Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth! -Psalm 8
So today is that first Sunday of Lent. The season and time of the year in which we mark and do the work of preparing to receive and welcome Christ as the risen Lord and savior in our lives. But right now, we've got the journey that lies ahead. And last week, I introduced the series and opened things up. Hopefully you were able to get one of those Psalm reading schedules. They're still available on the website, on the Facebook page or printed copies in the office. We started on Wednesday with reading through the Psalms, you get Sundays off unless you want to use them or play catch up if you've missed some days.
Last week, I'd said that Psalter had those three general categories: Psalms of orientation, Psalms of disorientation and Psalms of re-orientation or new orientation. Well, this morning’s Psalm is definitely in that category of a Psalm of orientation because it sings God's praises, but we also have to talk a little bit about some of the elements of Psalms. Last week, I'd mentioned those parallelism where ideas are repeated. One of the things that we find in Psalms, throughout Hebrew scripture and even the New Testament, is a literary or a structural device called a chiasmus.
Now, a simple form of this is one that's found in Matthew 23:13, where Jesus says, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled. And those who humble themselves will be exalted.” So you have two ideas that end up getting crisscrossed. So the word chiasmus comes from the Greek letter chi. It's a symbol that looks like an X. So we have those who are exalted are humbled, and those who are humbled are exalted. And when you link the exalted with exalted and humble with humble, it forms an X, so that's a real simple form of it. Another way to think of it is to imagine you're building a sandwich. You put a piece of bread down, slather on your favorite condiments, and we put a slice of meat on there. Then you repeat the process in reverse, you put another slice of meat on, then you slather on some more condiments and then you put that other piece of bread on it. So you have a process where you go through A, B, C, Maybe even D or more. Then in a similar fashion, you repeat those ideas or themes in D,C, B, A. It's a technique that's used to draw emphasis to what is being said of what's going on. If you've ever studied, or read, Franklin Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, his second habit is, begin to begin with the end in mind. And I think that's what these chiasms do. They present the idea, take us through the steps and then go backwards again through those steps to bring us back to that point that they really want us to pay attention to.
So in the case of Psalm 8, verse 1 and verse 9 are identical. They bookend everything else that happens in here. This Psalm is one that follows that chiasm structure, versus one and nine say, “O Lord, our sovereign. How majestic is your name in all the earth?” We start with this thought with this idea, “O Lord, our sovereign. How majestic is your name in all the earth?” We're identifying God, we're speaking to God, we're addressing God, we're saying, ‘God, you are our Sovereign God, and nothing in all of creation is greater than your name.’ That's the beginning point. That's the theological point. So it's not just to make good and pretty poetry, but it's to make a strong and significant point. The point being that everything starts and begins with God.
Then we've got this praise of creation, this wonder and awe that the psalmist experiences, “God, when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you've established.” You’ve had those moments in life where you’ve just had your breath taken away: watching a sunset over the ocean, gazing upon mountains, watching the intricacy and beauty of nature, these frigid cold mornings we've had. Has anybody gone out and seen those enormous, beautiful snowflakes all across your windshield? There are things about this world that just make us say, ‘Wow…’ And that's what the psalmist is doing, ‘God, when I look at this world that you have made, the work of your fingers, it's amazing God.’
The detail, the intimacy, the connectedness that God has with this world. Obviously not as simplistic or basic, but I think of children finger painting, using their fingers in the work of their hands to make and create something. God is that personal, that close, that intimate, that connected with this world that God has made, but what's more? It's not just this world, the psalmist goes on and says, ‘the moon and the stars, not just this world, not just these things right here in front of us, but the vastness of the universe, God, all of these things are the work of your hand.’
And then that moment of humility comes for the psalmist who then says, ‘What are human beings that you're mindful of them? Mortals, that you care for them.’ God in the scheme of this universe, and the scheme of all of this that you have created throughout time and throughout history, with the ends of this universe that are yet to be understood and explored: who am I? Who am I that you care about me? That, God, you're mindful of me, that I come to your mind and you think about me. My God, have you chosen for me to be so special.
Verses 4 and 5 are kind of the hinge in this chiasmus. We start with this God of all creation, whose name is above all names. And we have the psalmist asking this question, ‘God, why? Why do I matter? Why does my life matter to you?’ And then the Psalmist begins to grasp maybe a little bit of what God is doing. The psalmist says, “Yet, you have made mortals a little lower than God.” Depending on your Bible, some may say, a little lower than heavenly beings or a little lower than angels. But God, you've taken us, us mortals as human beings, as flesh and blood that you formed from the dust of the earth, and you've lifted us up, and you've made us special. God did so.
