Summit Presbyterian Church
October 8, 2017
Lord, Speak to Me
The sperm whale is the world’s largest predator with teeth. (If you’re now wondering, what’s the world’s largest predator without teeth, that would be the Blue Whale. Blue Whales eat teeny tiny shrimp called krill that they swallow by the ton, so rather than teeth they have baleen, a bony kind of sieve, in their mouths. You learn a lot, preparing a sermon). Sperm Whales migrate in pods through all the oceans of the world. They live in the depths, coming up only for air and for socializing. They’re as large as a school bus. They have the biggest brains on the planet, their head being a full third of their body. In the 19th century they were hunted almost to extinction — Moby Dick was a sperm whale - and although they’re now protected, we don’t know if they’ll survive our rapidly warming oceans. Sperm whales, along with Blue whales, also make the loudest sounds on earth. They hunt fish and squid in the pitch black of the deep waters, so they see through echolocation. They send out sound waves that echo off objects in front of them, sending back three dimensional images that they see in their mind’s eye. Scientists call their vocalizations, “clicks,” and the loudest clicks can be heard hundreds of miles away. Up close the they can shatter human bones. Because of their size and their deep diving ways, until recently humans couldn’t study them close up. Researchers observed them from boats, but scuba divers scared off the whales with the sound of their equipment. But several years ago a researcher of sharks saw something unusual off his boat and did a free dive to investigate. (Free diving means holding your breath, with just fins and a mask). Suddenly, a pod of sperm whales swam up towards him. He was terrified, but to his surprise they didn’t attack. They circled and softly “clicked” around him, investigating this new creature. They stayed with him for two hours and he was hooked. Afterwards, he founded a group of free divers that swim regularly among sperm whales. They play with them, videotaping and recording their “clicks” for scientists to analyze. You can hear this whale sonar through your TV or computer. The fastest “clicks” sounds like a creaking door or a motor; as they slow down, they make a “Pop pop pop pop,” sound. Psalm 148 says, “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths.” And so they do: the depths as well as the heavens are telling the glory of God, the oceans as well as the firmament declare God’s handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge; there is no speech, nor are there words; yet their clicks go out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
This week, through our computers or TV, we could hear another set of pop, pop, pop, pop, pops. These did not tell of the glory of God. They told of human sin, death and destruction, pain and suffering. Those clicks have also gone through all the earth, and to the end of the world people are asking, “why?” What was the motive, what led him down, “the pathway to violence?” We’ll never know with certainty, as God alone knows the secrets of the human heart. We can make some educated guesses, offer some partial explanations: The idolatry of guns, including the dozens he possessed and cared for, the power they gave him. Or perhaps it was the love of money, and the pride or thrill that comes with winning when you gamble, until maybe he didn’t win. Or perhaps he was possessed by what the ancients would have called a demon, a demon that took ahold of him and distorted his mind and heart. Surely there are other “reasons” that we’ll never know. And so we ask God, “Why?” Speak!! For the revelation of God’s glory in the stars and the sun, in the depths and the heavens doesn’t explain that evil or bind those wounds. If that were the only way God spoke, we might wonder if God cared for God’s creatures.
But that is not the only way God speaks. God also speaks in human language. Through words that can be read in churches or synagogues or mosques and translated into hundreds of languages and printed in books. Words we can memorize and carry inside us. Words we must interpret — their meaning is not always clear — but words we can understand.
Words that testify to Jesus the Christ — God among us, in the flesh. Jesus the Christ who encountered evil, was acquainted with grief, suffered and died and was buried — and then rose from the grave. Jesus the Christ who showed himself to his disciples before ascending into heaven, and who is with us now through the Holy Spirit. Through the Risen Christ God offers repentance, forgiveness and new life to all. Through the Risen Christ God shows the power of life over death, love over hate. Through the Risen Christ God speaks peace to all peoples, showing that guns or bombs or thermonuclear weapons will not have the final say. The scriptures tell us that Christ will come again, to judge the living and the dead and to redeem all creation. On that day whose hour we do not know the lion will lie down with the lamb, swords will be turned into ploughshares, the young child will put her hand on the viper’s den and they will not hurt or destroy on the height of any mountain or in the depth of any sea. God speaks this word of hope to in times of deepest darkness and despair.
But that’s not the only word God speaks. God also gives us instructions on how to live in the meantime, in the midst of this broken world. These instructions are called Torah. Torah includes the commandments and laws given to Moses, but also the stories of God’s people in Genesis and Exodus. The prophets call us to follow Torah, the psalms and proverbs reflect on Torah, and Jesus interprets Torah through his teaching and life. The words of the Torah may not seem as majestic or timeless as the music of the stars. To our ears many of the laws and precepts and ordinances sound petty, or outdated, if not downright wrong. We may even have been taught — in error — that Jesus abolished the law. But although it must always be interpreted anew, in church and synagogue, Psalm 19 tells us that the law is a gift and a blessing. That the law is sweeter than honey, than the drippings of the honeycomb. More to be desired than gold, even much fine gold. The laws, precepts and ordinances of the Lord revive the soul, they make wise the simple, they enlighten the eyes, they rejoice the heart. They are summed up by Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary.” Jesus pointed to the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” And so we have instructions for a sweet and precious life. To love God first and foremost: before guns, before nation, before tribe, or race or money or lifestyle or any other idol we’re tempted to worship. And to love our neighbors as ourselves: to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, house the homeless, free the prisoners, preach good news to the poor, bind up the broken-hearted. The specifics change in different times and places: understanding Torah is a life-long task for us to do together. But God has not left us to our own devices in this matter of how to live. God has not left us helpless before sin and evil. We hear God’s instructions through the Old and New Testaments; but we can trust that God speaks through other words of God’s choosing. God offers a blessed and righteous life to all who will listen.
But, we must confess, the listening isn’t so easy. We wander; we misunderstand; we even refuse the gift. So now we come to the last part of the psalm and the sermon, where the psalmist leads us in prayer. Asking God to clear us of hidden faults, those unwitting sins we can’t even detect in ourselves. Unintentional but real hurts; complicity in systems of injustice; indifference to the destruction of the earth. The psalmist also asks that we be kept from the insolent - those who may tempt us to great transgression. That would include our president, I am sorry to say, although he’s not the only one and we also need to be kept back from our inner, insolent, selves. Or, as others translations put it, those proud thoughts that too often have dominion over us. But the psalmist knows that God is ready to help and invites us to trust in God. So, we pray that our words reflect God’s grace and that our lives may tell the glory of God, so that together with all creation we may proclaim God’s handiwork. Please join me in prayer:
Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.