31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 17, 2023
Psalm 104, selected verses
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Did you know that there are over 330 species of hummingbirds? Or that between 2014 and 2015, 381 new species of plants and animals were found in the Amazon rainforest? I certainly never knew before that the human body emits a tiny amount of light that’s too weak for the human eye to see.
The world and its creatures are amazing. I have been blessed to see some amazing places in my life: Bermuda, Alaska, the Galapagos Islands. And I have been blessed through Instagram to see the amazing places others have been, like Glacier National Park and Yosemite.
Pretty universally, people agree that nature, creation is a marvelous, amazing thing full of varied and fascinating plants and creatures. And for many people it stops there. They enjoy their hikes through the woods. They feel peaceful as they walk the beach or golf course. They stop and pause to enjoy a monarch butterfly as it flits by.
For others, their love of creation, their awe of nature inspires them to be good stewards of this world: recycling, buying less, composting, and reusing items. They plant trees and garden and work to lower their carbon footprint.
For people of faith, our joy in creation, our delight in all things bright and beautiful, all of this awe points us to something bigger, something more wondrous and majestic than the Grand Canyon or the Himalayas. All of the grandeur of creation guides our eyes and our hearts to God, the Creator of the World.
All of this splendor stops us in our tracks. The sunflower as it turns its face to follow the sun, the ant who can seemingly walk up walls, the aloe plant with its healing power, all of this splendor nurtures in us, awe, amazement, and praise for God. Awe, amazement, and praise because all of this magnificence is something only God can do.
The book of Psalms is often called the hymnbook of the Israelites. Although the music has been lost to us, the book of Psalms is filled with prayers of lament and sorrow, filled with prayers asking for God’s help, and filled with prayers of praise. Prayers praising God’s greatness; prayers giving honor to the One who created such manifold, varied, and numerous creatures; prayers thanking the One who made all of creation in wisdom and love.
Often when we turn to God, we come in need, lost and searching for guidance and help. Nature, God’s marvelous, amazing creation, and the psalms, the hymnbook, the prayer book of God’s people, nature and the psalms remind us to also turn to God in praise, to turn to God in joy, to turn to God in wonder and awe, and marvel, not only at the sunset of pinks, purples, and oranges, to also marvel at the One who designed it, designed it for pleasure, designed it for delight, designed it for us.
There are moments when we feel too run over and beaten down to marvel at anything, and yet, as Max Lucado writes, “rather than panic, [we] can choose to praise.” (Help is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Power of the Holy Spirit, Lucado, pg 70) Rather than panic, rather than despair, rather than give up or give in, we can ‘lift up our eyes to the hills’ as Psalm 121 says. We can be inspired by the hills and trust that if God can make these fantastic hills as well as elephants and polar bears, giant redwood trees and forever growing banyan trees, if God has the power and ability to do all of that, then God can take care of whatever we are going through. We can trust God. God’s got the whole world in God’s hands and that includes us.
When we lift our eyes to the hills, when we lift our eyes to the star-filled night sky, we might wonder ‘what are human beings that God is mindful of us, that God could care for us?” (Psalm 8:4) And that is where the psalms and nature remind us that it’s not about us. It’s not about how marvelous and wonderful we are, although we are – think about all of the systems and pieces working together in your body right now for you to be sitting, breathing, listening. Still, it’s not about how marvelous and wonderful we are. It’s about how marvelous and wonderful God is, how marvelous and wonderful God’s love is.
How God waters the earth and causes “the grass to grow for the cattle and plants for people to use” (Psalm 104:14). How God nurtures the trees to grow abundantly so the birds might have a place to build their nests. How God opens God’s hand to us and we are filled with good things.
Nature and the psalms direct our attention to God. Nature and the psalms show us who God is – magnificent and great, and also loving and kind. When we might want to panic, worry, or fret, nature and the psalms remind us to trust, to praise, to give thanks, to sing to the Lord, and know that God is forever caring for us, forever creating us, forever renewing us.
And when life is good, when we are feeling pretty confident that we’ve got this, that we can do this, even then nature and the psalms remind us to stop, look up, look around, and give thanks. The silliness of our pets, the sun dappling through the trees, the red rocks of the mountains, the crisp bite of an apple – all of this reminds us to praise God and give thanks that life is good, that we are healthy, that we are blessed to live in this wonderful, wonderful world, that we are blessed to be God’s beloved creatures.
As you walk the rocky shores of Maine, as you hike through the rainy forests of Oregon, as you visit the Outback of Australia, as you scroll the Instagram posts of the National Park service, be in awe of creation. Be in awe of the Creator. Be in awe that the One who made all of this made you, and loves you, forever and always. Amen.