December 24th, 1968. Apollo 8 has now become the first manned mission to orbit the moon. Their task is to record data about its terrain for subsequent missions, and on this special Christmas Eve, all is going according to plan. Entering into their fourth orbit, the spacecraft emerges from the far side of the lunar surface, when suddenly the crew’s attention is diverted from the task at hand—their eyes fixed instead now on what they see appearing over the alien horizon. Crew member, Bill Anders, turns his camera away from the moon and snaps a picture of what they’re witnessing—first in black and white—then again in color roll in what were the last precious moments of a short-lived event.
is what they saw. The photograph, known as Earthrise, is humanity’s first color image looking back at the planet we call home. It was a perspective previous unseen, hidden from humanity’s eye, and once it was published, forever changed the way we see our context. Astronauts commonly speak of a cognitive shift in awareness after observing our planet from afar. This experience, which is referred to as the “overview effect” is described as a state of mental clarity about the bigger picture; a strangely compassionate and affectionate impulse towards everything that is bound to that tiny and fragile blue oasis hanging in the void of space.1
Now, you and I may never experience the overview effect, but I bet you can recall a moment in your life where you were suddenly struck by a new way of seeing the world and your place in it. These moments of epiphany are sacred encounters. It’s as though we’re graced with new eyes to see the very things that we have seen our whole life, but as though we are encountering them again for the first time. As if they and we were a whole new creation.
I remain unconvinced that we can manufacture such experiences ourselves. They seem to happen to us. But I do believe that we can be awake to their possibility and we can position ourselves in such a way that we are more likely to receive them. This is, in part, what we seek to do as people of faith: to prepare ourselves to receive God’s call on our lives and be open to how to the Holy Spirit is moving in the world. It is why we have a liturgical calendar—why we return each year to certain themes in the story of our faith, revisiting these narratives in hopes that they might offer us newness of perspective and deepen our faith, as we allow the gospel message to unfold yet again in our lives.
This week we are kicking off a liturgical season that is new to our community. The Season of Creation, also called Creationtide, is dedicated to reflecting on God as the Creator and Sustainer of all life. And as with the other liturgical seasons that we observe, it is our hope that through our study, worship and prayer, Creationtide will open us to new perspective—perhaps even moments of epiphany—that will shape our living and deepen our worship of God.
Each Sunday, we gather here so that we can worship the Creator, and it’s our desire that our worship would be pleasing to the Lord. The writer of Psalm that we heard this morning, shares this same desire and has set out to create the ultimate chorus of praise to God. He’s searching to invite those voices that will show up to do so with true joy and exuberance, singers that are ready to offer unbridled affirmation of God. No one who’s had their arm twisted or emotions manipulated. No one who is bound by a hardened sense of obligation. No, this praise team will be filled with the enthusiastic and the zealous. Who is up for this type of worship? One of true affection. Who is worthy of the invitation to sing praises to the Lord? This is the Psalmist’s challenge and the scripture we heard this morning contains the guest list.
It is as if the psalmist starts at the furthest reaches of the universe—even beyond the limits of our understanding—and begins there. Angels and heavenly hosts—these mysterious figures have been invited to join the praise team. Next are the sun and the moon. Shinning stars. We smile to ourselves. Surely the psalmist is just being cute by making such an invitation—coming as though a child who might speak of water that singings and clouds that dance.
Next is everything in the sky and all that holds moisture in the sky. The things that would interest the local meteorologist. Next are the deep seas creatures—those oceanic giants that sparked fear and trembling in the ancient seafarers. The giant squid and blue whales and the other behemoths of the deep that few people have seen face-to-face, they follow the clouds and rain and stars into this symphony of praise to God. And what a strange choir the psalmist is arranging for us. You know, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed: not a single priest, pastor has been mentioned yet!
