Today is Trinity Sunday. It always follows the celebration of Pentecost, 8 weeks after Easter you would often hear an exposition of Trinitarian theology.
But in the fine tradition of the Protestant Reformation, Ill divert from tradition and today Ill only briefly refer to the Trinity and focus on part of a biblical text that seems more topical for us today.
When the liturgists of ancient Israel put the collection of Psalms together, one weeks worth of Psalms were placed to begin it with prayers, pleas for salvation and deliverance, with a poem of wisdom celebrating the law of God as its opening piece.
When we come to Psalm 8, here is the first hymn of praise to God and it tells us some very important things about the one to whom all these prayers are made. The Lord God is the cosmic sovereign whose majesty is seen in all of creation. The Psalmist also makes some incredible affirmations about the place of us humans in the context of God and creation; "what are human being that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God" (or the divine beings often translated "angels") "and crowned them with honour and glory"
Now I think this is a wonderful piece, and Im tempted to wax lyrical about the beauty of the poetry and the magnificent ideas expressed in such richly polished form, but, as the psalm itself says, apt praise seems to come even from the mouths of babes and infants. So instead I want to contrast the image of reality developed for us here with some images of reality from our world today.
In our state, in Victoria, this week and for weeks now, our leaders grapple and argue about what to do to respond to the corruption that besets our police. Gangland killings, payback murders, police on the take, leaked reports, murdered informers. This is a sick and sorry world, a human world not reflecting much glory and honour.
Psalm 8 says, "You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet" - but what are we doing with our God given power?
All too often we take what is given and replace gratitude to the giver with arrogance, taking the place of God to ourselves.
In our society today we suffer one of the worst suicide rates amongst young people of any country in the world. Healthcare professionals talk of one in three of us suffering a mental illness in the course of our lives and depression being like the common cold of mental illness now.
I dont want to make cheap or glib claims about a complex and sensitive area that is not my expertise but dont these stark realities speak volumes about our society, about the way we dont value each and every member.
Is each one valued "just a little lower than God", crowned with honour and glory"? Instead we so value success and achievement, an ideal of beauty and purpose that when even top performers can no longer keep up, many of them suffer terribly. What hope do the rest of us "also rans" have in such a system? What are human beings that God is mindful of us surely, in Gods sight we are much more than we often give ourselves credit for.
"Made a little lower than God, crowned with glory and honour." But how do we treat eachother?
Today Palestinains are fenced out of land they have owned and occupied for generations. Sudanese villagers massacred because of their faith in a decades long civil war.
And the behaviour of the "civilized West" in places like Iraq? Is the God given glory and honour of each respected and valued? Do we even respect humanitarian bodies like the Red Cross and Amnesty International any more when they might give unfavourable news?
There is a sickness in our world.
In some ways it is the same sickness that has always been there. The theological diagnosis for the general condition is known as "sin", but that word has had its meaning trivialized and its impact marginalized.
I believe that the contrast between the world view of the Psalm and what we too often see around us can be defined more sharply with another old Biblical term. It is idolatry that we suffer from.
In the world of the Psalm, God is sovereign and majestic, it is God who gives all and God to whom the thanks and praise is given in heartfelt gratitude. More and more in our world we are at the centre, it is we who give or take, we who honour or fail to honour and we who have slipped ourselves into the role of God taking, Gods place. No higher authority, no ultimate values to measure against; "what the law allows must be right" and what can be gotten away with is the new standard. We idolize our own power, our own values of success and wonder then why some of us run amok or run of the rails. Read through some of the other pages of these Hebrew scriptures and it is crystal clear that idolatry putting something else in Gods place, never has healthy consequences.
Too much of the negative though!
The other side of the contrast must be held up to the light, examined, learned from more than it is.
This Biblical poet distils the wisdom of Hebrew tradition;
God is everything, Gods glory above the heavens, spoken by the mouths of babes, silencing the enemy and the avenger. And then in comparison what is a human?
A finite speck, a limited and imperfect being, small and insignificant NO!
No, somehow in the unfathomable wisdom of the creator we are made only a little lower than God and we are crowned with honour and glory, given stewardship over the resources so generously entrusted to us.
And then, like the Psalmist we too are invited to respond with awe and wonder, with praise and gratitude to God the giver. Praise is a very healthy exercise. To praise means to place value outside of ourselves, the very action of praise is an antidote to this temptation of self idolization.
When I trained as a teacher, we were constantly reminded that praise was at least three times more effective in helping guide students in the right way than criticism or rebuke.
Praise is effective when we give it to each other as well.
When we praise, it is by giving a measured compliment, but praise of God, in the Psalm, is given voice by the heavens, by the innocents, is seen in the heavens and in all creation.
These praises are not meted out in measured form, they are true expressions welling out from the core of their being.
Its not, "gee God you did a nice job on that corner of creation", but the awed "wow", the exclamation beyond words in the face of incredible beauty or humbling honour. And to praise God is to recognise an ultimate authority, outside of our own judgement, which we so sorely need in our present time.
But thankfully this is not something we have to do on our own. Having the right attitude, saying the right things all the time, feeling gratitude and expressing praise is often beyond us, God knows that! And its for just that reason that we hear Jesus reassuring his worried disciples in the gospel reading for today, that they wont be left have to achieve it by themselves. Jesus promises the presence of his Spirit the guide, to keep us on the right track, the spirit of truth to help us be true, the one who gives glory where it is due. Is not this what we really need, more than anything else, and need it now, at least as much as ever?
Praise be to the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit!