There is a wonderful movie about the composer Mozart titled, Amedeus. One of the many things I like about this movie is the insight it gives into the creative process of Mozart. The category of genius is overused today, but in Mozart’s case, it was well deserved. The movie shows Mozart walking down the street and listening to the sounds around him or being lectured by his mother-in-law and then the sounds he hears become transformed into a piece of music he writes. He wrote down the music he heard without having to make corrections. The music was all in his head. He had no rough drafts. Amazing!
In the movie, after performing one of his operas, the emperor complained that there were too many notes for his ear. “There are only so many notes the ear is capable of hearing,” said the emperor. “Which note would you like to remove,” replied an agitated Mozart. “To take any one note out of my opera would ruin it completely.” [The dialogue is taken from memory and is not exactly as it was stated in the film.]
That is the creative artist as he views his creation. The greater the artist, the greater and more perfect the creation. The greater the creation, the more worthy of praise it is.
In the Genesis account of creation, seven times God pronounces his work as being good.
vs 4 God saw that the light was good,
vs 9 God created land and sea
And God saw that it was good.
vs 12 God created plants
And God saw that it was good.
vs 18 God created the sun, moon and stars; seasons, years and days
And God saw that it was good.
vs 21 God created sea creatures and birds
And God saw that it was good.
vs 25 God created animals
And God saw that it was good.
God created man and looked over all he had created and in vs 31
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
God, in this Genesis account of creation is portrayed as the great artist admiring his handiwork. God creates, looks back on what he has made and decides he likes what he has created. When he is finished and looks over all he has created, he decides he is delighted with his creation.
This Genesis account of creation is a hymn to the creator. It is a hymn of praise. Creation itself bears witness to the greatness and goodness of God. This is true in the Psalms as well as the Psalmists often looked to creation when they wrote their psalms of praise.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
Over and over God is described in terms of his creation, the seas, the heavens. In Job, when an answer is needed to the problem of evil and suffering, it is a description of God’s creation, 122 verses of God’s creativity and knowledge and power, that is given. The answer to Job’s problem of evil and suffering is to lift up his head and praise God. We are taught, in the Scriptures, that in all situations, good or bad, we are to look to God’s creation to lift our spirits and praise him.
Praising God, as the creation account in Genesis does, is presented to us as the course of wisdom. The concept of wisdom evolved over the period of Biblical history but at its core was the understanding that wisdom was the pursuit and appreciation of God.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
To him belongs eternal praise.
The name most associated with wisdom of any Biblical figure is King Solomon and in I Kings 4, there is a fascinating description of Solomon’s wisdom.
I Kings 4
29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five.
This first part sounds like Solomon’s publicity agent, giving the credentials of Solomon’s wisdom: how famous he was, how many proverbs and songs he wrote. Then in verse 33, there is a description of the content and substance of Solomon’s wisdom. What would you expect that to be? That he knew of God’s righteousness and the importance of obedience? A description of the sin of pride and the need for humility? Listen to what the writer of I Kings describes as the content of Solomon’s wisdom:
He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34 Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.
To be wise is to study and learn from God’s creation.
24 How many are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
I have been impressed, as I have read the biographies of some of the most intelligent and pious of the saints of our faith, how many were absorbed in the study of nature: identifying and observing plants and insects and birds and other animals.
The study of God’s creation is the course of wisdom and a spiritual act. We learn about God by reading our Bibles and praying but we learn as well by studying biology and zoology and astronomy and physics.
There are two extremes in regard to spirituality and God’s creation. On one side are extreme Christian pietists who deny the value of creation and insist on pure devotion to God. On the other side are pure secularists who deny any spiritual presence in the universe. One denies the creation and the other denies God.
But both are essential. God and his creation are inseparable.
Do you doubt this? Consider the Incarnation of Christ, the long awaited Messiah. God was born a man. God was given the body of a man made from the dust of the earth. The plants and animals eaten by Mary made their way into the baby in Mary’s womb. Jesus ate plants and animals and grew in wisdom and stature. Jesus was made of the molecules of this world.
