Scriptures: Psalm 148, Revelation 5:11-14
I want to begin this morning with some pictures. [Slide 1]
This is a picture of some oil wells set on fire by Iraqi troops as they fled Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. As you can see it affected more than the price of oil. Skies were blackened, birds disappeared; burning oil seared what little vegetation was left, leaving camels to search in vain for food. In war, it is not only the people who suffer but the whole creation.
Here is a more recent example. This is a picture of a
street in the city of Homs, Syria, before the civil war. [Slide 2] This is the same street now. [Slide 3] War destroys not only people and buildings, but even the trees.
And it is not just war that wrecks havoc on creation. This
is a picture of air pollution in China. [Slide 4] This is a picture of water pollution in India. [Slide 5] And lest we think this happens only in other countries, this picture was taken in the United States. [Slide 6] I once read about a chemical plant in New Jersey where the rabbits living nearby had green fur.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, [Slide 7: Quote] "We
know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." It is not just the followers of Jesus who look forward to the coming of God's kingdom, the whole creation yearns for it.
I think that is the key to understanding Psalm 148. Psalm
148 is an exuberant call to worship. The reason is given in the last verse-verse 14: "He has raised up a horn for his people." In Hebrew, to raise up a horn for someone means to come to their rescue. It's like the cavalry coming to the rescue blowing their bugles. The reason for praise in Psalm 148 is that God rescues people from their sins and gives them the joy of a new life with God.
But here is the striking part about Psalm 148. When God
saves people, the whole creation is invited to celebrate. [Slide 8: Quote] "Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! . Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds."
Think about those birds in Kuwait. Think about those trees in Syria.
Think about the animals drinking that green sludge in New Jersey. When God enters our lives and makes us new people, the whole creation celebrates: trees clap, stars shout, mountains shake with excitement. Even the rabbits are grateful.
Psalm 96 is another example. It starts out like this,
[Slide 9: Quote] "O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day." It is like the song we heard at the beginning of the service: "Come, now is the time to worship."
But notice who is addressed. Verses 11-13: [Slide 10: Quote]
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the seas roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his truth.
When God brings righteousness and truth to this world, when God's kingdom comes and God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven, all nature celebrates.
Which is exactly what happens in the last book of the Bible.
Revelation 5 conclude with these words: [Slide 11: Quote]
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb [one of Revelation's symbols for Jesus] be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped.
T. S. Eliot once wrote, "This is the way the world ends, not
with a bang but a whimper." The Bible, however, begs to differ. According to the Bible the world ends not with a bang or a whimper but with a song, a great music celebration Sunday, with all creation joining in the chorus. [Slide 12: Blank]
Today as our Assurance of Pardon I again quoted one of my favorite
Bible verses: II Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation." Notice that it does not say "If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creature." That is true, but that is not the whole story. When anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. When Jesus comes into our lives, even nature is transformed.
This begins to happen when we ourselves treat nature differently.
Knowing that nature belongs to God means that it is not ours to do with whatever we want. It is not ours to despoil. It is not ours to use up without thought for coming generations. That's why the whole creation rejoices when anyone commits their life to Jesus. When greed is replaced by sharing, when hate is replaced by healing, when selfishness is replaced by service, the whole creation benefits. It isn't just your family and friends that are grateful. Even the sky and the rivers and the trees breathe a prayer of thanks.
At the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,
the first book of C. S. Lewis' series The Chronicles of Narnia, Narnia lies under the spell of an evil witch. As one of the creatures in Narnia says, "It is always winter and never Christmas." There is a hellish description if I ever heard one.
But then Aslan comes to Narnia. Aslan is C. S. Lewis'
symbol for Jesus. But even before anyone sees Aslan, his presence his felt. It is felt as the coming of spring. C. S. Lewis writes,
All round them, though out of sight, there were streams chattering, murmuring, bubbling, splashing, and even (in the distance) roaring. . And then, as (Edmund) looked at one tree he saw a great load of snow slide off it and for the first time since he had entered Narnia he saw the dark green of a fir tree. . Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. . Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down onto the forest floor and overhead you could see a blue sky between the tree-tops. Soon there were more wonderful things happening. Coming suddenly round a corner into a glade of silver birch trees Edmund saw the ground covered in all directions with little yellow flowers. . Then came a sound even more delicious that the sound of water. Close beside the path they were following a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree. It was answered by the chuckle of another bird a little further off. And then, as if that had been a signal, there was chattering and chirruping in every direction, and then a moment of full song, and within five minutes the whole wood was ringing with birds' music" (pp. 114-117).
When Jesus comes into our lives, it is the beginning of a
new creation, and the whole of nature sings its gratitude.