A sermon based on Psalm 8
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
June 7, 2020
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
This morning, we are going to consider one of the literary masterpieces contained in all of the scriptures. That is not just my opinion, but also of others who know much more, have studied the scriptures for decades more than I have, and have more letters after their name than I do. One Old Testament scholar has beautifully described Psalm 8 as “an unsurpassed example of what a hymn should be, celebrating as it does the glory of God, rehearsing who He is and what He has done, and relating us and our world to Him; all with a masterly economy of words, and in a spirit of mingled joy and awe.”1 Wow. That is some kind of description of the text! And Psalm 8’s influence extends beyond simply the nine verses it encompasses. It is no accident that the New Testament includes two instances where this psalm is quoted—once by our Lord Jesus and once by the writer of the book of Hebrews.2
Additionally Psalm 8 has served as the inspiration for many musicians through the ages—prompting them to compose music and write words that attempt to interpret something of the majesty of this text. And with it, to proclaim the wonder and the majesty of the God who is at the center of the psalm.
After opening with glorious words of praise to God, verses three and four paint a picture of something that I would guess that most all of us have experienced at one time or another. In those verses, the writer of the psalm—said to be King David—looks up into the sky to ponder the meaning of the universe and of his place in it. He wrote, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” He is brought to a sense of awe and wonder at the vast size and beauty of the universe. And he is brought to the recognition of how small humankind is…
Go with me in your imagination and think back to a time when you looked up into the sky on a beautiful cloudless night, when you took a few moments in the silence to observe the moon shining and the bazillion number of stars all twinkling in the darkness. Through that observation, you were brought into a sense of awe and wonder by the magnificence of God’s creation. Remember what that felt like? Maybe you were lying back in a grassy field away from the city, staring straight up into space with only the sound of crickets nearby. Or maybe you were down on the seashore, looking out over a serene ocean on a cloudless night, all the while listening to the waves gently lapping at the beach. In your mind, experience again the sights, the sounds and the feelings that you felt then…
1 Derek Kidner, “Psalms 1-72” Kidner Classic Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 82.
2 See Matthew 21:16 and Hebrews 2:5-10.
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I think that we probably do not do that kind of thing nearly as often as we should. Between the artificial light surrounding us 24/7 and the relentless ambient noise of the city, it is sometimes difficult to be amazed by the awesomeness of creation. But I think it is important to experience those kinds of things from time to time. It is the kind of thing that can enrich our spiritual selves by reminding us who we are in this big wide universe. And it helps us keep a sense of perspective and balance to our lives—to refocus our attention of what is important—those of us who are slaves to the tyranny of the urgent—in the midst of the business of daily grind in which we often find ourselves…to remind us of who we are…and to vividly remind us of who God is…
In verse three, the psalmist talks about the moon and stars that God has set in the heavens. And then he considers the place of humanity in the complex plan of God’s universe. He sees it as a contrast—the limitless expanse of the universe and his own little place in creation.
The psalmist would be surprised to learn this, but the truth of the matter is his life and the stars that he admired in the heavens are much more intimately connected than he could have possibly imagined…That is because scientists tell us that our bodies are actually made up of star dust. Yes, star dust. I am not going to tell you that I know or fully comprehend all of the physics involved in how that can be. Frankly it is a process that is more complex that I understand. But from the research that I have done, a simplified version of how this discovery came to be goes something like this:
Scientists tell us that the universe has been continually expanding over the course of billions and billions of years. This expansion is primarily due to the activity of stars (called “supernovas”) which explode or implode on a regular basis. Whenever a star burns out, chunks of matter from these now-dead stars are sent careening through the universe. These pieces of extinct stars join up with pieces from other extinct stars. And when they do, they sometimes form new planets, new galaxies and new solar systems.
Scientists have been able to determine that stars are made up of the following elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. They have been able to detect these elements in stars because each element emits distinct wavelengths of light from within each star. It just so happens that these very same elements that are found in the stars—carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur—are also the very same elements that are the building blocks of life on earth. (To be sure, they are found in different proportions and in different combinations in our bodies than in the stars. But the elements are all the same…)
And so the question could be asked: “Where did these elements that make up our bodies come from?” Most likely, scientists say, they come from the remains of exploding stars that billions of years ago came together to form our solar system. So the truth of the matter is that our bodies are made up of the same elements that had their origin in the stars. In fact, scientists estimate that somewhere
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between 93% and 97% of the matter that makes up our physical bodies is actually matter that originated in the stars billions of years ago. So yes, in a very real sense, we are all made of star dust…3
But that’s not all. In Psalm 8, the psalmist goes on to describe that people have a special spiritual connection to God. In verse five, he writes, “You [that is, God] have made [human beings] a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.”
