Lectionary II (Yr C)
Luke 14:1, 7-14 (I)
Luke 14:1, 7-14 (II)
Heb. 13:1-8, 15-16
Lk. 13:10-17 (I)
Lk. 13:10-17 (II)
Isaiah 5:1-7 (I)
Isaiah 5:1-7 (II)
Luke 12:49-56 (I)
Luke 12:49-56 (II)
Heb. 12:1-7 (I)
Heb. 12:1-7 (II)
Gen. 15:1-6 (I)
Gen. 15:1-6 (II)
Psalm 50 (I)
Psalm 50 (II)
Lk 12:32-40 (I)
Lk 12:32-40 (II)
Heb. 11:1ff. (I)
Heb. 11:1ff. (II)
Lk. 12:13-21 (I)
Lk. 12:13-21 (II)
Lk. 11:1-13 (I)
Lk. 11:1-13 (II)
Lk. 11:1-13 (III)
Lk. 10:38-42 (I)
Lk. 10:38-42 (II)
Lk. 10:25-37 (I)
Lk. 10:25-37 (II)
II Kings 5:1-14 (I)
II Kings 5:1-14 (II)
Lk 10:1-12, 17-20
Galatians 6 (I)
Galatians 6 (II)
II Kings 2:1-14
Ps. 16 (I)
Ps. 16 (II)
Gal. 5:1, 13-25
I Ki. 19:1-15a (I)
I Ki. 19:1-15a (II)
Ps. 42-43 (I)
Ps. 42-43 (II)
Gal. 3:23-29 (I)
Gal. 3:23-29 (II)
I Kings 21 (I)
I Kings 21 (II)
Luke 7:36-50 (I)
Luke 7:36-50 (II)
Gal 2:11-21 (I)
Gal 2:11-21 (II)
I Kings 17:8-24
Trinity (June 3)
Prov. 8:22-31 (I)
Prov. 8:22-31 (II)
Romans 5:1-5 (I)
Romans 5:1-5 (II)
John 16: 5-15
Pentecost (May 27)
Gen. 11:1-9 (I)
Gen. 11:1-9 (II)
Acts 2:1-21 (I)
Acts 2:1-21 (II)
John 14:8-17 (II)
Easter VII (May 20)
Acts 16:16-34 (I)
Acts 16:16-34 (II)
John 17:20-26 (I)
John 17:20-26 (II)
Easter VI (May 13)
Rev. 21:10, 22-22:5
Easter V (May 6)
Acts 11; 13; 14
My Own Acrostic Ps. (based on Ps. 145)
Trinity Sunday--June 3, 2007
Bill Long 5/20/07
Psalm 8*; God's Majestic Name
[*This essay first appeared in my 1993 book, with Glandion Carney, Longing for God: Prayer and the Rhythms of Life (InterVarsity Press), 190-95]
This Psalm reads as follows, in the NRSV:
"To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
The movement of praise (Ps. 8 began the fourth "part" of my earlier book--longing, distress, trust, and praise) begins in gratitude. The spirit of gratituded is captured in a saying from the medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart: "If the only prayer you say in your whole life is 'thank you,' that would suffice." That same spirit flows forth from the story of the ten men healed of leprosy by Jesus in Luke 17:11-19. Ten lepers called on Jesus for help. Ten lepers were made clean as they headed off to the priest. Only one of them, when he saw what had happened, came back to thank Jesus. The text says, "He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him" (17:16). Though we hold up the gratitude of the returning leper as an example for our lives, we do so with the awareness that nine of the people touched by God's healing hand did not return to Jesus. Gratitude is the firm foundation on which our house of faith is built; but it may be the case that nine out of ten of us who have been healed by God do not show the proper gratitude. Thus, as we begin our study of Psalm 8, let's do so with the prayer that we might be like the grateful leper, who returned to Jesus with thanks after being healed.
Psalm 8 breathes the spirit of one who has just climbed a tall peak, and upon reaching the top, surveys the vast expanse all around, with eyes marveling at the unparalleled vista, and breaks forth into a grateful song of praise. This psalm is abut the glory of God in nature, yet the author doesn't stop there. He also reflets on who this God is, who is so glorious in the natural sphere. He also encourages us to ask who are the people who claim this God for their own. So, in Psalm 8, the majesty of God doens't stand alone: it invites us to look more closely at God and ourselves. The movement of praise is rooted in gratitutde, and it is gratitude to the majestic God and knowledge of ourselves that gives dynamic life to our praise.
