Monday, August 6, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: The Glory of Little Things

Preached on Sunday, August 5, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 8; Matthew 21:12-17

A little girl was drawing a picture in Sunday school, and her teacher asked her what it was. The child said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “No one knows what God looks like.” The girl answered, “They will in a minute.”

What the child did through her picture, the children in the psalm did through their voices. They made a picture with words. “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” (Psalm 8:2)

Nature Park near Long Beach, CA
The children made a picture of praise. “O LORD our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” There are two “Lords” in this line. The first “LORD” (which, in English Bibles, is always spelled all in capital letters) is the name that the psalm talks about. It names who God is. The second “Lord” is a glimpse into what God does.

The second “Lord” (written mostly in small letters) is about what God does, and it tells us that God rules. God governs. God keeps order.

The first “LORD” is about who God is. It is the name that God gives to himself. It means, “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be.” (Exodus 3:14)

This name is the name for God when he touches us in making us; when he bends down to our world and makes us from the earth. (Genesis 2:6) It is the name for God when he hears us and answers us. It is the name for God when he forgives us, and rescues us, and saves us. It is the name for God when he commits himself to us and makes a relationship with us that he will not turn away from; to which he is always faithful. It is the name for God that he uses as the God of steadfast love.

When the children in the psalm make their picture of praise it is about this name. “O LORD our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

“Majestic” means “excellent”, “wonderful”, “great”, and “awesome”. The name of God is his true identity; as the one who touches us when he makes us; who hears us, and answers us, and forgives us; who rescues and saves us; who commits himself to us and makes a relationship with us; and who is forever faithful and a God of love: this is the name that is excellent and awesome. The excellent identity of God is what makes his kingdom excellent.

The name of God, the identity of God, is the place where children see his kingdom: “O LORD our Lord”. Here is where they paint their picture of praise, because who God “is” is what the kingdom of God is all about.

Psalm number eight looks at the activity of children making their picture of praise, and it sees that this is the most excellent part of the kingdom of God. The praise of children is some of God’s best work. This is the fact that silences the enemy; because the name of God is all about relationship. This is his greatest weapon, and it shows us how differently God sees things than we do.

John & Diana's Garden, Fullerton CA
It is the same with the picture of the man, the human being crowned with glory and honor. The picture shows the glory and honor of being created for the purpose of serving as a kind of bridge between heaven and earth.

Being “a little lower than the angels” means occupying a place that works for heaven on earth. It means being on earth in such a way as to do for the earth and for its creatures what God would do. We were created to embody God’s relationship to his creation.

God created humans in his image to have dominion over the earth, but dominion doesn’t mean domination. If we are created to have dominion over the earth; and if we are created in God’s image; then our dominion will reflect God’s dominion. God did not create us to dominate us, but to love us. God did not create us to dominate the world, but to faithfully rule it in love, and for the sake of sheer delight.

This psalm tells us a lesson that runs completely opposite to the conventional wisdom of this world. This psalm tells us that the greatest things in creation are not the creation we see above us that goes on, and on, and on.

The greatest things are not planets, moons, stars, and suns. The greatest things are not oceans, and mountains, and sunrises, and sunsets. The greatest things in God’s creation are the beings who live on the worlds that God has made; beings made from the dust of their worlds, who learn to govern the creation around them in love. And the greatest things are the little and the young who paint pictures of praise that show the excellence of the faithfulness of God.

Adam and Eve were the first humans in whom God set his image. They were meant to be a kind of bridge or relationship between heaven and earth, between God and the world. They were created to be the kingdom of God on earth, just as solid and rooted in their world as the earth from which they were formed.

They failed their calling because they took themselves too seriously. They really did want to be like gods; only gods of their own self-making, and their own self-controlling.

In the Old Testament, King David, who wrote so many of the psalms, saw this. He also saw another possibility. He saw that the God of relationship, faithfulness, and love still wanted this connection: not the glory of space, and of stars, and of worlds; but the glory of creatures like us, joining heaven and earth together. David saw that God had a plan to do this in a way that could not fail, and could not be broken.

John & Diana's Garden, Fullerton, CA
David saw that God intended to use even him in this plan. God intended to use David, and his family, and his descendents to weave a history of families who trusted and waited for God to keep his promises.

From their hope (even when their hope seemed hopeless) there would come a man named Jesus to walk this world as the bridge between heaven and earth. In this Jesus all things would be joined together for ever because, in Jesus, God brought himself and his human creation together as one.

This man would hold the dominion that was empowered by love and sacrifice. In a vast universe this man would paint the true picture of God by caring for the greatest things even when they looked like the littlest things; the weakest and most foolish things.

When Jesus came to Jerusalem he went to the Temple, and there he chased out those who exchanged currency and those who sold animals for sacrifice. It was the children, singing there, who drew a picture of praise for this.

Jesus was the messiah, the king of the Kingdom of God. But he was a king who loved to hear children and simple people sing. He was one of them. He was the baby in the manger. He was the carpenter from a tiny village called Nazareth.

What the children who sang could not know (and what would have made them stop singing) was that, very soon, Jesus would become a convicted criminal, sentenced to death by crucifixion, killed, and buried. Jesus was the king who joined God with the littlest, and the weakest, and the most foolish things.

When Jesus took over the temple, there was no one left to exchange the currency. The people only had their Roman and Greek money with pictures of the gods and of the divine emperor. You couldn’t use such pagan things for an offering in the place where you came to meet with God. You couldn’t use such money to buy doves, or lambs as your sacrifice for thanks or forgiveness. Jesus had even chased away the sellers of sacrifices. Jesus made the Temple useless.

