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Praying the Psalms: Psalm 8

October 3, 2010
Sermon: Praying the Psalms
Text: Psalm 8

 

This series of sermons, Praying the Psalms, has been especially important to me.  I know from some of your comments that they have been meaningful to your life, as well.  I have appreciated those comments.  I am pleased to learn that many of you are praying the psalms every day as a part of your own devotional life.

Today on this World Communion Sunday, our text is Psalm 8.  I invite you to join in this responsive reading.

 

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When we consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
Who are we that you are mindful of us,
the children of earth that you care for us?
You made us a little lower than the angels
and crowned us with glory and honor.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

When we read the words of Psalm 8, we can imagine David as a shepherd boy under the stars at night, watching as the constellations moved across the heavens, seeming to rotate around Polaris.  We know, of course, that actually the rotation of the earth makes the stars seem to move.  David marveled at all that God had created, and so it has been for generations, for centuries.  People have gazed into the night sky, marveling at the vastness of the universe.

I suppose that the Hubble Telescope, more than any other instrument, has opened up the heavens to us in a way that we have never before known.  We have been able to see some of the magnificent formations that exist in deep space.  We think about television programs and even movies that capitalize on this fascination with the heavens, such as Star Wars and Star Trek. Nothing compares to simply experiencing this fascination for ourselves, being a stargazer observing the night sky.  When we look at the heavens and consider just how vast space is, we know that God is the Creator.

In October of 1957 when I was thirteen years old, I was on a camping trip when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik.  A Scout leader took us on what was called a star hike.  We looked at the night sky, watching this small satellite move across the sky.

Following the early service, someone said to me, “I remember seeing that satellite.  It looked like a cigarette butt moving across the sky.”

It was amazing to think that we had entered the space age.

Four years later, when I was a junior in high school, the first man, Yuri Gagarin, went into orbit.  The space race was on between the Soviet Union and the United States.  It was part of the Cold War.  We wondered if the Soviets would outdo us.  President Kennedy presented the country with a challenge, which we accepted.

After Yuri Gagarin made his flight into space and returned to earth, a story emerged.  I do not know if it is true.  The story is that Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union, wanted to have the very first conversation with Gagarin.  The two met – the young cosmonaut and the Russian premier.  Khrushchev asked him, “Did you see God out there in space?”

Gagarin replied, “I did not see God, but I do think I felt His presence.”

Khrushchev said, “Don’t tell anyone.”

Some weeks later, Gagarin made a trip to Rome for an audience with the Pope.  In private, the Pope asked, “When you were in space, did you see God?”

Gagarin said, “No.”

The Pope directed, “Please, do not tell anyone.”

We have long tried to find a way to prove the existence of God.  The best way to understand the existence of God is to know in our own hearts the presence of God, the peace of God, the comfort of God, the wonderful assurance God Himself gives, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”

Khrushchev, in an anti-religious talk to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, challenged, “Why should you clutch at God?  Look at Gagarin.  He flew into space and saw no God.”

One Russian cosmonaut said, “From that point on, none of us ever saw God or experienced God.  If we had, we were not allowed to say so.  Nothing we did in space was allowed to change our minds.”

Contrast that Soviet view with some experiences our own American astronauts had.  Perhaps you remember the turbulent year of 1968 in the United States of America.  That year, Apollo 8 entered orbit around the moon.  The astronauts on board were simply circling the moon to see if landing and walking on the moon could be accomplished.

On Christmas Eve, the astronauts sent a live television broadcast to earth.  After showing some pictures of earth viewed from orbit, Pilot William Anders announced to all the people on Earth, “The crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.”  He began reading from Genesis 1:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void.”  He continued reading a few verses before passing the Bible to Captain Jim Lovell.  He, too, read several verses.  Finally, Commander Frank Borman completed the reading from Genesis 1.

The astronauts closed the broadcast with these words:  “From the crew of Apollo 8, we close with Goodnight, Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on good Earth.”

As we might expect, Madeline Murray O’Hare, the famous atheist, threw a fit.  She sued NASA, a suit that was eventually rejected by the courts.

Only seven months after the courts rejected that suit, on July 20, 1969 – with the largest worldwide television audience in history watching – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface of the moon and took the first lunar walk.  Because of the lawsuit that resulted from the astronauts of Apollo 8 offering Scripture, those on board Apollo 11 were asked to downplay the reading of the Bible.  They complied.  Nevertheless, while on the surface of the moon, Buzz Aldrin radioed Houston.  He said, “I would like to request a few moments of silence.  I would like to invite every person listening to my voice, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and give thanks in his own individual way.”

While still on the surface of the moon, Aldrin did something remarkable.  He opened a packet and took the bread and wine, celebrating communion, simultaneously with his church in Houston, Texas.  He had made arrangements with his home church to observe the Lord’s Supper together as he was on the surface of the moon.  Aldrin’s church had prepared the elements for him.

