Psalm 8 • Micah 6:6-16 • John 8:1-11 • Acts 4:32-5:16
In the early 1980s a young musician/writer named Michael Smith wrote the song ‘How Majestic Is Your Name’ which was recorded, and made famous, by singer Sandi Patty. This very simple song, which has become a classic that is still used in contemporary and traditional worship services, chronicles the message of Psalm 8.
O Lord, our Lord how majestic is Your name in all the earth. O Lord, our Lord how majestic is Your name in all the earth. O Lord, we praise Your name. O Lord, we magnify Your name, Prince of peace, mighty God, O Lord, God AlmightyMichael W. Smith
The Psalmist, in writing this Psalm, connects creation and the present. Psalm 8 speaks of things as they were created to be. Beautiful and harmonious, a strong connection between God’s creation and the humans he created. It is a painted picture of God’s gift to us of life and creation.
The Psalm speaks of the creation of humans who were created ‘a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor’ (remember that ‘glory’ is living out the life and words of Jesus – being witness) and given dominion over all of creation. While this thread between creation and the present is a hope for a perfect symbiotic relation, the truth is that, as we see in all of creation involving humans, this perfect picture is not what we have seen play out.
A problem with our hearing of Psalm 8, as with so many other biblical texts, may be our affluence. Most of us are so used to being more or less well off and more or less comfortable that we have difficulty hearing the text from the margin, from the perspective of the underdog or the endangered. The result is not only confusion, but potentially destructive misuse. The issue in Psalm 8, as in Genesis 1 to which it refers, is the relationship between humanity (us!) and the rest of creation. The psalm sings the old creation story into the present, rejoicing again in being made “little less than divine”, which means having “dominion” over the works of God’s hands, over all creation. Creation is not merely a one-time act “in the beginning,” but an ongoing work and gift of God that makes us realize ever anew “how majestic is your name in all the earth.” The problem, as we have heard often, is that one generation’s “dominion” becomes a later generation’s exploitation, and woe to the earth and woe to us if we think the psalms gives us license to do whatever is now in our power to ravish the earth and use up its resources.Fred Gaiser, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn.
This was one of the problems Charles Darwin had with the teachings of the church. There would be a focus on the beauty and harmony of God’s creation yet, when he as a scientist took a serious and deep look at the creation, while it was harmonious, that harmony was/is often brutal and far from beautiful.
Is this a call to just throw away a message of beauty and harmony in creation? Is this our catalyst to forget the idea of God and creation completely?
It is a call, as it is anytime there seems to be a conflict with truth and reality, to keep searching and to keep seeking. Mathematicians don’t quit math when they can’t solve an equation, nor are we to give up when something does not seem to make sense. We keep seeking truth and searching for truth.
A few helps in this continuation of searching:
First, notice that the climax of the Psalm is actually a question, ‘what are human beings that you, God, are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?’ (v. 4). We see that the poetic nature of the Psalm is not really about the dynamics of the science of creation but rather the fact that the creation is a continuous gift from the creator himself to humans, to us.
Second, while some take this word ‘dominion’ to interpret such words as license to use and abuse, the Psalm actually creates the setting where we, human with dominion, are surrounded by the creation which constantly, if our focus is correct, points us to the creator, to God.
Third, always remember the whole of truth when seeking to understand just a section of the truth. Look at Psalm 72, in which this same message of the beauty of creation is given. This similar passage, however, focuses on the perfect King, ruler, that sets the example of living God’s plan for humans in creation. This is also the introduction of have of Jesus, in the synogogue in Galilee, as he reads from the book of Isaiah explaining the mission and calling of the coming Messiah.
‘For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.’Psalm 72:12-14
How, then, do we live, as humans a little lower than God, is the question….the answer begins as we recognize the creator. Take a moment to step outside and remember.
We looked at this passage in January of this year as we spent time with the prophet Micah. Here is the context you were given at that time:
Micah is a prophet speaking largely to the area of Samaria (Northern Kingdom) shortly before it falls to the Assyrians (the conquering of the Southern Kingdom, Judea which includes Jerusalem, will fall to the Babylonians next). Micah’s message accompanies the messages of Isaiah and Jeremiah and shares the same themes. The message of Micah alternates between judgement and hope, condemnation and correction. The mode of the message is one of a courtroom where God is the prosecutor presenting the case against the people. In chapter six, God confronts the case of the people who are making a claim of mistreatment by an unjust and unmerciful God. God responds (rhetorically and somewhat sarcastically) by asking if it was the fact that he rescued them from slavery in Egypt or that he shielded them from the curse of Balak and Balaam (see Numbers 22) that offends them most. God explains to the people that he is not looking for the religiosity or sacrifices that their false gods demand – practices and sacrifices that include sacrificing their children. God, instead, calls on the people to change the way they look at life and how they live life. In verse eight God sets a new (and old) base line for the people, a base line that calls on the people to act in a way that is just, kind, and humble (three very competing human emotions and characteristics).