If there was ever any doubt of the holiness of creation, this Incarnation shattered those doubts.
Christians do not believe creation is holy for the reason Hindus and Buddhists do. We do not believe God is in the stone or the tree or an animal. Christians believe creation is holy because God created and blessed his creation.
Let me lay out a few implications of all this.
1. You are God’s creation and when he made you he blessed you with his benediction. He looked at you and saw that what he had made was good.
It does not really matter what the world thinks of you or says about you. It does not matter how the world views you. It does not matter whether your body type matches what the world says a body should be like. God looks at you, his creation, and he is delighted. He thinks you are wonderful.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Pray that God will help you to see yourself with his eyes. When you look at yourself with God’s eyes, you will see how fearfully and wonderfully made, how marvelous indeed is his creation.
2. God created us as sensual beings in a sensual world. When God made the world, he made a world in color, not just black & white. He made a world with spices that are sweet, salty, savory, piquant and tangy. He made a world with melodies and symphonies in the calls of the animal world and the movement of wind through his creation. He made a world that has odors. And he made a world with texture.
God made a sensual world and he made us sensual beings who can appreciate his sensual world. Why were we given rods and cones in our eyes to see color? Why were we given taste buds that can distinguish between all the tastes of God’s creation? Why were we created with a brain that resonates with harmonic sounds? Why were we given noses that can distinguish between the smell of fresh baked bread and a rose? Why were we given sensitivity in our skin that allows us to be sensitive to the soft caresses of someone we love and the feel of grass between our toes.
When God created us he created pleasure. God created us as sensual beings so we could experience pleasure. CS Lewis wrote about pleasure as having the function of being a foretaste of the delights of heaven.
There are Christians who shrink from pleasure as though it originated from Satan. For these Christians, pleasure is to be avoided. Pleasure works against spirituality. But this is clearly not the case.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Eat honey, my son, for it is good;
honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.
14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul;
if you find it, there is a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.
II Corinthians 2
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
The images of spiritual life are filled with sensuality.
Rather than fear and avoid pleasure, Christians are to embrace it.
Let me read a quote from Phil Yancy’s latest book, Soul Survivor:
It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never even seen a book on ‘the problem of pleasure’. Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around shaking his or her head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question – the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians. On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier. A good and loving God would naturally want his creatures to experience delight, joy and personal fulfillment. Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?
Pleasure is a problem for secularists and atheists but not for Christians. For Christians, pleasure is evidence of a loving God.
3. Be careful you do not get cut off from the material world. As you distance yourself from the material world, you begin to loose touch with God. This is one of the dangers of technology.
A child can spend the day exploring in the garden or a forest or a lake, river or sea and learn about God’s creation. Dams can be built in streams. Insects can be caught and examined. Birds can be observed building nests and learning to fly. Snails can be observed leaving a trail in the sand of the ocean as they make their way. Sea urchins and other sea life can be observed in tide pools. Or a child can spend the day playing video games and watching TV.
I am not anti-technological. Advances in technology are wonderful and I am all for technological progress. But there is a huge spiritual loss when we disconnect from our material world.
If you spend a lot of time in chat rooms, creating alternate identities who interact with others in the chat room, perhaps representing themselves or perhaps themselves alternate identities, you are in danger of losing your spirituality.
The real world is important. The real world is better than any world you can crate. Your alternate universe is no substitute for the world God made. To keep your hands and senses and mind in God’s material world is a necessary part of spiritual life.
4. As a way of summing up all we have talked about, let me talk about food.
When God created man and woman, he created hungry beings. In the Genesis account of creation, after creating man, we read this:
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
I don’t have time to talk to you about why this is not a text that tells us that in Eden, before sin entered the world, we were meant to be vegetarians. The Sunday School class can take that up later. But for now, notice this, God creates a whole world of food, a metaphorical banquet table loaded with delicious things to eat and tells man that it is for him to eat.
From the beginning of the Bible to the end, food plays a prominent part. In Exodus, God told Moses that on the eve of their departure from Egypt, they should prepare a meal and that each year to come, Israel should commemorate its freedom from oppression with this Passover meal. We at RPF have shared this Passover Seder meal together and those of you who have done so know how important the senses are in that meal as we remember God’s hand in deliverance.
