Sunday, October 23, 2011

Twinkle Twinkle Little Man

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.  3You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”   4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.  5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

13 Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants!   14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.   15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.  16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.  17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!
“Twinkle, twinkle little star; how I wonder what you are.”  Every person since Adam has looked into the starry sky and wondered about the enormity of the universe, and his or her own smallness.  We wonder about time and eternity.  John Wesley asked, “But what is time…in some sense, a fragment of eternity, broken off at both ends?”[1] 
Time is indeed measured against God’s eternity.  Our text this morning is a prayer of time and eternity and wisdom.  It is a prayer uttered as earnestly and hopefully as the innocent eyes lifting up that internal wonderment, little star….what are you, up there so high above the world?
The Psalm writer’s answer about the what of up there comes early in the prayer; verse two is filled with the pictures of our questions about time and God’s eternity.  He opens up for us his heart of faith towards God and, in praise declares God’s hand created it all.  He proclaims, Before YOU, JHWH, Jehovah God – before YOU formed the earth…(90:2b)  The word[2] “formed” suggests Jeremiah’s potter-God twisting the clay on the wheel as it whirls under his hands. 
He finishes his statement with a phrase that empties our paltry little imaginations:  from everlasting to everlasting, YOU are God.  “Everlasting” is literally the concealed place…a vanishing point on the horizon.[3]  We know we can’t see ahead in time – we can only speculate where tomorrow will take us; but as we look backward our vision disappears at fossils and   scientific guesses on the earth and universe’s age. 
With Wesley we imagine this fragment of “everlasting” which we call time-past and time-future.  And here we are, locked in this time-present, in-between the eternities of past and future.
Frankly, it’s comparing our time with God’s eternity that creates in me awe (and sometimes scares the stuffing out of me).  Here we are in this moment of time; there God is, and was, and is to be.  In Revelation, the beloved apostle gave us a glimpse of the worship scene in Heaven, and about the ever-existential God:
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.  8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”                Revelation 4:6-8 (NRSV)
God is eternal, having existed in himself before anything.  In the Christian Scriptures, James, the brother of our Lord said that our life (by comparison) is like a vapor, a wisp of smoke.  By comparison with God we are here today and gone tomorrow like a dandelion in the puff of a morning’s breeze.  John Wesley compared our ephemeral brevity in this life to that of a fly[4].  Most ephemerons are born in the evening; six hours later, like Cinderella, they leave this ball and are gone. 
Threescore and ten may seem like a long time to live, but compared to the broken ends of eternity, it’s hardly a blip on the radar!  The Psalmist sums up the funeral eulogy in two verses:
·        Verse 5 – we “appear” like renewed grass, winter rye[5].
·        Verse 6 – we “flourish” as the Hebrew word suggests we “twinkle”[6] like the little star in the children’s song…a quick and bright sliding-by in this life.
·        Verse 6 – we “fade” off the scene, withered or “cut short”[7]
To carry this grass metaphor, we germinate, we gleam then we’re gone!  Two verses; end of story!  Pretty depressing, eh?
But, is that what God’s purpose is all about?                                                         Here today; gone tomorrow?  Not by a long shot!
The Purpose of Paradise Lost
If you remember Milton’s “paradise” scenario, he wrote of Eden, and how Adam and Eve fell to the snare of sin.  Eden was a paradise…full of good; full of God.  Then selfish ambition grew its own fruit and man was ejected from the garden; paradise lost! 
God’s first family was full of excuses – Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the serpent; but God still said “what have YOU done?”  Paradise lost!
Now, it’s easy to get rather frustrated or fatalistic if this is where the story ends.  There have been many reactions through the millennia:
·        Anger – people turn their backs on God regularly in an effort to demonstrate just how unfair God is (if He really exists).  This is the moral equivalent of a two year old throwing a tantrum because the Burger King philosophy didn’t work for him…he couldn’t have it his way!
·        Avoidance people refuse to think about eternity and God.  The subject is shrugged off –these are like the Epicureans – “let’s eat drink and be merry…tomorrow we die”.  The implication is that they have no choice, or they act as if there is no eternity.  (It IS an act, you know…deep down they know better).
·        Apoplexy – depression, despair, becoming demoralized.  “Oh, it’s all set in fate….I can’t do anything about the future, woe, despair and agony on me.”  There’s just no purpose at all to life.
Friends, this is exactly the effect which was set as the Adversary’s target – that we would despair or get angry at God and avoid worshiping Him in Spirit and truth.  Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry held this to be true – that we are alone in this universe, and there is no purpose to life.  He was an incredibly intelligent man, and the world is indebted for his contribution to scientific exploration of the mind – but he did not understand his own existence, or why he existed; for him any idea of paradise was lost.
Yet, to borrow from Freud’s thinking, it is the wise person who seeks to truly understand himself.  The thoughtful understand themselves, in that we should listen to that inner-understanding which tells us we’re all created in the image of Almighty God; eternal Almighty God. 
As another great mind, Paul Tillich said, The wise heart is the heart which does not try to hide this from itself, which does not try to escape into a false security or a false cynicism.[8]
The Purpose of Paradise Regained
The evidence of eternity-past forces us to consider eternity-forward.  This is the “what you are” of “twinkle, twinkle little star”.  And, in this case, the “what you are” is taken by faith. 
One preacher wrote about the middle verses of this psalm, about how God is the one who sweeps us away in death after our sixty or seventy years, “…the psalm arrives at the conclusion (judgment?) that all of human life passes under God’s judgment – ‘we are consumed by your anger…our years come to an end like a sigh.’”[9]
The Psalmist prays that God’s work would be manifest to him.  This is the point of understanding the “what you are” in “twinkle twinkle”.  The Psalmist really wants to know – to see God’s purpose in whatever God’s hand is doing on earth and in the universe.  He doesn’t want to be an ostrich, burying our head in the nearest sand hole.
Paradise regained means seeing the work of God.  Again, Paul Tillich said, “Christianity is based on this message: God [in Christ] subjecting Himself to transitoriness and wrath, in order to be with us.”[10]  Paradise was regained at the incarnation and on the cross – this was the work of God made manifest to us.  We accept this by faith, or we will never truly grasp any purpose in life. 
Thomas Aquinas said, To the one who has faith [in Christ] no explanation is necessary; to one without faith, no explanation is possible.  All of life is totally meaningless without God and Christ reconciling his creation to Himself.
So – Examination Time
Two questions for people of faith; are you a person of faith?  Take the quiz:

