June 3, 2012 Psalm 29: The Voice of the Lord!
Isaiah 6:18 Psalm 29 Romans 8:12-17 John 3: 1-17
The voice of the Lord is over the water,
The voice of the Lord is power;
The voice of the Lord is splendor;
The voice of the Lord cracks the cedars;
The voice of the Lord strikes with fiery flame
The voice of the Lord rocks the desert;
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forest bare!
How many of you have been in a tornado? Most, I would guess. We don’t live in the tornado belt but we have certainly seen our share of storms. I remember one summer when my children were small and we were staying at my parents’ cottage in Houghton Lake. We had gone over to my brother’s cottage, a simple A-Frame on Lake St. James, for the afternoon to swim when a storm approached. There being no basement, I gathered my three children around me and sat against the middle wall where we could look out the sliding doors and watch the storm. We watched the dark clouds and the crashing lightning and heard the clash of thunder all around us. It was a source of wonder. When the storm finally passed, we packed our car and went back to my parents’ cottage. On the way we had a chance to see the full damage of the storm. Even though the radio announcer claimed no tornado had been sighted, still we saw trees torn up by the roots, up-ended, power lines knocked down. It took almost a week before power was restored. I was reminded of this event as I reflected on today’s psalm. The voice of the Lord cracks the mighty cedars, the voice of the Lord up-ends the mighty oaks of Michigan, it twists the maple and the birch leaving them stripped of leaves. Such is the power of the voice of God.
Psalm 29 is likely to be an early psalm, reflecting on the majesty of God in nature, especially the storm. It begins with an introduction calling all to worship: Give to the Lord the glory due his name; it calls to all creation, especially all of the heavenly beings. Then it expands on the wonders of our God whose voice is so powerful that all say, “Glory.” The KJV translation says that the voice of the Lord causes the hinds to calf, to give birth out of fear (9) such is its power. The psalm ends with the reminder that our God is in the heaven, all is right in the world. Despite the fearsomeness of the storm, God’s people need not fear.
I imagine this as a dramatic reading with clanging cymbals and drums each time the priest declares “The voice of the Lord.” The psalms are dramatic words of God’s people. They are not meant to be read in a lifeless monotone. While I did not see any indication of such a dramatic acting out of the psalm in the commentaries I read, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to imagine that David who danced before the Lord, Miriam who danced with timbrel and tambourine, might not act out this reading with great dramatic force as re-enacting the sound of thunder and the storm. The priest would read with great effect, stirring the people to wonder at our God who commands the wind and the rain and the storm, and yet feeling safe within God’s temple, as I hope my children felt safe within my protecting arms during the storm. The voice of the Lord is proclaimed seven times. This is no chance occurrence. Seven is the perfect number in numerology, representing the perfection of God. It is a combination of four, the four ends of the earth, and three, the Trinity.
In our reading from Isaiah we see another rendering of God’s glory and majesty, such that Isaiah was only able to catch of glimpse of God’s hem. Then Isaiah saw angels, seraphims surrounding God. Our reading is the call of Isaiah, however it follows a different pattern than other calls where God commands and the prophet objects. In this case, Isaiah overhears a question posed by God and unhesitating, responds, “send me.” Inspired by the sight he has just seen, Isaiah rushes in and volunteers, a common occurrence during a religious experience. We are so caught up in the experience that we are ready to give up everything without counting the cost. It was only later that Isaiah hesitates, asking “How long?”
In response to the vision Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” (6:5) At the sight of God, Isaiah recognizes the state of the world, a state of sinfulness, and his own state of sinfulness before God. His sinfulness is purged through a glowing ember touched to his lips. The world is in a state of sin. We have separated ourselves from our God through original sin in the Garden. As one commentator states, “But sin in this case is more like the notion of pollution than specific human actions, even though human action might have prompted the pollution in the first place. The result of our actions is that we and our everyday world are polluted, and, furthermore, we have evolved in such a way that we actually need a polluted environment to maintain our lives. God, on the other hand, is not polluted and hence is fundamentally separate from us and our world.” (Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B after Pentecost 1, p. 21) God is holy but did not abandon the world, rather God entered back by way of the Temple in Hebrew thought. But it is dangerous, this mixing of the holy and the unholy; they are not compatible. “Thus the holiness of God is dangerous for anyone and anything in the profane world, and the Temple with its liturgy is meant to provide a means by which the dangerous presence of God can be channeled safely into our world.”
Fire is an important theme in this passage. It is fire that purifies, just as we see fire in our psalm. But where the passage from Isaiah emphasizes the separateness of God from impure humanity, our psalm looks at the presence of God. We are to look for God, not in nature, but in worship, in the safety of the Temple. From the safety of the Temple we can hear God’s word.
Our God is far too awesome for us to imagine. God is found in nature, in worship, in the wind of the Spirit, in Jesus, God in human form as we are reminded in our gospel for today – for God so loved the world. Today we focus on the mystery of God as Trinity, three in one. God as creator whose voice sounds through the storm, God in human flesh, God as Spirit, uniting God and Son, the go-between or middle. All are reminders of the mystery that is God.
John Donohue, in his book Beauty: the Invisible Embrace, finds beauty in music, color, dance, imagination, attraction, even death. He explores the forms of beauty found in places, things, events and experiences. In the end he states it is not a question of what is beauty, but “who” is beauty, for God is beauty. He states, “At the heart of beauty must be huge care and affection for creation, for nowhere is beauty an accidental presence. Nor is beauty simply its own end. It is not self-absorbed but points beyond itself to an embrace of belonging that holds everything together.” (p. 193) Beauty pulls us beyond ourselves; it gladdens our heart yet makes us lonely as we long for that “Other” that is beyond us. It both is God and points to God. As Augustine said, “our hearts shall know no rest till they rest in Thee.”
The voice of the Lord is powerful. His word is a fire that burns, that can destroy or purify, that can bring new life. His voice is also gentle as a summer breeze bringing healing and comfort; it is the caring words of a father or mother over a child as Paul tells us in Romans.
The end of the psalm reminds us that God is king, God rules over the world, then there is a blessing prayer: “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” The voice of the Lord strengthens us, but his final word is peace, more powerful than thunder and lightning, a peace the world cannot give, only God can give. And so we pray for peace, for in the end it is peace that will prevail. Everything else will pass away but God’s word will not pass away. May the Lord bless you with his peace.
Copyright, May 2012, Robertson