1 Praise the LORD, my soul, O praise him! LORD my God, you are so great! 2 Wrapped in light as with a garment, clothed in majesty and state. Like a tent he spreads the heavens, 3 and above the waters there Sets the framework of his dwelling, making it an upper layer.
He makes clouds of heav’n his chariot; on the wings of wind he rides. 4 He makes flames of fire his servants; winds obey what he decides. 5 He set earth on its foundations, so that it should never move; 6 Then the deep submerged the mountains till the waters stood above.
7 But when you rebuked the waters, at your thunder they took flight; 8 They receded to the valleys, flowing down the mountains’ height To the place that you appointed. 9 You set bounds to their domain, So that never will the waters overwhelm the land again.
10 God makes springs pour down the valleys. Streams that flow from every hill 11 Quench the thirst of all his creatures, and wild donkeys drink their fill. 12 Birds sing sweetly in the branches, nesting by the riverside. 13 From above, the earth is watered, by God’s bounty satisfied.
14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, plants for man to cultivate— Bringing from the earth its produce, food for all mankind to eat: 15 Wine that to man’s constitution joy and gladness will impart, Oil that makes the face resplendent, bread that fortifies the heart.
16 Blessed with water are the forests— trees which to the LORD belong, Mighty cedars that he planted on the heights of Lebanon. 17 Birds reside among the cedars; storks upon the pine trees nest. 18 Wild goats live among high mountains; conies in the crags find rest.
19 See the moon that marks the seasons; to its setting moves the sun. 20 You send darkness, night approaches; foraging has now begun. 21 Lions roar throughout the forest, while from God they seek their prey; 22 Comes the sun, they slink back homewards. 23 Man goes out to toil all day.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland sing this to Hyfrydol (Alleluia Sing to Jesus) here or to the tune All that Thrills here.
I still remember it: the smell of poor quality air at Heathrow Airport. It came as a shock, as until then I was used to breathing New Zealand air. I had contributed to that poor-quality air by flying 12,000 miles by jet aircraft! What I did not know then, but know now, is that the Carbon Dioxide emitted on that, and other, journeys was contributing to the Greenhouse Effect that was beginning to change the Earth’s atmosphere; and that, in turn, would begin to raise the average global temperature. I now know that motorized travel and industrialization exacts an environmental cost. A changing climate forms part of the lens through which I now interpret Psalm 104.
This Psalm is a poem of praise to God as Creator and a celebration of the goodness of God’s Creation. First, the Psalmist praises God for his character and attributes. God’s greatness, honour and majesty are evoked as poetic images drawn from the natural world: God wears light as a garment, the heavens are his tent, the clouds are his chariot, and the winds are his messengers. These natural forces and energies serve God’s good purposes and reveal his character as a generous Creator.
Second, the Psalmist celebrates the wondrous variety of God’s created works: mountains, valleys, life-giving water, donkeys, birds, cattle, grass, plants, grain, wine, oil, trees, goats, lions, and humans. Karl Barth comments that this Psalm reveals a God who preserves all living things ‘within their limits’. The challenge of a changing climate begs the question: will humans learn to live within sustainable limits and in harmony with God’s Creation? Let us resolve to live in partnership with our Creator, and ‘Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care’ (Shirley Erena Murray).
O God our great and generous Creator, clothed in glorious light, you have spoken Creation into being and call all created energies to serve your good purposes. As you preserve all life in its wondrous variety, help us to respect our environment and fellow-creatures by living within sustainable limits. Inspire us to treat the Earth not as a resource to be exploited but as a gift to be cherished, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Rev’d Julian Templeton, Minister, St John’s URC, New Barnet.
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