This morning, in a very unique way, each one of you will have to be the preacher, or there'll be no sermon. The sermon that you are going to have to preach will not be on one or two verses, but a whole psalm, and remembera psalm is a poem. This particular psalm is one of the oldest, at least as old as the archaic liturgies of the Phoeniciansthat is, from before the time of David. That's why in the first line you hear the phrase, "Give unto Yahweh, O ye sons of the gods."
And if you're going to preach it, you'll have to look at the formatthat it begins with a prelude of four lines called the "Gloria in Excelsis," and concludes with a postlude of four lines, what we would call the creed, or the benediction. So we begin with the call to worship, then comes the creed and the benediction, and in between lies the real body of the poemthree strophes of five lines each, very symmetrically put together. Within those three verses you will hear the phrase qol Yahweh"the roaring of the Lord"seven times. That's why it's called the Psalm of the Seven Thundersseven repetitions of this qol Yahweh, or "roaring of the Lord."
We must come to worship with the right attitude.
Now let's focus on what it's about. The Psalm starts with one choir coming down the esplanade of the temple, singing, "Give unto Yahweh, O ye sons of the gods." It's then joined by another choir coming from the east, singing, "Give unto Yahweh power and strength," and another coming from the west that adds, "Give unto Yahweh the glory of his name." All three choirs converge and come in to worship Yahweh.
But what are the people in the choirs going to get out of that? You don't come to church for nothing. I saw an ad recentlyhalf-page ad, paid for by a churchgiving the invitation to worship. It was well done; it said what we get: "Come and get a biblical sermon. Come and get your chance for some gospel singing. Come and get a friendly welcome. Come and be part of a fellowship where you will find a real church home in your new city." It was, "Come and get."
But this Psalm is all about "Come and give, come and give, come and give, come and give unto Yahweh." It's as if we have already received something, not in the church, but outside: in the world, in daily life. It's as if we receive something from out here that sends us, pushes us, into the temple. Once inside, we might contemplate what we have received, that we might give unto Yahweh glory for what we have received.
That commercial made me feel like whatever I've received out here isn't good enough. I've got to go and get the real thing. I don't get it out here; I've got to come to church and get it. However, that's not the direction of worship taken by the Psalm. This worship applies to what I have receivedwhat has happened in the world and what is now happening in the worldwhatever that may be. "Give unto Yahweh, ye sons of the gods; give unto Yahweh power and glory; give unto Yahweh the glory due his name."
And then in this call to worship, the priest comes forward and says, "Prostrate yourself," literally, "before the beauty of his holiness." Whenever we encounter that which is holy, it is that of which we have no part. It is separate from us, and yet when we humble ourselves before it, it indwells us and puts its beauty upon us until that beauty becomes our beauty. It makes us becoming.
What's wrong with sauntering down the aisle on a Sunday morning during the worship, giving a high-five to a neighbor, and exchanging friendly greetings? Absolutely nothing. It's just unbecoming. It doesn't partake of the holiness of Yahweh. It has its place, but that place is not here; worship is not the appropriate place for that. What is becoming here is no casual meeting. "Prostrate yourselves and be indwelt by this beauty of his holiness"now that's the prelude, that's the call.
The glory of the Lord is revealed in the storms.
Then you comeand remember, you have to preach this because I can't preach it. It's a poem, you see, and a poem can't be preached. You have to preach a poem to yourself, which is why I've put it in your hands. So, what is it that happens when we come into the temple to contemplate the glory of God? Well, we remember what's happening "out there" where we came from: there's a gathering storm.
You don't have to know very much about the Hebrews to know that they were not happy sailors. They feared the sea, the watery abyss. They likened it to that chaos over which the Spirit of God brooded in the beginning, bringing out of that abyss onto dry land some kind of ordered life.
Now, out upon that great seacoming fastis the storm, the roaring of Yahweh, as the God of glory thunders across the waters. Then, the roaring of Yahweh increases in thunder. The storm gathers, grows, comes nearer, and strangely swells in splendor. The same word for beautyexactly the same root word, this beauty of holinessis used for this thing that is caught up and is beyond our power and glory.
What is the glory of God? That which God does in the world. What does he do? He shows his goodness to those whom we forget. He takes the weak things of the Earth and makes them mighty. Always, his glory and his power are exactly those things that are beyond our glory, beyond our power. And now it's gathering upon the watersit is coming; it's coming!
When was the last time you heard this roaring of Yahweh, this near approaching of his voice? Oh, you've heard thunder, but thunder is the voice of nature. When have you heard the voice of the Lord of nature? For the next few moments, close your eyes and listen for the qol Yahweh [thunder sound effects], the roaring in the thunder. It's coming across the great sea, the Mediterranean. Close your eyes so you can hear it [thunder, rain]. And now, off in the distance, suddenly it comes and hits the coastlands (you're at the second strophe, the second verse). It slams against the coastal mountainsthe voice of Yahweh slams against those mountains. And suddenly it is breaking the cedars of Lebanon; suddenly it is breaking the very cedars out of which the temple had been built.
