Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Boy Scout Sunday: Psalm 8
February 8, 2014
My love for being outdoors was kindled during my years as a Boy Scout. Our troop would often camp in Holly Shelter Swamp along the Northeast Cape Fear River. Down below the bluff on which we camped was a dirt parking lot for a boat ramp. On Saturday evening, after the sun set and dinner was done and dishes washed, we would gather in the empty parking lot for a giant game of capture the flag followed by a bonfire. In the winter, with clear skies and no electric lights for miles, the stars were brilliant. Some nights, our scoutmaster would tell us a scary story but other nights he’d talk about the mythology behind some of the constellations. We would look up at the sky in awe, and I still do. On Thursday evening, about nine, Orion was high overhead, Tarsus (the Bull) along with Pleiades (the Seven Sisters), were beginning their descent toward the western horizon as Canis Major (with the Dog Star) rising higher in the east. Looking up, I felt as if I am among old friends.
Psalm 8 is attributed to David, the Shepherd King. I can imagine him, on the nights he spent out in the fields with the sheep, looking up in awe of God’s handiwork. The sky, especially on a crisp clear night, is amazing. And he pens these words… Read Psalm 8
Do any of you Boy Scouts like Dennis the Menace? He was one of my heroes when I was in Scouts and my uncle, who was like an older brother to me, would pass along his old comic books and I would laugh and laugh as I devoured them. I remember in one strip, Dennis the Menace tells his friend Joey he prayed at night because the rates are lower. (I hate to have to explain this joke, but it’s probably one only those of you over 25 who understand… you see, before cell phones and changes in telephone services, it was once much cheaper to call at night. That’s a history lesson for the Scouts!).
Part of what makes Dennis so endearing is his honesty. “It’s cheaper to pray at night,” the five-year old reasoned, picking up I’m sure on a reference from his parents that long-distance calls are cheaper at night than daytime. And why shouldn’t prayer be the same way? There may even be an underlying truth to his comment. I expect if you took a survey of people who pray regularly, you’ll find that with the exception of mealtime, most people pray at night, while horizontal in their beds. I know I do. It’s the time of day to put our worries aside and prayer is one way for us to do this.
If you are praying at night, continue! But if you are only praying at night, think about what this says about how important God is in your life. As I once heard it said, “Prayer is not a part-time occupation for Christians.” If we want an intimate relationship with God, we have to do our part to stay connected as well as to understand what God requires of us.
Since Christmas, I have been talking about distinctions which make us Presbyterian and a part of the church known as the Reformed Tradition. One of the things we in the Reformed Tradition highlight is the importance of stewardship. Now, too often people only think of stewardship as giving money to the church, but as I’ll say over and over again, that is only a very small part of what it means.
Stewardship is an acknowledgement that all we are and all we have and the entire domain in which we live belongs to God. As stewards, God has placed us on earth and expects us use the gifts given to make the world a better place. We are called by God, we are saved through the death of Jesus, for the purpose of carrying out God’s will. Therefore, all of us, not just these guys in uniform at the front, are to be doing good turns daily! We’re to be God’s stewards of that which God provides, making the world a better place even as we wait for paradise to be restored as we heard in our first reading this morning.
Today, we’re spending time with a passage that’ll help us understand our role as God’s stewards in the world. God creates a world that over and over again is proclaimed “good.” And God, the Almighty one, the “Maker of Heaven and Earth,” gives us dominion over this world. We’re heirs of God’s creation and his creative ability. Unfortunately, too often we take this for granted. But it’s not always been that way. Listen to what Eugene Peterson, the translator of The Message, a Presbyterian minister and theologian has to say about how Israel used the Psalms.
The Psalms were prayed by people who understood that God had everything to do with them. God, not their feelings, was the center. God, not their souls, was the issue. God, not the meaning of life, was critical. Feelings, souls and meanings were not excluded—they are very much in evidence—but they are not the reason of the prayers.
The Psalms are prayers and hymns of Israel, a people who, in their best, drew their meaning from this unique relationship they had with the Creator. They were a people who didn’t consider prayer a long distant phone call, for they knew God was present. Likewise, God is present with us. We don’t pray just because we’re in the mood; we don’t pray just because we need something; we don’t pray just because we want to go to heaven—that’s all self-centered stuff—we pray because we acknowledge God as source of all life and from there know that if we’re to be happy, content, and fulfilled in this life, we must ground ourselves in a relationship with our Creator and Redeemer.
The author of the Eighth Psalm is amazed when he contemplates God. Think about him lying on a hill there in Judea watching sheep. As night descends, he looks up into the sky. Stars begin to pop out and he makes out images—the dipper. If it’s winter, he sees Orion, the hunter; if it’s summer, there on the southern horizon, he watches the Scorpion. He looks in awe at the planets. In amazement, he gazes upon the waning moon and is in awe at a streaking meteor. Taking all this in, he’s humbled to think about vastness of the universe and that God, who created is all, is still concerned with a mortals like him, with mortals like you and me.
