Scripture: Psalms 29:1–11
Welcome to the Season of Creation! This month, we are celebrating the Season of Creation, which is a pretty new season of the church calendar. Since I was preaching during this season, I decided I should know the meaning behind it. As I read about it, I realized the Season of Creation is more than thinking about and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, but it has deep theological meaning that I wanted to share with you all. As I read different stories and perspectives on how it all began, I found three key realizations that lead to adding a Season of Creation to the church calendar.
First, people realized that the church calendar focuses on the life of Jesus for Advent through Easter, and then the Season of Pentecost discusses the work of the Holy Spirit, but there is no special place in the church year where there is a focus on Creator-God, the first person of the Trinity.
Second, people realized that in the past few centuries, the Christian life has become centered around two ideas: Love God and Love people, which are not bad principles at all, but people began to realize that part of the equation was still missing. There is more to our world than God and humanity, there is also the rest of creation—God’s relationship with creation and our relationship with creation.
And third, as climate change has become increasingly obvious, people realized that the church needed to address our call to be good stewards of the earth.
And thus, the Season of Creation began! Traditionally, it begins September 1st, which has been called to be a Day of Prayer for Creation by Pope Francis and others and it continues till the day of the feast of St Francis of Asissi, who is the patron saint of ecology and animals, on October 4th. Our church starts the narrative lectionary at the beginning of September, though, so we have moved up our Season of Creation to August and it begins today. Moving it to August, though, created the challenge of having an extra Sunday in the month, with no assigned text, but a lot of texts that were already taken. With this year’s theme “The Word in Creation” in my mind, Psalm 29 felt appropriate as it names “The voice of the LORD” seven times and reminded me of the Lord speaking creation into existence in the first chapter of Genesis.
All children go through a stage of asking why, over and over again. This begins not because the child wants to annoy the adults in their life, but because they are genuinely curious and trying to understand the world around them. Everything is still new and fresh to them and they want to explore it all. The poets who wrote Genesis 1 and Psalm 29 are answering why questions. Why are we here? Why did God create the world? Why should we worship God? But before we can answer those questions, we need to look at the poems themselves…
Ancient peoples all had creation stories that they told again and again to explain why the world is the way it is. And as people journeyed from place to place, whether by choice or by force, they heard each other’s stories. Most creation stories involved violence and combat. Different gods, fighting one another, trying to gain power over another through strength or manipulation, and one way or another, out of the violence, the world was created.
But the ancient Israelites had a different story to tell:
When God began to create the heavens and the earth… God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night. There was evening and there was morning: the first day.
What a different story. There is a sense of peace, of careful intention, and of order in this creation story. There is no battle, no violence, just the God who always was and always will be, speaking creation into existence with their voice, with love… “and it was supremely good,” as Genesis 1:31 says. The voice of the Lord spoke, and creation began.
In Psalm 29, while the phrase “the voice of the Lord” is repeated seven times, yet we never actually hear the Lord speak words. Instead, we meet God in a thunderstorm.
But to begin, the Psalmist speaks to “heavenly beings,” which could be describing angels, God’s divine council, or maybe even the Psalmist is speaking of and poking fun at other cultures’ various gods, gods that fought their way through creation instead of simply speaking creation into being. A careful reading of these first two verses indicate that the psalmist is not saying to give glory to God, but rather to acknowledge God’s glory and strength, to declare that all glory and strength belong to God, and then to worship God appropriately. This is a powerful image. Whoever these divine beings are, that though divine, they are told to admit that they are powerless and hold no glory on their own, that God holds all of the power and glory and that whatever power and glory they might have comes from God.
But this use of the word “glory” is also a hint of what is to come. In the Bible, the glory of God can also mean a visible appearance of God’s power or even the very presence of God. And we are about to experience just that. Shane is going to help me bring this thunderstorm to life. He will read the verses again, and I will add descriptions to take us deeper into the text.
A thunderstorm is rolling in. Can you see it? Can you feel it?
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters.”
In ancient times, people believed that there was a body of water above them, in the heavens, which reflects Genesis 1:6’s description of separating the waters with a dome, the sky. The waters are also mentioned in Genesis 1:2, symbolizing the chaos. And the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who Moses met in the burning bush, is over it all. The Lord is in control of all the waters here on earth and above.
Down here on earth, clouds roll in and the sky begins to darken.
“The God of glory thunders. ”
In the distance, you hear the soft boom of thunder, and somehow know that it is the Lord.
“The Lord, over the mighty waters.”
The waters above have begun to leak but the Lord is in control. Rain starts sprinkling the ground, you go inside.
“The voice of the Lord is powerful.”
As the rain picks up, thunder grows louder. The storm is here; the Lord, the God who was, who is, and who always will be, is here.
