Second Sunday of Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, May 1, 2011
This sermon was in part inspired by H. Paul Santmire’s article titled “A Reformation Theology of Nature Transfigured: Joseph Sittler’s Invitation to See as Well as to Hear” where Santmire says: “Having shut our eyes in order to hear the Word in a time of crisis, . . .we can then cautiously open them again to behold glimpses of a new cosmos, reconfigured in the Image of God.”
Earth and all stars!
Loud rushing planets!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Loud shouting army!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
refrain He has done marvelous things.
I too will praise Him with a new song!
Classrooms and labs!
Loud boiling test tubes!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band!
Loud cheering people!
Sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain
I once had trouble hearing the Word of God in that hymn. I liked the tune, but I wondered about the words and whether it wasn’t a stretch to say all of these things are praising the Lord. I wondered whether “loud boiling test tubes” could really sing praise to God.
But all this week, I’ve been pondering this hymn again, pondering it because I kept reading others who said that this hymn is a great paraphrase of Psalm 148, a reflection of how Psalm 148 calls on every part of Creation to praise the Lord.
The hymn “Earth and All Stars” was written by Herbert Brokering for the 90th anniversary of St. Olaf College in Minnesota. It’s written to reflect the idea that everything can praise God, including everything on campus like sports and music and science.
The more I read about this hymn, the more I finally had to admit: I hadn’t been seeing what God was doing. I had closed my eyes, was listening to the Word of God, but I hadn’t opened my eyes again to see what God is doing. This hymn was opening my eyes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, when I had my eyes closed, I was listening well, I was listening to the right thing, I was listening to the Word of God and its message of grace, love, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the message of salvation that comes to us through the cross and resurrection, I was listening to the message of God.
But I wasn’t letting that message, that hearing, that listening change my seeing, my vision of the world. I wasn’t seeing how radically God had transformed the entire Creation, transformed the entire world through what Christ had done. I wasn’t seeing that this is an Easter world. This is a world that has a radical promise of being renewed because of Easter. I was hearing the Word of God, but I wasn’t seeing God’s Easter world.
Think about it this way: I stopped birdwatching awhile ago. While I was still in the Seminary, I became an avid birdwatcher, spending time with binoculars glued to my face, watching birds, searching for birds, keeping lists of what birds I had seen, driving and hiking far and wide to find birds. I marveled at the beauty of birds. I loved watching them doing the mundane things like eating and preening; I loved watching them do the glorious things that we can’t do like flying and gliding.
But then somewhere along the line in recent years, I stopped watching birds. I started concentrating on other things, other hobbies which are just as good, I suppose, but in the process, I lost the art of watching, the art of seeing the world and everything God is doing in it. I lost the art of seeing that this is an Easter world.
Recently, we put up a birdfeeder in our front yard, and let me tell you, my fascination with birds is coming back. I got out the binoculars again, studying the birds in our yard, watching them eat and fly and squabble. I have been seeing the birds in the trees, really seeing them as they flit about. Instead of ignoring things, I am starting to see the world around me again—alive with life, alive with God’s Creation, alive with. . .praise. The birds in the yard are praising God. The whole Creation is praising God.
Reading Psalm 148 this week was like God put up the birdfeeder in my soul. Here I had been so focused on myself, so focused on my relationship with Jesus, so focused on how Jesus saves us as individuals, and then this Word of God in Psalm 148 comes along that isn’t just about me, isn’t just me and Jesus, isn’t just about individual salvation. Psalm 148 is about the whole Creation praising God, the whole Creation saved and renewed through the work of God, the whole Creation praising God for how He has done the work of redemption. This is an Easter world.
That’s the thing with God’s Word. We close our eyes, we listen to God’s Word, but then we open our eyes again and our vision has changed. We see God working in the world. We see the tremendous things He’s doing around us.
Close your eyes. Just for a moment. Close your eyes and hear the Word of God: (1 Peter 1:3, 8-9) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Now open your eyes and see the world around you—see the world through the lens of the redemption, the salvation won for us by Christ on the cross. See the people around you. See the world around you. These people you see, this world you see has been given new birth in Jesus Christ, given an joy that is beyond words, a joy that is glorious and wonderful and majestic, a joy of knowing that we will live again with Christ for eternity, a joy that this world will be renewed forever. It’s the joy of the resurrection of the body, living again with God on a new Earth.
Close your eyes again, and hear the Word of God: (Psalm 148:7-10) Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds.
Now open your eyes again. See the world around you. This is an Easter world. This world praises the Father in heaven. This world is singing Easter praises to God every day, singing Easter praises because He has renewed this world. I wish I could tear down these walls, just for the moment, so that you could truly appreciate the beauty of this world, the world that itself has been transformed and redeemed and renewed by the cross and resurrection of Christ, the world that awaits His Second Coming, that world that waits to be new again, the world that waits to be freed from the effects of our sinfulness, the world that responds in such praise, designed to give praise to the Father in heaven, designed to lift up praise to the highest heaven.
