A few years ago, while reading The Collected Sermons Of Frederick B. Craddock, I ran into a fascinating question: “if we’re ‘only human’ when we get things wrong, what were we all the times we got them right?'”
I knew right then I had a sermon — and a series. Inspired by Craddock’s genius, I borrowed his question, developed a riff, excavated and then celebrated Psalm 8, threw in some seventh grade basketball, and landed at this bottom line:
Only Human . . . it’s not an excuse for sin. It’s an explanation for God.
Is it OK with you if I give an astounding athletic feat OF MINE . . . that has nothing to do with tennis? Here it is: one time I made 35 consecutive free throw shots. Yes! Me! I was in 7th grade, part of the MMS Red Raiders team . . .
. . . and as part of the pre-game warm-up, we did a free throw drill. You shot until you missed. And my turn came up and for some strange reason I had perfect rhythm that day and BAM 20 in a row. After 20 the coaches & other 7th graders were getting antsy so they move me on & let next guy up. My turn came back around a few minutes later and what happened? BAM! 15 in a row. They made me stop again (I think it was jealous insanity.) So my turn came back around a few minutes later (because the other guys MISSED!) and there I was going for #36 and . . . CLANK. But do you know what 7th grade me said after missing #36? “Well, I am ONLY HUMAN, you know.”
That’s what we do with this phrase, isn’t it? Let’s say one of our singers hits 10 perfect notes and then barely misses on #11. What do we say? “She’s only human.” Or in school if you get seven straight 100s on tests and then on test #8 you get a 98. What do you say? “I’m only human.” Or you write a long email, perfect grammar, perfect spelling, and then in the last paragraph you misplace an apostrophe. What does the reader say? “He’s only human.” Of course we use it in more serious settings as well: guy gets caught on the computer or girl gets caught in an affair & the defense is “I’m only human!” Someone else is swept up in embezzlement scam from work. Reasoning? “I’m only human!” You get stuck in traffic at 160 & Gold Hill and you let loose with some . . . colorful language & your preacher overhears you and what do you say? “I’m only human.” It’s how we explain our imperfections, it’s how we justify our sins, it’s an excuse for misbehavior, it’s only human.
And then along comes Psalm 8 in all of its beautiful, epic glory, and it gives us a much, much different perspective on what it means to be only human. I’m sure there are a # of you here who remember from the late 80s & early 90s how the words of this Psalm were set to music and it was one of THE early contemp Xn hits. But beyond that admittedly terrific, nostalgic song, there is such richness in the Psalm. Look at how it begins in 8:1:
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
And now at how it ends in 8:9:
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Would you like to learn a new word? That’s an inclusio (AV) which sounds WAY smarter than simply calling it bookends. And it also tells us: whatever else this psalm means, it must be understood in light of God’s majestic name.
And speaking of that name, see what it says in 8:1 about “all the earth”? Now as some of you might remember, ancient Israel was surrounded by neighboring nations who worshipped idols. Pagans. People like the Amalekites & Canaanites who had gods & goddesses for every conceivable stage & state of life. People also tended to think that the gods were bounded by geography; they were restricted to operating within the borders of the ppl they represented. Well Psalm 8 says NO NO NO to that. There is nowhere that God is not Yahweh, the God of Israel. Nowhere. Moving forward, there is nowhere on earth where there is a Lord . . . and his name is not Jesus.
So now look at 8:2:
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
Infants to defeat enemies. So God has enemies. And God wins by weakness. Tuck that away because it has everything to do with only human. Because look at 8:3:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
Whew! Goes to outer space! Immense, spectacular, infinite! But you know what I love here? “The work of his fingers.” It’s God’s finger painting. Here’s what happens when we finger paint: (AV of crappy finger painting). Here’s God’s finger painting: (AV of intergalactic beauty). But all that we’ve seen in 8:2 and 8:3 – from babies who silence enemies to fingers that paint galaxies – is all to set up this great question in 8:4:
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?[c]
In light of you, Lord, in the middle of this inclusio, when you paint galaxies with your finger tips and silence enemies with our babies, WHAT. IS. MAN? What are people? What are we saying when we shrug and offer, “I’m only human.”
The stunning affirmation comes in 8:5:
Crowned with glory and honor. Huh. Where have we seen glory before? Oh yeah! In 8:1! Only there it’s God’s! So we’ve been given this same thing that is embedded in God’s nature itself. Only human indeed! And then look at 8:6-8 because it actually has everything to do with babies & enemies:
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their[g] feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
See that? God makes man ruler over the realms (Genesis 1 language!) and even more stunning he gives man dominion over all these animals who are bigger and stronger and faster than he is. So the same God who uses babies to defeat his enemies uses puny, flawed people to extend his rule over the world. And then, to remind us the source of everything, IN PARTICULAR GLORY AND DOMINION, the inclusio of 8:9: READ
But we can’t escape the astounding thing that happens in 8:4-5 with the question – what is man? – and its glory filled answer. It is as if God says, “OK, I finger painted the stars, I made the animals & sky & see, but I need to make something that will best explain ME. I need to create something that would most resemble ME. I need to make something that will be the best evidence in all creation that I EXIST. And that’s when God made you. That’s what is embedded in between the inclusio of Psalm 8. What is man, that you remember him? He is the flashing neon light in the world reminding people that because he exists, YOU MUST.