In the preceding chapter that leads into the focus story of chapter 8 we see a very enlightening dialogue between the temple police, who had been sent to arrest Jesus, and the religious leaders who had sent them. The police had returned without Jesus and are quickly interrogated as to why they have not arrested Jesus.
The temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you?John 7:45-48
Jesus was often labeled as a ‘liberal’, an unhinged radical who was speaking and acting in a way that was very unbecoming to a religious leader. His very message, not to mention his life, was an offense to the leadership of the religious institution. Jesus was a challenge to the leaders, a challenge to their control and power, a challenge to their privileged position, and mostly Jesus was different, an uncomfortable ‘different’ that they could not understand.
Established, privileged, and comfortable religious people, along with established, privileged, and comfortable political people, do not like the lives and action of people who are different. It is hard to like, and live with, people who are ‘different’. We prefer everyone to be the same, to be the same as ‘our same’.
This story of the aggravated and uncomfortable leaders to the reason for not arresting Jesus given by the police sets up the next aggravating and uncomfortable situation between Jesus and another group of established, privileged, and comfortable men. A woman, who had been found guilty of adultery, was about to be stoned to death by this mob of established, privileged, and comfortable men. Since the other guilty party to the adultery is not present, or even accused in this moment, we assume that the woman was actually guilty of two sins, adultery and of being a woman.
Ironically, this story is not really about the woman, it is about the mob, the condemning group of people who have taken it upon themselves to judge and condemn this woman. It is actually a moment of a transformational opportunity for the crowd as Jesus turns the topic back to the accusers asking them to turn their own judgment inwards, to recognize their own need for redemption. It was their opportunity to recognize that their calling is not to judge, nor is it to condemn, it is to love, to encourage, to show mercy, and act, at the same time in a just manner – meaning they don’t get to pick and choose the sins they judge and the sins they commit. This is why they (and ‘we’) are not tasked with judging or condemning.
We only see one person that seems to experience that transformation in that moment, the woman. Everyone else disappeared when given the call of transformation. Jesus tells the woman that, just as her accusers have left without following through on their judgement and sentence, he does not condemn her either.
Frequently Christians, especially preachers, will make sure to point out that Jesus’ final word to the woman is: ‘do not sin anymore.’ We often take this to mean that it is our obligation to point out the restrictions placed on a transformed soul – not true. Jesus, in this moment, is speaking to a human who has been experienced standing before God. It is God’s desire to lead us away from the things that ‘steal, kill, and destroy’ and instead to lead us to life.
‘Go and sin no more,’ was not a warning given by another judgmental and condemning human, it was words of life given by a savior who was about to make the ultimate self sacrifice for this woman.
It was a supernatural time in the life of the early believers of Jesus Christ. Not long after Pentecost we see this group of people, whose only connection to each other was Jesus, now living out a self sacrificing love for each other naturally mimicking the actions and words of Jesus Christ. Automatically, they wanted to learn and understand about Jesus, and even more naturally, we see this sacrificial actions of love for each other, and Jesus, flowing from them. They had not lost their excitement for the resurrection and the life.
In the midst of this we see something about humanity. Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple who had become a part of the church who had lost their focus. It could be that it was the excitement of the beginning that attracted them to this group of people, the church, but that excitement began to wane, it had become ordinary. It could be that, in the beginning, they truly believed but as they began the sacrificial attitude of the group, and the response that sacrifice brought, these two began to be jealous. Regardless of their original motivation, now they had turned back to their old was of thinking and living, they wanted to be recognized and proclaimed. This may have been their next ‘excitement’ replacing the original impact of the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, they didn’t want to actually make the sacrifices that were bringing the attention to the others. So they lied, and then they died.
The verses that follow, after this story, point to the continued Holy Spirit work in the church. The believers had not been fazed by this unfortunate moment with Ananias and Sapphira, the other believers had not returned to their own ways of thinking and living.