I realize this is something that we don’t talk about very often, and so maybe this is sounding a bit strange. We usually focus on our relationship with Jesus, and we don’t think so much about the relationship that God has with the Earth. But remember this: when God made the Earth, He saw that it was good and He called it good. He called it good before He made man and woman. He called the Earth good and delighted in what He had made.
So God still wants to delight in the world He has made. The picture of salvation is a picture of Christ bringing us to a new Earth. Salvation is about restoring Creation, salvation is the Creation of a new Garden of Eden with Jesus at its center.
Psalm 148 could be about looking back at Genesis, calling on everything in Creation to praise God because He made the world and everything in it. It could look back to the beginning of the world.
But now that we live in the time of Christ, I think Psalm 148 can also be looking forward, looking forward with anticipation, looking forward to see the promise of Christ, the promise that He will come again, the promise that He will bring about the renewal of the whole Earth.
As Paul says in Romans chapter 8, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Groaning and waiting for Christ to return, waiting as we are, waiting for the new Earth. The whole Creation groans, waiting to be renewed, waiting for the ravages of sin to pass away and for the new life to begin with Christ as our Lord and King. The whole Creation groans, waiting for a time when it truly can sing out and praise the Lord, praise the Lord with its full voice, praise the Lord for all that He has done, praise the Lord with beauty and majesty and wonder and music and art.
When you think about Psalm 148 looking forward, well then calling on Creation to praise the Lord, that call begins in earnest, that call begins with full gusto on Easter. Easter is the day that God’s victory was announced to all of Creation, that God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil meant that the Earth would radically change and be transformed, that there was the promise of something different than what we have in this sinful, broken world. Easter announced that Creation’s groaning would be answered by God’s care and love and rejoicing over His Creation again. Easter announced that God had done something about devastation in the world, God had done something to bring about an everlasting change. This is now an Easter world.
Now hear me clearly: I’m not saying that we worship Creation or that Creation is made up of a bunch of gods. I’m not saying that we can learn about salvation just by being out in the woods. We can’t begin in nature and expect to come to a knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
So hear me clearly: we start in the Word of God. We start with the revelation from God about Jesus Christ, about His cross and resurrection, about how He has given us forgiveness for our sins, about how He has redeemed the world through His blood, about His promise to come and take us to the new Earth for eternity. We start there, we start with the Word of God. We close our eyes and listen to the Word of God.
But then we open our eyes again, we open our eyes to see the world around us, we open our eyes to see the Creation, the way Creation praises God, the way Creation’s beauty and majesty bring glory to God, point to God as the One who is over all things, the way Creation cries out for redemption, for salvation, cries out to be renewed by God.
We open our eyes again, we see the world around us, and we hear the Easter hymn that rings out from Earth and all stars, loud rushing planets; hail, wind, and rain, flowers and trees, wild animals and birds. We open our eyes and see that this world is boiling over with praise for God, this world is full of praise for our Creator and Redeemer, this world is full of Easter alleluias.
And this new vision changes how we view the world around us. This isn’t just a disposable world. Our actions have an impact on God’s Creation, God’s Creation that is designed to sing praise to God. So if we’re careless and wasteful with the Earth, we’re not honoring what God has made, not honoring the Creation that waits with us for Christ to return. So instead, we reduce, reuse, and recycle, we care for the Earth, we take care of this glorious Earth that God has made and said is good, we care for the Earth that waits with us for the Second Coming of Christ.
But this new vision also helps us to see that our true hope for eternity, our true hope is living with Christ forever on the renewed Earth. We will live with Him forever on a physical Earth that God will renew. We believe in the resurrection of the body; that’s what we wait for. We wait for that day when we will be with Christ forever, living on a renewed, beautiful Earth. We wait for the day when the whole Creation can truly praise the Lord like Psalm 148 says, a day when the chorus of Creation isn’t hamstrung by the devastation of sin, isn’t corrupted into destructive forces like this week’s deadly storms in the South. We wait for that day when Christ will come again and all of Creation will break out in tremendous, beautiful, wonderful, peaceful praise of God.
Close your eyes one more time, close your eyes, and hear the Word of God that gives you this hope: (1 Peter) In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus Christ has given you the hope of rising from the dead, because He has forgiven you and destroyed sin, death, and the devil.
Now open your eyes. Your vision has been transformed. You no longer see people as disposable; you no longer see the world as disposable. This is an Easter world. This is a world saved by Jesus. This is a world of people that God wants to save; this is an Earth that God promises to restore when Christ comes again. This is an Easter world.