A Matter of Priorities
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SERMON: A Matter of Priorities
Our fall mini-series from the Psalter continues with Psalm 19. In a word, Psalm 19 is a song of praise, devotion and supplication:
• It recognizes the sovereignty of God over all creation.
• It affirms the authority of God’s law revealed in the natural order, as well as the Torah.
• It calls for a faithful response, as the psalmist confesses his dependence on the mercies of God … and invites us to do the same.
What I hope you’ll see, as we look more closely, is how God’s dominion over creation – and that includes you and me – is a matter of first priority. Yes, you have any number of competing claims on your life – your family and friends, your job, your commitment to the church and community – but these must come second, if you’re to experience the fullness of God’s peace and love.
Only as you put God first and order your life around the sovereignty of God will you be truly happy. It’s a matter of priorities. The psalm begins,
"The heavens declare the glory of God.
The expanse shows his handiwork" (Psalms 19:1)
Imagine David out on a hillside at night tending his father’s sheep. The sky is clear; the air, crisp and cold. The nearest light is a flickering torch miles away. It’s pitch black, except for the twinkling light of the stars above. Looking up into the vastness of space, David sings:
"The heavens declare the glory of God.
The expanse shows his handiwork"
You can get a feel for David’s experience by visiting the McDonald Observatory. It sits atop the Davis Mountains in West Texas. The nearest city of any size is El Paso, two hundred miles away. There’s little light pollution. Plus, it’s in a semi-arid region, where there’s little haze or cloud cover. Standing there on the mountain at night gives you the sensation that you’re actually in space, rather than just looking up at it. It’s an exhilarating experience.
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And that’s just the macro version of it all. There’s also the micro version. Take any part of creation and put it under a microscope. It’s as complex and awe-inspiring as looking at the stars through a telescope.
Annie Dillard gives us a taste of this in her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She writes,
“I am sitting under a sycamore at Tinker Creek. … underneath me, directly under the weight of my body … are other creatures … Take just the top inch of soil, the world squirming right under my palms. In the top inch of forest soil, biologists found ‘an average of 1,356 living creatures present in each square foot, including 865 mites, 265 springtails, 22 millipedes, 19 adult beetles, and various numbers of 12 other forms … Had an estimate also been made of the microscopic population, it might have ranged up to two billion bacteria and many millions of fungi, protozoa and algae – in a mere teaspoonful of soil.’” (pp. 95-96)
Whether you focus on the enormity of it all, or the intricacy, the scope of creation is more than we can fathom. The best we can do is stand in awe and sing:
“All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
the Lord God made them all.”
The universe is huge. Plus, it’s in motion. And it’s anything but silent. If you listen carefully, it has a voice of its own. David writes,
"Day after day (the heavens) pour forth speech,
and night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech nor language,
where their voice is not heard" (Psalm 19:2-3).
You see what David’s talking about in the early morning sunrise; you hear it a booming thunderstorm; you feel it in a soft summer breeze; you can taste it in the cold, crisp water of a mountain stream. Maltbie Babcock said it best:
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.
Creation itself proclaims the glory of God. Remember what Jesus told the Pharisees the day he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem? The people were waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The Pharisees met him at the bottom of the hill and said, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” But Jesus replied,
"I tell you that if these were silent,
the stones would cry out" (Luke 19:40).
If you don’t hear the voice of nature – if you don’t see it, feel it and experience it for yourself – you’re not paying attention. You need to listen to yet another hymn – this one by Carl Boberg. It’s one you all know:
“O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.”
Nature proclaims the glory of God. Not only that, it speaks of a natural ordering of things – what we call the natural law. It’s pretty obvious:
• Apples fall from trees; they don’t float in the air.
• Water runs down hill and seeks its own level.
• Living organisms depend on food, water and air for nourishment.
• Even when nourished, everything that lives must one day die.
You don’t have to be Presbyterian to know there’s a master plan at work here. At least that’s what Paul told the Christians in his Letter to the Romans. (Actually, he said you said you don’t have to be Jewish, but you get the point.) He writes,
"For the invisible things of him
since the creation of the world are clearly seen,
being perceived through the things that are made,
even his everlasting power and divinity" (Romans 1:20).