II. Who is God?
The first and last verses of this psalm are identical. They bring us in and lead us out of the psalm. Verse 1 prepares our heart for the next seven verses, and verse 9 restates the interpretive key for the whole Psalm:
"O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
God is the Lord, but God is also our Lord. Like Ps. 63:1, this psalm's first verse sounds like a general call to God and then moves to specific address. the Lord is our Lord; the Lord is my Lord. God's name is not simply crowned in our hearts; it is majestic in all the earth. The small and seemingly unimportant things reveal the greatness of God. As the children's hymn, "All Things Bright and Beautiful" says, "Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings" proclaims the glorious majesty of God.
We also see God's glory in the huge things of the universe. Often when I visit the Oregon coast, I take a walk along the beach just before dark. As sunst approaches, I note the typical signs of beach activity: children running and laughing, frisbees flying, people shouting back and forth to each other. Yet as the sun dips into the ocean, all the action on the beach stops. We fall silent, almost as if we were an audience in a great symphony hall. Conversations become hushed. Children stop running. Balls are not thrown. All eyes turn to the sun until it dips below the horizon. Perfect silence reigns. The silent splendor of God's sunset has worked its magic in our hearts. After the sun slides behind the sea and everyone returns to his or her activity, I go on my way too, with this verse on my lips: "O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
Glod's glory shines above the heavens and below the heavens. The fine arrangement and beauty of moon, sun and stars show the skill of the heavenly artist. The immense grandeur of the heavens demonstrates the incomprehensible greatness of God. All the starry, spangled expanse above our heads is the work of God's "fingers." Thus when the fingers of death grasp at us (Ps. 116:3), we can be sure that God's fingers are stronger than death's fingers.
God's "fingers" are also active on earth. The magicians in Pharoah's court recognized this. Moses and Aaron, through the power of God, brought many plagues upon the Egyptians. But the Egyptian magicians did the same through their sacred arts. It was only when Moses and Aaron brought the plague of gnats, which the magicians could not imitate, that the Egyptians said, "this is the finger of God" (Ex. 8:19). Heaven and earth alike are example of God's "fingerwork."
III. Who are We?
As soon as we recognize the immense majesty of God, we think of our own insignificance. When we see our comparative smallness in the scheme of things, we realize that the strength of our relationship with God rests on incomprehensible grace. The psalmist says:
"3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"
How small are we? We all have experiences where we feel both incredibly small and very large, where we feel impotent and where we experience great power. Yet our focus on the majesty of God threatens to extinguish us. We look up to the dizzying heights of God and wonder if we have any place in this world at all. Yes we do! We realize,
"5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour."
The whole tenor of the psalm thus far has stressed our smallness. Now we see, in the eyes of God, that we are huge. Our size may be halfway between an atom and a planet, but in God's sight we are almost heavenly beings. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We possess the image and likeness of God.
Verse 5 is quoted in Hebrews 2, where it refers to Christ who was made "a little lower than the angels," but who, through his death and resurrection, was "crowned with glory and honor" (Heb. 2:6-9). Thus, the fuller scriptural context of this psalm emphasizes that God's glory is not only evident in the marvels of creation but also in the plan of redemption. God's majest is present in the splendor of the world as well as the suffering of the Son. Creation and redemption are thus held up in the Scriptures as two places where God's handiwork is most powerfully evident.
We have also been given dominion over all the earth. Note verse 6:
"6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.."
In the last several years Christians, inspired by the environmental movement, have looked anew at the charge to "rule" over all of creation. A term that has been repeatedly used, which we prefer to the term rule, and which captures both our control over and responsibilty for creation, is stewardship. Stewardship is a supple biblical term that stresses the primacy of our faithfulness to God by wise management of the resources he has place din our care.
The wonder of it all is that the God who formed the heavens and the earth, whose glory is shown in the silence of a sunset and the cry of an infant, who sustains all things by his power, actually has put his trust in us to manage the resources of hte earth wisely. We are small, certainly. We are weak and confused and selfish and destructive and often hateful. Yet we are the ones on whom God is banking for the care of the wonderful creation.
But the last word belongs also to God. Lest we think that our dominion gives us the license to despoil or waste, or lest we, in our pride, think that the fate of the earth is completely in our hands, we are brought back to where we started:
"9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!"