Some may look at the sky and be overwhelmed and feel so insignificant, but the Psalmist takes a different tack. As one Old Testament scholar writes, when it comes to God, we don’t worry about what we don’t know about galaxies and electrons, instead we proclaim who it is we trust.
The Psalmist thinks about how God created us. “We are created a little lower than God,” he writes. Indeed, we are created in God’s image; we’ve been given a huge legacy. Just as God has control and dominion over the universe, we have dominion over our world. The Psalmist recognizes human power, but it’s a power within the context of God. As humans, we relate to the world around us like God relate to us; in other words, God cares for us and we should care for the part of God’s creation we’re given dominion over. Our power is a gift from God. Having dominion doesn’t mean we’re absolute monarchs; rather we’re benevolent kings over creation, ruling for the benefit of all creation.
After the Psalmist elevates the human to a creature given special power and responsibility from God, he returns to his original words: “O Lord, Our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” Everything within the Psalmist life is centered and ordered on his relationship to God. If he wants to boast on his achievements, he must, as Paul suggests, “boast in the Lord.”
You know when we consider the wonders of the universe and then consider how God is closely involved with all our lives; we should realize the nature of our relationship to God. When God is revealed in Scripture, we find that our own understanding of self is linked to God. There is no revelation of God without it also throwing light on the nature of humanity. Looking at God, we learn who we are—the power we have as well as our limitations—so that we can see how we should live in order to maximize our lives. Looking at God, we should stand in awe, but with joy in our hearts. God is good and has entrusted us with a world that provides for our needs, a place where we can live fruitful and fulfilled lives; but it’s an awesome responsibility for we are to be good stewards of the gifts God has given.
Let me tell you a story… Once there was a good king who ruled wisely and was loved by all the people of his kingdom. He only had daughters, four of them, and he loved them as well. One day he called his daughters together and told them he was leaving on a long journey. “I wish to learn about God,” he said. “I’m putting you in charge.” They didn’t want him to go, but the King said he’d pray for them and they’d do well. He also told them he had a gift for each of them. They each stepped forward and he placed a grain of rice in each of their hands, telling them it was his wish for them to learn the meaning of the rule.
The oldest daughter immediately went into her room and tired a long golden thread around the rice and placed it in a crystal box. Every day she would look at it. The second daughter also went to her room and placed the grain of rice in a wooden box and put the box in a secure spot under her mattress. The third daughter, the pragmatic one (there always one of them), noticed her grain of rice was no different than all the others. She threw it away, figuring she could always replace it. The youngest daughter took her grain of rice to her room. She thought about it for a week or two, for a month or so. Then finally, she understood.
Several years passed before their father, the king, returned from his pilgrimage. As the oldest daughter saw her father coming down the road, she rushed out to greet him, showing him the grain of rice he had given her. “Very good,” the king said. Then the second daughter ran forth and presented her grain to her father and again the king said, “Very good,” he said again. As the first two daughters were heading out to greet the father, the third ran into the kitchen and fetched a grain of rice. She too presented it to him and again he said, “Very good.”
Finally, the youngest daughter stepped forward and told her father that she did not have the grain of rice he’d given her. “What did you do with it,” her father asked?” “Father,” she said, “I thought about the meaning of the rice for a long time. Finally, I realized that it was nothing but a seed, and then I discovered the meaning. So I planted it (obviously this was a grain of rice that hadn’t been bleached or shucked) and it grew and from that I harvested many seeds and replanted them and now I have enough rice to feed our kingdom.” She then led her father, the king, to where he could see the results. Surrounding the castle were acres and acres of rice.
The king took off his crown and placed it on his youngest daughter’s head saying, “You have learned the meaning of the rule.”
To paraphrase the Psalmist: “God has given us dominion over the works of his hands; God has placed all things under our feet….” Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of God is like a seed…” Standing in awe of God doesn’t mean we’re caught like a deer in the headlights. We worship an awesome God; a God who made us just a little lower than himself, and because of this we have incredible potential to be a positive force for good in the world.
Do you accept the potential God has given you? Will you accept your responsibility to be a good steward of all that God has given you? Will you do your good turn daily? Amen.
 Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Order, F-2.05
 Ephesians 2:10, Titus 3:6-9
 See Revelation 21 & 22.
 Genesis 1:31
 Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 14.
 James L. Mays, “What is a Human Being? Reflections on Psalm 8,” Theology Today 50: #4 (January 1993), 517.
 Cf: Mays, 518.
 1 Corinthians 1:31, 2 Corinthians 10:17; Galatians 6:14.
 Artur Weiser, Psalms: Old Testament Library, Herbert Hartwell, translator, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 142-143. In the opening chapter of The Institute of Christian Religion (1559 edition), John Calvin writes: “man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him (God) to scrutinize himself.” (Calvin, Institutes, I.1.2)
 William R. White, Stories for Telling (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986), 71-73.
 Matthew 13:31.