Date: September 23, 2018
Text: Psalm 148
Title: Praise the Lord!
When I was 8 years old, my father moved to the countryside of Korea where he took a new church as a pastor. It was a small village where most people worked as farmers. After school, most of my friends went to the fields to help their parents with fertilizing the soil, sowing the seeds, or harvesting in the fall. Although we did not own a farm, my mother made a small garden next the parsonage where she planted flowers, vegetables, and fruits. She would spend hours working in her garden. One day, my mother, while working in her garden, turned to me and said, “Look at these flowers. Look how beautiful they are. As they wave in the wind, don’t you think that they are singing and praising God, their Creator?” As she was humming the melody of a hymn, it still lingers in my ears like yesterday.
The Psalmist also sings and praise the Lord. He says that everyone needs to praise the name of the Lord. It is not just human beings that praise God. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures. You mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds. The Psalmist says that everything created in the world should praise God because at God’s command, they are all created. It is God who has established them forever and also issued a decree that will never pass away, which is the natural law that governs the movement of the universe.
Have you visited a place and witnessed the grace of God in the beauty of God’s creation? In August 2003, I was studying English in Sydney, Australia. Toward the end of my stay there, I decided to travel from Sydney to Melbourne with my friend from college. If you drive the car straight to Melbourne, it takes about 8 hours. But we traveled by the shore enjoying the ocean road, which took us about 15 hours in car. Our second evening, we stopped the Phillips Island where we could see penguins come out of the oceans. There were about 50 people sitting on the beach, not being able to take pictures because the flashlight could make them go blind. I was surrounded by the sound of waves, sea gulls, and wind. We sat and waited for about one hour. And there, in the middle of dark evening, we saw hundreds of penguins come out of the ocean and make a little parade right next to us, heading toward their nests.
When I saw the miraculous actions of these penguins, I could do nothing but praise God who designed God’s creature with instinct and beauty. I am sure that many of you have witnessed something like that in your lives. Maybe when you visited Niagara Falls for the first time and heard the might sound of the water fall, you praised God in awe. Maybe when you visited the Grand Canyon and saw the eagles flying high, you gave thanks to God for allowing you visit there while you still breathed. Maybe you did not have to travel that far to witness the wonderful hands of God. Just like my mother, you sowed the seeds of flowers at your garden. When the spring came, you saw the little plants come out with life and blossom into beautiful flowers. Winter was there. But spring surely comes. And you praised God for the faithfulness of God at your little garden.
The Celtic Christians also had wisdom in joining the creation of God for praise. In the Celtic Spirituality, there is a sense of unity with all creation, both human and nonhuman, that transcends time and space. Its unity brings the whole world together as participants in the singing of one great hymn of praise. In the Celtic tradition, there is a story about a mother who tells her children that each day must start with the human voice joining in the song of the birds, since in the whole created order, all the creatures of earth, ocean, and sky were giving glory to God, it was foolish for the human beings not to join them. So from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, from the literate and the illiterate, from the earliest to the present day, we have the same message: Join in the worship of the whole universe. Alexander Carmichael says in Carmina Gadelica, “it is dumb of us not to join the creation of God in their giving glory to God.” (Esther De Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer)
I know that we often have a difficult time to praise God. From time to time, in our spiritual journey, we encounter trials and tribulations along the way. We often suffer loss, grief, loneliness, illness. We feel not appreciated and loved as we are. How can we still celebrate and praise God? As I drove around the town this week, I start to notice some red on the trees. It means that they are changing their color from green and red. No one told them to change their color. But they obey the words from their Creator. And they praise God even though they might lose all their leaves soon and even wither during the cold winter. But they still praise God because the spring is surely coming after the long night and cold weather. In the same way, the Celtic Christians also lived with a rhythm keeping the relationship between the light and the dark, both winter and spring. The Celtic year begins with the feast of Samhaine on November 1, when darkness overtakes the light. By entering the season of winter, the Celtic Christians considered their life as the gift of God, not something to control.
When we realize that the main purpose of God’s creation is to praise God, and that all God’s creation is already praising God whether we join them or not, the boundary between what is sacred and what is secular collapses. This whole world reflects the wonderful hands of God who has created everything with power, grace, and love. When we talk in the woods thinking that we are having some alone time for ourselves, we are actually surrounded by the nature that is already praising God in their very beings. Our walk turns to a time of celebrating and rejoicing along with God’s creation. As Beth Richardson beautifully writes in Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me, we see the bird nest looking fragile and sitting on the electrical box. As we see the protection of the eggs by the mother bird, we rejoice with them in our praise of God who also protects God’s people and creation, giving us what we need for today and tomorrow.
Because life is seen as the gift of God, we are enabled to fill our hearts with praise and thanksgiving. As we give thanks to God for the material world and nurture the gratitude and reverence, we become a more faithful stewards entrusted to preserve the earth rather than exploit and destroy it. As we glimpse the presence of God surrounding all God’s creation and the universe, we also give thanks to God for the mundane activities of daily work. When we appreciate the goodness through God’s creation, our response is not complaints or grumbling. But it is gratitude and thankfulness. Even when we sleep at night and rest, God still grows the crops on the field with morning dews, wind, sunlight, and rain. We often think that it is us who needs to do all the works. But even when we fail to do our works, God is still faithful in providing us, helping us, and saving us.