The Psalm says, “When we were crowned with glory and honor.” Now, the thing about glory and honor is that these are attributes, these are characteristics that for one are typically only used to describe royalty. But particularly in scripture, they are attributes that are most often used to describe God. Glory is often the word that is used to describe God's presence. You may remember from Christmas, the announcement of the angels, “The glory of the Lord shown around them.” That the manifestation of God's presence in the midst of human beings is a revelation of God's glory. Not human glory, but divine originating in God. Now, glorious sometimes used in association with human beings, with You and I, in the sense that glory becomes a verb. That we offer glory to God. And I think that glory, that praise, that honor that we offer to God is often what we do in response to having experienced that presence of God in our midst, in worship, in prayer time, in observing the wonders of this world that God has made, and God alone is worthy of the honor that goes along with that kind of glory.
Yet the psalmist says, ‘God, these attributes, these qualities of yours and yours alone, you've bestowed upon us.’ Sometimes in Scripture, when God offers something, we talk about someone being clothed. That they have that attribute, that love, that grace, that mercy, whatever it is that God’s offering, we're clothed in it, we’re wrapped in it. But here, the Psalmist doesn't use the word clothed. Rather this is almost more of a coronation and indoctrination into being a part of God's Kingdom and a part of God's plan for this world that God has created. Because we're not clothed, we’re crowned. All of those royal qualities of God have been bestowed upon humanity, not because we were worthy, not because we were deserving of it, but because it fit in with the plan that God has for you and I and for this world.
Now, in Psalm 139, I'm gonna be going back and forth here a little bit. Psalm 139 talks about this God that created all things. In Psalm 8, we hear this marveling about these wonders that God has made the moon and the stars and the heavens. And yet in Psalm 139 and verse 13, it says, “For you God formed my inner parts. You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works. That I know them well.” Now, Psalm 139 makes a beautiful statement to realize that we are part of that handy work of God, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. In all of the vast array of our uniqueness and our diversity, and all of the different ways in which God has gifted and blessed each of us, we are fearfully and wonderfully made. That alone is something to wonder at. That alone is something to be grateful and thankful to God. For that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. However, Psalm 8 doesn't stop there. This Psalm isn't primarily about us. It's about us in relationship to God, but more than that, it's about God. It's about what God is doing because God isn't just saying, ‘Look how wonderful these human beings are that I've made.’ But rather God is saying, ‘Come on over here. I’m going to bestow something upon you. I'm going to crown you with my glory and my honor. So that you can fully participate in my work, so that you can have dominion and authority over this world that I have made.’
In fact, that's where we begin moving to in verse 6. “You have given them dominion over the works of your hands, you put all things under their feet.” And the psalmist goes on and talks about sheep and Ox and birds of the air, of fish in the sea, and all this. Basically the psalmist is using all of these things to make the point that everything, we can't take the time to list and name all of it, but everything that God has created, God is placing under your feet, under your dominion. So what does that mean for you and I? Why does this matter so much that the psalmist has to lay out this psalm and say the things that are said.
For one, it's a hymn of praise. It's a hymn of praise about the wonder in the glory of this God that created. And I don't know if you've been following along, but for those of you that have taken up that reading of the Psalms, Psalm 8 was probably a breath of fresh air. Because psalms 3 through 7 are kind of woe is me, talking about all of these difficult, challenging things going on. And then you get to Psalm 8, that brings us to that point of saying, “O Lord, our sovereign. How majestic is your name in all the earth?” Because God is majestic. Because God is the one whose name is greater than all names, and created this world.
God bestows upon us a calling, a vocation, a job, a task. That we have a responsibility to be the caretakers of this world that God has created. In claiming that title that God has given us, the psalmist then is moved once again to reiterate that opening statement, “O Lord, our sovereign. How majestic is your name in all the earth?” Now, this might seem like a daunting thing to have the God of creation come to us and say, ‘I want to give you a crown of glory and honor. I want you to exercise dominion over all of my creation.’ Now, we cannot lose sight of the fact that every verb in this Psalm has to do with what God is doing, God made, God created, God crowned, God gives. God is the one who was at work bringing us closer into the relationship that God desires us to have with him. We do so grounded on that first statement of “O God, sovereign God.”
We receive the gift, and in doing so, we're moved once again to affirm that statement, “O God, our sovereign God.” You see, we need to look at the whole sweep of this together. These bookends of what and who God is matter, because we would have no dominion over this created world if God hadn't given it to us. But likewise, if we attempted to exercise dominion over this world, apart from the glory and honor that God has bestowed, and it would make us wicked. It would make us arrogant and prideful to do something that wasn't a God-given, right?
So friends, we live in a beautiful world that is there to reveal the work of God's Hands. We see his fingerprints all around us, in the beauty of flowers, rainbows, sunsets, trees that emerge in leaves, and all of the wonderful things that we love and appreciate about this world. And so may your heart be moved to praise God for the awesome, wonder and creativity. But what's more? May we recognize the role that God has given us as well. To be active participants, to exercise dominion, but more importantly, to be caretakers along with God of this world. And it's not just about hugging trees. Other human beings are a part of this world. And that compassion and that care for all that God has created is a compassion and care that should fill us as well. We don't do it alone. We do it wearing that crown of glory and honor that God has given us. We do it that we might continue to lift our voices with so many others in singing that hymn of affirmation “O Lord, our sovereign. How majestic is your name in all the earth?”