It is astounding, stunning, mind boggling, and an entirely different twist on what it means to be “only human.” What we denigrate, God elevates. What we bury in humility, God crowns with royalty. What we minimize, God magnifies. Here’s what you need to know about the phrase “only human”: It’s not an excuse for sin. It’s an explanation for God. It’s not uttered with a shrug; it’s proclaimed with a shout! I am ONLY HUMAN!
Look at it this way: if I missed free throw #36 and shrugged, “Well, I’m only human” then what was for those first 35? ONLY HUMAN! If one of our singers is pitch perfect on the first 10 notes, slightly misses # 11 & shrugs, “I missed that one cuz I’m only human” then what was she on the 10 she nailed? ONLY HUMAN! What were you when you got all those spelling words RIGHT? ONLY HUMAN! When you got 100 on the test? ONLY HUMAN! The days you were sober? ONLY HUMAN. The times you’ve been faithful? ONLY HUMAN. Yes, let’s vow and promise not to use that phrase as an excuse for sin or a justification for mediocrity but use it instead as an explanation for God and as a celebration of goodness!
Because do you know what is fabulous about this? (And why I have the best job in the world & I love to take what I have learned and share it with you?) Ok. If you know even a little bit of OT & bible background, you know that the God of the bible really doesn’t like idolatry. It’s like the first commandment, right? Even you shall make no graven image. But do you know WHY God says that? Is it because God doesn’t want to be confused with a statue? Because he doesn’t want people to think he is a bull or a bird? Sort of. But mainly it has to do with IMAGE in ancient times. In the ancient world, an image was used to represent a distant king. But God sees that way image was used and raises it to the nth degree! Because what does Gen 1 say about ppl? We are created in the ________ of God! So God’s image is not to be shown by a statue but by his people. And idolatry enrages him – yes, enrages – not just because it misrepresents God BUT BECAUSE IT INSULTS PEOPLE! Idol worship, graven images is the ultimate insult to YOU because YOU are the one who represents, who explains, our distant King Jesus! It’s not an excuse for sin. It’s an explanation for God.
And it’s so funny to me. When we try to think of proofs for God’s existence, we go to nature. Creation. Like we go to GEOLOGY: (AV of Grand Canyon). Of course God exists! He made that! Or we go to ASTRONOMY: (AV of another space picture). That’s why there’s a God! He made the stars! But according to Psalm 8, we don’t need to go to geology or astronomy but we need to start with anthropology! (AV of crowd of people). That’s why God! But we never do that. We never go to people and say “that’s why I believe in God, because I’ve seen some only humans and they’re pretty fabulous.” We don’t do that because before today we’ve been looking in the wrong places for God’s glory! All we needed to do was look in the mirror and across the dinner table. It’s not an excuse for sin. It’s an explanation for God.
A few years ago a guy named Brian Kelly died. That’s OK. It’s gonna happen to all of us. But he stipulated before he died that his ashes be put in a 12 inch fireworks so that as part of his funeral he could be shot up in the air (stop taking notes!) for, in his words, “a glorious display.” But that was NOTHING compared to the glory he had already! Why? Because of what he accomplished? Nope. Because of how much he earned? Nope. Because of how disciplined he was? Nope. Because God declared it. The glory that is deep within God’s nature he gives to us. That’s such a critical difference here – God’s glory is natural, ours is given, but we still gotta take it and celebrate. And release we don’t have to become fireworks fuel for it to be real. It’s real because it is. REFRAIN.
And in my time, I’ve seen a few “only humans” who explained God. Who were living monuments to his glory. Like the guy from here who has been around the block a time or two. Lived hard. Made some mistakes. And yet we just knew he would be the best mentor we could find for a group of choice young men who love this church and each other and as they transition to adulthood need one more voice in their lives. And I was there that night in that young men’s LifeGroup when my friend the mentor assumed the role of pastor and went over and laid hands on a guy w/ some struggles and led us in prayer. What a cool, courageous thing to do in front of the preacher. There he went again, being only human.
Or even that boy who was part of an outdoor church camp. And the pastor there was teaching about God & nature and so he sent the children out to grab something from the woods that reminds them of God. “When I ring this bell,” the pastor said, “you bring your item back and tell me about it.” So they scattered & about 10 minutes later, he rings the bell.
First girl brings a flower. And what does that flower tell you about God? God is beautiful. Nice.
Second girl brings a rock. And what does that rock tell you about God? God is stout. Hey, good. Good.
A boy brought huckleberries. And what does that tell you about God? God is good. He feeds us and the birds.
And then a boy – sort of an outcast in the group, a bit antisocial – comes up. He was holding his little sister’s hand
What did you bring? My sister. And what does that tell you about God? Uhhh, I don’t know.
He knows. He just doesn’t have the words yet to say it. But we do. She’s only human and a lot of times that’s all you need to know to know God. It’s not an excuse for sin. It’s an explanation for God.