May 30, 2010
“Living in The Refrain”
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” It’s one of those refrains. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Not quite like the refrain “in praise of Old Nassau.” Not like a chant from the stands. USA.USA.USA. But it’s a refrain. Not just a phrase on a sign at a political rally, not a slogan in advertising, but a refrain. It’s one those refrains of scripture that ought to rest somewhere deep within you. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
It’s one of the verses from the psalmist that ought to stick with you. Like “Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me bless God’s holy name” and “Be still and know that I am God” and “Hope in God, for I shall again praise God, my help and my God” and “I lift up mine eyes to the hills—from whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” It’s one of those refrains that rests on the tip of the tongue of your soul. Psalm 8:1 and Psalm 8:9. All the memory verses that come from the Book of Psalms, they don’t all serve like a refrain. As here in Psalm 8, the first and the last word. The refrain, it frames the psalmist’s work. It’s the takeaway from the poetry. It sets the tone for the guts of the psalm, what comes in between. It shapes how the psalm is to be read. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Psalm 8. You can’t miss the praise, even though the word or the phrase isn’t there. No “praise the Lord” in Psalm 8. But it’s a song of praise nonetheless. Pick your own hymn of praise of choice, maybe from your youth, maybe a song you learned in your grandmother’s lap, the tune that comes to you when you’re having a good day. “Amazing Grace”, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, “How Great Thou Art”, “A Mighty Fortress”, “Holy, Holy, Holy”, the doxology to Old 100th, “You are Holy” from Montreat Youth Conference. Your all alone, it’s a stunning day, creation is singing, you join right in. Here’s the one that comes up for me, “Jesus, I adore you, lay my life before you. How I love you”. A heart song of praise. Psalm 8 is like that. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
“Out of the mouths of babes and infants.” It’s the kind of song that comes from the children. The songs of praise that come from babes and infants, from the lips of the youngest, O God, you have formed this foundation, you have established this stronghold of praise, this bulwark within your people that shouts out praise, and puts forth adoration. It’s a perpetual stream, words and songs and worship in all places and in all circumstances and at all times. A continuous loop of praise intended to drowned out all other voices, intended to silence every voice in us but your own, O God. Even death shall not be given the last word, O God of resurrection life. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established: what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” In the Hebrew, “what is a man, what is a person, a mortal, that you are mindful of him? The Son of man, ben Adam, that you care for him?” The writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews turns to Jesus here. Hebrews 2, when the preacher in Hebrews is trying to explain the unique stature of Christ, the great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness, who has been tested in every respect as we are, yet is without sin, the preacher in Hebrews quotes Psalm 8. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the Son of man that you care for him?”
The Son of Man, that’s Jesus according to the preacher in Hebrews. The preacher proclaims. “We do see Jesus who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9) For a time, a little lower than God; a mere mortal that God minds, looks after, cares for, the one God then crowned with glory and honor. In service to the argument of the Book of Hebrews, Psalm 8 is all about Jesus. At least a snippet of Psalm 8 without the refrain.
Yet within the refrain, the psalm speaks for itself. A Psalm of David. As students of the Old Testament know, those who explore the depth and the beauty, those who teach of the history and theology, those who argue for its unique and authoritative witness for the people of God and for the church of Jesus Christ, as students of the Hebrew Bible know, it can’t all be about Jesus. Though, to be honest, when it comes to this dominion stuff here in Psalm 8, how God has given to the mortal dominion over the works of God’s hands, all sheep and oxen, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. When it comes to Psalm 8 and this Book of Genesis-like gift of the stewardship of all that is, if we just stayed with Jesus and his dominion, his kingdom reign over the earth, it would be a heck of a lot easier, because we’re not doing so well at dominion right now.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established”…. when I look at the Gulf of Mexico, and all the wildlife, and the marshes, and the shore, when I consider the depth of the sea, all of your creation there in the Gulf, what are human beings, that you are mindful of them? This dominion thing, what were you thinking God? There’s no science to argue here and apparently enough blame to go all around. Humanity’s care of the earth? Yeah, not so much.
When the psalmist looks to creation, looks to the hills, looks to the beauty of a night sky, the intended result in the creature is to praise and be comforted and be reminded of the strength of God….my help comes from God who made heaven and earth. “The birds of the air. The fish of the sea. Whatever passes along the paths of the sea.” It’s not supposed to make you want to weep, or to be confronted yet again with the human condition and the power of sin and the harsh reality of “dominion” this side of Eden. The Apostle Paul looked within to be reminded of his own sinfulness, his own shortcomings. “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” John Calvin argued that the human condition; ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, depravity and corruption, is what points us to God. “We are prompted by our ills to contemplate the good things of God…The knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also as it were, leads us by the hand to find God.” (Institutes, I.i.1). But for the psalmist, for the psalmist a glimpse of creation isn’t supposed to point to sin and power and greed and hubris and destructiveness, it is supposed to remind you of Eden and fill you with wonder! What are human beings, that you are mindful of them? Psalm 8 and humanity’s dominion. Perhaps it is a psalm of praise for the anticipated patience and forgiveness of the God of all creation.
Psalm 8. Dominion raises more questions than answers these days. Collective, corporate, global dominion. Psalm 8. It ought not to all be about Jesus. The phrase “Son of Man” was much too common. With all due respect to Hebrews 2, it wasn’t simply a reference to the Messiah. So, if it’s not just Jesus and the broad brush of humanity doesn’t set so well either, when it comes to Psalm 8 and living in this refrain, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”, how about just you and me.
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Your glory, God, is set so far in the heavens and you still give me this voice, this yearning to praise you. You invite me to join this everlasting chorus of praise. On a Sunday? Sure, but everyday, since before I can remember, the earliest of my days, you have shaped me to offer you my thanks.
When I take a walk at the end of a long day, when the night sky is clear and the stars are blinking and the moon lights the way, I wonder how your love and grace finds me, how amid this vast universe, you still give me the strength for each day. You have created me, your Spirit breathed life into me. I am wonderfully made, and you have a place for me, here, now, and forever in the palm of your hand, under the shelter of your wing, near to your heart. Right there where the choirs of angels sing “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might”, right there, I have a place too, crowned with glory and honor.
When I rise to greet a new day, when I put two feet on the floor and get ready to live and work and serve and love another day, your promise to me is still there, made fresh by your grace, as stunning and beautiful as the rising sun. And for this day, for today, you have once again placed the world at my fingertips. All that surrounds me, all the gifts I have, all that I love, everything I do, it all comes from you. You have trusted me with the care of one more day in which all of my life, all of my life, can be lived for your glory and in service to your kingdom. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8, just you and God and living within the refrain.
A generation, maybe more, of children have grown up reading the children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You.” It’s the story of two rabbits, Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nut Brown Hare. The two, parent and child, one presumes, engage in a bit of one upmanship as to how much they really love each other. This much. THIS much. THIS MUCH. The little one is falling asleep and still trying to keep up. “I love you to the moon” Little Nutbrown Hare says just as sleep takes over. As the little one is off to sleep, Big Nutbrown Hare simply says, “and back.” As in “I love you to the moon and back again.”
One can imagine all sorts of young people now grown who share the refrain with those they love. “Love you to the moon….and back” Etched from night after night at the bedside, now tossed around on Facebook, with a text. Expressing all the fullness of love intended. A refrain, more personal than words really can express.
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Just you and God. When you rise. When you nod off to sleep. Expressing all the fullness of praise that comes when you live within the refrain, beyond what words can ever express. Psalm 8. You and God.
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
© 2010, Property of Nassau Presbyterian Church
Contact the church to obtain reprint permission