Sunday, September 3, 2017

Psalm 65:God's awesome deeds shown in forgiveness, stabilizing presence and provision (Forest Sunday)

The view out our kitchen window never fails to amaze me. We can see out over the neighbours rooftops down to the port at Onehunga, over the Mangere basin to Mangere bridge. Mt Mangere kind of hides behind a kauri tree in the vacant lot next door. Then if you look left you can see the Manukau stretching down to the distant Awhitu peninsula. It is particularly wonderful at dawn and dusk. That magic hour as the sun rises and sets. As our outlook is to the south we can see the impact of first and last light on this vista.

On clear days that kauri tree next door, glows with reds and golds, it’s leaves take on a vivid almost iridescent green. The water reflects the same hues and can be gold or red, just a breath taking moment.  As a prelude or curtain call to when  sun and horizon meet, the harbour and the distant hills everything can become the subtlest of mauves. Even the concrete silo’s down at the wharf catch the light and reflect the amazing colour changes. These rather ugly industrial structures join in the light show, which proclaims the grandeur of God’s creation. A bit flowery I know but that’s what came to mind when I reflected on verse 8 of Psalm 65

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders

Where morning dawns, where evening fades

You call forth joy”

This Psalm of David invites the entire world to give praise to God for his awesome deeds. Verse 8 is just not about those awe inspiring sunrises and sunsets but is a universal call for all people from the east where the sun rises and to the west where it sets to come and worship God. 

In three stanzas. It gives three reasons to praise God.

The first is that God answers Prayer and forgives sins. This starts with the faithful who fulfil their vows before God. But it expands beyond just the faithful, just Israel, to all people. God is the one who hears all prayer and answers, who is able to meet that most basic of human need of forgiveness and fresh start. The psalmist finishes that with a wonderful picture of people coming from all over the world to the temple, coming as God’s invited guests to be filled with the good things that God has for us.  

It points us to a God who loves and care for all of humanity, it points us to the person of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross and his resurrection, which are means by which God has answered our prayers for forgiveness and fresh start. It looks forward to the invitation Jesus offers to all who will come to him to be the Children of the most high and dwell in the presence of God and experience the abundant and eternal life Christ offers. Not just in a building, like the temple but by the Spirit of God dwelling within them, within us.

The second stanza calls us to give thanks because of God’s awesome deeds in the provision of security and stability in the midst of turmoil. Again it starts with God’s people as they call God their saviour but broadens out to encompass the ends of the earth and the farthest sea. For the Hebrews the seas were unknown and uncertain symbols of conflict and chaos. The power of God is shown in the fact that he has established the mountains, he has set a limit to the sea and is able to calm the sea and the equally chaotic turmoil of human history as well.

It is easy for us to think that the world is out of control, that there is no hope. But the psalm invites us to see that God is still sovereign and moving. The psalm answers the disciples question about Jesus after he has calmed the storm that threatened to swamp their boat out in the middle of the lake. In amazement, they wondered “who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him”. The Psalmist knows. It gives us hope as we face issues in our lives and crisis in our world that God is present and at work. I wonder if the recent uprise in people’s concern about climate change and the churches rediscovery of creation care as part of our mission isn’t part of God’s sovereign move in history in the face of our rampant growth in technology and consumerism with little regard for its effects on the world.

The stanza finished with a declaration that all of creation shows God’s awesome deeds. EM Blaiklock comments “ All creation speaks to a reverent mind of the might of the intelligence behind Creation.”

The final stanza talks of God’s great acts in providence. It may have been a psalm originally written for harvest time, and it celebrates a good harvest. It starts again with God’s blessing of Israel but soon moves to include all people, they are to see how God has blessed Israel and so come to worship him as well. More than that because of God’s provision of water and sun, the whole of creation is pictured as joining in a joyful party to praise God. the corn sprouts and ripens and waves its head in a liturgal dance with the wind. The grass and wildflowers blossom and bloom and paint the desert with joyful and vibrant colour, stock revel in abundance, and the hills dress themselves in their party clothes, which maybe a reference here to the remnants of forests in Israel.  

