bridegroom coming out of his pavilion dressed in his festive best,  to talk of the sunrise, of course in our twenty first century, western world we’d focus on the awe of a brides appearance at the end of the isle.  He acknowledges it as Gods provision of light and warmth for all the earth. The sun is the agent by which God is able to enable and sustain life. We are often referred to as the privileged planet, we are close enough to the sun to benefit from it warmth, to have the changes in season from the axis of our rotation round the sun, too much further away and we’d freeze, too much closer and we would be simply a crispy baron waterless, lifeless dust bowl.

 Lamentations 3:23-24 is a favourite scripture of mine. It uses the sun to remind us of the constant nature of God’s love.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning great is thy faithfulness.  Lamentations is a series of poems about the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, you get the picture that amidst distress, sorrow and tragedy that it’s almost as if night and darkness and death have won. But the psalmist is reminded that God’s goodness is unchanging and dependable, as the beauty of the sunrise, banishes the darkness.  

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talks of God’s love for everyone in terms of the sun and the rain. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Jesus challenge is that we too should reflect our heavenly father by equally loving all, those who we find it easy to love and our enemies.

We lose something of the psalmists understanding of creation in the translation into English.  The NIV uses the words heavens in this psalm whereas the word in Hebrew is firmament. Ancient Hebrew cosmology believed that when God created he separated the chaotic waters above from those below by putting a shield around us, to quote a current TV show that we live ‘under the dome’. The sun and the stars and the moon were on this firmament. The rain was that chaotic water above coming through.

I understand why the modern translations don’t use the word firmament because this understanding of the world and cosmos does not stand up to our scientific discoveries. But as I thought about this word firmament I couldn’t help but think of our atmosphere and its various layers that protect us from solar radiation, that hold the warmth of the sun here. That is part of this wonderful privileged planet we live on. While it may not be what the psalmist has in mind, it is good for us to acknowledge this wonderful part of God’s creation and care for us. Recently we’ve become more aware of this as we’ve had to deal with ozone holes and green house gases. 

One of the things this psalm does is it demythologises the sun. The sun was worshipped in mnay places in the ancient near east as a god. But here, while it is still given some personality, it is seen as another created thing that gives glory to its creator. That serves God. In many ancient religions the sun was often seen to be a god of justice, but the psalmist strips that from it and attributes justice to, Israel’s God Yhwh who created everything.  The psalm moves from the book of nature  to the book of scripture and gives praise to God for the law, for providing those who know and trust the Lord a right way to live.

We need both the books of nature and scripture, to get a right understanding of God. Creation can show us something of the greatness of God, but it does not show us that God is necessarily good.  Earthquakes, tropical storms, even the brutality of animals preying on others would make us question the goodness of God. We need God’s self-revelation to his people in history to fully understand and comprehend God. In fact it is only in Christ and Christ at the cross that we see the true goodness and grace and mercy of God.

The psalmist praises God for the law, without going into any depth or detail.  He uses five different words;  law, statutes, precepts, commands, decrees. The psalmist says that each of these reflects something of the nature of the LORD, and impacts on us as human beings. They are perfect and can refresh our souls,  our tired life drained scared souls being made new, a wonderful picture of salvation. New life in Christ.  It is trustworthy and bringing wisdom, even thank God to the simple. They are right and give Joy to the heart, as Christians we often have this picture of the law as being a burden, we look at it through the eyes of Jesus teaching which deals more with its misuse and abuse, we can forget that  the purpose of God’s self-revelation in the law is that we can find wholeness and life in right relationships. Picking up the metaphor of the sun he says they are radiant, just like the sun they give light to our path.  They are firm and solid and show us the right way, right living, right relationships.  I went for a walk around Mt Mangere on Monday and discovered something of the danger of straying from the path, of not having solid ground under ones feet. We went down the side of the mountain on what was not really a track, I had James and Isaac with me who have the advantage of being young and agile, not me I ended up going down the side of the mountain slipping and sliding down about ten metres of scoria and tree roots. I grazed my arms quite badly and I’ve got some bruises in places you just don’t show people, and I was really shaken up. I appreciate the Psalmist metaphors about God’s law.

