Psalm 19:1-4a, Genesis 3:8-15
The skies reveal God’s glory. Do you believe that? A lot of people do. A lot of people look at the sky, at the beautiful sunset with oranges and purples across the sky, they look at the bright stars and moon at night, they consider how all the planets revolve on their axes and go around the sun without running into each other, a lot of people look at the skies and are moved to an awareness of God. Maybe it’s a rational, scientific consideration of the planets and their compositions and the like, or maybe it’s an emotional response to the beauty and wonder of the creation. Either way, it’s the heavens proclaiming God’s glory.
When I was a kid I would sometimes notice the flowers in our garden. They would always grow in a direction that got them the most sun possible. Since our houseplants did the same thing, Mom would turn them from time to time so they would grow straight and not crooked, so that each side would get an equal amount of sun.
When you walk through a woods you’ll see some small trees and plants on the floor of the woods growing up at angles. That’s because there’s only a limited amount of sun coming through the canopy of the trees. The plants on the bottom have to grow whichever way they can to expose themselves to the maximum amount of sun.
We’re kind of the same way as the plants sometimes. Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every (person) which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Sometimes we try to fill that vacuum with different things, but once we start trying to fill it with God the rest of our lives are an effort to move closer to God, an effort to grow and develop and live the way God calls us to. Sometimes our faith journey will bend us in one direction or another, but it always keeps us moving towards God. Just as the plants have a sun-shaped vacuum that they try to fill, so do we try to fill our God-shaped vacuum.
Let me tell you something about whales, particularly the North Pacific Humpbacked Whale. When it comes time for mating season, all the males sing a mating song. The interesting thing about that is that there are several mating songs for this particular whale, and all the males all sing the same song at the same time. From time to time the song changes. Led Zeppelin – the song remains the same. North Pacific Humpback Whales – the song changes. And when the song changes, they all switch to the same song. All the whales, all over their world, all singing the same song.
It sounds a little like the Holy Spirit, doesn’t it? We’re all bound together across the miles by the love of God and the bond of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit teaches us how to sing and the Spirit leads us in praising God and serving God. We don’t always listen as well as the whales, but the Spirit is there – leading us, teaching us, keeping us together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Something from the heavens proclaimed God’s glory to me a while back. It was a gray day – we’ve had a lot of those lately, haven’t we – and I was walking into the Manassas Mall, and there was a songbird of some kind sitting on the roof of the mall over the entrance singing and singing and singing. The sound was so clear, so bright, so musical, so beautiful.
This bird’s song cut through the gray of the day, it cut through the traffic sounds, it cut through the kind of fog we all walk around in sometimes. This bird’s song cut through all of that and reminded me of what it’s like to live as a Christian. Standing up wherever you are, and singing the song of God. Living your life with joy. Doing what God made you to do, and doing it with all your heart. That bird expressed more of the joy and the truth of Christian living than many of us might feel in a week.
Historically the Church of the Brethren has emphasized the importance of living simply. It doesn’t get much simpler than nature, does it? In the beginning of the world, at the creation in Genesis, it was pretty simple. There was God, nature, man, and woman. That’s it. That’s the list.
What happens when sin enters the world? What happens when God is disobeyed? All of a sudden it isn’t so simple. All of a sudden the man and the woman are aware of their nakedness, and they’re ashamed. All of a sudden there is a complication. At the creation, it was as simple as it could possibly be. It was never that simple again, as Adam and Eve have to move, as Adam has to start to work, as Eve has to bear children, and it goes on and on and on from there, more and more and more complicated, farther and farther from the simplicity which was God’s intent at the beginning of the world.
Last week Jenn talked about Elkanah and his two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah had higher status than Hannah within the Hebrew community because she had children and Hannah did not. After much praying and a blessing from the priest Eli, Hannah has a boy, whom she names Samuel, and who she turns over to Eli to be raised for the priesthood.
As Jenn mentioned last week, Samuel became an important Israelite leader. He was the last of the Hebrew judges and the first of the major Hebrew prophets. Jenn said that Samuel anointed the great King David, but that wasn’t the first king that Samuel anointed. The first king was Saul.
Before Saul, the Israelites were led by the judges – heroes, leaders, wise men and women who were used by God to get the Israelites through difficult times. The Israelites didn’t have a king – God was their king. The relationship between the Hebrew people and God was just about as simple as it could have been after the Garden of Eden. In the Garden, it was God speaking directly to Adam and Eve. Now, thousands of years later, there is still only one more step added – God speaks to the judges, who speak to the people.
That’s not good enough for the Hebrew people, though. They want to have a king, just like all the other countries around them. Jenn talked about status last week and how God turns our expectations of status upside down. The Israelites hadn’t learned that yet – they thought it would be cool to have a king like all the other countries.
Samuel tries to warn them. You can read it in 1 Samuel chapter 8 starting at verse 4: “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’ But (it) displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only–you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
“So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
“But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said ‘No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
“Samuel said to the people, ‘Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.’ So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal.There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.”
Let me boil that down to it’s essence. Samuel told the people, “Having a king isn’t going to be as simple as you think.” The people said, “We don’t care.”
The Church of the Brethren has thought that simplicity was important from the very beginning. That’s because they looked to the New Testament as their rule of faith and practice, and Jesus lived a simple life. The early believers lived simple lives. They didn’t let things get in the way of what God wanted them to do.
But simplicity in the Bible starts even before the early church. It starts even before Jesus comes to earth. It starts before our Psalm about the heavens telling the glory of God. Simplicity in the Bible starts before the Israelites mess it all up with a king, even before Adam and Eve commit that first sin. It starts at the very beginning – with God, nature, and people.
And believe it or not, there isn’t all that much more today. There’s still God – who has been made known on Earth in Jesus Christ and who still dwells with us through the Holy Spirit. There is nature. There is us. And then, there’s everything else.
Don’t let the “everything else” get in the way. We have a responsibility as Christians to keep it simple, to provide and maintain places where nature can flourish. We have a responsibility to let nature speak not just to us, but to people who may never have had the chance to see it, to children yet unborn for whom the development and sprawl that we see now will be a given, for whom “nature” may be Seward Square park across the street, and for whom “the country” is hours and hours and hours away. We have a responsibility to develop wisely if we must develop, and to preserve God’s creation where we can.
The heavens are telling the glory of God. As we make decisions about what we buy and how we drive and the ways we live, let us be aware of the ways the heavens can speak to us and to others. Let’s be aware of the responsibility that God has given us as stewards of the earth to make sure that the heavens can continue to speak. Let us look to live simple lives and encourage simplicity where we can. And when nature and the heavens speak simple to us of the glory and the truth of God, let us listen. Amen.