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06 January 2015

The Voice of the Lord (The Baptism of Jesus)

Psalm 29

A peasant lived in a hut. He was a hard worker, and worked on a farm all day long. When he got home to his hut at night, he needed sleep badly, but his sleep was often disturbed. A voice would wake him, calling loudly, "Shall I drop! Shall I drop!" The voice and its words terrified the peasant, and every time he heard it call, he answered, "No, no, please do not. Do not drop!"

After many years filled with sleepless nights, the peasant decided one day that he'd had it with the annoying voice. The next time he heard the voice call out, "Shall I drop! Shall I drop!", he answered, "Whatever it is you've got, drop it already!"

Gold coins, diamonds and jewels rained down on his head. To his surprise,  he learned that what he had heard was the voice of a ghost who guarded a great treasure and waited for someone deserving of it.

Psalm 29, the psalm assigned for next Sunday, The Baptism of the Lord, is not about the voice of a ghost, but about another voice that is rather insistent and yet is often misunderstood: the voice of the Lord.

1 Acknowledge the Lord, you heavenly beings, / Acknowledge the Lord's majesty and power!
2 Acknowledge the majesty of the Lord's reputation! / Worship the Lord in holy attire!

3 The Lord's shout is heard over the water; / The majestic God thunders, the Lord appears over the surging water.
4 The Lord's shout is powerful, / The Lord's shout is majestic.
5 The Lord's shout breaks the cedars, / The Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf / And Sirion like a young ox.
7 The Lord's shout strikes with flaming fire.
8 The Lord's shout shakes the wilderness, / The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The Lord's shout bends the large trees / And strips the leaves from the forests. Everyone in his temple says, “Majestic!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the engulfing waters, / The Lord sits enthroned as the eternal king.
11 The Lord gives his people strength; / The Lord grants his people security.

Cameron B.R. Howard writes: "Three powerful elements of creation -- waters, woods, and fire -- are pitted against the voice (or, translated more generically, 'sound') of the Lord. God is unmatched by the might of any of them. In Canaanite religion the god Baal was envisioned as a storm-god, a 'cloud-rider,' and this psalm is clearly indebted to that description. ...

In this psalm we are not, however, to see God as the cause of such destructive natural forces; rather, in order to understand the totality of God's power, we observe the world around us. 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. God's power as manifested in the confrontations with elements of creation in verses 3-9 goes hand-in-hand with God's dominion. Not only is God as powerful as all of these; God controls all these. The 'voice of the LORD' stanzas provide evidence for why God should be praised. At the end of verse 9, then, having been presented with this evidence, there is nothing left but for all in God's temple to say, 'Majestic' (or 'Glory'), just as verses 1-2 have implored."

At Jesus' inauguration, celebrated this Sunday, the same Voice of the Lord is heard, confirming  Jesus as the Son of God.  By assigning Psalm 29, our lectionary helps us make the connection.

That insistent and often misunderstood voice is still speaking.  Whoever has ears, let them hear!

Still he comes within us;
Still his voice would win us
From the sins that hurt us,
Would to truth convert us
From our foolish errors
Ere he comes in terrors.

(Once He Came in Blessing St. 2)

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