I remember once coming to a beach that seemed untouched. It was as if nobody had ever been there before - mine would be the first human footprints!
But then - a cigarette packet, a bottle top, a plastic bag, a drinking straw, a drink can... Not so untouched after all.
They talk about "footprints in the sands of time" - the impermanence of all we do. But when the footprints are gone, the litter remains!
Shakespeare had Mark Anthony saying,
Many people are determined to leave a mark on the world. You used to see their mark carved into soft stone, tree trunks, painted on fences... messages like "John was here", "M.K. loves J.S."... These days it may be the work of a spray can and a vacant wall or railway carriage - anywhere, in fact, that seems to invite the graffitist to make a statement for the rest of the world to see.
This week Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu died at the age of 87. We know her better simply as Mother Teresa of Calcutta who founded the Missionaries of Charity. Members of the order take four vows on acceptance by the religious community. Required in addition to the three basic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience is a fourth vow pledging service to the poor, whom Mother Teresa described as the embodiment of Christ. In a 1974 interview she said, "I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?" The community at present includes about 3,000 sisters of various nationalities who work on five continents.
She has certainly made her mark in the world, and in 1979 received the Nobel Peace Prize. Last year it is said that she told Prince Michael of Greece, "The other day, I dreamed that I was at the gates of heaven. And St. Peter said, 'Go back to Earth. There are no slums up here'." What an amazing lady!
God has left his mark - he created this world and there is evidence everywhere of his existence in his creative work. Writing to the Roman Christians, Paul said, "Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that he has made" (Rom. 1.20).
And that is the message of Psalm 19:
This is God's world. He created it. It reveals his glory. It shows what he has done.
Prior to his death in 1984, Paul Dirac was called "the world's greatest living physicist." His pioneering discoveries led to the Nobel Prize in physics in 1933 and led to the study of quantum mechanics. Called by some the equal of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, at age 30 he became the youngest person ever to hold a professorship at Cambridge University.
When Dirac was asked once why gravitational forces were getting weaker, he responded, "Why? Because God made it so." Dirac insisted that science and religion were not at odds; rather, "they are both seekers after truth."
The scientist believed that God used "beautiful mathematics" to create the world. "Beautiful, but not simple. My theories are based on faith that there is reason for all the numbers nature provides us with."
The created world speaks volumes about the presence, the greatness, the majesty, the power of the Creator God. There is sufficient evidence our there - "So those people have no excuse at all!" Paul writes, "They know God, but they do not give him the honour that belongs to him, nor do they thank him. Instead, their thoughts have become complete nonsense, and their empty minds are filled with darkness. They say they are wise, but they are fools; instead of worshipping the immortal God, they worship images made to look like mortal human beings or birds or animals or reptiles" (Rom. 1.20b-23).
But God is personal and his revelation is not just seen in terms of his creation. His great desire is to relate to the human beings that he has made.
The fourth gospel begins with the affirmation, "In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out... The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God's children... The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father's only Son" (Jn 1.1-5,10-12,14).
God has revealed himself to those who were ready to receive him. Historically that revelation has come through the Hebrew people - through their history and prophets, but especially through Jesus, the Son of God made flesh. God has made known his character and his purposes, his standards of right and wrong, his redemptive acts, his call for people to repent and believe the good news...
The Psalmist goes on -
We live in a sad and troubled world, assuming so often that "we know better". We make up our own rules - or even adjust the Lord's to our own preferences. We make up and worship "our God" who will never judge us for our diversion from revealed truth and revealed standards of right and wrong!
What do you do when the engine of your new car is behaving erratically? You put it in the hands of a representative of the maker, someone who will be guaranteed to tune it to the maker's specifications.
That is our need too - not to adjust the specifications, but to submit to the forgiveness, correction and change of divine grace in our lives.
The Psalmist ends with the words -
Why do we want to leave our mark in this world? Who gets the credit - us or God? Jesus said, "You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven" (Mt. 5.14-16).
In other words, our lives are to be a mark for God. Will you be a mark for God where you live and work, by all you have and are? Let us learn to pray with the Psalmist, "May my words and my thoughts be acceptable to you, O LORD, my refuge and my redeemer!"
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