‘Sustaining All Things’ – Psalm 104
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on . Before the talk, Psalm 104 from The Voice translation was read by five people.
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You’ll be pleased to know that I’m not going to speak on all 35 verses of the Psalm today. Last Saturday, I went for one of my favourite drives. It’s the drive I missed most when I lived in Kent, and it’s one of the drives that I really enjoy going on now, firstly, because it takes me to some dear friends of mine in the Peak District. I love the B5740 Macclesfield road.
As it shows the most absolutely, stonkingly beautiful, undulating, lush Peak District between Macclesfield and Whaley Bridge. What an awesome privilege it is to look out of the window and see this expanse of green interspersed with sheep and cattle and dry stone walls and those lovely, beautiful Cheshire Derbyshire stone houses with staggering views. That would be, wow, just amazing to live there.
Then I look and see that some of these houses are for sale and wonder how much that would be worth just to have this view. Then a second thought. “Why on earth would anybody want to move from that place?” But, yet it’s only an hour from Frodsham so I’m very lucky.
I get a sense of wanting to be and belong to part of that land. That special parts of the world draws me back again and again, something unspoken that yearns inside me for being in that place. I love the Peak District and it’s the same sense that I had for 17 years when I left for home after visiting Cheshire for a week or a few days: a deep hurting desire to be in the Cheshire countryside to be part of the community there. Not just because I wanted it, but because I had a conviction that perhaps God wanted me there too. And yes, it only took me best part of half of my life to get to Cheshire, which I guess in the spectrum of eternity is just a tiny speck.
In his book, Planetwise, a guy called Dave Bookless – kind of ironic because he wrote a book – Dave Bookless notes that the word Adam, Hebrew for man, and Adamah, Adamah, the word for ground, are deliberately derived from the same root. Similarly, the words human, humus meaning soil and humility share a common root.
No wonder then that there is truth when we talk of somebody, when we say that they’re sort of the earth or it’s like they breathe the ground that they walk on, there’s some deep connection with the ground with the earth, and so we talk about being earthed. We talked about being rooted. We talk about being grounded and if we’re none of those things, then we become dislocated. We become up rooted and we become displaced.
There’s a sense that there’s a need in every one of us to be connected to the earth somehow and to one another where we can be rooted and where we can grow. It’s being part of all things. Everything that has been created, including the mighty Peak District and its awe-inspiring views as well as those people and places that you are most at home with and amongst, is where we’re headed this morning.
A couple of weeks ago, Andrew began our mini-series on this thing, all things. He began by taking us through Colossians 1, about how God created all things in Jesus. We read there that in him all things hold together. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we read that nothing could be made that has been made without Jesus, without the Word.
The New Testament talks about all things being under Christ, for whom, through whom and in whom all things hold together. To quote Tom Wright’s version of Ephesians 4:10, “His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king, yes, everything in heaven and on earth in him,” and so the Bible in the NIV, at least this phrase, ‘all things’ appears 46 times. I didn’t count them myself. I just went online. My view is that if something is repeated often in scripture, then God wants to speak to us about it, and so in our first of the series, Andrew explained to us that the pinnacle of creation is humanity.
In the mass of all things, earth is where the action is and the pinnacle of that action is humanity: you and I. Humanity, Andrew reminded us, needs spiritual wisdom and understanding in order to appreciate our role in God’s creation of all things, his on going creating in all things and the renewing of all things. Today using Psalm 104, we will look at the second of these words that God sustains all things. So, we had God creates all things, God sustains all things, and then next week I think we’re going to be looking at God renews all things. So, we’re going to look at this whole, long chapter.
We’ll slow down to have a look at just a couple of those verses. So Psalm 104 and just the end bits from verse 24 onwards.
How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number –
living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works —
he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.
But may sinners vanish from the earth
and the wicked be no more.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Praise the Lord.
Psalm 104 was an individual hymn of praise and reflects creator God’s mighty power and loving care. It’s a poem that creates the order, symmetry, ecological balance and majesty of creation. It begins with celebration of God, the Creator and harks back to the creation story in Genesis 1, the psalmist expresses his or her wonder and awe at the God they worship and paint a picture of God clothed in royal finery, in his creation light. Clouds, wind and fire creating the heavens like a tent that covers the earth.
