Pentecost VII (OT 15); July 12, 2015
A week from tomorrow will be the forty-sixth anniversary of the first time human beings set foot on another world, when Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history. Prominent at the landing site is the United States flag; not so prominent but also present is a small, silicon disc that has etched on it messages of goodwill from seventy-three nations of the Earth. The message from Vatican City includes Psalm 8: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” and the rest.
This Psalm is one of the purest expressions of praise in the Bible, and is the best summary of the form of prayer that we are calling, “Wow!” When we say this Psalm, we praise God in response to the glory of the night sky, and the wonder of creating human beings to live in relationship to God and to the other creatures of the world. This is a time to say, “Awesome!” and the word is not being overused. The night sky is awesome. Human beings are awesome. Human life in relationship to the rest of creation is awesome. God is way awesome.
I’ve been asked, “Why give praise to God? Is God that egotistical as to demand praise?” And they may be thinking of those celebrities and CEOs who need to have their (ahem) kissed regularly, and wondering if God is that kind of sovereign. Does God get miffed if we don’t say, “Wow”? No, “Wow!” is not a way of kissing up to God, but rather the instinctive reaction that we have when we see clearly who we are and who God is. It isn’t so much like the flattery you give to someone you want a favor from; it’s more like the way you naturally praise someone you admire or love. Don’t you praise people you love and admire: your husband or wife, your children, your best friend, the skilled coworker, the talented musician or athlete? Saying to God, “Awesome!” is not because God demands it, but because it comes naturally from us when we’re paying attention.
The other thought to share with you in this brief sermon is what I believe to be the most awesome thing about God, the thing that most makes me say, “Wow!” That is God’s humility. You look at the stars across the sky, you look at the intricacy of the ecosystem in which we live, you look at how God honors us by our place in the ecosystem. Those are marvelous.
More marvelous yet is the way God has come to us. We are in awe of people with powerful muscles or lots of money or the ability to command an entourage to do their bidding. We consider a nation great when it is able to subdue its enemies to its will, usually by military force. How does God reveal greatness? By walking dusty roads and teaching “Love your enemies,” “Forgive those who wrong you,” “Take up your cross and follow me.”
We expect the God who set Orion and the Pleiades in the sky to come in a fighter jet with a host of Marines to enforce his will. Instead God has come in Christ, humbly setting aside the glory of heaven to live and work and walk and play with carpenters and fishermen and domestic workers and you and me. Christ said he could have called upon legions of angels to destroy those who went after him, but instead he did the right thing, the necessary thing, the weird thing: Christ took up the Cross and carried it to Calvary and was nailed to it. Calvary, not cavalry: that’s the wonder of our God.
We won’t give up the sense of awe at the night sky, at the ocean crashing into the shore, at the ingenuity that sent two men to the Moon nearly fifty years ago, at the wonder of our complex ecosystem. Even more awesome is the work of God in weakness and humility, in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Wow.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master and
Benson Presbyterian Church