“The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”
Thunder booms so loudly you can hear nothing else. The storm is right on top of us.
“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars.”
Crack! Bam! You hear a tree fall. Surely it could not be that cedar! The big, tall one that is so wide two people can hide behind it.
“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.”
Boom! Another round of thunder bellows. You look out the window and sure enough, half of that grand cedar tree is on the ground.
“The Lord makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.”
Another crack of thunder hits, the ground shakes.
“The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.”
Thunder continues and lightning lights up the sky. You can feel the electricity in the air as the hairs on your arm stand up.
“The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”
Boom! The ground shakes again.
“The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.”
Later you will find out that even your cousins who lived in the desert miles away felt the ground rumble from the storm.
“The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare.”
The wind is raging, you can hear leaves and branches flapping and crashing together.
“And in his temple, all say, “Glory!”
And then, silence, the storm is over. You go outside, the air is cool and fresh, the smell of rain lingers in the air. Branches and leaves cover the ground, but everyone is okay, no one was hurt. What a display of power. All you can do is shout, “Glory!”
“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.”
The moment has passed, the Lord is back on the throne, supreme ruler over the heavens and the earth. All is well.
What a storm!
My own relationship with thunderstorms has changed over the years. When I was little, I was very scared of storms because when it stormed, the tornado sirens would surely come next, so we would keep my sleeping bag in the downstairs bathroom in the spring and early summer, where I could go and feel safe when storms came. And then we moved to New Hampshire where thunderstorms were rare. I started to miss the heavy rain, crashes of thunder, and lightning, and I got excited when thunderstorms came. Now, I am not scared of thunderstorms but I don’t get excited about them either. Still, I would not want to experience the powerful thunderstorm that inspired Psalm 29. But I have had moments during storms where I not only saw, but felt God’s glory as I watched a thunderstorm roll into the Grand Canyon, and part of the storm sunk into the canyon, so clouds, lightning, and rain were below us, surrounded by the colorful layers of rock that made the canyon. And then there was the time I was at camp, sitting in the chapel when thunder boomed and lightning lit up the main window so I could see the outline of the cross. Those are moments where God’s power and glory is evident, where we are reminded that we are just a small part of this big world and that the world does not revolve around me and my desires. We cannot help but feel the glory of God.
Yet, something didn’t quite sit right with me about this Psalm. It felt like there was something missing. The Psalmist imagines the Lord in heaven, sitting on the throne, and when we wonder why should we admit that the Lord holds all the power and glory, the Lord gets off the throne, comes down in a huge, destructive storm to show their power and might, and then goes back to sitting on their throne. It felt a little showy to me, like God was throwing a parade for Godself, which God has every right to do, but that description God doesn’t fully embody the God that I have come to know, it falls a little flat.
But wait! The Psalm is not over, there is one more verse:
“May the Lord give strength to God’s people! May the Lord bless God’s people with peace!”
The Lord as king comes not just to be known and seen in his might,
The Lord also comes to gift and bless God’s people.
The Psalmist pictures that the Lord channels the power and might shown in the storm, and gives it to his people to be blessed with peace.
Verse 1 says the Lord is strength, but the Lord also gives their people strength. Note the qualifier, a further description of that strength. The strength the Lord gives is not to overpower others, but to seek peace for the world. Now, this peace is not just the absence of chaos. It is the Hebrew word, shalom, which Osheta Moore describes in her book Shalom Sistas as “God’s dream for the world as it should be: whole, vibrant, flourishing, unified, and yes, at peace.” She later quotes Rob Bell, who says, “Shalom is the presence of the goodness of God. It’s the presence of wholeness, completeness.” It takes strength to pursue peace in this world where there is so much violence and discord. It takes strength to choose to act as a peacemaker, which Moore describes as, “focusing on living into God’s dream of wholeness in a brokenhearted world.” It takes strength to sit with brokenheartedness and to dream of a world that looks more like the kingdom of God and looks less like the kingdoms of humanity. And God will give us strength, maybe even strength as mighty as a storm.
So, back to the question of our inner child—Why? Why did God create the world? Psalm 29 shows us that creation does not exist for the sake of humanity, for us to use it and exploit it as we see fit. No, creation exists to proclaim the glory of God. While creation is not divine, we can meet God in and see God in creation. God comes to us through creation to be known and to impart strength and peace. There is a reason so many are drawn to spend time in nature, why the [FBC Earthworks] Blue Team traveled to Colorado to experience God’s glory in the mountains. Maybe in this Season of Creation we can exchange some of our screen time for green time, time with nature, whether that means going on a hike, taking a walk, or just sitting outside to look at and listen to the nature that surrounds us, that proclaims the glory of God, that may even give us a glimpse of the shalom that God intends for this world and strength for the journey. May it be so.