In fact, the next invites are given to things that aren’t even living—at least not as we understand them. Fire and hail. Snow and frost and the raging tempests that follow God’s commands. Here are all the forces both beautiful and horrific. The characters that move a soft rain over your garden and that which turns a forest into char and ash. The snow that creates wintry wonderlands and the winds that peel roofs off houses. Here are the elements—both gentle and harsh—that move the seasons —they, too, are invited to sing in the chorus that will honor God. What an odd event this is going to be!
Mountains and hills. Fruit trees and cedars. They are all given a place in the praise band. Mount Everest and Turkey Mountain (if you can really call it that), along with the trees in your neighborhood and the trees that hold monkeys and koalas in lands far away. They have received an invitation from the psalmist in a language that only mountains and trees know. They have a place in singing admiration to God.
Next is the largest group. Cattle and wild animals. Birds of the air and creeping things. Anything that might be kept on a farm. And the wilder things. Leopards, Orangutans, albatross, hedgehogs, toucans, dung beetles, kangaroos, penguins, grizzly bears, ostriches, iguanas and bees, and elephants, and roly-polies. Don’t forget the platypus and the rock hyrax. And the list goes on. They are all invited by the psalmist to join in uninhibited praise to their Creator. But haven’t they always been praising – without pause -simply by being what God created them to be?
Well, at long last, we humans have made the list: Rulers, princes, kings, ambassadors; all those that have great power. But the list does not end there. Men and Women, young and old, rich and poor, all join in the chorus—lend yourselves to the melody—to a tune older than time; give in to the hymn of praise to the source of all songs.
So what are we to make of this bizarre choir, one that contains both cucumbers and canyons, tornados and starfish? As with any good poetry, with poet of this psalm has taken us places that other words do not have the power or agility to guide us to. The psalmist invites us to look at creation and its purpose again by painting a picture that inspires a sort of overview effect for those that dare to give it a fair consideration. And it’s a perspective that is critically needed in this day in age—in a time such as this, when our culture invites to be more self-obsessed than ever. To reflect endlessly on our goals and regrets, and the hurdles we haven’t jumped but need to. Precisely here, we need a poem to open our eyes wide to the bigger picture of the entire cosmic story. This created order does not exist to serve us and the song of God and scope of its galactic proportionality does not serve to lift us up as the star of the show. The song of the cosmos is for God. We are not the point. Sure, we have a unique role, but creation is not about humanity. It’s about the glory of God. And though we are invited into the symphony of praise to Lord, if we aren’t going to show up, then the song will go on. And it will be beautiful without us. That might sound harsh, and it might sound dismissive of the importance of each human being.
But I think the poetic vision of the psalmist actually brings us hope in the midst of such a tumultuous time, one where there seems to be more anxiety and fear than ever. A time where we easily get confused that our biography and our problems are the most momentous things going on simply because we are alive.
The Psalmist’s perspective puts our self-contrived worry and threats against a much larger, older, and more durable choir of praise that has been signing to God since before the first humans even kindled a fire. We need not form such dramatic importance around ourselves as partisan voters, or American, or even humans. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. This is not a solo performance. It’s a cosmic chorus of harmony, in which we are only one of many voices; a concert that started before you and I and will continue on after. We don’t have as much control as we may think. And once we surrender to that realization, we might just have more freedom to enjoy this precious life we’ve been given. To receive in gratitude the time we have to do our small part in singing God’s praise.
We are not the point. And our commitments shouldn’t make our livelihood or wellness the point. We are not the heroes of this life or the next. And because our lives are so quickly gone, we have a precious moment to sing out in praise to God with the unique voices that we are given. Join in the chorus—lend yourselves to the melody—to a tune older than time. And maybe, your song will have more freedom and far less fear. Sing out the song of God’s creation.
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1 Julia Calderone, Something profound happens when astronauts see Earth from space for the first time. Tech Insider. <https://www.businessinsider.com/overview-effect-nasa-apollo8-perspective-awareness-space-2015-8> August 31, 2015