Over the past couple of weeks,
we’ve started exploring what we mean when we say “the gospel.”
We think this is important because
if you ask a half a dozen different Christians what they mean by “the gospel,”
you’re likely to get a half a dozen different answers.
People will say that the gospel is everything from
us getting Jesus’ help to avoid hell after we die
to us learning to step into God’s happy plan for our lives
to us learning to heal the world through the power of love.
And to be sure, the Bible does have things to say about all of these things—plus more.
But are these things what the Bible—this ancient witness of the early church—
are they what the Bible is primarily about?
Are they the gospel?
The Bible is a big book,
so it’s no surprise that there are a lot of different ways of understanding it
and (therefore) a lot of different opinions about the gospel floating around.
And so a couple of weeks ago we said:
“Wouldn’t it have been nice if the early church had
developed some cliffsnotes to go along with this big book?”
That would really help us get our heads around the story,
and it would help shed light on what the good news is,
and it would help us unite us as a local faith community in a new season,
and it might even encourage us a little—who knows?
Hearing some “good news” might just be encouraging.
Well, low and behold, we may have found some cliffsnotes. The last few weeks, we’ve been exploring what’s called “the Apostle’s Creed” (these words on the screen).
I didn’t grow up in a church that said “a creed,”
but there’s nothing murky or mysterious about it.
A “creed” is just a statement of beliefs.
The church through the ages has said,
“This is what the good news is primarily about.”
The last couple of weeks I’ve read these words out loud for us, but historically local churches have often confessed these words together as communities—and I think that would be valuable for us to do today.
There’s something incredibly powerful
about us confessing this story with each other.
So… the lines are pretty much divided up the way that we’ll say them—
hopefully we’ll all know where to breathe and how to do it.
If you’re willing, I’d invite you stand and make this confession with me:
We believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
We believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
You can be seated.
You know what we just did?
We just told a short story together.
The creed is just way of summarizing the story of Scripture—
the story that the church confesses to be good news that includes everything:
God, the universe, human history, our lives,
the past, the present, the future, everything.
Throughout the centuries, the creeds have been a way that we as Christians
have regularly remembered and regularly retold the gospel.
These words are like cosmic cliffsnotes.
And as we’ve noticed the last couple of weeks,
the central proclamation of the church is not primarily about us.
The gospel is primarily about God.
The good news is about God.
It’s the story of the identity of God—who God is, what God is like—
and what God has done in the world through Jesus.
God is the primary protagonist of this story.
Last week, we noticed how this story has three primary movements,
and they’re all movements by God.
The story of God creating the world, rescuing the world, and remaking the world
reveals the One God to be Father, Son, and Spirit.
So last week we talked ever so briefly about God as Trinity.
That central to the Christian understanding of God
is that God is a community of love within himself.
It’s hard for us to imagine—no, it’s impossible for us to imagine—
but the inner life of God is like an eternal dance of joy and love.
When we’re talking about God
we’re talking about boundless love,
about endless relationship,
about eternal delight.
The God who is Father, Son, and Spirit
is whole and complete and content in himself.
God isn’t lonely.
God doesn’t lack for anything.
God doesn’t need anything.
And yet God chooses to create the world.
That’s the first thing God does in the creed.
That’s the beginning of the story.
That’s where we come in.
And that means that we’re going to be in Psalm 104 today—
so I’d invite you to turn there.
There are, of course, other places we could look at to reflect on God as Creator.
Chief among them would be the way the Bible begins (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”) but we’re going to be in Psalm 104 because I think it might help us hear about creation with fresh ears.
This psalm seems to be meditating on that opening chapter of the Bible—on Genesis 1.
If you put this side-by-side with the creation poem that starts the Bible, they’ve got a very similar flow.
You can find the picture of the Genesis poem in this psalm.
You can trace out day one, day two, day three—all of them—
as well thematic heartbeat (“it’s good, it’s good, it’s very good”).
