A sermon preached by The Reverend Trevor Jamison on October 4th 2020
When I read Psalm 19 in preparation for preaching this sermon my first thought was … “how strange is that.”
I did not think it was strange that a psalm should praise God for the wonders of creation: ‘the heavens are telling the story of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork … in the heavens God has set out a tent for the sun … [which] runs its course with joy. (1, 4, 5)
Nor did I think it strange to find praise for the law in a psalm. You find that in several of them, and, in fact, it’s the subject of the very first one in the Book of Psalms: ‘Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on that law they meditate day and night.’ (1:1-2)
No wonder, then, that in in Psalm 19 the ‘law of the LORD is perfect’ (7), its decrees sure (7), precepts right (8), commandment clear (8), ordinances ‘true and righteous all together’ (9). No wonder the psalmist claims that the law rejoices the heart (8), is more desirable than gold (10), and sweeter than honey (10).
So, nothing strange to encounter a psalm in praise of creation or one in celebration of the law, but both of them together in one psalm? That seemed strange to me. To me, creation and the law seemed like two distinct, separate things. Why choose to shoehorn the two of them together into one psalm – trying to get a quart into a pint pot, to put it in imperial terms. Surely, I thought, it should be either/or, not both/and.
Then I had another thought. It struck me that that creation and law do share something. Both are structures; not static ones, but ones that live and develop; both are systems. In fact, our language reflects that; we talk of “ecosystems” and “legal systems”. Psalm 19, it turns out is a psalm in praise of systems.
And these systems are praiseworthy because both bring life by giving structure and stability. Think of the place of humans and trees in the eco system. We breathe in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide. Left to ourselves, after a while that would cause problems because we would use up all the oxygen and be left only with CO2 which would not sustain us. How handy then – you would almost think there was a designer’s hand in it – trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen: thank God for that!
Or consider plants and bees, one providing nectar and the other transporting pollen, so enabling plants to grow, which breathe out that oxygen we need and provide us with food to eat. And, let’s not forget, as it used to say in an advert for breakfast cereal, to “tell them about the honey mummy”!
And that handily brings us to the legal system, which, as you will remember, the psalmist describes as, ‘sweeter also than honey, and the drippings of the honeycomb.’ (10)
Just as we rely on the ecosystem for the flourishing of this part of God’s creation called, “planet earth”, so we have the legal system that allows our society and every society to exist and flourish; the speed limits that enable us to travel in safety; the law of contract that allows business to take place, homes to be rented or bought; the legislation on surveillance that protects us when we make a telephone call, surf the net, or meet together on Zoom.
And then here’s one further reason for creation and law to appear together in one psalm. Not only are both systems but they are systems that interact with one another.
Viruses are natural things, but sometimes there needs to be legal regulation and advice in order to be able to protect individuals and societies lest we are overwhelmed by a worldwide pandemic. And in a time of climate emergency, it’s a system of laws and regulations that will rein in the worst of human excesses in terms of exploitation, over exploitation, and misuse of the world’s resources in ways that would bring everything crashing to the ground.
So, thanks be to God for both creation and law, for ecosystems and legal systems; thanks be to God for their healthy interaction; thanks be to God for a writer – a psalmist – who thinks it appropriate to devote a psalm to the two of them together. And may we respond to that with good actions, rooted in right thinking, good speech and conversation. So, as the writer concludes Psalm 19, ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.’ Amen.