A Divine Duet – October 4
A sermon based on Psalm 19
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on October 4 , 2020
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Now that I am in the fourth year of my sixth decade of my life I am finally beginning to comprehend things about memory that I have heard all my life but did not fully fathom. Like I know I heard as we get older we tend to have issues with memory, but I didn’t know it manifested itself in such peculiar ways. I guess I thought old memories just sort of fell away. But so far it’s not like that. I used to pride myself on my great memory but nowadays I can get up to get something, arrive in the room where it is at and then not have a clue why I walked in the room. Or I can run into a person and remember all of their families’ and pets’ names, but not their name until it pops in my head three hours later. And oddly none of these effects my childhood memories. They have not fallen away– even those from over a half century ago seem clear.
I mention all of this because the first and last part of our Lectionary psalm is one of those things I remember clearly from my youth. We sang those verses in an anthem in my church choir in the early 1970s. Even when I was away from the church for twenty years that part of Psalm 19 has always been with me as I sang and hummed the song. Here’s the first verse which I usually belt out but will gently sing at a lullaby level aiming my breath down. Here’s how I remember it
“Don’t you wonder why the stars are in the sky?/ They’re telling you and I of the glory of God./And every towering tree is there for folks to see./ So there is no doubt can be to the glory of God/ So let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart do the same thing for thee and a witness be/to the glory of God,/to the glory of God.” 1
I read a Bible commentary that asserted Psalm 19’s claim that creation is telling God’s glory without words means humans cannot perceive it. But I disagree. Strongly. I like THE Psalm 19 anthem from my youth’s take, that creation tells us without a doubt about the glory of God and our response ought to be to tell about it too. If all of creation witnesses to God’s glory, shouldn’t we?
That not only fits with my experience but it makes sense Biblically that creation would voice God’s glory and that we would too. In Genesis God speaks creation into being; and the Gospel of John asserts that all things came into being through the Word of God. So, we have a long tradition in our faith of using the metaphor of voice and language to describe God’s creative and caring force in the universe.
Psalm 19 suggests those holy incantations continue to reverberate in all that is “to the end of the world.” All of creation sings God’s song! Most of you probably know by now that I spend a good deal of time outdoors in prayer and meditation, sitting, gardening, walking alone, or with Nancy. When I am outside in creation my habit is to tune into those reverberations – that God song– because, as Psalm 19 puts it, they tell me of the glory of God. When I put that radar up, I can hear in the rustle of falling leaves whispers of God’s glory; I can hear in the breaking of the dawn a cheering for that glory. I listen to similar songs of God’s glory in babbling brooks and rushing rivers and the crashing waves of oceans and even in the silence of snowfall or a rainbow that spans the sky or puffs of cloud that spatters it. Of course, the melody of God is also in birdsong and cat purrs, and the sight of a deer or towering tree. All of God’s handiwork has God in it! And it is awesome and wonderful and glorious! Many of us know that to be true. Like the sun described in Psalm 19 we cannot hide from the warmth of the glory of God in creation. And when we are in it, we can choose to bask in it.
I only sang the first verse of Sonny Salisbury’s Psalm 19 anthem, the second verse is another great round of tribute to God in nature and the powerful message that we should express the glory of God in what we say and do, in the words and meditations of our heart. It’s a nice song and message. But nature voicing God’s glory, and calling to us to do so too, is only half of Psalm 19’s message. And while that message is good on its own, the psalm is not completely understood without grabbling with the rest of it. I am referring to the half of the psalm that lifts up actual words in Sacred texts as so perfect they revive the soul. So sure, they make wisdom simple. So right, they make our hearts rejoice and enlightens our eyes. So true and righteous, they are to be desired more than wealth and can be even sweeter to us than honey.
The Psalmist reminds us that the wonderful Word of God is not just in nature, but in our Holy texts and THAT too should also cause us to express the glory of God in what we say and do, in the words and meditations of our heart. God’ s song is in what the psalm refers to as God’s law, decrees, precepts, commandments, and ordinances, which are basically a reference to God’s words in Torah – the first five books of the Bible God’s word in Judaism. But Christians tend to hear it as referencing not just the Hebrew Scriptures but all of our Holy scriptures. The point is that the song, the sound, the voice of God can be heard echoing in both nature and the Bible.
Understanding Psalm 19 to suggest that there is a duet of nature and book playing God’s song makes the Psalm resonates deeply for me as a Christian. It is no longer just about the truth of nature’s Divine song that is set out in the choir anthem of my youth, but includes the Bible that anchors Christianity. So now I read the psalm to sum up what my faith, our faith, is about. Simply put, in both Judaism and Christianity we hear God resonating in creation and we hear God resonating in scripture and all of that resonating of God, causes us to respond.
And certainly, a part of the response is we are in awe and wonder at the God songs in nature, and we find sweet wisdom and righteousness in God’s voice calling out in words found in scripture. But those are not our only reactions. There’re more than wonderful sensations that come with awareness of God’s presence in creation and Scripture. We feel called to do things for the betterment of self and others and the parts of God in creation. Jesus can be understood to have named this call the greatest commandment, that is to love God and neighbor as yourself. Nothing is more important than to strive for this love that cares for, and tends to, the well-being of all.
Psalm 19 gets more detailed too. It points out we can find warnings in both nature and Scriptures to avoid failure, as well as instructions on how to do right, and about the promised rewards of love and justice and peace. The God song is more than a lullaby to sooth us and make us rejoice, it is also a north star that keeps us on the path of righteousness, helping us, as the Psalm puts it, to detect errors and faults. And that is true, both collectively and individually. To paraphrase some from Psalm 19, if we heed God’s Word through it all and avoid letting those who are insolent to God be false guides, then we will live right and righteously. Which is to say, we respond to God’s song by striving to let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God and show God’s glory. AMEN
- For years I have tried to find a rendition of the Psalm 19 anthem that we sang in 1970s. I am happy to say that while working on this sermon I finally found it and learned it was written by Sonny Salisbury as a part of a work called the “Backpackers Suite.” You can hear Mr. Salisbury’s rendition of Psalm 19 at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awql7C3N5d4 .
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