Just a heads up—this is a long psalm (35 verses), and we’re going to read through the entire thing. It’s probably take five or six minutes to read out loud.
I’d invite you to just listen.
Listen to this psalm like you would a song. (Because it is song.)
You don’t have to remember every bit of it,
you don’t have to “get anything” out of it,
After we listen to it, we’ll make just a couple of brief reflections
and then we’ll come to the table:
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.
He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts.
The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests;
the stork has its home in the junipers.
The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.
He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
Then people go out to their work,
to their labor until evening.
How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number—
living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.
But may sinners vanish from the earth
and the wicked be no more.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Praise the Lord.
So three reflections as we move towards the table this morning.
First, God as Creator is about something back then AND something right now.
In this psalm, the psalmist has done what most artists are trying to do:
she has seen beauty and goodness and truth around her in the world
and tried to craft a piece of art—tried to pen a poem, tried to write a song—
that reflects that beauty and goodness and truth back into the world.
I think that’s what the best art does—it helps us glimpse something we’ve stopped seeing.
I would argue that that’s what our favorite songs do,
what our favorite films do, what our favorite books do—
They help us to examine the obvious—
to really see what we take for granted—
and help us to experience parts of life anew.
The psalmist here is looking trying to help us zoom out, trying to give us perspective, trying to help us glimpse beauty and goodness and truth on the grandest scale,
trying to help us see something so big that we’ve stopped seeing it.
The world exists.
The chaotic forces of the world have been conquered,
a primordial exception made in the second law of thermodynamics
the waters of the deep have been rebuked (v7).
Most of us are so busy with our lives that it never strikes us—
it’s a marvelous mystery that anything exists.
That the moon and sun make life possible.
That a cycle of water is always renewing the world.
In an out-of-the-way corner of the Milky Way,
the earth has been established (v5).
Our existence is such a gigantic mystery that
we don’t even see it most of time.
We take it for granted as we plow along in our busy lives.
But the psalmist is raising our eyes, raising our heads, and saying:
“Don’t you see? We’re all here!
And so is the world! This is all so miraculous.”
And according to the psalmist,
the creation of the world is something God is always doing.
I think for most of us, we think of God as Creator in the past tense.
Back then. Back there.
God creating the world wasn’t a once-and-done deal.
God is always creating—that’s who he is.
God is Creator.
In the present tense.
God is the one who makes the springs pour forth from the earth (v10).
God is the one who waters the mountains from his heavenly penthouse (v3, v13).
God is the one who makes life possible every single moment (v14)—
giving grass and plants and cattle and wine and oil and bread.
According to verses 29-30, God sends his breath, his wind, his Spirit,
and that’s always the reason—the only reason—how the world is created and renewed.
If God ever stopped—suppose God withdrew himself from creation—
life stops, creation ceases, existence evaporates.
And this is good news, I think.
Because every single one of us—
wherever we are, whatever is going on, regardless of circumstances—
we live and move and have our being because God actively wants us to.
If you’ve ever wished that you could be close to God, you’re in luck.
God is already close; his presence gives you your pulse.
We believe in God, the Father Almighty,
every moment the creator of heaven and earth.
Second, the Christian confession of God as Creator means
that the world we live in is fundamentally a good place.
This is the entire reason that the psalmist is singing.
Our lives and our world don’t emerge out of chance;
our lives and our world emerge out of God’s dance.
The inner life of God’s joy and love—
that’s why anything exists.
God didn’t need to create—God doesn’t need to be a Creator.
God would still be totally fine—totally content, totally God—if he never created a thing.
But God chooses to create.
God chooses to create
because God loves to create.
God loves to be our Creator.
The very fabric out of which our existence is made—
the cloth out of which creation is cut—
Boundless love and endless relationship and infinite delight.
And that’s why the psalmist sings—because he’s glimpsing that in the world:
“Because can’t you see the grass and the rivers and the mountains?
