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Psalm 29

Good morning, everyone. Please go with me to Psalm 29, that’s the book of Psalms in the middle of the Bible. Psalm 29. If you would like to use one of our Bibles this morning, just raise you hand, and someone will bring one to you.

Psalms is a book of prayers, spiritual songs. It’s music, poetry, and like all good music, we should expect beauty, imagery, and honesty. Beauty is something we can’t live without, and it’s something that can’t be manufactured. Beauty has to be crafted, it has to be grown. In some ways, too, beauty has to be given as a gift.

To use and understand the psalms well, you have to understand what they are. The psalms are filled with imagery and metaphor, so you will make mistakes taking everything literally. A lot of the Bible is God speaking to humanity, but the psalms are humanity speaking back to God. Just like you’re going to misunderstand a foreign language without study and practice, you’re going to misunderstand what poetry is saying if you don’t put in work to speak this language.

Many of our spiritual ancestors would have considered the soul to be in three parts: thought, beauty, and gut feeling. It was believed beauty bound rational thought and gut feeling together, that without beauty in your life you would end up either as cold, emotionless rationality, able to justify anything because nothing was sacred—either that or you would end up as an impulsive creature chasing after anything you want regardless of the consequences. In our culture today we have a lot of thoughts, usually stated loudly or often without much concern for the listener, and we have a lot of people acting out of gut emotion, but we’re lacking beauty to bring the two together. But the Psalms can give us that.

I want us to use the psalms as Jesus used them. This was his prayerbook, his hymnal. Mysteriously, when we pray the psalms we pray them in the Spirit alongside our God. There’s power in that, just like there’s power in singing your heart out to the Lord, even though the words are something someone else wrote, that multitudes of people have already sung. Prayer doesn’t need to be spontaneous or original to be meaningful. We have the Lord’s prayer, and the book of common prayer, and hymnals many of us have sung since childhood. Jesus, and centuries of worshippers before and after him, had the psalms.

Go with me this morning, psalm 29. If you will, please stand as we read the word of the Lord together. [] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me.

Psalm 29 is a song written in praise of the strength of the Lord. There’s one long image through the whole poem—a thunderstorm rolling in from the Mediterranean. The psalmist is watching from Jerusalem, and he watches the whole storm as it breaks over the mountains and forests of Lebanon and Sirion, until it reaches Jerusalem and floods the streets before passing over Kadesh in the South.

Have you ever watched a storm come on like that? Adam and Meg got us the hookup one time over there is Gulf Shores, and we spent the weekend at Meg’s parent’s house. It’s on the lagoon side of the island in Gulf Shores, set back on the property behind some trees, with the back of the house opening on the water. We didn’t know what to expect, so when we first arrived, we just kind of excitedly explored. The first thing we found was a large number of Christian movies, and then a nearly equal number of lizard statues. They were everywhere. It was very strange. But then we found kayaks in the back of the house, under the stairs.

A storm was already gathering, so we raced it out onto the water. The wind from the front was already blowing so hard we had to angle the boats into the wind to stay straight. Out on the water like that, you can see for miles, and we watched the storm roll over the city, lightning flashing, the clouds were probably 20,000 ft tall. Eventually AJ, my nine-year-old, got tired of watching and went inside, but I stayed out, probably longer than I should have stayed exposed on the water like that, but it was an awesome experience in the true, old sense of that word. Watching the storm that day was a spiritual experience for me.

In those moments you get a sense of how large the world actually is, and how small you are. You understand how powerful nature is. There is no nation or army that could have stopped that storm from doing exactly what it would do, from going exactly where it would go. No leader can give an order against it. Even if I had wanted to stay on the water that afternoon, I couldn’t. Exposure in a storm like that is enough to kill you. All we could do was go inside eventually and let it wash over us.

Israel is prone to storms like that. Where it sits with the warm moisture of the sea to the west, there’s nothing to slow the system down before it breaks over the mountains. Just like the hurricanes here, everyone in Jerusalem and Canaan could tell you stories of the last storm that came and tried to wash them away. And yet, just like here, the same rains water our fields and the earth yields up its produce in season.

