Psalm 68:24-35 – A Mighty God Who Rides the Skies

O God, your march of triumph is seen by all,
    the procession of God, my king, into his sanctuary.
The singers are in front, the musicians are behind,
    in between are the young women beating the tambourines.
“Praise God in the meeting of his people;
    praise the Lord, all you descendants of Jacob!”
First comes Benjamin, the smallest tribe,
    then the leaders of Judah with their group,
    followed by the leaders of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Show your power, O God,
    the power you have used on our behalf
    from your Temple in Jerusalem,
    where kings bring gifts to you.
Rebuke Egypt, that wild animal in the reeds;
    rebuke the nations, that herd of bulls with their calves,
    until they all bow down and offer you their silver.
Scatter those people who love to make war!
Ambassadors will come from Egypt;
    the Ethiopians will raise their hands in prayer to God.

Sing to God, kingdoms of the world,
    sing praise to the Lord,
    to him who rides in the sky,
    the ancient sky.
Listen to him shout with a mighty roar.
Proclaim God’s power;
    his majesty is over Israel,
    his might is in the skies.
How awesome is God as he comes from his sanctuary—
    the God of Israel!
He gives strength and power to his people.

Praise God! (Good News Translation)

The biblical psalms are uniform in praising God for God’s inherent character and for how that character acts in the world.

Since God is an infinitely immense Being, our human language cannot begin to adequately contain or describe such divinity. Yet, words are what we have for trying to communicate the attributes of such an incredible and awesome God.

This is why the use of metaphors is significant. Whenever we can picture something we are familiar with, then imaginatively place God alongside it, it helps give us at least a rudimentary idea and feeling of who this God is, what this God is all about.

To gain a glimpse of God’s majesty and sovereignty over the universe, we are invited to see with our spiritual eyes, God riding the sky; to hear with our spiritual ears the thunderous shout which roars and reverberates throughout the cosmos.

We are also invited to respond to what we see and hear by using our power of words and speech to proclaim God’s power. And that power is well beyond our ability to describe. With all of the powerful forces in this world, they are but a mere puff of breath to the God who reigns supreme over all powers, both in heaven and on earth. God’s power is a thunderous beauty. God’s splendor and strength rise larger than thunderheads.

Having grown up in Midwest America, I’ve seen my share of large thunderheads (massive cumulus clouds which form just before a storm), thunderstorms replete with bright lightning and noise so awesome it shakes the farmhouse, and tornados with such force that they rip the roof off a barn as if it were a Lego building.

And God is bigger than that – stronger, louder, and brighter.

The appropriate response to such a God is to make music for the one who strides the ancient skies in a heavenly chariot yet stoops to listen and care about puny humans.

The reasonable response to such a God is to listen to the divine voice thundering in the world and submit to the sound which seems like it might split the heavens open.

To gain a mere glimpse of God’s strength and power will inevitably result in a response of giving up our all to the Lord of the universe, everything we have, and all that we are.

To know, even a tiny smidgeon, of such a God will bring our own loud shouts of proclaiming God’s goodness, grace, and generosity to anyone who will listen to us.

To glimpse what the psalmist sees will consume us with awe, as we intuitively connect with the glory which is constantly streaming from heaven.

God shares divine strength with people. God doesn’t have to do that. The Lord has no obligation to do so. Yet, it happens, despite our fickle praise and inconsistent devotion.

So, let’s give our highest praise to the God of the psalms. Let’s imbibe of God’s thunderous presence among us.

Then, we will likely be happier than a gopher in soft dirt; or a butcher’s dog; or a unicorn eating cake on a rainbow.

Eternal Trinity – blessed Father, Son, and Spirit – the awesome God whom I serve: The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you. A massive thunderhead is but a small cloud next to you, the Godhead, the incredible Three-in-One.

Through you, almighty Lord, I shall come to know myself and my world. And that knowledge is a mighty love for humanity which spans longer and higher than the universe itself. May the love, unity, harmony, community, goodness, and power which is always present within yourself, mighty God, be present with me, your servant.