The evening before Apollo 11 was to splashdown, Buzz Aldrin again came over the broadcast.  He read from the Bible our psalm for today, Psalm 8:  “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

This psalm inspires a sense of awe in the majesty of God.  It creates within us a sense of humility when we consider that God created us as a part of all this magnificence.

Astronaut Colonel Jeffrey Williams has spent the longest amount of time in space.  In three trips, he logged more than 362 days, almost a year.  He spent nineteen hours in space walks.  A committed Christian, Williams has written a book.  The title, The Work of His Hands, is taken from Psalm 8.  The photographs included in his book are ones he himself made from his space station.

His text, which is so impressive, talks about how his experiences in space have affected his life.  He writes,

The whole of creation is manifest with beauty and wonder, and with evidence of the Creator.  But the creation provides a glimpse – that “small whisper” of God who is the Creator.  When people see Earth from the perspective of orbit, whether firsthand or through the description of those who have been there, their thoughts often turn to God, or at least the question of God.  I often get asked questions such as: “Do you feel closer to God up there?” or “Has the experience changed your faith or belief in God?”

His answer is somewhat surprising.

No, my experiences as an astronaut did not bring me closer to God or change my beliefs about His existence.  My relationship with God does not hinge on my looking at Earth from orbit or experiencing that “small whisper.”  True, life-transforming faith in God and relationship with Him is based…on God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is his death on the cross, it is his resurrection as revealed in the Bible that has changed my life.

He says that he was able to reflect on God’s creative power with “wonder and awe,” viewing all that He has made from the perspective of orbit.  It is this personal faith in Jesus Christ that is at the center of his life.  He goes on to say that Psalm 8 speaks of a necessary “humility that comes when one considers creation,” when we think about what God has made and our place in it.

Exploring outer space has been an important part of the history of the world, especially since 1957.  You can make a case that it goes back even further than that, maybe all the way back to the time that David gazed at the stars in the night sky.

Another space must be explored.  The Apostle Paul never went into orbit, but some people thought he did.  Listen to what Paul writes about this experience of the Lord’s Supper in I Corinthians 11:27-29:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A person ought to examine himself (examine that inner space) before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Looking at the sky and marveling at all of creation and the majesty of God is a part of our experience for those of us who know God and love Him.  Far more important and much deeper is the need to look into our own heart and see clearly what Christ Jesus has done for us.  The same kind of wonder and awe that we experience when we look at the creation is the same kind of wonder and awe that we experience when we look at the cross.  We see what God has done there.

We might well ask, “What does it matter?  What do we matter that You pay attention to us, that You care about us?”  No symbol, no event, so carries the message that God loves us as the cross of Christ.  Certainly when we look at it, we feel a sense of responsibility to respond.  Even more than that is a sense of humility.

As we worship God, we come always with a sense of His majesty.  We come always with a sense that God has a special place in His created order for us and that He has provided a way for us to be in relationship with Him through Christ Jesus.  We come always with a sense of responsibility.  We come examining that inner space that is the human heart with a sense of humility to stand before the Lord Almighty and recognize what great things He has done.

We come to this Table today with each sense in place.  We come with a sense of awe and humility of God’s majesty, the sense of responsibility, and the sense of God’s love.  As we do so, we invite every person who acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord to be a part of this Lord’s Supper.  This is not Morningside’s Table.  This is not a Baptist table.  This is the Lord’s Table, and this is the Lord’s Supper.  All who believe are invited to partake.  Let’s take the Supper together.

On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread.  He blessed it, and he broke it.  He said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.”

Let’s have a prayer of blessing now for the bread.

Dear Heavenly Father, as we take this bread that symbolizes Your broken body on that cross, we know that the reason for the cross was our sins.  We ask You to forgive us.  Right here and now, dear Father, we rededicate our lives to You.  Help us to be people who behave as ones who have Jesus Christ in their hearts.  It is in his precious name that we pray.  Amen.

Down at the cross where my Savior died,
Down where for cleansing from sin I cried,
There to my heart was the blood applied,
Glory to his name!
There to my heart was the blood applied,
Glory to his name!

Jesus said, “This bread is my body given for you.”  Eat this as often as you eat it in remembrance of him.  Eat ye all of it.

We will have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Thank you, Father, for that which the cup represents to us.  We realize that without the shedding of blood of your precious Son, there would be no forgiveness for our sins.  We, now, together as Your people, share in the partaking of the cup.  Thank you for what the Lord’s Supper means to us.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

I am so wondrously saved from sin.
Jesus so sweetly abides within.
Down at the cross where he took me in,
Glory to his name!
There to my heart was the blood applied,
Glory to his name!

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him.  Drink all of it.

It is my great privilege to extend to you an invitation to accept Christ Jesus by profession of faith.  Declare Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life.  We invite you to respond his invitation.

 

 

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