Reflections on dew drops and Psalm 19

Psalm 19 (Matthew 21:33-end) 17th after Trinity at St. Mary’s Eversley

It’s been a while since I posted a sermon, but I promised the photographer whose image inspired this weeks 8am reflection that I’d make it available to her, and (for a variety of reasons) this is the simplest way to do so. So…

As the psalmist puts it:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

This week, Paula Southern (someone who in better times visits our bell tower regularly from Crondall to ring), shared a photo on Facebook of dewdrops hanging from a slender spider web, itself suspended across the loop of an iron bird-feeder. Against the morning light the ephemeral jewels of the dew glinted, to be gone again as the sun ran on across the heavens. It captured a moment in someone’s early morning routine that through social media brought joy and beauty to those who couldn’t get up that early, or don’t have those things close at hand in their gardens, or perhaps can’t even get out at all.

Psalm 19 is up there in the list of my favourite Psalms, along with Psalm 8 and Psalm 148 – little jewels in themselves. They celebrate and reflect on the beauty and wonders of God’s creation, the heavens not just in the stars at night but in glorious sunrises and sunsets, and the formation of clouds scudding across the sky. Beauty is something that is not simply ‘in the eye of the beholder’ but often beyond the words of the beholder too, try as we and other poets might. Paradoxically the psalmist points out that the beauty of the heavens and the world around us pours out its own song, sound and words unto the ends of the world itself, and I don’t think the psalmist is referring to the Buzzard’s cry or the Robin’s song that we are so used to when we come to worship here.

Philosophically speaking, this captures the fact that in our humanity we are actually created by God to experience beauty instinctively, and reminds us of the qualities that make something beautiful. As Bishop Christopher Herbert has described it, beauty is “profoundly good in and of itself… points beyond itself to something which is greater… reminds us of our place in the order of things… and reminds us of our relatedness to the world and to other people.”

If we go back to this image of water droplets on a spider’s web… for me at least, those jewelled droplets that Paula photographed were a reminder of the wonders of God’s creation; they brought joy, in and of themselves. But they also pointed toward something greater; to the fact that something so small is created by one of the basic elements of that creation – water – held in tension; and that like them, we need to allow the glory of God to shine on our ephemeral lives. These, our lives, often exist like water held by the tension of the many issues going on around us, and as we are enabled to let the Son of God shines through us, so people can see the beauty, perhaps even a glimpse of the glory of God.

The psalmist goes on to talk about the law, the commandments, and the statues of the Lord, as being pure, bringing joy and renewal to those who in keeping them serve God. Of course in the New Testament, we see that those statutes have been devalued, and a more perfect and better hope is made available to us, by which we draw near to God in Jesus Christ (to paraphrase Hebrews 7:18-19) the true light of the world.

This morning I believe God is reminding us of own ephemeral nature in the context of his creation, but at the same time of the value and purpose of our lives within that. God holds our individual transient humanity, and loves us as we are through Christ who we receive by faith in Holy Eucharist – and that can be the hardest of all things to remember in times of difficulty and hardship, isolation or overwork. But then we’re also linked by that thread of faith, like a sticky cobweb, to the people and places where he wants the love of Jesus to shine, not just on us but through us, to create beauty for others to behold.

We should not presume, as the psalmist strongly hints, to think of ourselves as either unworthy of the place God has made for us in his creation, or as in control of it as to abuse the position we have been entrusted with, at will. We need to hold the right tension between our lifestyles and the decisions we take in the way we govern our lives, and the light of Jesus’ commandment to love him first, and our neighbour, as ourselves.

As we make our confession in a moment, declaring before God our ‘secret faults’ as the psalmist puts it, may we desire more than anything else to make ourselves right with God, so that by whatever thread we are currently hanging, and however transient our lives from this moment, we may be seen as those who shine the beauty of God’s glory into those who encounter us.

Power and Glory #givingitup Matthew 4v8-11 12th March #Lent2014

A card given me at the start of training showing the prayer of Mary Sumner, and inked by the calligraphers of Winchester Cathedral.
A card given me on my birthday last year, showing the prayer of Mary Sumner, inked by the calligraphers of Winchester Cathedral.

Power. Something the devil offered Jesus, and he turned down. At least it was a certain sort of controlling power that, as with the second temptation of Jesus, wasn’t remotely related to the sort of power he had been given as God’s Son. As Maggi Dawn explains in the reading from Matthew 4 she selected for today in her book ‘Giving It Up’, Jesus’ was a power that was harnessed to serve others, to heal, and to bring justice, not to bully people into submission.

Power. It’s something that we rightly fear when exercised by others over us, especially when it results in injustice, suffering, and abuse. But I wonder if we’re becoming over sensitised to it? More suspicious of power than we need be, or should be, especially in the context of Christian leadership.

During some conversations that I’ve had this week, all revolving around the same set of circumstances, people have talked a lot about ‘top down’ management as a bad thing, a form of power to be feared. Why, I find myself wondering, is this worse than a ‘bottom up’ approach, or one that takes more account of consultation with a broad spectrum of voices and opinions?

For me, this gives rise to a series of questions to which I don’t have answers, and to which I am sure the answers vary from case to case:

  • Is our increasing concern and fixation with how people exercise ‘power’ (for which you can read ‘those in authority’) actually motivated by a desire to have our voice heard, our needs met, our ideas and priorities to be the ones that are taken up and used by those with power?
  • If this is the case, does it fly in the face of a humility that knows we might not be best equipped to see the big picture, and the need to employ some level of trust as servants of God, in the wisdom and discernment of those whose job it is to lead us in his name?
  • Is there also a danger that if we’re constantly doubting the integrity of our leaders, we might be limiting their prophetic power in situations that are crying out for change?
  • In the very act of challenging people’s power, are we in a paradoxical situation of actually exerting too much power ourselves, when it’s not ours to exert?

I know that when I think of, or become aware of something that I don’t feel is an appropriate decision or use of power, I’m often among the first to question it; and I probably shouldn’t give that up completely for Lent, or at any other time, because I’ve done that not so long ago, with distressing results. But perhaps I should be a little more aware of how God might be perceiving my words and actions, and the power that they are trying to exert over others – whether I relate up, or down, to them!

Graham has I suspect, given the music he’s been looking at, come up with some rather different thoughts, so I do encourage you to go and look at them too.