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January 1 lesson: Praising God the Creator

December 19, 2016
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Praising God the Creator

Winter Quarter: Creation – A Divine Cycle
Unit 1: Praise from and for God’s Creation

Sunday school lesson for the week of January 1, 2017
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers

Lesson scripture: Psalm 33: 1-9
Background Scripture: Psalm 33

We begin a New Year and a new unit today. May this be a blessed (happy) year for God’s good creation – and all who live in it. That is our prayer for this New Year!

This unit focuses on five Psalms. The Book of Psalms is the hymnbook of the Hebrew people and gives instructions as headings on how to sing them and what instruments to play. In fact, the mysterious word “Selah” is thought by some to be an instruction to pause and ponder what has been sung. Like too many of us, they sang and never considered the message of the words!

More importantly, the Psalms are, as The Disciple Bible Study labels them, “Songs of the Heart.” The Psalms cover a wide-range of emotions and circumstances: comfort and pain, joy and anger, praise and questions, fear and assurance. The Psalms give expression to everything we humans experience.

We need a little help in seeing the poetry of these hymns. Our hymns focus on rhythm, rhyme, and the sounds of words. On the other hand, Hebrew poetry relies on “parallelism.” There are two kinds of parallelism: “synonymous” and “antithetic.” The first has two lines saying basically the same thing in different words. Antithetic parallelism expresses opposite meanings. Examples are found in Psalms 146:2 for the first and Psalm 146:9 for the second.

The five Psalms for this month’s study emphasize the praise of God for the manifold gifts of creation. You will discover “LORD” spelled with capital letters. This device is to alert you to the fact the word being translated from Hebrew is “YHWH” – Yahweh, the name of God given to Moses on the mountain. Among observant Jews, that name is never to be spoken aloud.

We see the parallelism in the very first verse of Psalm 33. Beginning with joy, the psalmist declares ways and sounds the worshippers can offer their praise to the LORD. In verse 5 a most important concept in creation theology is introduced. “The Word of the LORD” is the way God works in the cosmos; and the Word is righteous, just, and full of steadfast love.

This trio of characteristics of the very nature of God runs throughout scripture, but in this Psalm they give us an important clue about the universe in which we live. For way too long, a false conflict between science and religion has existed. In recent years a concerted effort has been made to “prove” creationism with so-called scientific fact. This argument contains a fatal flaw – Biblical faith is not about the how, when, or what of creation, but the why, and especially the Who! The essence of the Biblical witness is about the nature of the Creator. Here is the heart of evangelical faith – we preach “good news” about God and the divine nature.

We live in a universe “spoken” into being by the Word of the LORD. “And God said, ‘Let there be’, and there was!” And it was all good. The goodness of creation is insured because God is righteous, just, and full of steadfast love (vs.5). Moreover, the Spirit of the LORD is active in giving life. Just as in Genesis, when God breathed life into Adam, so this Psalm affirms: “by the breath of His mouth the starry host” came into being.

Maybe you and your class would like to learn a little Hebrew! Two of our favorite Hebrew words are featured in Psalm 33. They are “hesed” (steadfast love) and “ruah” (breath or wind or Spirit.) These are gifts the Creator bestows on His creation and the creatures that inhabit it! God enfolds us in His “hesed” and bathes us in His “ruah.”

What we say about the God of creation has important connections to how we live in creation. John Indermark gives a very significant reminder from the Westminster Catechism from the 17th Century. The Catechism was a question and answer format used by English and Scottish Presbyterians as an educational tool. The very first question asked, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer was, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Simplistic? Maybe, but not when you realize glorifying God and enjoying the benefits of our relationship to Him implies how we are to glorify and how we are to live in that intimate relationship.

So we hear Psalm 33 bidding us sing and rejoice, praise and make melody, but not as a divorce from the world and people around us. Many times we do celebrate with joy: “This is my Father’s world and to my listening ears all nature sings and ‘round me rings the music of the spheres.” Other times our glorification of God demands we defiantly shout “NO!” to the selfish interests misusing and polluting that very creation.

Right now the world stands at a crucial crossroads related to the entire globe. Global warming is a reality many deny because the solutions cost money large corporations and investors don’t want to spend. To defer paying the price now can literally cost lives later. As a pastor, Sam fought many budget battles over postponing needed maintenance to keep the budget down. Always that decision costs much more in the long run.

“Praising God the Creator” is the title of this lesson and also the title of a hymn used at the close of worship to send the congregation into the world to praise and serve. We gather to worship, and we scatter to serve. We are sent on a journey into an alien world. As John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” said to Wilbur Wilberforce, who was fighting the slave trade in Great Britain, “You live in the world, just be sure you’re not of it!” Sometimes we feel like the Jewish exiles in Babylon and ask, “How can we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?”

In this “strange land” of our world today, we have those same three anchor points of Psalm 33 – God’s righteousness, justice and steadfast love – so no matter what comes, our faith bids us rejoice in God. Paul wrote something similar in Romans 8: “In everything God is working for the good of them who love Him and are called to His purposes…So nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net.

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