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God of Wonder: Divine Majesty, Human Dignity

Date: 07/06/2020/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

This morning in our time of worship, we heard Sofia, Davian, Grace and Charis read from Psalm 8. This Psalm puts us in our place — it humbles us and yet uplifts us at the same time. It helps us see who we are in light of who God is. I remember feeling awed and put in my place when I was living at the foot of the mountain ranges in Japan many years ago. During times of prayer and stillness, I would look out at the mountains and remember with wonder the God to whom I was praying. The God who created all this and me.

Who is this God the psalmist is extolling?

Who is this God we worship, pray to, love and serve?

The psalmist begins with:
YHWH, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your Name in all the earth!

(of something) having the quality of causing you to feel great admiration and respect for it because of its size, power or beauty.

God is the one who set the moon and stars in their place. When we look at the vastness of the sky and the universe, we are awed with wonder at how big God is and how small we are. Another version of Psalm 8 expresses it this way;

Psalm 8:3-4 (MSG)

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?

This Psalm puts us in our place and helps us see who we are in light of who God is.
Not only is God majestic, God’s specialty is loving and caring for humans and all creation. God demonstrates this love in the collaborative way in which the world operates. Nothing is made for itself alone. Everything contributes to the whole of creation. God especially loves humans. This is the God who loves humans to the extent of knowing us by name. Even though we are finite and small compared to the vast universe, God chose to make us in God’s image and gave us the mandate to care for all of God’s creatures, and to tend the land and the sea and the very air we breathe. We have been given the responsibility of caring for the earth.

If we were to see ourselves, others and all creation through God’s eyes, how might that change the way we live and the choices we make?

1. How God sees us changes how we see ourselves

Why did God create us, with the consciousness of our own existence, with this awareness of our mortality, with a sense of our individual selves? Why this uniqueness for us? Out of the billions of creatures in the universe, we make this bold claim that we are children of God, not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of who God is and what God has done as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

The Psalmist says:
When I behold your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you set in place –
what is humanity that you should be mindful of us?
Who are we that you should care for us?
You have made us barely less than God,
and crowned us with glory and honour.

God is mindful of us. God cares for you and me. Not only does God care for us, we are told that “we are made barely less than God, and we are crowned with glory and honour.” That’s how much God values us! Unfortunately, we often don’t value ourselves to the same extent that God loves and values us. In the same way, we often don’t value others the way God values them too. And this has become increasingly evident in recent months as this pandemic has highlighted the inequalities and injustices that certain groups of people suffer and in a disproportionate way. We can no longer look away.

When you know how valued you are in God’s eyes, how does it help you look at yourself differently? And how does it help you look at others differently? Each human being is equally valued in God’s eyes. Do we value others the way God values them?

2. How God see us changes how we see others – human dignity

In the past two weeks, we have seen people in the United States and other parts of the world protesting on the streets over the murders of George Floyd and countless others who lost their lives simply because of the color of their skin.

Black Lives Matter.

All this may be happening on the other side of the world but we cannot remain silent. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbours as ourselves. The question should not be “who is my neighbour?” but “how do I love my neighbour?” In this interconnected world, every human being is our neighbour.

Even as we grieve and cry out for justice in other parts of the world, we need to also recognize the racism that exists in Singapore. How racist are we? If you think you’re not racist, then I want to invite you to think again. Racism in Singapore doesn’t always present itself in the taking of another’s life but often it’s more like death by a thousand cuts. Minority races often speak about what it’s like for them here and the microaggressions they encounter in their everyday lives. Microaggressions are subtle, unintentional expressions of racism, sexism, ageism, or ableism. They come out in seemingly innocuous comments by people who might be well-intentioned. This may take the form of an insensitive joke or comments veiled as compliments such as “Your English is so good for someone who is _______.”

Even in FCC, a church that says FREE stands for “First Realize Everyone’s Equal”, minority races have encountered microaggressions, and I was grieved to hear about it from one of our siblings. If you’re surprised that racism exists in our church, then I want you to hear what one of our friends, Imran, wrote in a recent post regarding racism. I asked him for permission to share it because it’s something we all need to hear and reflect on.

Our good friend, Imran wrote:
“One thing we need to understand here is that racism is not simply a sentiment; racism is structural in nature. And that is why racism is often so bound up with privilege because the structure is unequal. Granted, one does not want to see oneself as racist (who wants to!), but one has to start recognising one’s privilege, surely. The inability to recognise this has become one of the biggest stumbling blocks to addressing racism in general. And I found it too common that those who refuse to acknowledge racism exists, are also the ones who have (or enjoy) much privilege.