1.     With life so short, am I prepared for eternity?

The Psalmist prayed this prayer; he asked God to establish the work of his hands (see v.17).  The word “establish” means to stand erect[11].  He was praying, God, make sure what I do, and who I am stands the test of time.  A companion word in the Christian Scripture is resurrection, “to stand again”.  This is one of the pictures of new life, where those asleep are awakened.
In Acts 3 Peter preached the great Pentecost sermon, telling people to repent and avoid destruction.  He was preparing them for eternity.  
What is it like to repent?  It is a change of heart about sin; it is a change of heart that leads to a change of life towards Jesus.  It is more than being sorry.
In The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, the cartoon character Calvin says to his [imaginary] tiger friend, Hobbes, "I feel bad that I called Susie names and hurt her feelings.  I'm sorry I did it."
   "Maybe you should apologize to her," Hobbes suggests.  Calvin ponders this for a moment and replies, "I keep hoping there's a less obvious solution."[12]
Repentance is always the obvious solution.  God never yet has forgiven an excuse, or an intention; God forgives confessed sin.  When it comes to the sin in our lives there are some things that matter, and some things that don’t:
·     It doesn’t matter if you know it all if you refuse to confess
·     It doesn’t matter if you’ve served him well, if you’re stubborn now
·     It doesn’t matter if you’re not as bad as some, if you’re not better than Jesus
·     It doesn’t matter if you’re a good person, if you’re not saved.
Again, John Wesley couldn’t state this more strongly:
What then is he -- how foolish, how mad, in how unutterable a degree of distraction -- who, seeming to have the understanding of a man, deliberately prefers temporal things to eternal? Who (allowing that absurd, impossible opposition, that wickedness is happiness, -- a supposition utterly contrary to all reason, as well as to matter fact) prefers the happiness of a year, say a thousand years, to the happiness of eternity, in comparison of which, a thousand ages are infinitely less than a year, a day, a moment? Especially when we take this into the consideration, (which, indeed should never be forgotten,) that the refusing a happy eternity, implies the choosing of a miserable eternity:  For there is not, cannot be, any medium between everlasting joy and everlasting pain. It is a vain thought which some have entertained, that death will put an end to neither the one nor the other; it will only alter the manner of their existence. But when the body "returns to the dust as it was, the spirit will return to God that gave it." Therefore, at the moment of death, it must be unspeakably happy, or unspeakably miserable: And that misery will never  end…. "Thou art on the brink of either a happy or miserable eternity; thy Creator bids thee now stretch out thy hand either to the one or the other;" -- and one would imagine no rational creature could think on anything else. One would suppose that this single point would engross his whole attention. Certainly it ought so to do: Certainly, if these things are so, there can be but one thing needful. O let you and I, at least, whatever others do, choose that better part which shall never be taken away from us![13]
The first question when you think about God and eternity is, am I prepared to meet Him?
The second question comes in the shadow of the first, but has to do with the time you have here before seeing God in eternity:

