A Father’s Day sermon on what it means to be children of a loving God and creations of a loving Creator.
Psalm 8, NRSV
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
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?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The word of God for the people of God and all God’s Creation. Thanks be to God.
“How majestic is your name in all the earth!” Such a joyful and beautiful Psalm of praise, celebrating all the life God has created—a welcome break from my last few sermons on valleys of dry bones and despair over the Good Friday, right? Today we get to spend a little time rejoicing, thanking God for who God is, our Creator and our Redeemer.
Our lectionary pairs this Psalm with the very first words of our Bible—the first account of Creation in Genesis. We are probably very familiar with both of these passages, having heard them over and over since childhood if you’ve been around the Church from that time. They’re very popular in children’s Bibles—in fact, many scholars believe that it was Israelite parents who first told the story of creation in the simple, repetitive, poetic language we have here in Genesis 1 as a way to teach their children about God and Creation. While God’s people, the Israelites, were in exile in Babylon, their children heard a lot of conflicting stories from their Babylonian neighbors about who created the world and why, so the Israelites, wanting their children to know the truth about the God they served, put our understanding of the creation of the universe into simple, beautiful language that could be understood by all of us, even the youngest children.
Our Psalmist picks up the story again, reminding us that the proper response to a story about a God who takes nothing—no universe, no matter, nothing—and crafts it into the world we see around us is wonder, awe, and gratitude. It’s a story so simple it can be remembered and repeated out of the mouths of the smallest children, and yet it is big enough and powerful enough to shape our entire view of ourselves, our fellow creatures, our enemies, and those who’ve wronged us. Those words can still our enemies and calm our desire for vengeance against those who have hurt us by reminding us all of one simple truth: we are all in this together. We are all children of the same Creator.
As humans, we have a tendency to rank things. It’s very hard for us to recognize things as simply different from each other without describing them as good or bad, better or worse. C.S. Lewis noticed that, “the human mind is generally far more eager to praise and dispraise than to describe and define. It wants to make every distinction a distinction of value…” The passages we’ve read for today in both Genesis and in the Psalm that echoes it play right into this weakness, making it easy for us to find a sort of hierarchy that goes a little something like this: God, maybe angels/heavenly beings (depending on your translation), human beings, animals, plants, and the rest of Creation. After all, the Psalm even says that God made us a little lower than God, so God certainly occupies a position of power and sovereignty above us. That much is absolutely true. But look how God chose to occupy that position: Philippians 2:6-8 says that in Jesus, God saw sovereignty “not…as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” God came to dwell among us in Jesus Christ, who traveled the countryside laying his hands on the most vulnerable and despised people he could find (everyone from tax collectors to lepers to women and children who weren’t even really considered fully human at that point in their society, at least not in the way adult men were) and inviting them to come sit at his feet and learn about God’s true character of incredible, radical love and service and sacrifice for one another.
By becoming fully God and fully human and living his life this way, Jesus has given us a perfect example of what it means to be under the foot of a human being. If the Psalmist is making an analogy here between our relationship to God and the rest of Creation’s relationship to us by reminding us that we have been “given…dominion over the works of [God’s] hands,” and God “has put all things under [our] feet,” perhaps we should take a moment to think about what that means.
Now maybe this comes from many years of babysitting and owning pets, but when I think of things being underfoot, I don’t necessarily think of something being stomped on or dominated. I think of toddlers tugging on pants legs and holding their arms up to be held or to ask for a snack. I think of Rambo, the Chihuahua we had when I was growing up, who would literally weave himself in between my feet as I walked so I had to step very careful to avoid squishing him until I found somewhere to sit and he could crawl up onto my lap or perch himself on the edge of the couch by my shoulder. If you’ve done any gardening, you may think of the designated flower beds or rows of vegetables that require careful steps to maneuver around the plants you’re growing as you pick out weeds and reach the roots and leaves of your plants to water them.
These fellow creatures that spend so much time around our feet—children, pets, plants—are not the most esteemed members of our society. They don’t hold positions of influence, and most of them can’t even talk, but they are often the ones that command the majority of our attention and care. We have a special affection for them in their vulnerability, and it’s this love that leads us to do the inconvenient and sometimes unpleasant things they need from us like changing dirty diapers, rearranging a schedule to make sure pets are fed and let out to play and to use the bathroom on time, and spending long afternoons on our hands and knees in the dirt uprooting the weeds that can choke out our gardens. And we don’t just do these things once or twice, we do them every day. We make a way of life out of caring for others who need us.
