Staunton Mennonite Church
1The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
3There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
4yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;
8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;
9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
11Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
13Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
A little old Christian lady comes out onto her front porch every morning and shouts, “Praise the Lord!” And every morning her atheist neighbor yells back, “There is no God!” This goes on for weeks. “Praise the Lord!” yells the lady. “There is no God!” responds the neighbor.
As time goes by, the lady runs into financial difficulties and has trouble buying food. She goes out onto the porch and asks God for help with groceries, then says, “Praise the Lord!”
The next morning when she goes out onto the porch, there are the groceries she asked for. Of course, she shouts, “Praise the Lord!” The atheist jumps out from behind a bush and says, “Ha! I bought the groceries. There is no God!”
The lady looks at her neighbor and smiles. She shouts, “Praise the Lord! Not only did you provide me with groceries, Lord, you made Satan pay for them!” (Cathcart and Klein Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…)
As I read the scripture for today, I find myself shouting “Amen”. And I am not normally an amen shouter. The first verse says that the heavens are telling of the glory of God, the firmament, the sky is proclaiming his handiwork. In fact, the first six verses are poetry proclaiming the wonder of God that is seen in the beauty of the earth and the heavens. What the Psalmist is talking about is the natural revelation of God, that God can be seen through the things that God has made. We know that there is a creator because there is creation. And since creation is glorious, we should assume that the creator is glorious as well.
In the opening chapters of Genesis we find the creation account where God made the night and day, the heavens and the earth, the land and the sea, the animals, vegetables, and the minerals. We have creation and we have a creator. And it is clear that they are separate. It is God that initiated creation; it is God who started the entire process. God is the un-moved mover.
So the Psalmist is saying that this creator God is revealed through what he has created. Creation is a testimony to God and it tells us a little about God. We can see from creation that God is a lover of color. We see flowers of every hue, rainbows adorning the sky, sunrises and sunsets. In the fall we see an assortment of reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. Even in people we can see that God has created us in many different colors and shades. God is a lover of color.
We can see from creation that God is a lover of diversity. God is creative, having made both the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the flat, treeless plains of Nebraska. From the icy polar icecaps to the tropical rainforest, we see the creativity of God. In the many animals, both four legged and two legged, we see that God is a planner. God had an intention for the animals of the earth to exist side by side. And even after God’s original plan for animals, namely humankind, was altered, we see that God was able to adapt his plan to allow the animals of the earth to feed off plants and other animals in a way that allows for the circle of life to continue.
But yet there are those that continue to deny that there is a God. There is no proof for a creator, they say. I step out of my house and I view the trees and the grass, I smell the flowers and the fresh cut hay, I touch the warm soil and the cool breeze and I say, “How much proof do you need?”
The debates go back longer than any of us have been alive. Is there a creator or do we and everything around us exist by chance? People have tried to explain away God with scientific theories and some of these theories do seem to have some credibility, like evolution. But even evolutionists have problems answering one question. Where did the first live being come from? If we are all descendants from a single celled organism, how did that single celled organism come into being? Was it a big bang? Maybe crystals, or aliens (where did the aliens come from?)? For some people, these theories seem to be more likely than to believe in a God who created all of the world as we know it.
We can see that even back in the 1st century, the Apostle Paul dealt with people that did not believe in God and Paul appealed to them by showing them the magnificence of God’s creation. Paul writes in Romans 1:18-20, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” If you have seen what God has made, then you are without excuse. How can you claim that there is no God after you have seen what he has made?
Obviously we do not have a complete revelation of God in nature. I think that nature shows us that there is a God, but a different revelation of God shows us who God is. That revelation is the Bible. Yet there are those that believe that they can disprove a creator God because of what they call “contradictions” between the Bible and science. These people say that the Bible claims that the earth is only between 6,000 and 6,500 years old. But science tells us that the earth is around 5 billion years old and the universe has parts that are as old as 12 billion years old! So I guess this means that God isn’t real, right?
2 Peter 3:8 tells us that for God, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. This doesn’t mean that each day of the creation story in Genesis represents a one thousand year period. Instead Peter is saying that God is not bound by the limitation of earthly time. Creation could have taken place in 6 24 hour periods or it could have taken place in 6 billion years. Maybe creation is still taking place. The point is that God is not bound by our time, nor should we try to limit God to our understanding of time.
We make a mistake if we try to read Genesis 1 and 2 in a way it was not intended to be read. And Genesis 1 and 2 were not written as a scientific textbook to be used to determine the age of the earth. Genesis 1 and 2 were written as Hebrew poetry, intended to convey a message. And the message that they were intended to convey is that God is the creator of the earth and everything in it.
Sonya and I just got back last Monday from a week long trip that started with a couple nights in a cabin with her family in West Virginia. We spent a lot of time hiking, sight-seeing, and even white water rafting. Then Sonya and her family drove off to Nebraska while I drove to Ohio to see my family before joining them in the Cornhusker state. I was driving alone and I was in no hurry, so I decided to take the scenic route. And I loved it. I drove through the mountains, which were poking their tops through the clouds like a prairie dog poking its head out of a hole. The trees were so green, the water was so blue. And as I drove along, I prayed, “God, how could anyone ever doubt your existence? Your creation is magnificent and breathtaking. I couldn’t even dream up something like this.” At that moment, I had no doubt in my mind that God does exist and that he is the creator of the beauty with which I am now surrounded.
