Mar 24 2013

Let the Earth Bless the Lord

Bernheim-Forest-spring-hToday is Palm Sunday.  Hopefully you had a chance in church today to reflect on the praise that was offered Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday long ago.  There are many interesting things about this event in Christ’s life.  For me, one of these is how when the crowd was shouting “Hosanna” some of the Pharisees complained and encouraged Jesus to rebuke his disciples.  His response was, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)  Do you think the stones would really have begun to praise God if the people had quieted down? Some would say “of course not, stones can’t cry out!” while others might not be so sure.  I find myself in the latter camp.

CR-Banff-NP-Vermillion-Lakes-reflections-(v)-This morning I came across a prayer in which all of Creation is invited to join in the praising of God.  Its source was identified as a “Medieval Prymer.”  If it sounds a bit fanciful to you, you might want to check out Psalm 148 where the Psalmist offers a similar call to worship.  This is the prayer I found: “Sun and moon, bless the Lord; fire and heat, bless the Lord; winter and summer, bless the Lord; frosts and cold, bless the Lord; ice and snow, bless the Lord; praise him and magnify him forever.  Nights and days, bless the Lord; light and darkness, bless the Lord; lightning and clouds, bless the Lord; praise him and magnify him forever.  Let the earth bless the Lord; mountains and hills, bless the Lord; all green things on earth, bless the Lord; praise him and magnify him forever.”

I like the thought of Creation offering God praise.  For starters, it just seems fitting.  I also like the thought because I realize that God deserves all the praise He can get and we humans—including myself—often fail to offer God the praise He is so worthy of.  It’s comforting to know that the sun and moon, the ice and snow, the light and darkness, the mountain and hills all bless the Lord when I fail to.

Gibbon-Rive-Ice-Bells-366I also see the thought of Creation always praising God as something of a challenge or source of motivation.  If Creation, which doesn’t have the same capacity to know and experience God as we do, can offer God wondrous and continuous praise, shouldn’t I be doing a better job of it myself?  As we journey through Holy Week this coming week, I encourage you to join me in attempting to offer God the very best praise you can.  When we pause to remember what this special week is all about, failure to do so would have to be considered both unacceptable and sinful.  Let us all join together with Creation in blessing the name of the Lord in the days to come.


(I took the top image at Bernheim Forest in Kentucky, the middle image at Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, and the bottom image at Yellowstone National Park.)

Apr 1 2012

The Biggest Fool

Today is both Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day.  There is a sermon I have in mind that draws the two together.  I don’t remember exactly where I heard or read it but it concerns what has come to be known as Jesus’ “triumphant entry” on the first Palm Sunday long ago.  The question eventually gets asked, “Do you think the donkey that carried Jesus up to Jerusalem that day thought all the cheering and excitement was about him?”  The conclusion drawn in the sermon was how incredibly foolish the donkey would have been to think the praise and adoration was for him instead of the one who rode upon his back.   The point made concerned the dangers of pride and our need for humility.

When Rob and I were at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada a few days ago we saw and photographed the three wild burros you see here.  I told him that day about the sermon I had heard.  We discussed how we humans often get ourselves in trouble because of our pride and how we should practice humility.  A donkey would never think it was all about him but we humans often do.  This flaw usually proves to be our downfall, confirming the biblical admonition, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

One area where I see much human pride these days concerns Creation.  It seems like so many people think the earth belongs to us and it is ours to do with as we please.  They may think this but the Bible clearly states, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  (Psalm 24:1)   How arrogant, how foolish, for us to think the world exists for us!  The apostle Paul echoed the Psalmist’s thoughts when he wrote concerning Jesus, “all things were created by him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)  Creation exists for God’s glory, not ours.  To think otherwise would be just like the donkey Jesus rode believing the cheers were all for him.