Can’t you hear the birds singing among the branches?
Can’t you taste the wine and the bread? Can’t you feel the oil?”
This entire world, this entire life,
is meant to be received and celebrated as a gift.
And the psalmist isn’t singing with rose-colored glass—
he sees this world and this life as good and beautiful
even though things aren’t fully the way that God intends yet.
Case in point—lions and lambs aren’t lying down together yet.
Beasts are on the prowl (v20), lions are roaring (v21)
and (presumably) poor little Lamp Chop is being eaten.
Lions and lambs aren’t lying down together,
and yet this world is still marvelous.
Suffering and heartbreak and wickedness
haven’t vanished from the earth yet (v35)—
but the psalmist can’t stop himself from gushing
about the beauty and goodness of creation.
And I think this because as we recognize God as Creator
(that God has created past tense and that God creates present tense)
something very much like hope begins to grow in us.
Creation probably has a future tense too. God will never stop being Creator.
That God will continue to renew and one day recreate the world.
Things will one day be as God intends—his glory will indeed endure forever (v31)
with Father, Son, and Spirit forever rejoicing in the work of creation.
O man—that’s worth getting excited about.
And that brings us to our third reflection (and to the table):
the only properly “Christian” response to creation is gratitude.
What if when it came to the creation the world
Christians became more interested in awe than argument?
What if in public debate and private discussion about creation
Christians were driven to praise more than protest?
What if we were less interested in winning debates
and more interested in teaching doxology?
What if we began to listen to the stories and poems
about God creating the world that have been preserved for us in Scripture,
and we heard God quietly inviting us into lives of humility and wonder and celebration?
I think that’s what the psalmist hears.
This psalm begins (v1) and ends (v35) in the same place—in praise.
When we consider God as the Creator—God as OUR creator—
the only proper response we can have is gratitude.
I mean, we didn’t create the world—we didn’t create our lives.
The only thing we can do is respond to gift of creation—
respond to the gift of the world and respond to the gift of our lives.
Maybe the birds show us how (v12).
They nest by the waters and sing among the branches.
The psalmist is choosing to join the creation in singing;
choosing to join the Creator in dancing.
There’s only one thing to be done for the psalmist—
to be grateful for the sacred gift of life.
And that’s the invitation that we have—
the daily, hourly, moment-to-moment invitation—
is to learn recognize creation as a gift.
Sometimes the gift is breathtaking
and sometimes the gift is broken.
Often we find ourselves asking the Creator
to send his breath, his wind, his Spirit
so that the gift can be recreated and renewed.
But creation is always gift.
Our lives are gift—
a magnificent, miraculous, mysterious gift.
A gift so big, a gift so familiar, a gift so full of marvels
that we’ve stopped seeing it.
But we are invited out of complacency, out of ungratefulness, out of sleepiness,
and we’re invited to join the birds—to join the rest of creation
in a vast and vibrant land called gratitude.
Gratitude that God has created, and is creating, and will recreate.
The good news is about God—
about what our Creator is like.
Although the slightest glance from him can quake the earth (v32),
although the slightest touch from him can melt mountains,
our Creator is the kind of God who carries a cross to reconcile us back to himself
and who bleeds and dies and takes on death to make peace in creation.
(cf. Col 1:15-20).
[Who] on the night he was betrayed took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
We come to this table like the creatures we are—looking to the Creator to give us food,
to quench our thirst, to satisfy us with good things.
And we trust that this is a place where God meets and renews us.
Our table is an open table, open to all who trust that this body really is for you—
open to any who want to receive the sacred gift of life from the Creator.
So you’re invited in just a moment to come down the center aisle,
receive a cracker, dip it into the juice, and return to your seats along the sides.
As you come, may you realize that your Creator is holding you together,
may you recognize that our lives and this world are an overflow of his perfect love,
and may your remember that gratitude is the only thing that we can bring to the dance.