Then the phone rang. It was my friend Cindy, who in addition to being a pastor at Lindale Mennonite is also employed by the student life department at Eastern Mennonite University. I could tell quickly that this phone call was not of a personal nature. Cindy was calling with bad news. At 9:05 on Wednesday morning, she told me that Matt Garber had drowned while swimming in Costa Rica.
Many of us will remember Matt as one of the students that came to Staunton Mennonite as a part of the Young People’s Christian Association. He was a part of this congregation for about two and a half years. Matt was a gifted musician, often leading the congregational singing or accompanying us with his ability to sight read music that the song leader would call out without giving Matt any chance to prepare for. Matt was also a gifted thinker. He was a gifted church historian, an armchair theologian, and scientifically knowledgeable.
Matt graduated this past April with a degree in Nursing, receiving EMU’s cords of distinction. He was involved in many extracurricular activities. He touched many lives. He was to start a position at Lancaster General Hospital in the Emergency Room after spending this summer with a missionary family in Costa Rica. He wanted to be a nurse because, in his own words, “I was being called to minister to the sick, care for the dying, offer healing to the broken and hope to the distraught.”
The last time Matt was in this building was November 4th, 2007. He played the piano at my ordination. He had been in my home and in many of your homes as well. Matt was a part of our church community, a part of the EMU community, and a part of the kingdom of God.
So here I am, driving through the mountains of West Virginia, affirming the presence of God in the beauty of His creation which surrounded me, and I hear that this man after God’s own heart died a tragic death at 22 years of age. This person who had planned to serve God with his life had that very life taken from him way too soon. And I was angry. I was alone in the car so me and God had it out for the next couple of hours. How could the all-powerful creator God of the universe allow such a thing to happen to one of his own servants? It was one thing when I processed my theology about the natural disasters in Myanmar, China, and the Midwest. It was one thing to try to accept these disasters that happened to people I don’t know. But this one hit too close to home.
Now I didn’t question God’s existence when I got this bad news, but I did get pretty angry. And believe me, I am not the first person to ever get angry with God. Job got pretty angry with God after he lost his family and all that he owned. Jeremiah got angry with God when he was rejected by the people for delivering his messages. I bet Jesus was even a little angry as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So now it was my turn to be angry.
Now we need to be careful with our anger. I think it is okay to be angry with God like Job, Jeremiah, and Jesus were when they lost something precious to them or were being tortured for doing God’s will. But I will throw in another J name whose anger toward God was not justified. That was Jonah. Remember that after Jonah preached to the Ninevites, Jonah wanted God to destroy the Ninevites because of their evil and wicked ways. Jonah even set up on a hill and waited to watch God destroy these wicked people. But what happened? The people repented, God forgave them and spared them. That is why Jonah God angry with God, because God spared the lives of the Ninevites. Jonah got angry with God for acting…like God. Time and time again we read that God is slow to anger and abounding in love (Ex. 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15, 103:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). Jonah knew this about God, he even refers to God as one who is slow to anger and abounding in love. So why be angry when God spares those he loves? Jonah is angry at God because God acts within his own nature, because God acts like God. The others are angry at God when God seems to act outside the nature of God. And I believe that is when we are allowed to be angry at God as well.
I remember clearly, however, learning that this is the one thing that God cannot do; God cannot act outside of his nature. Otherwise, he would not be God. So maybe it isn’t that God is acting outside of his nature when he allows people to die or suffer unjustly. Maybe it is just God being selective in whom he saves and when he saves them. And that brings up a huge question for me…Why? Why save one and not another? Why the Ninevites and not Job’s family or Matt Garber? As Ronald Friesen wrote in his post on Matt’s memorial blog, this is one of the things we will never know this side of heaven. But it will be on my list of things to ask.
On that same blog, EMU president Loren Swartzentruber wrote something like, Two things I know for sure are that there is a God and that I am not Him. And I think that sums things up pretty well for me right about now. I don’t doubt that there is a God. If I didn’t believe in God, then who am I angry at? Obviously I believe. But I cannot fully understand God as long as I am bound by this earthly body and mind. And perhaps when I do meet God, I will see that none of this really matters anyway. But for now, I know there is a God, and I know that I am not him.
Thankfully, we as Christians have a belief in something called a resurrection. And I can’t help but think how meaningless all of this would seem if we did not have a resurrection hope. Without resurrection hope, we would be left with nothing more than the desire to be comfortable and maybe, if we happen to be compassionate, to make others comfortable as well. But as Jesus said to his disciples in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
I know that there is a God. There is no better way to describe how creation came about in my mind. I also know that I am not God, nor would I want his job. I do not understand everything about God; why he chooses to save some and not others. But I am confident of this, that the God who created the universe and came here and dwelt among humanity in flesh in the form of Jesus Christ is calling all people to follow him. And the reward for faithful living is eternal life spent with God. The good Lord giveth, and the good Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.