It’s forest Sunday and it would easy to ask the question where are the trees and the forests in this psalm. Didn’t they get an invite to this party. Israel you have to remember was a desert and agrarian people. Their harvest was dependant on rain at the right time, in marginal lands. When it did come the barren rocky ground on the hills round Jerusalem would have been covered with grass and flowers, for the sheep and cattle to graze on. So there wasn’t much forest in Israel at that time. But they did see trees as a form of blessing from God. In Psalm 1 a tree with a permanent and reliable water source is used to illustrate someone who puts their trust in God. The cedars of Lebanon are one of God’s wonders. In Isaiah 40 as Isaiah talks of God bringing his people home from exile, the picture he uses is a straight tree lined road. God’s restoration of his people is echoed in trees growing in the desert. In Isaiah 55, which we had  as a call to worship this morning, trees rejoice and clap their hands because we come to know him, we respond to the word of God which comes down to the earth and achieves everything God had for it to do, creation rejoices because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. In the vision that Ezekiel has in chapter 47, a river flows from the temple refreshing the land.  Along its banks fruit trees grow, that provide healing and that are always in season. It’s an image of God pouring out his spirit and you and I bearing fruit that bring healing as we allow the spirit to water our lives, But also a picture that that should have an impact on a dry and barren land. I’m also sure if David knew the science of how the trees and forests act to provide the air we breathe he would have placed forests equally in a psalm that spoke of Gods providence and provision.

Maybe it’s easy for us to be like this Psalm and forget the forest and the role it plays in God’s good creation.  When I drive around New Zealand I am always struck by the beauty of the green pasture on the rolling Hills. Then I am reminded that this is a relatively recent development in our country. Off on the distant hills there is the darker green of native bush, and you realise how much has been cleared. A process of deforestation that is going on all round the world, contributing to the erosion of our top soil, taking away the filter for what gets into our water ways.  Destroying valuable habitat for the animals that live there, Habitats that Psalm 104 says are equally God’s provision, God’s purpose for all flesh, human and animal.

It’s good to see on a local level people doing something about it. Land in native forest being set aside. I have a friend Tom who works for the Queen Elizabeth II trust in the South Island to encourage and help land owners put blocks of native forest into that trust so they are preserved for future generation. Marginal land is being reforested, another friend of mine is a well known New Zealand conservationist. Who I used to drive round the country because he didn’t have a car and he would tell me stop and get out and disappear into the bush and come back with karaka berries, or the seeds of a rear golden rata tree that he knew was in the bush by the side of the road, or at Cape reanga I had to watch as he disappeared out tha car and over the cliffs to get seeds for dwarf manuka and kanuka trees that grew only there. But he has been involved in buying land and replanting native forest in northland to link the kauri forests. He invented the special roading that goes through the waipoua forest, to protect the tree roots from the damage of ashphalt and cars.  Way back in 1987 he sat up trees in the Pureora forest to save it from logging and pushed to have it made a conservation reserve. That is part of his Christian faith. For us it maybe as simple as being willing to plant more trees.

In the end psalm 65 invites us to see the creation around us as a gift from God, part of his blessing and provision for the whole of humanity. Beyond that focus on what it does for us it declares that the whole earth is God’s and speaks of the awe of his wonderful deeds. These form a solid foundation for Christians to see how we use and care for what God has given as an important part of our witness and practise. The universality of these gifts from God call and challenge us to engage on a global scale as well. What we have learned is that the ends of the earth and the farthest seas are a lot closer than the Psalmist imagined What we do here has an impact all over. Finally this Psalms praise of God as the one who provides forgiveness gives us hope, beyond simply being about coming to faith in Jesus Christ, can I say that’s important and central to our mission as a church but it speaks to the fact that change is possible, that we can make a fresh start and do things differently.

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