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Awe

June 3, 2012 Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: Psalm 29:1–29:11

The Holy Trinity
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Psalm 29 (Isaiah 6:1-8)

“Awe”

Thunderstorms mark a transition between spring and summer, as we’ve seen out here in the D.C. metro area over the past few weeks. When was the last time that you saw a storm coming on the horizon? Sometimes, you can just stand there and watch as the dark clouds gather – especially when the sky is clear right overhead, the storm in the distance seems all the more a presence, something you can sense. If you’ve seen a storm come in from the ocean, think back to how far off you could watch those distant clouds. On the prairie or in the city, strong winds herald the coming of the storm. You feel a breeze at first, but then the weather starts to change around you. The realization of just how immense this storm front actually is starts to dawn on you as it grows closer and the sky begins to darken. It’s a whole lot bigger than you are. Have you felt that particular sensation that comes when you’re standing out there in the face of the coming storm? It can hit you when you’re confronted by something a while lot bigger than you. It’s called “awe”: an overwhelming sense of majesty – and often fear. A flash of light catches your attention for a moment, but then you hear the crack of thunder echoing through the air. You need to get inside. It’s time to take shelter.

In Psalm 29, Kind David compares the voice of the Lord God to a mighty thunderstorm. Imagine a great storm cloud moving swiftly inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Its power is so great that it blows over mighty trees as it comes ashore, snapping them like twigs. Lightning strikes spark wildfires. Thunderclaps shake the ground. This might sound like an odd metaphor to use in a hymn of praise, but David’s right to do so. The psalm opens with a divine summons to worship, angels and archangels in the heavenly armies called to praise Yahweh because He is the one, true God. His might and majesty are unmatched. Neither David’s words nor ours can fully communicate the overwhelming holiness of God. In Isaiah’s vision, the angels gathered around the Lord’s throne called out “Holy, holy, holy!” God is holy beyond our ability to know. And you and I are not.

The all-powerful voice of the Lord is rolling in – even today. Severe thunderstorm warning! You need to get inside. It’s time to take shelter. We have come together today in the house of David’s God, our God, that holy king in authority over all of creation. But are we reverent like the angels in the psalm, awed by Who God is, overwhelmed and amazed in consideration of His majesty? Or are we more like a fool who stands in the face of the coming storm, presuming that he can just go about his business without giving it a second thought? Truth be told, we’re more often than not living like fools.

It’s easy to go from day to day without reflecting on what God has done for you and what He continues to do in providing everything we need for life. It’s easy to think of worship as just “something you do” without considering Who is here. It’s easy to carry on conversations with others who have come into the sanctuary, rather than spending time in silent meditation and on Scripture or in prayer. It’s easy to show up right before the service begins, or maybe even a few minutes late – it’s not like you’re going to the White House to spend time with the head honcho, right? I know it’s easy. Each and every single one of us is an accomplice in the campaign to fill our eyes, ears, thoughts, and hearts with so many distractions that we fail to experience the awe that rightfully comes from being in the presence of God.

Isaiah reacted appropriately when he was brought before the Lord. Our English translations usually put his response as “Woe is me!”, but the real sense of the Hebrew he used is much more colorful. If you’ve ever seen one of the classic Road Runner cartoons with Wile E. Coyote, there’s often a moment when old Wile E. realizes that his elaborate plan has backfired on him and something – be it an anvil, a boulder, or another ACME-brand device – is about to land on his head or explode in his face. That’s the moment that Isaiah has. He’s doomed. Game over, man; game over! And so it should be. God is a whole lot bigger than Isaiah. The prophet felt awe, overwhelmed by the Lord’s majesty. God is holy. Isaiah knows that he himself is not, nor are the people among whom he is numbered. But the voice of the Lord, which breaks the mighty trees and makes even mountains flee like a calf spooked by a loud noise, that same voice shows God’s glory by speaking mercy and grace.

Isaiah should have been wiped out, obliterated by the might of the storm; however, God made him clean. That’s what He does for us, too. This is what we celebrate this weekend as we lift up the way in which God has revealed Himself in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah, you and I should be wiped out because of our lack of holiness. Nothing that you do or say could ever make you holy enough to stand before the presence of God. It should blow you away. But God steps in. The Father, out of His holy love for you, sent His Son to take your place. Jesus, God the Son, out of His holy love for you, took on humanity to suffer the full wrath of the storm and be crushed and killed under its onslaught so that you and I and all people might be able to stand in His Father’s presence. The Holy Spirit, out of His holy love for you, washes you and makes you clean – not with a burning coal, but with the waters of Baptism – and brings you into the presence of God.

Today, you and I hear the voice of God not in the storm but in His Word. Sometimes that happens in an amazing cathedral, where the architecture makes us mindful of God’s majesty and holiness. Sometimes that happens in the beauty of nature, where we are reminded that God is supremely creative, and definitely a whole lot bigger than we are. But even if the setting is not awe-inspiring, God’s Word is. On this festival of the Holy Trinity, reflect on this central truth of God’s word: the Lord so much wanted to give you and me unrestricted access to Himself that He took our humanity into Himself and did everything that had to be done to make us clean. The Holy Spirit calls us to come inside under Jesus’ cross, where we see the majesty of the Father’s ultimate love. The voice of the Lord speaks in His Word, and He is present with us now.

We come together in God’s house, in His triune Name, because He’s giving us the opportunity to get to know Him better. When you arrive to worship, let go of the easy distractions that would keep you from the rightful awe that comes from being in the presence of God. Reflect on the Lord’s majesty and holiness – He is a whole lot bigger than you are, after all. But even beyond that, listen to the voice of the Lord, here for you. Your mighty and majestic God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has brought you into holy His presence through His love.
The voice of the Lord is indeed like a mighty thunderstorm, but you don’t need to fear it in Christ. You have been brought in safe, sheltered in God’s love. And that’s truly awesome.

Amen.

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