January 8 lesson: All Creation Overflows with Praise
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All Creation Overflows with Praise
Winter Quarter: Creation – A Divine Cycle
Unit 1: Praise from and for God’s Creation
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 8, 2017
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Psalm 96: 1-6, 10-13
Background Scripture: Psalm 96
In beginning of this lesson, we need to accept some insights from scholars like Walter Bruggeman. He reminds us the context of Psalm 96 is the occasion when David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Remember there is no Temple yet – Solomon built the Temple. This context is confirmed in I Chronicles 16, where the entire Psalm is repeated.
Another bit of academia – the final version of the Books of Chronicles is post exilic. Again, how do we know? A list of David’s descendants includes some from the time of the Exile in Babylon. (I Chronicles 3:17-24)
The importance of all this information in interpreting Psalm 96 lies in the sovereignty of God over all creation, set against the claims of sovereignty of earthly kingdoms like Babylon. Psalm 96 should be read as a resounding affirmation of the LORD, who is above all earthly kingdoms and powers. (A note from last week’s lesson: when you see LORD think Yahweh, the name of God given to Moses on the mountain.)
The Psalm begins with three calls to sing: “a new song,” “all the earth,” “bless His name.” These invitations to sing are followed by the injunction for believers to bear witness to God: “tell of His salvation day to day,” and “declare His glory among the nations.” Hope you can see the “synonymous parallelism,” learned last week, in these lines as well.
Don’t be shocked in the next verse with the reference to other gods. The Hebrew people lived in a polytheistic world of many gods. Indeed, they often succumb to the influence of this culture. The prophets were constantly battling this temptation to idolatry. The translators use another word for gods here. That word is “elohyim,” the plural form of the generic word for god – “el.” Yahweh (LORD) is truly above all the gods!
To distinguish between the LORD God and the other gods, the Psalmist points to creation. The power to create resides with only One – the LORD! The LORD is not only the One who created, but is also the One who is still involved with creation. God’s involvement is affirmed in verses 10 and 13 with three examples of judgement: “with equity for the people,” “judging all of creation with righteousness,” and, again, “the people with truth.” God did not create the universe and leave. God remains involved and in control.
The verses for today close in a rousing doxology of praise. From heaven to earth, there is a call for gladness and rejoicing. The sea will roar! (As we write this lesson, Hurricane Matthew has just battered the East Coast of the United States.) On earth, the fields and everything growing in them are to exult. Finally, the trees of the forests are to sing for joy. The wonder of creation is summoned to give testimony to the Author.
When have you stood in awe and transfixed with a vista taking your breath away? On our 50th wedding anniversary year, we planned an extended trip out West. Arriving at the Grand Canyon, Sam immediately left Helen getting the cabin ready to use and went to the South Rim looking out across that space seen so often in pictures, but never face to face! While standing there, a young elementary boy and his mother came to stand beside Sam. The child exclaimed, “Oh mother, oh my, oh my!”
We have seen the majesty of creation: in both a sunrise and a sunset cruising on the Atlantic Ocean; a towering Sequoia that was here before Jesus lived; a majestic snow-capped mountain like Denali in Alaska; a pack of wolves in Yellowstone; a herd of bison crossing the road stopping traffic; a grizzly bear lumbering across an open field; the delicate beauty of a hummingbird at the feeder; the distinctive call and color of a pileated woodpecker on a bare tree in the snow; a herd of elk with their unique trumpeting call in the Smoky Mountains; a whale jumping out of the water for the sheer joy of it; a team of huskies pulling a loaded sled; a huge piece of ice breaking off a glacier and crashing into the sea – the list goes on and on. Creation is God’s primal witness to the wonder, beauty, intention, grace, and love of the divine character and nature of the One we can call “Abba – Father!”
Unfortunately, there is another theme in some versions of the Christian faith which focus totally on human sinfulness. We cannot deny the destructive role sin plays in rupturing the relationship with God. However, this false version of the faith obliterates the reality of the beauty and wonder of the physical world by declaring only spiritual realities matter. This view of the natural world was expressed dramatically a few years ago when a Secretary of the Interior declared saving the natural world was unnecessary because ultimately the physical world would be destroyed at the end of time. Why bother to preserve something not going to endure because of the consequences of sin?
One of the earliest heresies faced by the early Church was Docetism where the physical world only seemed to exist. The Docetists even denied the reality of Jesus’ physical existence. The Incarnation was denied, His suffering did not happen, and all other physical references were only illusions. For them, only matters of the spirit were believed to be real, and the physical world, basically evil.
We still struggle with those who would use the wonders and resources of the physical world for economic and selfish ends. The love of God, of which we sing and preach, includes the whole world – indeed the cosmos! – everyone and everything in it. “Sing to the LORD a new song” – for you are, with all of creation, a member of the choir!!
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.