Today, I am hopeful that we can overcome racism in our midst through an active antiracist pedagogy that not just unveils stereotypes but how these stereotypes are sustained and how they create systemic issues within an unequal social order. Underlying that social order is the notion of privilege. We will not get far in our solutions without acknowledging privilege in our midst. It is true that we do not, in most instances, choose to be in a situation of privilege. But once we recognise it, we can develop an empathetic walk together – as genuine and authentic friends in solidarity. This is the first step in allyship.”
-Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, Center for Interfaith Understanding

It takes courage to stand up and speak. It also takes courage to sit down and listen. We need to do both. Are we ready to engage in listening and learning about the systemic racism that our minority siblings experience? Are we willing to participate in the difficult work of recognizing our privilege and dismantle the structures and systems that allow racism to continue existing? Listening and learning is just the beginning. There are limits to what I can cover in a sermon and I have only begun to scratch the surface of this very important topic. Miak and I are hoping to invite all of us into deeper conversations around the topic of racism and the other “-isms”, such as sexism. Our hope is that the inequalities and injustices that are becoming increasingly evident during this period will lead to tangible, sustainable, long-term changes in our social systems as we each do our part.

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best…is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here?

3. How God sees us changes how we see all of creation – nature, animals and environment

Even though Psalm 8 was written so many years ago, it is still a wake up call for us today. Scientists and conservationists have told us that one of the reasons for the emergence of Covid-19 is due to the over-exploitation of the natural world, which has seen forests cut down, species made extinct and natural habitats destroyed. The coronavirus is thought to have made the jump from animals to humans, especially with the consumption of exotic meats and intensive farming.

Dr. Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist and conservationist said:
“It is our disregard for nature and our disrespect of the animals we should share the planet with that has caused this pandemic, that was predicted long ago…We have come to a turning point in our relationship with the natural world. One of the lessons learnt from this crisis is that we must change our ways.”

We need to make more conscious choices in the food we consume and how we live in relation to nature and the environment. I am trying to live more consciously and to make more conscious choices as a consumer. There is a lot about this topic that we can discuss and try implementing in our lives, and perhaps we can have a deeper conversation about this in the days to come. But for now, I want you to read Psalm 8:6-9 again with the lenses of all that has been going on in our world currently.

You have made us responsible for the works of your hands,
putting all things at our feet –
all sheep and oxen, yes, even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
YHWH, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your Name in all the earth!

We have been given the responsibility of caring for the works of God’s hands – the animals, nature and the environment. We are meant to be caregivers, not exploiters.

When we say “YHWH, our Sovereign”, we are saying we are dependent on God even though we have been given responsibility to take care of the earth. Psalm 8 calls us back to the correct relationship with God concerning creation. We are utterly dependent on God, we are significant as an important part of creation, but we are not the source nor the beginning. In Psalm 8, the psalmist reclaims our original identity as people who are dependent on God. God who has given us the gift of caring for all of creation. When we recover this proper relationship with God, we can take steps to restore creation from its slow decline, so that we can once again see the majesty of God’s name in all the earth.

And we can start by making conscious choices as a consumer.

Because we cherish who God has made us to be,
Because we value our fellow human beings in the same way that God values us,
Because we take our responsibility to care for the earth and all creation very seriously,
We will involve ourselves in the work of love and justice with the unique gifts and roles that God created us for.

We have talked about a number of really important things this morning. I don’t know if you feel overwhelmed by all these responsibilities. I do sometimes. We know intellectually that it’s good and important to immerse ourselves actively in the work of love and justice, especially when so many people and issues are crying out for our attention. But it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the needs and demands around us. If we try to do everything all at once, we will either end up exhausted or paralyzed.

I read this article “Mapping our Social Change Roles in Times of Crisis” by Deepa Iyer recently, and I found it so insightful and wise, and I wanted to share it with you.
She shared that she’s a rapid responder but she has felt disoriented and lost during this period when there are so many needs around her. What she realized was that we are all unique and we each have unique gifts to offer the world. We are all part of a larger eco-system and we can work together to bring change. What is important is that we reflect and ask ourselves: what are my values, how can I be aligned and in right relationship with them, what are the needs of the communities who anchor me, and what can I offer with my full energy?

She provided a framework and guide to help us ascertain what our social change roles are so that we can re-align ourselves when we feel lost and uncertain, and bring our fullest selves to the causes and movements that matter to us. As you can see, there are storytellers, frontline responders, caregivers, visionaries, etc. When you are able to identify the social change role that resonates most deeply and authentically with you, you can bring your fullest selves and make the most difference. Do check this out if you feel this might be helpful to you as you discover your role in the social change ecosystem.
The bottomline is: Don’t be overwhelmed by all the demands and needs around us. We will end up either exhausted or paralysed if we try to do everything. Start with baby steps. You can do so by starting to live more consciously and make better choices. You can also reclaim your unique gifts and identify your social change role in the world.
Even as you reflect on the unique person God has made you and the unique gifts you have been given to make a difference in our world, remember to go back to the wonder of our God – our God who humbles and uplifts us at the same time. When we see ourselves in light of who God is, we are transformed!
Where can you find time in your week to “gaze on the infinite beauty and wonder of God”? Perhaps we are not surrounded by mountains but we can take notice of the flowers, leaves and the wind rustling through the trees.
And as you take time to gaze on the beauty of God and contemplate the majesty and love of God, my prayer is that you will:
1. Regain your wonder of God – the majestic God who loves and cares for you and all creation
2. Recapture that love for self and others – a love that upholds human dignity
3. Realign your priorities and make conscious choices as one who takes responsibility for nature, animals and the environment
4. Reclaim your unique gifts and social change role in the world
In doing so, may we be declaring with our whole lives, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”