The Voice of God - A Sermon for Trinity Sunday
Have you heard the voice of God lately? Did you hear it in the “still, small voice” that spoke to Elijah? (1 Kings 19). Did you hear it coming out from a burning bush? Did you hear it in the thunder and lightening of the recent storms? Do you hear God speaking through Scripture or maybe through conversations with people of wisdom and grace?
Last Sunday we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit, who empowers and inspires the church for mission. We listened to the words of Romans 8, hoping to hear a word from God. In that passage, Paul writes that when we don’t have words to speak, the Spirit interprets our groans and sighs to the Father (Rom. 8:22-27). That must mean God hears our voices. That is good news, but what about us? How do we hear God’s voice?
As we gather this morning on what the liturgical calendar calls Trinity Sunday, we are invited to contemplate the very nature of God. We are invited to ask the question: Who is God? As we ask that question, we can also ask how God, who is unseen, speaks to us?
One of the reasons why I like to celebrate Trinity Sunday is it reminds us that God is greater than we can imagine. God’s nature is complex and even mysterious. As theologians have discovered, God is known only as God chooses to reveal God’s self. That is the message of the incarnation. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us so we might know God (Jn 1:14). As theologians down through the ages have learned, knowing God starts with faith, and faith involves trust, and then it moves toward understanding. This is a life-long process.
This morning we have heard the words of Psalm 29, which may be one of the oldest passages of the Bible. It addresses one part of the divine complexity. Seven times the psalmist speaks of the “the voice of the Lord,” which is powerful and full of majesty. The Psalm begins with an invitation to “ascribe to the LORD glory and strength,” and to “worship the LORD in holy splendor.” This invitation comes with a word about the “voice of the LORD” that thunders across the waters and the dry land. This voice of the LORD “breaks the cedars of Lebanon” and “flashes forth flames of fire.” This is no “still, small voice.” This is something much bigger and more powerful. In fact, it has the character of a hurricane.
We experience severe storms here in Michigan, but they never get to hurricane strength. At least that’s true since I’ve lived here. But, the Psalmist clearly has a hurricane in mind. Even if we have never experienced a hurricane, we know from watching news reports how powerful they can become. While I don’t believe that God sends hurricanes, which destroy and kill. Psalm 29 envisions the voice of God in terms of the hurricane-force storms that brew up on the Mediterranean Sea, and then strikes violent blows against the coast of Lebanon, and then move inland into the wilderness. These powerful storms wreak havoc all along the way, stripping bare the trees and setting the forests ablaze. Yes, the LORD shakes the wilderness. This storm metaphor is the counterpoint to Elijah’s “still small voice.” It reminds us that God is sovereign over all things and exhibits overwhelming power.
There are, of course, other visions of God present in scripture, including the declaration that God is love (1 Jn 4:7-8). That image offers another component to our understanding of God’s nature. God is love and God is power, and both are true. This morning we are invited to embrace this seemingly contradictory message as a way of celebrating the fullness of God’s nature, where love and power come together in creative and redemptive ways.
In his reflection on this Psalm, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “Psalm 29 allows us to wonder at the fearful power of God in the thunder, and yet its goal lies in the power, the blessing, and the peace which God sends to God’s people” [Works, 5:163]. So, while the psalm begins by celebrating God’s power and glory, it ends with the promise of peace. Putting this in Trinitarian terms, we might say that the God of Israel is at work bringing salvation to God’s creation through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we attend to this Psalm, we’re invited to join the heavenly beings who gather in the presence of God to ascribe to the LORD “glory and strength.” Earlier this morning we sang “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God almighty!” These words are drawn from Isaiah 6, where the prophet stands before the throne of God and is overwhelmed by what he sees and hears. Isaiah not only sees the face of God, but he hears the voice of God asking: “Whom shall I send?” Although he feels unworthy to even be in this place, when the call comes, Isaiah answers— “here am I, send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8).
Both the Psalmist and Isaiah remind us that God speaks to us. That is, If we’re open to hearing God’s voice. Iwan Russell-Jones puts it this way:
Psalm 29 bears witness to a God who speaks—creatively, articulately, and meaningfully—and who draws human beings into the conversation. It points to the Trinitarian God who is transcendent and immanent, revealed in the earthquake and the still, small voice, present at Sinai and Bethlehem, the Lord of heaven and earth. [Feasting on the Word, p. 36].
Russell-Jones emphasizes the word and, because the word and reminds us that God transcends our definitions. The Psalm reminds us that God reigns from on high, but Scripture also reminds us that God is present with us, by the Spirit, in every moment of every day. God is both present in the storm that demonstrates God’s power, but God is also present in that still, small voice that Elijah heard, which nudges us and encourages us to partner with God in God’s mission in the world.
One of the reasons why I embrace the doctrine of the Trinity as a way of speaking of God, is that it reflects that dynamic tension between power and love. Even though I put my emphasis on love, Scripture also calls us to remember that we are not God. We are not the creator or the redeemer or the sustainer of all things. We have been invited to be partners with God, in God’s work of establishing the kingdom, but we are not the architects.
As we reflect on the nature of God, and the ways in which God speaks to us, this Psalm calls forth a sense of awe. Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote that “awe precedes faith; it is at the root of faith. We must grow in awe in order to reach faith.” [The Wisdom of Heschel, loc. 351]. That is the message we hear in Psalm 29, and in Isaiah 6, where the prophet falls on his face after seeing the throne of God. He is so overwhelmed by what he sees and hears, that he cries out: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Is. 6:5). Even though he feels unworthy to stand before God, it’s at that moment that one of the seraphim, the heavenly beings serving before God, takes a living coal from the altar and touches his lips, cleansing him so that he can speak on God’s behalf. After this, he is ready to answer the call of God: “here am I, send me!” What was true for Isaiah is true for us, as we stand in awe before the throne of God.
Psalm 29 focuses on God’s transcendent power. It’s not the only voice that speaks to us, but it is an important one. It reminds us that “our God is an awesome God,” and that the Lord is enthroned forever. It is from that throne that God blesses the people with strength and peace. We, like Isaiah, have been called by God to bear witness to this promise.
And with the hosts of heaven we sing out praises to the God whose glory is revealed in Jesus, our Savior, and through the presence of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, bringing peace to our lives.
Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea;
holy, holy, holy! Merciful and Mighty;
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
May 27, 2018