The Voice of the Lord – Sept 22, 2019
The Voice of the Lord
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
September 22, 2019
Main Idea – Our God is to be trusted
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
When we see dark clouds gathering, we can make preparations for a coming storm but nothing can prepare us for the first big crash of thunder. Sometimes the thunder rolls in the distance and you can estimate how far away the storm is from you. The wind rushes in shaking the trees and sometimes the windows. The rain comes down in sheets. If you are in a car or a small shelter the sound of the rain can be so loud that no other sound can be heard. If you are paying close attention to the storm, you might watch the flashes of lightning and then count until the boom of thunder. But even with this close attention, the crack of thunder will jolt you, shake you up. We all have experienced the awesome power that is expressed during a storm.
This morning’s Scripture text is a vivid depiction of God’s power. It crackles with the power of God’s voice which can and does shake up everything. This psalm sings of the power of God and while some of the images are destructive, the attitude of the psalmist is all praise. There is nothing in creation that is beyond the attention and care of our God. No matter how chaotic our lives might seem, our God can be trusted to be with us always. There is no power in the universe stronger than God.
Psalm 29 has a heading that it is a psalm of David but most likely it is much, much older. In fact, it may be the oldest psalm in our Bible. It is based on a Canaanite hymn to their storm god Hadad Ba’al. We know this because in 1928 a Syrian farmer found a stone slab on his land which then led to the discovery of an ancient city named Ugarit. Among the archeological discoveries were texts, written on clay tablets, in a previously unknown language (now called Ugaritic) which is related to Biblical Hebrew but older. These texts were written down more than 100 years before the time of Moses and more than 350 years before the time of David. (Ugaritic texts – written down 1375-1340 BCE, Moses – 1250 BCE, David 1000 BCE – William Holladay, The Psalms through 3000 years p. 19) Many of these texts are stories and hymns regarding the Canaanite gods and goddesses. The similarities between these writings and Psalm 29 has led many scholars to see it as a clear adaptation, with the only change being the subject; replacing Hadad Ba’al with the LORD.
It’s brilliant really, to use the Canaanite hymn this way for it said to the Canaanites, “You thought Ba’al was powerful but in fact, our God is most powerful. (much like the way we Americans changed “God save our gracious king” to “My country, tis of thee). The psalm is very specific about who is our God, our Lord. 18 times it uses the personal name of God. Each time our Bible has LORD (all caps), the actual Hebrew is YHWH, Yahweh, which means “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be”. This name is so holy that observant Jews will not say it out loud. 18 times this name is written in the psalm. This is not a generic hymn to the divine spark but a claiming of our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as the power and source of all that is.
The psalm starts with a call to the heavens to praise the LORD. God’s glory is so great that these first verses are addressed not to us but to a heavenly council, perhaps angels but more likely the deposed Canaanite gods. The glory, strength, and splendor of the LORD is to be acknowledged by those who formerly were thought to have power.
The psalmist then sings of the Voice of the LORD. Seven times he names the Voice of the LORD as the power moving through the images of a fierce thunderstorm. This voice thunders over mighty waters. It breaks the cedars of Lebanon, which were the largest, strongest, and most famous trees in Israel. The voice causes the land of Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion, the tallest mountain in the area, to skip like a young wild ox (or in the King James Version, like a young unicorn). The voice flashes forth flames of fire. It shakes the wilderness. It causes oaks to whirl and strips the forest bare. All of this power; the sight, the sound, and the visceral experience, all of it comes from the Voice of the LORD. “When we have noted the most powerful forces we can see, we know; the voice of the LORD is all of this together, yet even more.” (Cameron Howard, workingpreacher.org)
After this power is experienced, the psalmist says “and in his temple all say “Glory!” (v. 9b) The only response to such power is praise.