For just a molecule of You is enough to power me for eternity. Amen.

*Above photo by Moritz Bu00f6ing on Pexels.com

Psalm 130 – Believe, Hope, and Love

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—

my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
If you kept track of sins, Lord—
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord.
My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord!
    Because faithful love is with the Lord;
    because great redemption is with our God!
He is the one who will redeem Israel
    from all its sin.
(Common English Bible)

Throughout church history, the book of Psalms has been used and understood as the Church’s prayer book.  Indeed, the psalms are much more than a collection of beautiful poems, words of assurance, and songs of praise – they are designed and meant to have regular and ongoing use as prayers. And I’m not just talking about the psalms being somebody else’s prayers; they are my prayers and your prayers. 

There are times when words fail us – where we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place and want to pray. Our stress and/or anxiety is so high, we can neither think straight, nor form anything coherent with our mouths. It’s in such times that the psalms present themselves to us as the path forward. 

What’s more, psalms are meant to be spoken out loud and more than once. And I’m not talking about saying them with a quiet mumble or a flat monotone.  No! These precious prayers of Holy Scripture are meant to be declared with full voice and a large amount of flavor!  They are to repeatedly roll off our lips with all the emotional and spiritual gusto which resides within us!  Tears and yelling are both appropriate and encouraged. 

For we do not possess a mere heady faith of thoughts and ideas; we also possess a faith that is robustly heartfelt, and dwells down deep in the gut where our bowels of compassion have their abode. 

Even with a cursory reading of today’s psalm, we can easily observe there’s more going on here than beliefs of faith, hope, and love. 

The psalmist is expressive, clinging to faith with a patient longing for God to make good on divine promises. It is chocked full of emotion, a prayer coming from the depths of the gut. The whole being is involved, and rightly so, because our faith affects the entirety of a person and everyone in the community of the redeemed.

If this psalm resonates with you in any way, let your proclamation of it be with the expanse of feeling inside you. After all, as people created in the image of God, we share God’s own deep sense of love – and love is genuinely love when it is outwardly expressed with a sacred combination of words, actions, and feelings.

Waiting, watching, hoping. We as humans do a lot of that. While we anticipate God’s response, we keep up the praying. We keep reminding God to be God. We encourage others to watch and wait and hope, all the while encouraging ourselves, as well.

Whenever we are stressed, more often than not, we thrash about, like a desperate swimmer in the middle of a lake, just trying to keep his head above water. Yet, the psalm tells us to do the counterintuitive: Don’t do something. Just stay there and relax. Why, in heaven’s name, should I do nothing?

Because the Lord will act.

And that action of God will redeem, renew, refresh, and revitalize. It will be new, like the morning dawn. A fresh day, that will not be like any other day before it.

God does his best saving work in the worst and most impossible of circumstances. We need not fear the overwhelming depths of difficulty and trouble. We can trust the Lord.

Perhaps the most awful of deep holes are emotional – deep depression and/or anxiety – a lostness inside oneself because of mental disorder. In such a dark oblivion, and terrible morass, one tries to survive into another hour, not just another day. Like a watchman waiting for the night to dissipate and dawn to break, there is a longing for God.

Deliverance and rescue seem slim. Hopelessness begins to calcify the spirit. Only love can release the hardening situation; the steadfast love of God is a gentle hammer, picking away at the grief.

This is a love which never gives up.

Today’s psalm begins as a desperate cry for help. It ends with an awareness of the need to trust, hope, and wait….

Blessed Jesus, in the comfort of your love, I lay before you the memories that haunt me, the anxieties that perplex me, the despair that frightens me, and my frustration at my inability to think clearly. Help me to discover your forgiveness in my memories and know your peace in my distress. Touch me, O Lord, and fill me with your light and your hope. Amen.

*Above painting of Psalm 130 by Virginia Wieringa

Mark 6:45-52 – Facing Fear

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (New International Version)

Sometimes, we are afraid – even terrified. And Christians aren’t immune to the feeling of fear and terror.