It makes sense, then, that in the ancient near east, meaning Israel and the surrounding nations, just like nearby Greece, in the mythology that developed in the area, the god of the storms was always king. You’ve probably heard of Zeus sitting atop Olympus, raining lightning and fire down on the cities in the valley if they displeased him. In the ancient near east, the god Baal was both the god of storms and the god of rain. When storms broke on the mountains like this, people would talk about the strength of Baal, and in droughts people would sacrifice animals, children, even themselves—you may remember in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal—begging the God of the storms to bring rain.

Both the story of Elijah and this Psalm speak the same message: our God is more powerful than the storm. Our God, Immanuel, the God who is with us, is more powerful than the storm. “The voice of the Lord is over the waters,” v.3, higher than the storms and the rains. He’s taller than the clouds, provides more than the rain. If you see the storm and you are awed by it’s power, consider for a moment the God who made both the storm and the rain, who made the earth and the skies and upholds it with the word of his power.

Ascribe to the Lord, our psalm says, glory and strength. Glory and strength. In this context, I would define glory as the quality of a thing or person which rightly inspires awe. The quality of a thing or person which rightly inspires awe. In our culture today, we tend not to think this way. We tend to think in terms of subjective experience, meaning, if you look at a thunderstorm breaking over the mountains and you’re awed by it, then calling the storm awesome or awe-inspiring would be true for you. But, you may remember from my story, AJ, my nine-year-old got bored and went inside. For him, the storm didn’t hold any wonder.

He and I talk about this with food all the time. It’s scientifically proven that kids have terrible taste in food, and I can corroborate. On Tuesday this week, I made scallops with a brown-butter lemon, caper sauce and served it with baked potatoes and roasted brussels. AJ didn’t want that and asked for a peanut butter jelly sandwich. Every parent has been faced with this exact dilemma, and we’ve all said some version of the sentence I said next, which is, “do you want to try it? It’s pretty good.” Then every child who has ever lived has responded with some version of what AJ said to me, which is, “It doesn’t look good to me.”

And my point is, even though he’s entitled to his preferences, I would argue, both about the storm and about that brown butter lemon caper sauce (Robyn, I’ll get you that recipe), his preference is wrong. It may be true of him that he was not awed by the storm, but I would argue, the storm is awe-inspiring whether or not we see it. He missed it. That storm was glorious whether or not he gloried in it. Glory is the quality of a person or thing which rightly inspires awe.

The psalmist here is not encouraging his readers to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord so the Lord can be glorious and strong in our eyes. Opposite, backwards. He wants us to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord because the Lord is glorious and strong, and he doesn’t want us to miss it. I don’t want you to miss it this morning. I don’t want you to go through your whole life without eating a good meal, or watching a storm roll in over the waters, or recognizing in creation the glory of our creator, because if you miss all of that you’ll miss life, itself. Not everyone who has eyes sees, and not everyone who breathes lives, but my hope for you this morning is that you will see the glory of God and live. The Lord, our God, is glorious. And he is strong. “The voice of the Lord is higher than the waters…The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars.”

God is more powerful than the storm, and if God is more powerful than the storm, it means he’s more consequential. Storms we track all through the summer here. We want to know if a hurricane is coming. We want to know how strong it will be and what it will mean for us, whether we’ll have to evacuate. Every farmer and grower I know tracks the rains and knows what each rain means for his crops. If God is more powerful than the storm, then he is more consequential. Studying his character will be like studying the clouds, we will find in him what our lives will be. Our futures will be determined by his will and character. We can look into his laws and tell from our own actions what our ends will be. We can look to his grace as our provision.

