Yr A ~ Creation 1 ~ Psalm 114
This is the tenth September that we have marked the Season of Creation at Faith United. What do we mean by creation? One aspect is to think about the natural world, the planet we share, and to raise theological issues about sustainability, respect, resources, stewardship, and greed. We can talk about the environment, the physical world, and celebrate the wonders that it holds.
Another aspect is to think about the act of creation, and focus on God. While it makes for a good visual, I don’t for one instant imagine that a humanoid figure with a white beard physically shaped the stars and planets and all that is. So what do we mean by the act of creation? The big bang maybe? Did it just happen? Was it caused? What banged together? These are big scientific questions, but they’re also spiritual questions.
For me creation is about the existence of life that can in many ways be explained scientifically but also holds a mysterious, miraculous sense because the complexity and interrelatedness and interconnectedness of it all inspires awe and wonder, and we sense that more than just being a happy accident we are somehow the product of a loving intention. We give that mysterious intentionality the name God, and we celebrate how we are part of it all.
Perhaps a better name for the way I’m approaching this isn’t the Season of Creation but the Season of the Creator! How can we talk about God as creator without falling into troublesome anthropomorphism? How do we acknowledge the remarkable understandings that science has given us and at the same time acknowledge that there’s more to it than just science? And how do we find language that can speak to the theological side without leaving our brains at the door?
Today we’re going to explore some of that language – and probably the best language to use to talk about God is poetry – and the best poetry in the bible is found in the Book of Psalms, which is more or less a hymn book – which means poetry and music in the service of speaking of spiritual things. Poetry and music have the potential to help us access deep truths and meaning that science can never get to.
Today we’re looking at Psalm 114. It’s a psalm that recalls the exodus and tries to offer a sense of how momentous a thing it was – and how awesome was the God who inspired and guided it.
1 When Israel went out from Egypt [that’s the exodus], the house of Jacob [which is all of Israel, which was his other name] from a people of strange language [a colourful way to say a foreign land],
2 Judah [a territory] became God’s sanctuary, Israel [meaning the people] God’s dominion [or realm].
The Israelites were once under the rule or domain of Pharaoh – now they’re under God’s domain. That’s the story of the exodus. For the Israelites this was an epic, epoch-making event, and they knew deep in their hearts that God was at the centre of it.
Now, how do you tell that story? How do you describe something so ginormously life-changing for you and your people?
You write songs! Because the metaphors in poetry and songs give you the potential to express deep truths in engaging and effective ways.
So, when that momentous action happened how did not just the people but the planet react?
3 The sea looked and fled; [the river] Jordan turned back [on itself and flowed the other way].
4 The mountains skipped [bounded, danced, frolicked!] like rams, the [little] hills like lambs.
5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?
Why? Why? Here’s why!
7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint [an extremely hard rock that gives sparks when struck] into a spring of water.
How awesome was the exodus?
Well, the way they tell it it rocked their world!
And this psalm was one of the ways they tried to express their overwhelming gratitude and awestruck-ness.
7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.
Trembling in awe before God.
Tremble is a very complex Hebrew word (c-h-u-w-l) that’s pronounced ‘cool’. Its field of meaning is really vast. It can mean:
to twist or whirl, to dance, to writhe in pain or fear;
to hope, look, rest, shake, stay, tarry, trust, wait patiently, be wounded.
In English to tremble means:
To shake involuntarily, as from excitement, anger, fear, or anxiety; to quake, vibrate, or quiver.
The point here is not to make us afraid of God but to remind us that God is all around and God is truly awesome and awe-full.
So often we are so casual about how we toss God’s name around, or shrug the whole church or faith or spirit thing off because it feels like no big deal.
When the name of God, or the presence of God, is said or revealed the appropriate response is not a shrug – it’s trembling! read on