When God gave instructions to Israel on how to use their tithe, those instructions included buying food and drink to share with those in need.
The first miracle of Jesus occurred at a wedding banquet when he changed water into wine.
Twice in his ministry, he fed crowds who came to hear him teach by multiplying just a few fish and loaves of bread into more than enough for everyone.
Holy Communion, which we celebrate each month here at RPF was instituted at a Passover Seder meal. We eat and drink to remember what Christ did for us.
After the resurrection of Jesus, he met them on the shore of Galilee and spoke marvelous words of invitation to them. Come and have breakfast and they ate a meal of fish.
And what is the promise that awaits us when we are taken up into heaven?
On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
9 Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’”
It is amazing how many of the major events of the Bible are associated with eating food.
Why did God create us as beings who need to eat and drink to survive? Why did he not create us so we could use some variation of photosynthesis to receive our nourishment. All we would have to do is stand out in the sun a couple hours a day and we would be fine.
But God created us as creatures who eat and a world that feeds us. Our need for food connects us to this material world.
When we eat, we should make it a spiritual event. Meals are meant to be eaten in community. Morocco does this well with tajines and couscous on a plate in the middle of the table with all sitting around and eating together. The French do this well with raclette and fondu where the meal is prepared and eaten together in community.
Fast-food meals eaten on the run or a microwave meal gobbled in front of the TV are anti-community and add nothing to our spiritual lives.
A family or group of friends who gather to cook together and eat together, sitting around talking with a cup of coffee or tea after the meal, that is a spiritual event that builds us together in community.
When we eat, we need to use our senses. Meals should be delicious. God gave us spices and we should delight in our use of them. When we eat, we should delight in the smells that arise, in the colors of the food. We should savor the taste of what we eat. Eating takes time and should not be rushed.
Like all of God’s creation, food can be abused by sin and turned into gluttony. But I am not talking about consuming mass quantities of food. I’m talking about celebrating in what God created.
The pleasure of a good meal is a foretaste of the celebration that will be ours when we come to the heavenly wedding supper and it is appropriate that this afternoon we will have the opportunity to have that foretaste as we gather for a potluck meal with our community of faith here in Rabat.
You may have noticed that I have a geranium in front of me. This is a creeping geranium that has a beautiful pink flower. I wish you could each have a flower this morning and it is my assignment to you that this week you get one to take home and plant.
If you have a gardener, tell him to take a rest and put your plant in the soil yourself. If you live in an apartment, get a pot. You don’t need to pay a lot for a pot. Just get a plastic container and cut it with a knife to make a pot for your plant.
Don’t wear gloves. Feel the soil. Feel the life in the soil. Pick up your plant and notice how the leaves are arranged along the stem of the plant. Feel the leaves and observe the patterns on top and underneath the leaves. Examine the flower of the plant. Look closely at the pistil and stamen in the center of the flower. When you plant your flower, pack the soil in around it and then water it. Feel the mud with your fingers. Press down to get any pockets of air out of the soil.
Put your plant on a window sill or in your garden and watch how it grows. Watch how the leaves move toward the sunlight. Watch how new leaves begin and how buds develop into flowers. Feel the soil and when it is dry, water it. Nurture your plant and delight in its growth.
Let your plant remind you of your need to receive God’s benediction of his creation. Don’t worship your flowering plant but allow your observation of how it grows and your appreciation of its beauty to lift you in praise of its creator.
When I sat down, a mime (Argentinian) came up and began to look at the flower, do the things I had talked about. Then Michael Card’s Morning has Broken began to play and he continued to interact with the flower. He gave it to a woman in the congregation, then called up a woman mime (South African) who together found another flower. She gave it to a second person. Then they found a third and passed it out. At this point Starkindler (on the same CD of Michael Card) began to play and 6 youth from the church came up and went into a back room and brought out cases of geraniums and they were passed out so everyone received one. It was a joyous moment.