Nature Park near Long Beach, CA
There was no sacrifice left in the Temple to bring sinners back into fellowship with God. There was no sacrifice left but Jesus who ruled there. The sinners came to him and they were forgiven, as only God could forgive. (Mark 2:1-12)

The blind and the lame had been forbidden by the law from entering enter the Temple. They could only wait outside and beg. With Jesus ruling his kingdom in the Temple the outcasts could come to the place of the presence of God and be accepted, and healed, and changed.

The big priestly choirs were gone. God’s praises were sung by the young and the small. They could see the kingdom of God, when the wise were blind to it. Earlier, Jesus had said, “I praise you, Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” (Matthew 11:25)

This is the dominion of God. Without God coming into this world, in Jesus, to be the man (the human in God’s image) that we could never be, we would all belong to the “den of thieves” that Jesus saw in the Temple.

“Den of thieves” described the life of rebels who have to hide in caves in the wilderness and make a living by robbery and ransom until they find some way to take the kingdom for themselves. The Temple had become a cave of rebels holding out against God.

In Jesus, the Temple stopped being a place that other people could control and use. In Jesus, the Temple (the place where God and humans meet) became Jesus himself. Jesus is the King and the Temple of the Kingdom of God. The children who sang “Hosanna” were singing about this, even though they didn’t understand it.

The wise, no matter how religious or spiritual they were, followed the conventional wisdom of the world. They looked at Jesus and saw only weakness and foolishness. For one thing, if Jesus had anything to do with the kingdom of God, he should stop fighting against them and start fighting the Romans. Jesus seemed determined to do what was worthless in its weakness, and he would pay for it. The wise watched the children sing and they saw that Jesus was pleased by what was worthless and foolish.

The wise looked at their Temple and their city, and they saw accumulated wealth, and wisdom, and grandeur, and beauty, and tradition, and they saw defensible walls of stone. These were the important things, not forgiveness, or healing, or children singing praise.

The foe and the avenger is our own heart. Our own heart and mind do not see the majesty of God where it really is. Our world tells us to look at the heavens and the vastness of space to be inspired. The world tells us to look at the world of nature.

These are wonderful things, but God’s word tells us to look at the people God has made. God has created them to be relationships, to be bridges of love. God’s word tells us to look at the children who have such a capacity for wonder and praise and think about them, because they live totally in their relationships.

Nature Park near Long Beach, CA
I know parents who confess that they did not understand their own life until they held a child of their own in their arms. Then they knew what was important. Then they knew how they would have to change. The life of the grown up would have to change to fit the child. This is also true of the Kingdom of God, if we want to be children there.

One morning, during Vacation Bible School, I saw a kid hiding in one of the window wells of the church basement windows, on the south side of our building. Go and look at those and think how long it has been since you were small enough to hide in one of those.

Children are small enough to see and go where we can’t. We can see the glory of God in the night sky, or in the fields that spread out around us to the horizon; but we can’t see God in other people; not even when those other people gather to worship and pray.

Psalm number eight tells us that it is our nature to doubt that God is present especially in another person when, all the while, God has “crowned that person with glory and honor.” Maybe no one can see it yet. Maybe they don’t know it themselves. But Christ is the bridge between heaven and earth. Through his dying and rising for each one of us, God came in Jesus to crown us with his glory and honor.

God came in Jesus to make us an acting part of his dominion of love. Beyond your self, God wants you to imagine the crown that awaits the person in whose life you do not see the glory of God.

Somewhere I read that the world of nature around us and the whole universe really only show us the back side of God’s glory. The image of God’s face is found in human beings who cause us so much confusion, and struggle, and pain.

God is a God of relationships, and the face of God is seen in our relationships, and that is why Jesus calls us into fellowship. The word of God calls that fellowship the Church, the body of Christ.

God is seen in the face and the voice of his people when they gather together in faithful relationship. It is our relationship that is Christ’s face. It is our relationship that forms the voice, the hands, and the feet of Jesus in our world.

We live in a time when the conventional wisdom tells us that a relationship is precisely something that doesn’t last, because it is called a relationship. This world tells us that families themselves are expendable, or that they are of value only as they serve us, not as we serve them.

Nature Park near Long Beach, CA
But relationships and families (even when the church is such a family) all have a God whose name makes them holy. They seem like one of the little things (the weak and foolish things) that we can safely ignore. We wonder how God could expect so much from them. But, once again, children know better.

Children praise such things, and relationships are holy to them. Let us seek a miracle from the God who makes us his children in Jesus. Through him, let us become the kind of children who can paint a true picture of God in our lives and in our relationships, so that others will be able to look at us there, and know what the LORD himself looks like; and recognize his voice when he calls to them.


  1. Boa noite
    Caro "Eremita",

    Estou rendido aos seus sermões.
    Permito-me contar-lhe uma pequena história deste Alentejo , em tempos celeiro de Portugal.
    Conta-se que um dia um moço se enamorou pela filha de pessoa muito rica. O pai da moça, reservado perguntou ao candidato a genro, quais eram as suas verdadeiras motivações em relação à sua filha.
    Se por amor ou por interesse.
    O apaixonado moço, na sua sinceridade disse: Só pode ser por amor, porque ela não me interessa!
    Assim, sejamos nós com Deus.Só por a amor e, nada de interesse.
    Please use translator.

  2. Very good sermon. Thank you.