God is more powerful than the storm, yet he made himself weak to be with us. Last week I talked a bit about the Christian belief that our God exists in trinity, meaning we worship one God in three persons. Here on Trinity Sunday, we especially remember the divinity of Christ. Trinity Sunday started with a controversy in the church. An elder in the church of Alexandria started teaching and preaching that Jesus was created by God, which, through the teaching of his followers and adherents morphed into a teaching that Jesus was less than God, not of the same kind of substance.

Those same kinds of teachings are still common in some churches, and in the minds of individual believers today. Maybe we wouldn’t say out loud that we don’t think of Jesus really as God, or we don’t think of him really as a human, but I’ve noticed some patterns of belief in people I’ve pastored where they either think of God as less than truly human, or less than truly divine. Some of us probably tend to think of Jesus either as being too high for us to reach or comprehend. We decide God may exist, but even if he does there’s probably little we can know about him. Others of us probably tend to think of Jesus as being low. A really good teacher, a good man, someone to model your life after if you want to live a moral life. Christians through the century, though, have held both ideas simultaneously, that Jesus is truly God and yet truly human.

You need to hold both truths at once to be healthy in your faith. Because if Jesus isn’t truly human, then he’s not really with us in this life. If Jesus isn’t truly human, God doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a person, and like every other person who sits enthroned, he’s oblivious to the sufferings of the people he’s created. He wouldn’t understand what it means to have limits, what it means to need rest. He wouldn’t know what temptation is like, or what it’s like to have a mom and need to provide for her as she gets older. How could we trust a God who doesn’t even know us?

And if Jesus isn’t truly God, if he’s just a really good teacher, a good man, then there’s no forgiveness. Did you know the concept of forgiveness is unique to Christianity? Other religions don’t teach it—most other faiths teach morality as a balance, and you strive to tip your scales toward being a good person to make up for your mistakes; or they teach penance, meaning you have to suffer for your mistakes, and then perhaps you can enter paradise. Christianity is the only faith that says God’s heart for sinful and broken people is to forgive and restore them, not through anything they can do, but through what God is doing.

Forgiveness is only possible in Christianity because Jesus is truly God. Because when you sin against someone, when you make a mistake and you’re in the wrong, you can only be forgiven by that person. I can’t forgive you for something you did to your girlfriend in high school. You’ll have to talk to her about it. You can’t slap Phil and then come try to make it up to me. And if we’ve sinned against our maker, if we’ve failed to love God well, to live as he meant for us to live, to thrive as he meant for us to thrive, then who can forgive us but him? If Jesus isn’t truly God, then his death at the hands of Rome is merely inspiring, not atoning.

I would define forgiveness as bearing suffering which justice would place on someone else. One more time: forgiveness is bearing suffering which justice would place on someone else. I know sin is a word our culture despises, but think about sin this way: sin causes suffering. It’s a mistake, you’ve made someone’s or your own life a little harder, a little worse, or with some mistakes we make a life a lot worse. The older we get, the more suffering we can cause. If you lose your temper and yell at a friend as a kid, you make up for it next day, but as an adult you lose a friendship, or a spouse, or your child grows up in an angry home.

The weight of suffering like that is more than we can bear, more than any of us can bear. Carrying mistakes like that around will make you tired. If Jesus isn’t truly God, then he can’t carry your weight any more than you can, and there’s no forgiveness. The suffering you’ve caused will stay with you. But if Jesus is God, and he suffered and died, entered into death, and was able to come out of it. If that story is true, then he is able to bear what we can’t, and we can be set free. Free of guilt, free of sin, free of shame—if Christ sets you free, you are free indeed. Truly God and truly man. God is more powerful than the storm, yet he made himself weak to be with us.

Our psalm closes in v.10 with an image of our God sitting enthroned above the flood. The word used there is used elsewhere only to speak of the flood in the days of Noah, meaning this God whose power should awe us, he’s powerful enough to judge the world but he loves us enough to carry us through the waters.

I would invite you this morning into community and into forgiveness—into awe of a God who is over the waters.

In the Beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,
In music, in the whole creation story,
In His own image, His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us and within.

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