With life so short and eternity so long, am I using my time well?

Again, this is tied to the Psalmist’s prayer that God would prosper the work of our hands 90.17   In Hebrew thought the very word “hand” means that hollow space between fingers and wrist – it means an open hand.  This is a good picture for answering the question about how we’re using our allotted time on earth. 
There are many things you can do with an open hand.  What the Psalmist has in mind when he prays “let the favor [beauty] of the Lord our God be upon us…” is that we would be like God.  God has an open hand to give.  His hand is also open to receive our worship.  We are to be like that – opening our hands to receive, so we can pass on to others.
This is a picture of what is earlier(verse 14) in the Psalmist’s prayer about showering Israel with God’s ‘steadfast love’.  Chesed (kheh'-sed[14]) is God’s lovingkindness.  It was part of His covenant with Israel.  The Psalmist prays, God, once you promised to love us with extreme mercy; please remember and do that again.  What’s implied is….we need it big-time!
God had also cautioned Israel that to receive that kind of mercy, you must be willing to extend that kind of mercy to others.  Receive and give; you can only do that with an open hand.
So…twinkle, twinkle, little star….now we know just what You are – full of an open hand of mercy and kindness, ready to receive the kind of worship only your people can give.
Our prayer today, then, should be, Lord, our hands are open and lifted up; fill them with your mercy and lovingkindness so we can go bless this neighborhood, and unto the uttermost ends of the earth.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!

[1] John Wesley, On Eternity, Sermon #54, 1872 Edition, (Thomas Jackson, Ed.)
[2] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, © 2003חִיל חוּל chûl chı̂yl khool, kheel A primitive root; properly to twist or whirl (in a circular or spiral manner)
[3] Ibid., עֹלָם עוֹלָם ‛ôlâm ‛ôlâm o-lawm', o-lawm' From H5956; properly concealed, that is, the vanishing point
[4] John Wesley, On Eternity, Sermon #54, 1872 Edition, (Thomas Jackson, Ed.)
[5] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, ©2003   חָלַף  châlaph khaw-laf' primitive root; properly to             slide by…(by implication) to hasten away, pass on, spring up
[6]Ibid., ©2003 צוּץ tsûts tsoots A primitive root; to twinkle
[7] Ibid., ©2003 מוּל mûl mool A primitive root; to cut short, that is, curtail
[8] The Shaking of the Foundations by Paul Tillich, Chapter 8: On the Transitoriness of Life This material was prepared for Religion Online by John Bushell
[9] Rolf Jacobson, Luther Seminary, Commentary on Psalm, 10/11/09, on The Working
[10] The Shaking of the Foundations by Paul Tillich, Chapter 8: On the Transitoriness of Life This material was prepared for Religion Online by John Bushell
[11]Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, ©2003   כּוּן kûn koon  A primitive root; properly to be erect (that is, stand perpendicular);.
[12] Norm Langston, Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
[13] John Wesley, John Wesley, On Eternity, Sermon #54, 1872 Edition, (Thomas Jackson, Ed.)
[14] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, ©2003   חֵסֵד chêsêd kheh'-sed steadfast love or lovingkindness

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