We don’t love our kids and our pets and our gardens because they’ve earned it—we love them because they’re ours, and we are theirs. We belong to each other, and when we remember that we are all connected because we are all created by a God who loves us, we want to pay special attention to those among us who are vulnerable. We want to make sure that everyone in our family gets the care they need. We want those who sit at our feet to be nurtured. It’s exhausting work, but love is a strong motivator. When we see ourselves as family among people and animals and all of Creation, personal inconvenience feels like a small price to pay. This is true for other humans, and it’s true for Creation more generally. Our stewardship and care of the Earth should reflect God’s care for us—sacrifice for the good of all of us, including and especially those at our feet.
God reminds us that God is our Loving Parent who cares for us and adores us for no reason that has anything to do with our abilities or how wonderful we are, but simply because we are God’s. On this Father’s Day, we reflect on the inexplicable, unbreakable love of parents for their children simply because they are their children. We often talk about and pray to God “Our Father,” and even Jesus called God “Abba,” a nickname for “Daddy.” This is such a wonderful metaphor for the love God has for us as the children sitting at our Father’s feet and for the love we are meant to have for the rest of creation God has placed at our feet, but it can get a little tricky. Just as we do not always care for our fellow creatures in the way God intends, sometimes fathers cannot and do not always love their children as God intended either. We give thanks and praise for those fathers who do love their children and who are able to be present with them to teach them and nurture them and spend precious spend time with them whether they are biological, adoptive, or stepfathers, or father figures such as coaches, pastors, teachers, family friends or extended family members, or any others who have served this important role for children. But for some among us, Father’s Day—and thinking about God as a Father—is hard. It can bring up painful memories and open old wounds as human fathers may make poor choices, they may suffer from their own wounds that interfere with their ability to be a healthy presence in their children’s lives. They may have been taken from us by death or abandonment, or they may have hurt us in a variety of ways. When this happens, we give thanks that God makes Godself known to us in a variety of ways—as the loving Parent who never fails regardless of the loss or painful relationships we may experience with earthly parents, but also as the Creator of the Universe, the run-of-the-mill carpenter’s adopted son, the mother hen who protects her chicks from harm, the Rock we can rely on, the Holy Spirit present in the very air we breathe… We give thanks that our Creator is creative in the images the Bible uses to describe God, making sure there are names that makes sense to each of us and that help us better understand who God is. Father is just one of these helpful descriptors.
This analogy the Psalmist makes between God’s relationship to human beings and our relationship as human beings to the rest of Creation is beautiful, but like all analogies, it can only take us so far before it breaks down. After all, an analogy is comparing similar things, not two of the exact same thing. So while the imagery of sitting at one’s feet in a relationship of love and care is shared between the two, adults’ relationship to children and all humans’ relationship to animals and the natural world are not exactly like God’s relationship to us. God is the Creator, and humans of all ages, animals, plants, oceans, mountains, and all the rest are creatures. That means we are in the same category as the flocks and herds and wild animals and birds and fish and the forests and oceans and pastures and deserts they live in. God is the loving Creator and caretaker of us all. We do have a special role though—God invites us to be caretakers too, partners in caring for one another and for our world.
We like to think we are totally unique in this aspect, but sometimes I wonder if that’s really accurate. Trees and plants care for us by converting carbon dioxide into the oxygen we need to breathe. Rivers and streams provide the water that quenches our thirst and that makes up the majority of our bodies. Plants and sometimes animals offer us their bodies to make sure we have the food we need to thrive. In fact, many ecologists have noted that if any one of these aspects were missing from our planet, humans could not survive; if humans were to become extinct on the other hand, the planet would likely find a new equilibrium and get along just fine without us. Our position here is just as vulnerable as that of the animals who are subject to dangerous or harmful farming practices for the mass production of the meat we eat, the rare species who are on the brink of extinction, the rainforests being wiped out, the weather patterns changing as we use up nature’s gifts. All of Creation conspires with God to care for us—should we not follow their example and partner with God to care for them too? This Psalm is a direct invitation to remember Genesis 1 and to give thanks to God because, as The Message translation puts it, “you put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge, made us lords of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild, birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean.”
Perhaps the thing that makes us so unique then, is our mouths—that while God’s name is majestic and glorified by all Creation in all the earth, only humans communicate that praise through words. And we know from the very beginning that words are near to God’s heart—after all, God speaks the universe into existence in Genesis 1. In the only other book of the Bible that takes the same opening line, “In the beginning,” the Gospel of John, God tells us again, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” [emphasis added] Throughout Genesis 1 we read, “God spoke…and it was so.” That is, until we get to the creation of human beings. In Genesis 2, we learn that God not only speaks humans into existence, but God actually reaches down and touches the earth, handcrafting human beings out of the soil, equipping us with voices and words of our own to respond to the majesty of Creation with thanks and praise. Let us use the gift of these words carefully then, on behalf of all of Creation to care for those who sit at our feet and to honor God, the Word made Flesh who allows us to sit at his feet as well.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.