The truth of the Christian life is that it is a herky-jerky process of three-steps-forward, two-steps-backward, not always knowing with certainty everything we encounter.  

The expectation that we will have a consistent upward trajectory of spiritual development with no scary experiences is wrongheaded and misguided. Throw into the mix that our self-awareness is often skewed, and that we have difficulty assessing ourselves with any accuracy, and voila! we have a recipe for the true human condition.

Doubt, fear, failure, and stubbornness aren’t just endemic to other people – it also characterizes many Christians, as well. We will face severe storms in life. They will be harsh. We will wonder if we’ll even make it out alive, or not. And it may very well seem like Jesus is nowhere to be found. Then, when he does show up, we don’t recognize him, and it scares the bejabbers out of us.

This was the experience of Christ’s disciples, who too often reflect our own stories of faith and fear all rolled up in one person. Today’s Gospel lesson is this: Our fears and foibles do not need to define us because Jesus is Lord over the water, the weather, the wondering, the waiting, the wildness, and our own whimsical natures of seeing miracles accomplished in others, then not believing it can happen in our own lives.

So, what are we really afraid of? Failure? Fear itself? Death? Irrelevance? Loss? Change? Perhaps, everything? Yes, all of life is a risky scary business. There are no guarantees, except one: Christ is present with us, whether we are aware of it, or not.

If the worst scenario you worry about in your head would actually come to pass, it will still never change the reality that God loves you and is with you.  And it will not stop Jesus from assuring us of his presence and climbing into the boat to be with us.

We don’t have any accounts of Jesus freaking out in fear, or when other people flip out in their own fear. Jesus was a person of prayer, completely grounded in his relationship with the Father.   

Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and go out on the lake – all the while knowing what they were about to face with the weather. Even though the disciples were doing God’s will by going out on the lake, they were not spared from adversity. In fact, Jesus wanted them to experience the storm because it is through the storm that we really learn faith and to face down our fears. 

There is no shame in being afraid. We all experience it. And there is no shame in admitting we’re scared. Where shame exists, our instinct is to run away like our ancestors Adam and Eve and hide, thus hiding ourselves from the grace that could be ours.

Being out on the middle of a lake during a storm did not prevent Jesus from being present with the disciples – he just walked on the water to be with them. Even though the disciples had just seen and participated in the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand, they were not looking for another miracle – which is why they did not recognize Jesus and were afraid when they saw him.

Jesus never chided his disciples for their fear, or their hard hearts. He simply invited them, with the tone of grace and mercy, to not be afraid. And the Scripture is replete with continual encouragements to not be afraid because of God’s presence. Along with psalmist, we can say:

But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4, NLT)

I sleep and wake up refreshed
    because you, Lord,
    protect me.
Ten thousand enemies attack
from every side,
    but I am not afraid. (Psalm 3:5-6, CEV)

When I called, you answered me.
You made me bold by strengthening my soul. (Psalm 138:3, GW)

Ultimately, fear has to do with disconnection. It is to feel powerless, separated from any resources, unable to do anything about what is presently staring us in the face and scaring us.

Yet, when we have an awareness and a sense of connection with Jesus, there are unlimited resources of grace to accept, cope, and transcend any and every storm we find ourselves in the middle of.

May the risen and ascended Christ, mightier than the hordes of hell, more glorious than the heavenly hosts,
be with you in all your ways. 

May the cross of the Son of God protect you by day and by night, at morning and at evening, at all times and in all places.

May Christ Jesus guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, from the assaults of evil spirits, from the wrath of the wicked, from all base passions, and from the fear of the known and unknown. 

And may the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

*Above painting of Jesus walking on water by Brian Whelan

**Above Orthodox icon of Christ walking on water

***Above painting: Christ walking on the sea, by French artist Amédée Varint (1818-1883)

Psalm 9:9-20 – Assertive Anger and Confident Trust

The poor can run to you
    because you are a fortress
    in times of trouble.
Everyone who honors your name
    can trust you,
    because you are faithful
    to all who depend on you.