The Hebrew picture of the world is like a three- storey house. At ground floor we’ve got the earth surrounded by water. The next floor up where the heavens keeping the waters above it in check, and the floor above that was more water. God lived above that, in his palace and shale the place of the dead was like in the cellar, so the first 10 verses of this amazing psalm are setting the scene as God creator, God creator in charge of all things.
In the following verses, we have a poetic response to the knowledge that the psalmist knows about the creation story in Genesis, having conquered any deadly water chaos and turned it into something that refreshes what will come. We have created God arranging water in its place in an orderly fashion. The trees and plants are produced. The plants provide food for us as living beings as well as the animals.
He didn’t just create them, he sustains them in being and life by nourishment and breath. There’s a purpose and a place for everything created perhaps except for wasps. In verses 19 to 23, we have a reflection of the creation: of night, of time, and season. Day and night, summer and winter. How everything has a time to be at work and to be active. Night and day have roles for each created being to have within that working environment. They have a time and a place for everything.
It’s not just Genesis that speaks to the creation of the world. The Psalm writer uses their knowledge and their rhythm of God, their knowledge and experience of God creating in this Psalm.
The Psalmist didn’t have a copy of Genesis to look at because it wasn’t in written form probably by then. Here we have a reflection on not only what God has made in the past, but how He continues to act in the present. How it is that God sustains then and now. Indeed this Psalm has the writer writing of God ongoingly if that’s the word. Ongoingly creating in the present tense. You do this, you do that, here and now.
Just as we know that by his Holy Spirit, God is here now present with us in this moment. It is in these next verses that I want us to perhaps slow down and take a look. We have this sense of all created things remain independent upon this ever creating God. Imagine the vastness of the ocean, and a little boat being tossed around by the currents. The swirl is massive and swirls around those boats full of little human beings. Going from one place to another, and yet underneath the surface, there’s calm where masses of teeming shoals of fish and creature perhaps yet even undiscovered are going about their everyday business.
Praising God by doing what they’re created to do and being what they are created to be in that moment. The next couple of verses talk about the fun of creation where everything is dependent on creator God. I love the thought of the mythical sea creature, the Leviathan was created to frolic in the sea. A playful Godzilla, if you like, or a Loch Ness monster type creature that God created just so he could perhaps throw a stick, fetch like an excited puppy bounding around the room.
Imagine as God plays and laughs with his pet, the massive Leviathan monster, something that he delights to do. The laughter and the pleasure of this play thing, this extraordinary excessive creature designed only for God to enjoy. Wow, what a wonderful thing? Every creature, ourselves included, are in this day dependent upon the ongoing sustaining creativity that flows from the goodness of God.
He gives us food. He gives us the whole of the created order to enjoy. He gives us breathe that creation may enjoy the good things of God. Once more the Psalmist praises God’s power and his constant recreating of all things. Whatever lives, lives because God gives it breath and life. If God hides his face, the symbol of his presence, life leaves the thing and it returns to dust. Being deprived of the breath of God. The creator creates. The creator creates breath and breath creates life.
When we breathe in and we breathe out we are living: surprising, that, isn’t it? Breath is what gives us physical life. Breathing is what sustains us, it keeps us going. Without our own breath, we can’t do anything. We can’t create a song, make a cup of tea, hold a conversation or draw a masterpiece on a canvas. The starting point for any and all of these things and more is breath. In the Hebrew that word [Hebrew language: ruach], breath, wind, spirit, describes not just a breath or a wind, but it’s God’s active creative ongoing power.
This [Hebrew language: ruach], this breath that God can give and God can take away, refers to his ongoing act of creation. Is not just that he created in Genesis and left it, he created everything in the beginning, in the past, but he also sustains. He promotes life, God is in the present. If you like, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit when we talk about God creating because that’s for next week.
Each generation is proof that God is here creating. Psalms 79:13, reminds us then when your people, the sheep of your pasture will pause and give you thanks forever. Your praise will be told by our generation to the next. There’s an expectation that life continues. God continues to create, he didn’t just set the world going and left it to its own devices. He created in the past, he creates in the presence and the future also belongs to him.
Each generation will pause. Let’s think about that. Whilst all this creating and sustaining and living is happening, we should pause. Take a short break, a holiday if you will. A reflection. A pause is a hiatus of time where we look again at what we are doing and who we are created to be.