If you were to consult a number of different English translations of verse five, you would find a number of variants. Perhaps the wording surprised you earlier when I read “God” instead of “angels” as it reads in the King James Version. That is because the Hebrew word used is the word elohim. Elohim is a word that can be translated into English in several ways.
First it is a word that can be translated as “God.” In fact, this is the same Hebrew word translated as “God” in the Genesis 1 passage that was read earlier in the service. The well-known words that appear at the beginning of the Bible go like this: “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.” “God” is by far the dominant translation of the word Elohim in the Bible. It is translated that way over 2,300 times out of the 2,600 times it appears in the scriptures.
A second way that it is sometimes translated is the word “angels.” This is the most conventional way to translate elohim in Psalm 8. But it is worth noting that this verse is the only instance in the Bible where anyone offers that translation. A third way to translate elohim is with the phrase “heavenly beings,” as the word occasionally refers to pagan gods and goddesses. However one chooses to translate elohim in Psalm 8, the intention is clear: it is to tell us that humankind has a special relationship to God that no other part of creation enjoys.
This special relationship to God in verse five is an echo of what was said in the earlier reading from Genesis 1. You may remember that, after creating everything else on the earth, verses 26 and 27 of Genesis 1 say, “Then God—elohim—said , ‘Let us make humankind in our own image, according to our likeness’…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
The scriptures tell us that God created human beings—all human beings—to be a little lower than himself. They teach that we are all created in the image of God. Frankly it is sometimes hard to see that image… because, so many times, the image of God has become misshapen and deformed in people…
The events of the last several weeks in our nation have brought this into sharp focus. The image of God is hideously warped in a man when he puts his knee on the neck of another man for nine long minutes until he suffocates. And God’s image is no less blighted in those who stood around watching
3 Info from www.physicscentral.com/explore/poster-stardust.cfm and www.space.com/35276-humans-made-of-stardust-galaxy-life-elements,html. (Accessed June 2, 2020)
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and gawking at the tragic scene…It is hard to see that God created us all a little lower than himself when an apartment door is broken down in the middle of the night in Louisville, KY and an innocent ex-girlfriend of a man sought by the police is shot to death in her own home…God’s image is grossly disfigured in the faces of men who pursue and kill a jogger in Brunswick, GA for apparently no other reason than that he was black—and what’s more, something has gone horribly wrong with our justice system when it takes the local authorities two full months to finally bring charges against the perpetrators…It is difficult to recognize the image of God in the lives of those who throw bricks and rocks, who shout out hateful words, who incite others to violence, who shatter store windows, who set cars on fire, who shoot guns into crowds or who loot and burn businesses. It does not matter how such violence is justified in the minds of some. It is a perversion of what it means for people to be created a little bit lower than God.
Here is the point: This is not what any of us were meant for. This is not why we were all created in the image of God. This is not who God intends for any of us to be.
The biblical writers are clear. The image of God is indelibly stamped on each and every one of us. Of all the wonders of creation, only humanity is given this special status of being created a little bit lower than he is. This dignity is a gift from God that requires a relationship of responsibility as well as a response of praise to the heavenly Father.
And what exactly is this responsibility that is required of us? It is the responsibility to treat others with the dignity and respect that comes from being created in God’s image. It is to purge the scourge of racism and suspicion from our midst. It is to celebrate the good in all of God’s creation—even in those whose lives are wrecked by the ravages of sin and indifference. It is to see others as God sees them—to extend love to the unlovable—to touch the untouchable—to offer redemption to those in whom the image of God has been marred almost beyond recognition. It is to help others in reaching their full God-given potential.
Why should we do this? Because this is what God does. But nobody said it would be easy. The biblical writers are realistic. They do not offer us a Pollyanna view of what life on earth looks like. They offer us no simple assurance that human beings, who fall just short of divine status, will use their honored position to see to it that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Truthfully many do not. Maybe even most human beings are failing miserably at this point. It is up to us as the followers of Jesus to imitate the nature of God that we have been given, as imperfectly as we ourselves may do it. It is up to us to denounce those who preach “bad news”—the bad news that hate and division are acceptable in our society, that disregard for the lives of others is okay, that those in power may do as they wish, that greed is good, that those on the margins of society can be summarily ignored. It is up to us to replace it with God’s message of good news and reconciliation. It is to reach out in faith and love to those who have lost their way and help to guide them in a different path—a path that honors the God in whose image they bear…
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In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Maybe we should turn that around just a bit to amplify its meaning for today. How about, “Blessed are the children of God, for they shall be called peacemakers…”
Can we do it? Will we fulfill God’s high calling to stand for justice and mercy in our nation and in our community? That is the question for us all to ponder in the weeks ahead…
To God alone be the glory! Amen.