Psalm 14:1 declares, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”   According to statistics there are not a very high percentage of people who actually deny the existence of God.  There are, however, a large percentage of people who live as though there is no God or who get confused and think they are Him.  In the end, the biggest fool is the person who refuses to give God the glory He deserves.  Unfortunately, I have been that person more times than I can count.  Perhaps you are guilty too.  Both the Bible and God’s “other book” (Creation) teach us that God deserves all the praise and honor and glory we can give Him.  At the beginning of this Holy Week I encourage you to join me in striving to give God the glory He is due.  If we fail to do so, what fools we will be!


Apr 17 2011

Like a Mother Hen

Today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.  In the days to come Christians everywhere will be reflecting on the events of the week that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion.  In Matthew’s Gospel we find one of Jesus’ sayings from this week that contains a nature reference.   It may not be as familiar to most people as his injunction to “consider the lilies” or “look at the birds” but it is just as powerful and moving.  It is a passage that came to my mind this past Thursday while visiting the Iao Valley in Hawaii.  On the way to one of the viewpoints of the Iao Needle I saw a mother hen shielding her chicks beneath her.  The mother hen’s care for her little ones reminded me of Jesus’ words spoken about the city where he would shortly meet his death.  He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”  (Mt. 23:37)

In this passage we see Christ’s frustration with the people of Jerusalem.  He wanted them to accept him and his Father’s love but they were unwilling.  Time and time again they had proven unreceptive to God’s overtures of love.  Still, Christ reaches out to them.  He longs to draw them to himself, just like a mother hen draws her chicks.  He wanted to care for them, to protect them, to love them. 

Jesus’ use of the mother hen image is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for all of us.  Even though we traditionally speak of God as “Father,” it is a mother’s love that is revealed here.  It is also a love that would seem unjustified.  The people Christ was reaching out to were known to “kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.”  We would say they were unworthy of Christ’s love, that they didn’t deserve it.  And the truth be known, they didn’t deserve it.  But neither do we. 

All of the events of Holy Week compel us to acknowledge that none of us are worthy recipients of God’s love but He loves us nonetheless.  This is why we refer to Jesus’ story as the “gospel” or “good news.”  Despite all of our failures and shortcomings, God loves us still.  He is like a mother hen who longs to draw us all close to her side.  How foolish, how insane, we must be to not allow Him to do just that.  A baby chick should be close to its mother.  That is where he or she is safe.  We, likewise, should be close to our Creator and Savior.  That is where we will find safety.  That is where we will find comfort.  That is where we will find love.


Mar 28 2010

Palm Sunday Reflections

FL-Highland-Hammock-079Today is Palm Sunday.  In churches all around the world one likely found the presence of palm branches this morning.  Palm trees are common out where Rob lives but not here in Kentucky.  Still, we made sure to have palms available for our service.  Why?  On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem long ago and how the crowds grabbed palm branches to lay on the ground before him in order to show the anticipated Messiah honor and respect.  The display of palm branches was accompanied by shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

I like the idea that palm branches were used to cushion Jesus’ path as he rode the donkey into Jerusalem.  It seems appropriate.  After all, Creation’s primary purpose is to bring glory to God.  Although there is a sense in which all created things honor God solely by their existence, in this instance the palm branches were collected and used to worship the One who made the heavens and the earth.

 I think we should include elements of nature in our worship more often.  Many churches use flowers to help decorate the sanctuary.   In the southern Appalachians there is a lovely tree that blooms in late March or early April called the Serviceberry.  It usually is pronounced “SAR VIS” but the name goes back to the fact that churches in the mountains would gather branches each spring to brighten their worship “service.”

In a lot of churches there is almost no visible connection between God and nature.  Little emphasis is placed on God as Creator.  I think the writers of both the Old and New Testaments would have trouble with this.  Both Testaments give great honor to the God of Creation.

I’d like to see more churches make proper use of God’s various gifts in Creation as elements of worship.  Doing so could help us remember our vital role as stewards of Creation.  Doing so might very well help lead us into more meaningful worship.


(The image above was taken at Highlands Hammock State Park in Florida.)