It is not only breaking those strongest cedars that took a thousand years to grow, but it's making the mountains themselves skip like calves. It's making SirionMount Hermon, the very mountain that was the highest peakskip like the young of wild bulls. In our mind, mountains are fixed. They are the bastions of our security. When we want to talk about something that endures, we speak of the hills. But now, in the storm, you're suddenly aware that the very mountains are skipping like wild bulls. The hills themselves are being made to move. Nothing is fixed, nothing safe, nothing is secure. That which withstood the longest is now no longer standing; that which endured the strongest is no longer any shelter.
One of our modern poets said: "Who do we think we are, that we take thunder for granted and that we think we are up to standing in front of the lightning?" The last line of the Psalm shows the lightning hewing out the earth. Those are the lightning flashes of God.
Listen again as the storm comes and hits the coastlands and those coastal mountains [thunder]. Now it dies out, going off into the wilderness of Kadesh and causing it to writhe, causing the desert of Kadesh to writhe in anguish, causing the cows to calve out of season, and causing the forest to be stripped bare. When the storm recedes, you look and see nature exhausted and wounded. You see those young calves born out of season because of the qol Yahweh, because of this roaring of the Lord. Who are we to take that for granted?
Now remember, you're your own preacher this morning. I have to tell you that I cannot read this without going to that New Testament passage where Jesus is looking for some figs to eat. This is the last week of his earthly ministry and he passes by this fig tree, which is likened to Israel, for Israel is the fig tree of the Lord. He sees the lavish green leaves and he pushes them aside to look for figs. There are no figs, so he curses the tree, and it dies, and it withers. Then comes the strange comment: "It was not the season for figs."
Why curse the tree for not having fruit when it is not the season for the fruit? Because there are some things for which there is never a season. There's never a season for the lion to lie down with the lamb. There's never a season for disarmament. There's never a season for the East to meet the West. There's never a season to lay down old grudges. There's never a time when "the young child can play over the adder's den, and there will be none to hurt or destroy in all the mountain."
But you don't go by the voice of reason. Surely you don't go by the voice of reason. You don't go by the voice of the people; the voice of the people is not the voice of God. Let no one fool you. You don't go by the voice of necessity. You go by the qol Yahweh. There comes a time when it is now or never, and that time is when "thus saith the Lord." And then all in this temple cryyou've got to preach this sermon to yourselfall in this temple cry, "what's going on here?" Now all in this temple cry, "Glory! Glory."
It's not that which gives glory to us. It's not that which gives power to us, as we understand power. It is glory to Godthe God of glory, the God of powerwho takes the weak things of the Earth to confound the mighty, who takes the one labeled "blasphemer" and gives him the name above every name, and the one whose ways are past finding out. This that we meet in the world, that drives us into the church either by the pain of it or the ecstasy of it, is beyond the babble of our own voices. Whatever God speaks, all in the temple cry, "Glory! It's the Word of God."
Have we gotten past that? Isn't that really why we come to worship: to give God glory for those places in our lives where the pain has been so great that without him we couldn't have borne it? Or where the joy has been so joyful that we know he's the only one who could have given it, with our name and address written on it? Now that's the Poem of the Seven Thunders.
We adore God as we see his terrifying ways in the world.
You come now to the postlude. You don't worship a god who is our pageboy, or come to bribe him into coming around to our way of thinking and doing our bidding. No! He is a means to no one's endthat's why we worship him. That's his glory. In his glory, he is true to himself, and never truer to himself than when he is for us and with us in the storm. So we stand now at the postlude for the creed and the benediction.
What creed? Israel could never forget the flood, when the torrential rains came for 40 days and 40 nights and covered the earth. The creed is, "The Lord sitteth as king at the flood." Anybody can sit as king over many, many, many things, but who can sit as king over the flood? You've seen its devastation. A flood simply means that everything is changed. It goes under, and when the flood recedes, what's left is wrecked and ruined. There's the threat of death, and there's the making good of the threat in the flood. That's the natural world.
Then there's the Lord of this natural world, who sits over this flood in goodness and mercy, so that out of whatever comes, new life springs forth. "In season and out of season." "Making the hinds to calve." "Out of the destruction bringeth forth all things new." "The Lord sitteth as king at the flood," for he is the King. He's the King foreverthat's the creed. I don't know if we're up to it. I know we find ourselves in the midst of floods of all kinds. Does the Lord sit as King over your flood?
Then the benediction, for there is something that we get out of worship. Yahweh gives his people power quite different from the power we come to get. He gives his people power to endure, to stand in the storm, andhaving done allto withstand. He gives people power in the storm in spite of the storm! He gives people power by means of the storm.
"Yahweh gives his people power! Yahweh blesses his people with peace!"
Remember how the poem began with the call to worship: "Give unto the Lord glory in the highest, the glory due his name." And remember how it ends? This is the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday in Advent. How better to prepare for it than to preach this sermon to ourselves! When we give glory to God in the highest, what happens? Christ comes as peace on Earth to those that are his delight. Isn't that the angelic chorus? Isn't that the incredible height and depth? Gloria in excelsis; pax in terris.
You cannot sing or say, "Glory to God in the highest" without also adding, "and on Earth, peace to people of his delight," for that very verb give is yahabh. And the very word love or adore is ahabh. The psalmist had to have it in mind. As truly as we love God, or as he loves us, we will adore him. And to adore God is to see him in the world around us, in the strangest, most unlikely ways. But this is just a psalm, and a psalm is a poem. And you can't preach a poem to anybody but yourself. So you'll have to tell me how you read it.