The recent images coming from the new James Webb Space Telescope are absolutely breathtaking. Image after image reveals new stars, planetary systems, and galaxies that we never knew existed. Having this new lens into the possibilities of our multiverse is yet another indication of the majesty of God’s creation. NASA references the “Big Bang theory” in its explanation of what we are seeing and how all of it was formed. I believe that … I believe that God said, “BANG!” and it was so! With one word from God, all of creation came into being.
In our scripture today, Nehemiah wrote a liturgical prayer that expresses how God’s Big Bang was understood by people who didn’t even have a rudimentary telescope to look through. (The word “liturgical” relates to any part of a public worship experience.) With the naked eye, Nehemiah perceived not just heaven, but the heaven of heavens, and the heavenly forces. When I look at the picture below from the James Webb Telescope, I think Nehemiah’s description was amazingly accurate:
Nehemiah 9 (Common English Bible)
You alone are the Lord.
You alone made heaven, even the heaven of heavens, with all their forces.
You made the earth and all that is on it, and the seas and all that is in them.
You preserve them all, and the heavenly forces worship you.
Having ascribed the wonder of creation to the Creator, Nehemiah goes on to tell the story of God’s interaction with his people. Covenants, promises, signs, wonders, and God’s deliverance are part of Nehemiah’s liturgy of praise:
7 Lord God, you are the one who chose Abram.
You brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham.
8 You found him to be faithful before you,
and you made a covenant with him.
You promised to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites,
the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and the Girgashites.
And you have kept your promise because you are righteous.
9 You saw the affliction of our ancestors in Egypt
and heard their cry at the Reed Sea.
10 You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh,
all his servants, and the people of his land.
You knew that they had acted arrogantly against our ancestors.
You made a name for yourself, a name that is famous even today.
11 You divided the sea before them so that they went through it on dry land.
But you cast their pursuers into the depths,
as a stone into the mighty waters.
12 With a pillar of cloud you led them by day
and with a column of lightning by night;
they lit the way in which the people should go.
Any good praise liturgy includes the importance of the law and the commandments:
13 You came down upon Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven.
You gave them proper judgments and true Instruction,
good statutes and commandments.
And let us not forget the importance of the sabbath. This is a place to pause today and ask if we honor the sabbath as we have been instructed. Do you take time out of your crazy week to worship? Do you stop to rest? Do you sit in God’s presence? I fear many of us do not allow ourselves this prescribed respite from the overly busy tempo of our lives. God created the sabbath for us! Are you neglecting this gift?
14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath,
and gave them commandments, statutes, and Instruction through your servant Moses.
God created all things for the blessing and benefit of his children. He provides bread, water, land, stars, planets, and everything we need … including his only son for our salvation.
15 When they were hungry, you gave them bread from heaven;
when they were thirsty, you brought water out of the rock for them.
You told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.
Tonight, when it gets dark, go outside and look up. God alone made all of this for you. May all creation rise up and say, “Amen!”