One way of doing this in a moment really is doing what they call a four square breath. You breathe in for four seconds. You hold it for four count of four. You breathe out for a count of four, and before you do breathe in again, you just kind of hold it. You might sense a little bit of a download in your body. A little kind of [sighs] there. That’s a little sigh, is a little pause. A chance for you to be calm in that moment, to be aware of that rhythm of life that we are created to be in.
When I went to Wales recently, I remember looking out of the window, I had a fantastic view of the sea and Snowdonia, and I remember saying to myself, “Breathe outs. [breathes out] Breathe out.” In those moments of breathing out, I realized that for one reason or another I hadn’t breathed deeply, but in doing so I became perhaps more aware of the need to breathe out deeply and I became calmer and knew that God was with me afresh. Breath is really important to breathe deeply, to take a moment to pause in the busyness of that day. We need to remember that the Sabbath rest was designed as part of a created order.
God the breath giver, the breath sustainer, takes our breath away when we see awe and wonder and majesty. When I drive over the Macclesfield road to Whaley Bridge and look out my car at the Peak District, it made me go “Woh!”, that’s a short verbal exhale of breath. Just as “Oohh, wow!” is a sharp short involuntary breath. When we see a little baby or a puppy or something that makes us go “Aww!”, is a squeak of creative delights to experience exquisite affection in that moment.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic to stay in that moment? To become aware of those little things that makes us go “Woh” “wow” “Aww.” When we think of those words and action and how those actions that amaze. They only involve extra air going in or out of our mouths. God allows us to describe this awesome power by a rash of breath, [Hebrew language: ruach] in Hebrew. [Greek language: pneuma] in Greek. Which is where we get pneumatic drills of air.
Actually, the wohs, the wows, and the awws are nothing to do with our mouths, are they? These words are actually an outpouring of our emotions. They are trying to express something of what’s going on in our hearts. Our breath in these words, is trying to capture what’s going on in our spirits, in our most parts, those things that we’re experiencing, we’re trying to put into words. This little word [Hebrew language: ruach], this little word, [Greek language: pneuma] the equivalent of aww, woah, wow describes the majesty of God in that moment of ecstasy. That moment where nothing else in the universe matters because we are caught up in the indescribable greatness of what we are experiencing right now. As if to hammer it home the reminder that God is in the habit of creating in the present, sustaining us, w e look at Jesus, we look at one of the names given before he was born.
Emmanuel, God with us, an eternal present tense. I think that’s the grammatical way of talking about it, I’ll check that with academics later. An eternal present tense. God with us. Yes, he was with God in the beginning, yes, nothing was made that has been made without His say so. As Colossians, Chapter 1:15–20 reminds us,
He is the image of God, the invisible one, the firstborn of all creation. For in him all things were created, in the heavens and here on the earth. Things we can see and things we cannot, – thrones and lordships and rulers and powers –
all things were created both through him and for him. And he is ahead, prior to all else and in him all things hold together; and he himself is supreme, the head over the body, the church. He is the start of it all, firstborn from realms of the dead; so in all things he might be the chief.
For in him all the Fullness was glad to dwell and through him to reconcile all to himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, through him – yes, things on the earth, and also the things in the heavens.
All things created – particularly human beings. Even that name says that we are to be present in this moment, human beings, sustained by God who loves to be with his creation.
Human beings are focused on to planet Earth. Earth is our home, our soil, humus and human is literally the ground we are part of, Adam, man, mankind and Adamah, ground. When we talk about all things, we really are interconnected to our world and to one another in a deeply interwoven kind of a way. We need to look after our world. Look out for one another, up to God. Look in, to our hearts and look towards the day when all things will be wound up to a glorious renewed creation pure, spotless and as it was originally created to be. Until then, let us make our corner of the world as much God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Let us make Main Street Community Church, let us make our homes, our workplaces, where we live, a little slice of heaven on Earth. S o to close, what we find throughout this psalm and throughout the 46 ‘all things’ is running throughout the Bible. God is committed to creation. God is the sustainer of all things. God is with us, our responsibility is directly tied to sustaining all things.
Let’s take a moment.
May the glorious presence of the eternal linger among us forever. May he rejoice in the greatness of his own works. He who rattles the earth with a glance, he who sets mountains to smoking with a touch. I will sing to the eternal all of my life. I will call my God good as long as I live.
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK on this page and within the talk are from Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NTE on this page and within the talk are from The New Testament for Everyone © 2011 Nicholas Thomas Wright.