The psalm ends, not in the chaos of a storm, but with the confident declaration that “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” (v. 10) No matter what occurs our God is sovereign and in control. Chaos is defeated. And with the final verse the people are finally mentioned in a prayer for strength and peace. After experiencing the storm, after experiencing the Voice of God which strips away the facades of independence and self-sufficiency, the people can humbly and honestly pray. “It is not the strong, the confident, or the self-assured who can, with hope and propriety, ask the LORD for strength and peace. It is, rather, the weak, the helpless, and the chastened, those who have truly heard the voice, and have been brought to realize their utter dependance on the one who utters it.” (Matthew Stith, workingpreacher.org)
Psalm 29 jolts us like bolts of lightning and thunder to acknowledge that our God, our LORD is not our personal good luck charm that we can keep in our pocket and bring out when we want to. Our God is surprising, mighty, and beyond our understanding. Our God is transcendent, greater than all that is, and we are a loved but small part of God’s vast creation. The Voice of the LORD is overwhelming and we can bear only flickers of its great glory.
As Christians, we know the Voice of the LORD as the Word of God, our savior, Jesus the Christ who reveals to us the essence of God’s power which is love. We connect Psalm 29 with the story of Jesus’ birth. The song of the angels in Luke 2; “Glory to God in the highest heavens and on earth, peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14), is sung in the language of this psalm. It underlines the amazing reality that the sovereign LORD of the storm is incarnate in the tiny infant Jesus. The heavenly beings sing for joy.
This psalm is included in the lectionary every year on the Sunday when we remember Jesus’ baptism. The Voice of the LORD which thunders over mighty waters also speaks with love when Jesus is washed in the waters of baptism. Jesus’ resurrection shows us that chaos and death are defeated. The overwhelming power of God is not capricious. While we can not understand all that happens in the world we do know that God intends redemption for all.
Two weeks ago, we watched as the massive Hurricane Dorian destroyed parts of the Bahamas and this week as Hurricane Imelda struck Texas. Sadly, destructive hurricanes are no longer out of the ordinary. “The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. Hurricane intensity and rainfall are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.” https://nca2014.globalchange.gov. When I moved to Florida in 2004, we experienced 4 major hurricanes in the space of 6 weeks. We evacuated for the first one, Hurricane Charlie (4 August 13) and sheltered in place for the other 3 (Frances 4 early Sept, Ivan 4 mid Sept, Jeanne 4 end of Sept). We were fortunate not to sustain much damage to our home but each time we lost power for up to a week. In Vermont, we remember August 28, 2011 when parts of Vermont were devastated by Tropical Storm Irene. The power and danger of our weather will only continue to grow as our climate changes.
Our lives are shaken by many kinds of storms; not only severe weather like hurricanes or blizzards. We are shaken by other kinds of storms in our lives; such as dealing with illness in ourselves or our loved ones, with the horrible pain of divorce or broken relationships, or going to work one day to find that you have lost your job. All sorts of calamities can occur with little or no warning. All of us have had moments when our sense of ourselves and our security has been battered and torn. We search for an anchor or foundation on which to stand. Psalm 29 comes to us with a thunder clap to boldly affirm that our God is to be trusted to give strength and peace. There is no storm which can shake God, nothing can separate us from God’s love. The voice of the LORD is with us always; sometimes as a thunderclap, sometimes as a still small voice, sometimes as a moment of calm in the midst of confusion, but always there.
So, during the next thunderstorm, I invite you to hear the Voice of the LORD. Listen to God’s power in the clap of thunder. Hear the pouring down of blessings in the rain. See the flash of glory in the lightning. In all, know that God is working to bring peace and strength to all of creation. We can trust that God is with us. “No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to this rock I’m clinging, if Love is Lord o’er heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing.”
Let us pray, All powerful and transcendent God, we praise you for your glorious creation which sings of your love and care. We thank you for our being, for all that we have and all that we are. We are humbled and grateful that in the vastness of life, you are mindful of each one of us. You know us by name and love us always. Help us to see you in all that surrounds us and to listen for your voice. Amen.
Our closing hymn is #424 How Can I Keep From Singing