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Bishop Kenneth Carter Bishop Kenneth Carter

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Carter is Bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, headquartered in Lakeland, FL.

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Creation as the Labor of God

Psalm 104

Proper 17 - Year B

September 03, 2006

We live in a beautiful world. In Psalm 19, we read these words:

The heavens are telling the glory of God.

The world, the reformer John Calvin insisted, is the "theater of God's glory." When God's people were exiled in the eighth, seventh, sixth centuries before Christ, when the power of the rulers seemed to be opposed to God's plan and purpose, God's people insisted in Psalm 24:

The earth is the Lord's
the world, and those who live in it;
he has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers.

God created the world-this we accept in faith.

I think of three of the most beautiful places on earth, in my experience. One was on the west coast of Ireland. My wife, Pam, and I were celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary. We had spent the night in a bed and breakfast in Sligo, in the northwest, where the poet William Butler Yeats lived. We traveled down the west coast of Connemara, by car, to Galway. Along the way it was as if the waters touched the heavens, forming what the Celtics have called "thin places," where God's spirit breaks through.

Another very different place was in Bolivia, near the border of Peru. We were up in the Andes. We had gone to have a worship service with a small community of Christians there, Aymara Indians. We arrived at almost 16,000 feet. There was a stark beauty about the place, its coolness, its barrenness. It was a part of God's world that I had never seen and would most likely never see again. Above us was a totally different set of stars than we see here in the northern hemisphere. Beautiful. The heavens are telling the glory of God, I sang to myself.

And another setting was at the southern rim of the Grand Canyon, standing looking out into the huge expanse of that place, at the granite floor that is 2 billion years old, limestone that is 500 million years old, sandstone that is 300 million years old, a place of enormous scale, in terms of time and space and history.

You could add your places of beauty. Jesus taught us to look at the world: Consider the lilies of the field, he taught in the Sermon on the Mount. It seems a shame that we often have to travel to far away places to really see the creation. We do tend to take for granted those things that are right in front of us.

Some of the most beautiful creation in the world is all around us. And for a Christian, this inspires our reverence, our praise, our worship. Psalm 104 is a hymn to God the creator.

Do you know what reverence is?

* For some, reverence is fishing in a cove.
* For some, reverence is getting your hands into the ground, gardening.
* For some, reverence is hiking.
* For some, reverence is taking an early morning walk.
* For some, reverence is playing in the ocean waves.

Reverence is realizing how big, how awesome God is, and how we are only a part, a very special part, but only a part of the whole equation. Reverence is paying attention to the awesomeness of God's handy work. It is there in our psalm:

O Lord, how manifold are your works
In wisdom you have made them all
The earth is full of your creatures.

Have you ever had this experience? Your child brings you something to look at, maybe something he painted that day in school. Or your child asks you to listen to something, maybe some music that she is learning. And you look, or you listen, sort of. You take a brief glance, but then you are back to other things.

In the creation God is saying, look, pay attention, this is amazing! Reverence. The hymn that leads me to articulate this reverence is "How Great Thou Art." It seems to be have been inspired by Psalm 104.

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.

Most likely you know those words. And then the chorus:

Then sings my soul
My savior God to Thee
How great thou art
How great thou art.

God created all that is, and this moves us to reverence-how great thou art! On this Labor Day weekend, we are called not only to a reverence for the work of God, but to a reverence for all work that serves the creation: for those who grow and harvest our food; for those who teach and care for our children; for those who mend the bodies and spirits of the sick and the distraught; for those who protect and secure our freedoms; for those who inspire our minds and motivate our actions.

I am inviting you to a reverence for the glory of creation, the continuing creation of God and the people of God.

Psalm 104 also teaches us that God orders the world. You have made the moon to mark the seasons. The sun knows its time for setting. You made darkness…when the sun rises people go out to their work…and to their labor until the evening.

There are seasons of life. The writer of Ecclesiastes said, There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to plant, and a time to harvest what is planted. There is another hymn. Perhaps you know it as well:

Fear not I am with thee
O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid
I'll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand

The creation has an order: How firm a foundation. We cannot speed it up. We cannot slow it down. In each day there is rising and lying down. If we do not rest, our bodies have ways of making us rest. If we violate the Sabbath, we disobey God and we do harm to ourselves. The creation has an order. God is the master designer. In each life there is planting and gathering. God orders the world and God orders our lives.

Earlier this year a beloved member of our church died, a man who had an influence on many people, and perhaps most especially his three adult sons. Each son spoke at the memorial service in moving ways. One interpreted his father's life as a series of movements in the human pilgrimage: There is a time to learn, a time to do, a time to teach others, and a time to be.

God orders the world. God orders our lives. We are not in control! And this teaches us patience and trust, because we are part of something larger than ourselves.

God creates the world, and this leads us to reverence.
God orders the world, and this leads us to confidence.

You are blessed if you have placed your confidence in the God who orders life and helps you to discover the season of your life: Is it to learn, or to do, or to teach others, or to be?

Psalm 104 also reminds us that God sustains the world.

We read in the scripture:

You bring forth food from the earth
Wine to gladden the human heart
Bread to strengthen the human heart
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly

I am thinking of another hymn. Do you know it?

Great is thy faithfulness O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not
As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.

Do you know this hymn? Perhaps you know the chorus, taken from the biblical book of Lamentations, and the experience of Israel in the wilderness, recounted in Exodus 16:

Great is thy faithfulness
Great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand has provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

God creates the world, and this leads us to reverence.
How great thou art!
God orders the world, and this leads us to confidence.
How firm a foundation!
God sustains the world, and this leads us to gratitude.
Great is thy faithfulness!

In the Psalms we sing our creation faith. It is no accident that so many of our hymns point us to the beauty of God's world and lead us to reverence, confidence and gratitude. In that way we also discover the true purpose of worship. In worship we are reminded that the world is about more than our needs, our agendas, our hopes or dreams.

The world has been magnificently created and formed by God.
The world has been marvelously ordered and arranged by God.
The world has been graciously sustained and preserved by God.

When we are in touch with God's world-and some of the best times to do this can come in the summer-we learn the spiritual disciplines of reverence, confidence, gratitude. On Labor Day weekend, we give thanks for the labor of God, in the creation of this world, and perhaps we are moved to see our work as an offering to the One who orders and sustains all that exists.

On this holiday weekend, when so many are traveling and taking that last time apart before the onset of the fall schedule, perhaps God is nudging us to pay attention as we enter into a larger, more vast sanctuary-God's great building project, God's labor of love-and perhaps there we will hear the echoes of Isaiah in the eighth century before Christ: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory!

Please join me in prayer.

O God, you create order and sustain this world. We thank you for your creative work, for the beauty of this earth, for the rhythms of our lives, and mostly for your faithfulness. Amen.


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