For Christians one of the big theological challenges is how do we relate to the law?  This psalm offers some help in that. Firstly the desire of the psalmist to keep the law is based on relationship. They are part of God’s self-revelation, the psalm about the glory of God shown in creation and in the law finishes with an acknowledgment that God is the psalmist’s rock and redeemer. The Sinai covenant between Israel and YHWH is based on God’s grace shown in his faithfulness to their ancestors and  calling them out of Egypt to be his people.  The desire for holy living comes not as a way of earning God’s favour, but as a response to God’s grace. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said he came not to do away with the Law and the prophets but to fulfil it, in Christ we are invited into a loving relationship with God and our response to that is that we desire to live a holy life. The word holy has to do with wholeness , it is that we desire as Leonard Sweet puts it to have a matrix of right relationships:  Aright relationship with God, with each other, with the created order, with our possessions and with the spiritual realm.  The Torah sets the boundaries of that faithful life and rings alarm bells when we head in the wrong direction.  Gerald Wilson says it’s like the protective firmament mentioned at the beginning of this psalm which shields us from destructive chaos. It provides us a place to live and enjoy God and what God has given to us. Yes we have to work through how we relate to the specifics, but we do that with the presence and the help of the Holy Spirit. 

The psalmists response to the self-revelation of God in nature and torah, is to ask for forgiveness, is to realise that he and we actually need to know God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness, for that relationship with God  to be restored, so other relationships can be put right. 

The psalmist is aware that he has two kinds of sins in his life. Those he knows about and those he doesn’t. He asks God to deal with both. The Johari window, behind me,  is a good way of looking at  the psalmists prayer. It says that there are different parts of our life, parts and faults that are known to us and others, parts and faults that are private known to us and not others, there are blind spots in our life known to others and not ourselves, you only have to talk to my family to learn that there are lots of faults in my life that they aware of that I’m not. And finally areas in our life that are where we do things subconsciously, the hidden self. The psalmist prays for God to forgive the faults he cannot see and for God’s help not to let the faults he is aware of trip him up.  The journey to maturity and wholeness in Christ is often one where we allow God to open that secret self up to the light of his word and grace.

In finishing, one of the reasons we are looking at the nature psalms is to see what they can say to us about renewal of our care for creation. This passage invites us to see that not only do we need to have a love and respect for creation because of what it reveals of God’s greatness and goodness, but that we also need to live out of that matrix of right relationships, that God has given in the law.

The Torah has a lot to say about land use, how we should use resources, animal care these are seen as part of what it means to be God’s people.  One of the things this psalm does is draw our attention to the atmosphere as part of God’s provision for us. Part of the wonderful life giving environment on earth and challenges us to think about that as part of our creation care.

One of the things that sticks out for me as I read this passage and reflect on creation care is the fact that the psalmist talks of the right relationships the Torah points to being more precious than gold, being sweeter than honey straight out of the honey comb, which in the ancient near east was a rear delicacy, think chocolate. And it challenges the very basis of our western consumer lifestyle.  That wants the gold, and the best of everything. Christian discipleship calls us to have an alternative vision of life, a vision which I believe fits quite well with being green and ecologically friendly.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Psalm 148 A Call to Worship

This month at St Peter's we are exploring the nature Psalms, and while I am not preaching on Psalm 148 I am using it s a call to Worship. It is an amazing Psalm that calls all of creation to come and give thanks and praise to the creator.  The Call to Worship is as much visual as it is spoken and while I wish I was the amazing photographer who took all  these amazing photo's (yes a couple are CGI'd) I am indebted to the people who freely share their artistry on the net.

In verse 14 is an interesting metaphor of  God raising up a horn for his people. It gives the sense of strength to save his people. Thus for Christians there is a real connection with the cross.

Often when I come into my office I am reminded about the way in which Creation gives praise to its creator and reminds us of God's providence . Despite being in the midst of suburban Auckland. the trees resonate with the calls and songs of birds. They gleefully bath in the bird bath outside my window. I am often distracted by sparrows tapping snails out of their shells on the fibrelight  covers of the skylights in the foyer. We even have seasonal visits from ducks and I saw a Pukeko strutting across the asphalt to our agapanthus, all stiff legged, bobbing and weaving.

The images with words are designed as congregational responses. The roll call of creation is called and we invite them to join us in giving thanks.

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights above.

Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon;
    praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, you highest heavens
    and you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever –
    he issued a decree that will never pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,

you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,

10 wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,

11 kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,

12 young men and women,
    old men and children.
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And he has raised up for his people a horn,
    the praise of all his faithful servants,
    of Israel, the people close to his heart.
Praise the Lord.
Our response will be to sing the wonderful words of St Francis of Assisi, 'all creatures of our God and King'(re worked in this video by David Crowder band, we'll be singing it old school to the organ).