“New Year, New Perspective”
Revelation 1:12-18; Psalm 8
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
January 7, 2018
January 7, 2018
“When I look at your heavens, at the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established…” When David wrote those lines 3,000 years ago, he could only see .001% of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy. With no instruments or technology beyond the naked eye, David still saw enough to know he was in awe of the heavens. Eons later we are able to see beyond what David could have imagined.
Consider the immensity of the night sky: If our sun were the size of a grapefruit, then Earth would be the size of a grain of sand, about 35 feet away. Our moon would be a speck of sand about an inch from the Earth. Venus would be 25 feet in the distance; Mars would be 53 feet. On this scale, the next grapefruit star would be 2,000 miles away, about the distance from Minneapolis to LA. And to model our home galaxy we would need some 10 billion grapefruit stars, each 1,600 miles apart. And that is just the Milky Way. Our universe is made up of billions of such galaxies. It is hard to take in, that grandeur and vastness, even when grapefruit-sized. We know so much more than David and that knowledge just makes us say with even greater reverence: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”
This is the first hymn of praise in the psalms and its imagery is so beautiful, so majestic, it is not a surprise that its words were the first scripture to be on the moon. In 1969 when the Apollo 11 ship headed to the moon, it held messages from all of the world’s countries, words to be left on the most distant place we’d ever been. And one of those messages was this psalm. And it is no surprise for it is a song for gazing and wondering.
As a people, we have been more interested in answers than in wondering. We want to know how things work, big and small. We do not want any gray or any questions. Instead, we seek certainty. This desire has always been in us but as we find ourselves in “the information age” we have supersized our need. It is as if we think: if only I can know enough, then I will be satisfied. But, it turns out, the results are actually the opposite. The more we desire answers, the more anxious we become. Which helps to explain, in this era of immediate access, of Google and Alexa and Siri, we are no calmer or even smarter. Instead, we are restless and filled with anxiety.
This is one of the reasons this psalm is our Prayer for 2018. We could all use the reminder to seek fewer answers and instead rest more in wonder. This year let’s trade in anxiety for appreciation. Look at the heavens, the moon, and the stars. You did not establish them. They are not the work of your fingers. You will never have enough answers about them to satisfy. Instead, stand in wonder of them, of all of God’s vast and mighty works. For we have been put here for more than answers. We have been put here for wonder and praise.
If you stand on the top of Mt. Magazine, a geologist can tell you how many years it took to form the rocks. She can tell you the view is helped because softer shale has eroded faster than the sandstone, leaving steep sides. But none of that information can explain why, when looking out over its vistas, you are taken out of yourself for a moment. And scientists can tell you that infants are born with big eyes because they are weak for so long that they had to have characteristics that would make even a stranger help them if they were in need. They can explain that infants’ low set eyes and large heads have developed so adults will be drawn to them. And that is all true but it doesn’t speak to the reality that upon holding your child you know within moments you would give your life for this bundle in your arms.
Answers are good. They are often even necessary. But this year let Psalm 8 call you back to wonder. Let it remind you of the deeper questions, the ones that lead to praise rather than to anxiety. The deeper question Psalm 8 asks is this: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them? Mortals that you care for them?” Now that is a good question. When we consider the moon and the stars, when we consider those 10 billion grapefruits, who are we that God is so good to us? This is not a question to answer but it is a question to live in, to rest in, to live out of, to wonder over.
It will take more than this lifetime to ponder the message here: the Lord has created a world more majestic than we can imagine; we humans are nothing compared to our Creator AND our Creator has chosen to remember us, to care for us, and to crown us with glory and honor. Both messages are here for us, both to be marveled over.
We wanted everyone to have the opportunity to take home a printed copy of this psalm, hoping that you will keep it in your car or on your fridge or by your bed to read and reread it this year. And we asked our friend Allison Ousley to illustrate it. I haven’t even told her this yet but when she sent her initial drawing, it made me uncomfortable. The person in the image is so royal looking, so honored, so—almost—bedazzled feeling, that it felt like she’d gone too far.
But that’s the point. That is one of the wonders and majesties of this wondrous and majestic hymn: that God has made us a little lower than him. That God, the one who created galaxies with his fingers, has also crowned us with glory. And I don’t understand it. Frankly, when I look at some humans I strongly doubt it. But this truth is not to be understood or to be answered. It is simply to be in awe of. Because somewhere between wonder and asking the deeper questions, that is where we find our purpose.
As we move from anxiety to appreciation, it helps to recognize that we are not God: wonder of wonders! It also helps to remember, neither are we garbage, wonder of wonders. Our purpose is to live out, as best we can, this reality of something in between. We have the unique perspective of deep humility and crowning glory all at the same time. If we live in response to this psalm it will affect how we treat others. It will affect how we treat ourselves.
In this time when all feels anxious and fraught, let this hymn be your prayer. May it return you to your place where you are not God and do not need to live as if you are. But where you are covered in glory by him and your purpose is wonder, your purpose is praise. Amen.