The natural law speaks for itself. Any fool knows it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, that broccoli is good for you and fried foods aren’t; that you feel better when you get enough exercise; that an apple a day really can help keep the doctor away; that smoking is hazardous to your health.
David put the natural law alongside the Law of Moses. He said,
"Yahweh's law is perfect, restoring the soul.
Yahweh's testimony is sure, making wise the simple.
Yahweh's precepts are right, rejoicing the heart.
Yahweh's commandment is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is clean, enduring forever.
Yahweh's ordinances are true, and righteous altogether" (Psalm 19:7-9).
Charles Spurgeon makes an interesting point concerning David that applies to us all. He says,
“In his earliest days, while keeping his father’s flock,
David devoted himself to the study of God’s two great books—nature and Scripture.
He is wisest who reads them both ….”
When you think about it, creation spoke of God’s Word long before the books of the Bible came to be. Nature proclaimed the sovereignty of God from the start.
In our World Religions class at UACCH, we started with primitive religions and asked the question, “What would you believe if you didn’t have anyone to teach you … if you didn’t have anything to go by?” We used, as example, the Aboriginal people of Australia. Their origins go back 10,000 years or more, long before the Book of Genesis.
They were primitive, all right, but they were profoundly religious. They respected the forces of nature and looked to a power greater than themselves to protect them from storms and give them success in hunting and foraging for food. They marveled at the great expanse of the countryside and how it came to be. They imagined something like a rainbow serpent carving out the valleys and pushing up the mountains. They could neither read nor write; yet, they knew the laws of nature, and they paid homage to whoever wrote them.
To know God’s Law – whether the natural law or the Law of Moses – is to know two things: The power of God over nature and the weakness of human nature over itself. David says,
God's precepts are "more to be desired ...than gold...
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Forgive me from hidden errors....
Then I will be upright.
I will be blameless and innocent of great transgression" (Psalm 19:10-13).
To know the righteousness of God is to know the sinfulness of man.
This is why we include the prayer of confession near the beginning of every worship service. To come into the presence of God is to be aware of your shortcomings and reminded of your need of God’s grace and love. Like it or not, we’re dependent on a power greater than ourselves. And so, we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, and that opens the door to hearing the Good News: “In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.”
Only as you confess your need of God’s saving grace are you able to experience the fullness of salvation. Only as you know that, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven are you able to be at peace with yourself and share the Good News of God’s love with others.
That’s the message that’s being proclaimed all over the world today on this World Communion Sunday – that Christ died, once and for all, and was raised from the dead that we might have the promise of life in all its abundance, both now and forever, through faith in him.
Make that the centerpiece of your life – at work, at school, in the home and in the community – in your relationship with others and in the privacy of your own thoughts and prayers. Put Christ first and your life will be complete.
Have you heard the story of Josh Hamilton? He’s the center fielder for the Texas Rangers. He started his baseball career with Tampa Bay in 1999, fresh out of high school. He skyrocketed for two years, then hit bottom – addicted to drugs and alcohol. He was suspended and sent to the minor leagues. He was in and out of baseball for several years, as he tried to kick the habit. He finally got his life back together and, in 2007, signed with the Cincinnati Reds. They traded him to the Rangers in 2008 and, ever since, he’s been at the top of the leader board in hits and home runs. Last year, he was voted Most Valuable Player of the American League.
Josh is quick to tell the story of his recovery. He says, “It’s a God thing.” He talks about it in his autobiography, Beyond Belief. He freely admits that he was hopelessly lost until he turned to the Lord and put his life in God’s hands.
There’s a website called, “I Am Second,” on which Josh and other athletes and celebrities tell their stories. It’s an easy website to remember: www.iamsecond.com. Check it out. Each story is personal and unique, yet they all have one thing in common: God comes first, not you or anybody or anything else. Even the rocks and dirt and slugs know that.
Put God first. Let the Lord be the Lord of your life. He’ll give you the strength to overcome every adversity and accomplish every goal God has for you.
Our closing prayer comes from the lips of David: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2011, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.