You rule from Zion, Lord,
    and we sing about you
    to let the nations know
    everything you have done.
You did not forget
    to punish the guilty
    or listen to the cries
    of those in need.

Please have mercy, Lord!
    My enemies mistreat me.
Keep me from the gates
    that lead to death,
    and I will sing about you
    at the gate to Zion.
I will be happy there
    because you rescued me.

Our Lord, the nations fell
    into their own pits,
    and their feet were caught
    in their own traps.
You showed what you are like,
and you made certain
    that justice is done,
    but evil people are trapped
    by their own evil deeds.
The wicked will go down
    to the world of the dead
    to be with those nations
    that forgot about you.

The poor and the homeless
won’t always be forgotten
    and without hope.

Do something, Lord!
    Don’t let the nations win.
    Make them stand trial
    in your court of law.
Make the nations afraid
and let them all discover
    just how weak they are.
(Contemporary English Version)

Everyone gets angry. Every single person on planet earth knows what anger feels like. And, to me, it makes sense that people get angry. After all, God gets angry. As people created in God’s image, we share God’s sense of justice and injustice.

That’s really what anger is: an emotional response to injustice. Whenever we are wronged or treated unfairly – or observe another person or group of people experiencing injustice – it stirs up our anger.

So, anger, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It just is. It’s what we do with our anger that gets dicey. A lot of human anger gets expressed in unhealthy ways by either passively stuffing it down into the soul and ignoring it; aggressively lashing out with verbal or physical violence; or passive-aggressively doing indirect jabs at the object of our anger.

The psalmist, however, takes another way of expressing anger. He is assertive, straightforward, and addressed God with his observations and feelings, as well as affirming that the Lord is the One who administers justice with fairness and equity.

When the poor are overlooked or oppressed by the rich, it is unjust. It creates anger, both human and divine. In their misery and hardship, they can flee to God, who is faithful to care for them and treat them with respect and dignity, as people carrying the divine image, like everyone else.

The nations of the earth are not all attentive to the needy. They don’t all serve their citizens and try to do right by them. Unfortunately, many people throughout the world groan under national leadership which is enamored with power and privilege – and forget those who are powerless, unable to lift themselves by their bootstraps.

Because of this reality, the psalmist petitions God. He asks, even insists, that God step in and act as judge and jury. It is an assertive use of anger that goes to the source of true help, to the Lord, who possesses both the will and the ability to overturn injustice and establish a right use of power.

Holy Scripture is consistent in its insistence on paying attention to those outside the halls of power. The prophets directed their message to issues of justice:

Learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need. (Isaiah 1:17, CEV)

Just look at those lawmakers who write evil laws and make life hard for the people. They are not fair to the poor. They take away the rights of the poor and allow people to steal from widows and orphans. (Isaiah 10:1-2, ERV)

He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, CEB)

Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (Amos 5:24, MSG)

Doing justice is taking up the cause of the powerless, the oppressed, and the needy among us in society. Because God cares, we care. To ignore the poor is to ignore God. To treat them unfairly is to flip the middle finger at God.

The Lord, thankfully, is a strong fortress for the oppressed and a protective force in times of trouble.

God remembers the prayers of the down-and-out.

Sooner, or later, those who are wicked in their dealings through exploitation of the powerless, will know firsthand, they are puny humans, and that God is immensely big.

Today’s psalm is both an angry petition, as well as an affirmation of faith. May it serve as a model for using our anger assertively, ordering our love rightly, and trusting our God confidently.

God almighty, you have given all peoples one common origin. It is your will they be gathered together as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of humanity with the fire of your love and with the desire to ensure justice for all. By sharing the good you give us, may we ensure equity for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May there be an end to division, strife and war. May there be a dawning of a truly human society built on love and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

**Above image: The Kveshi Fortress in the nation of Georgia.