“Awe-Struck” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of May 30, 2021 — the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. The text upon which it is based is Psalm 29.
Trinity Sunday (NL3) John B. Valentine
Psalm 29 May 30, 2021
It’s Trinity Sunday ... folks.
It’s a day set aside for us to celebrate the truth that God is revealed to us:
• As Father ... Son ... and Holy Spirit.
• As the Creator of Life ... the Redeemer of Life ... the Sanctifier of Life
• As the Creator of US ... and the Redeemer of US ... and the Sanctifier of US!
Now ... honestly ... the whole idea of God being a “Trinity” is kind of a hard thing for us to wrap our heads around ....
For ... though the ancient creeds of the Church say that God is Three and One at the same time ... Three-in-One and One-in-Three ... that just doesn’t make sense to our math minds at all.
In fact ... every time Trinity Sunday rolled around ... our dear departed sister Ann Brohm would ask me to TRY to explain the Trinity to her in a way that she could understand. So ...
• One year we tried the apple analogy ... apple tree ... apple fruit ... apple seed.
• And another year we tried the fire analogy ... you’ve got the fire itself ... and you can feel its heat ... and you can use its light.
• And ANOTHER year we tried the water analogy ... ice and water and steam are all water ... just in different forms under different conditions.
But EVERY year ... ultimately ... Ann would acknowledge that those analogies really didn’t work ... and that she couldn’t really wrap her head around the concept of God ...
And then I’d get to remind her that maybe that’s the point of all this Trinity-talk ...
• That God is bigger than our ideas and beyond our comprehension.
• That God transcends any and all human categories.
• That “one plus one plus one equals one” is a mystery ... a holy mystery ... a something we can’t understand ... and that’s okay.
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Actually ... I love that we got to hear Psalm 29 read in the context of our celebration of the Trinity this morning.
Because ... of all the psalms in the Bible ... all 150 of them ... I think Psalm 29 comes as close as any to articulating that sense of awe that we encounter when we think about the wonder and the mystery of God.
You see ...
Psalm 29 starts out simply enough ... with an invitation to praise God:
Give the LORD glory, you spirits!
Give glory! Honor God's strength!
Honor the name of the LORD!
Bow when the LORD comes, majestic and holy.
But then ... if you pay close attention ... Psalm 29 gets a bit weird!
You see ... the Psalmist likens God to ... a thunderstorm!
And not just any ol’ two-bit thunderstorm ... but a massive MASSIVE thunderstorm!
So see if you can conjure up in your mind’s eye the most ginormous thunderstorm that you’ve ever witnessed and listen to these words!
God’s voice thunders above the massive seas; powerful, splendid.
The voice of God ... the Psalmist says ... is powerful ... and splendid ... and awesome.
God shatters the cedars, shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
Any of you ever seen a Giant Sequoia or maybe a Ponderosa Pine that has been shattered by a lightning strike?
God makes Lebanon jump like a calf, Sirion like a wild ox.
What happens to pets and children in the midst of a thunderstorm? They whimper and whine ... do they not?
But when the storm gets really close ... really really close ... they jump! And the Psalmist seems to be saying that whole nations while jump like that at the voice of God.
God's voice strikes fire, makes the desert shudder,
Qadesh shudders in labor, deer writhe in labor.
God’s voice starts fires! God’s voice makes the deserts tremble. The desert Qadesh convulses as if it were a deer in labor.
God strips the trees. All shout “Glory” in your temple, LORD.
And when the storm has passed ... and things have returned to normal ... what is it that everyone says???
“WOW! Just wow!”
Now I know that ... on account of the COVID rules ... we really shouldn’t be doing a turn-and-talk thing here in the Sanctuary right now ... but I hope ... I really hope ... that you’ll take some time today to share your “biggest” ... or maybe “most terrifying” ... “thunderstorm ever” stories with one another.
Because ... I suspect ... at the end of most of those stories ... there came a point where you couldn’t help but say “Wow!” ... for you experienced something that was truly TRULY awesome.
And it’s THAT sense of awe and wonder is what the Psalmist wants us to apply to the Lord our God!
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But now consider this.
What exactly IS “awe”????
Formally ... psychologists tells us ... “awe” is an emotion ... and particularly ... it’s an emotion that is triggered when two things come into play:
• One ... a sense of vastness ... and ...
• Two ... the need to cognitively, emotionally and spiritually accommodate that vastness.
Awe is a sense of observing ... experiencing ... encountering something profound AND then having to make space inside of yourself to accommodate that profundity.
It’s encountering something immense AND then having to make space inside of yourself to accommodate that immensity.
So ... for instance ...
We can travel again ... and so you decide to head east to take a trip to Yosemite and observe the sights on the Valley floor ...
And you see El Capitan at a distance and say “That is pretty darn cool.”
But then you hike the footpath up to the base of El Capitan and begin to sense that this giant monolith is just looming over you ... and you dare to look up ... and this time you say “Wow!”
Or maybe you decide to head north and visit Redwood National Park up Highway 101 ...
And you see the trees at a distance and that look quite large ...
But then you get closer to them and start trying to wrap your heart and head around the fact thet some of those trees are so big at the base that they take twenty or thirty steps just to walk around and then you dare to look up ... and almost stumble over backwards as you do ... and again you say "Wow!"
Or maybe you just decide to head west into the City ... to make a day trip of it.
And you go to the de Young Museum ... or maybe off to a concert ...
And you’re so overcome by the wonder of a particular painting or sculpture ... or so overcome by the performance of the musicians ... that again you just say “Wow!”
THAT’S awe ... too!
Be it a granite monolith or a giant tree ... an amazing meal or a a glass of wine ... a work of art or an artistic performance ... WHATEVER it may be that makes you say “Wow!” ... that takes your breath away ...
THAT is AWE!
And it is driven by a need to accommodate within ourselves something that is too big ... too beautiful ... too much ... to just take in.
It’s so big or beautiful or whatever that we literally have to make room to take it in ... we have to rearrange our internal furniture and our ways of thinking to allow something THAT big ... THAT good ... THAT delightful ... THAT whatever ... to move in.
And it’s with that emotion ... THAT sense of awe .... that the Psalmist invites us to engage as we contemplate the wonder and the goodness and the glory of God!
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I LOVE something that a fellow by the name of Frederick Buechner ... once wrote on the subject of awe. He mused:
I remember seeing a forest of giant redwoods for the first time. There were some small children nearby, giggling and chattering and pushing each other around. Nobody had to tell them to quiet down as we entered. They quieted down all by themselves. Everybody did. You couldn't hear a sound of any kind. It was like coming into a vast, empty room.
Two or three hundred feet high the redwoods stood. You had to crane your neck back as far as it would go to see the leaves at the top. The trees made their own twilight out of the bright California day. There was a stillness and stateliness about them that seemed to become part of you as you stood there stunned by the sight of them. They had been growing in that place for going on two thousand years. With infinite care they were growing even now. You could feel them doing it. They made you realize that all your life you had been mistaken. Oaks and ashes, maples and chestnuts and elms you had seen for as long as you could remember, but never until this moment had you so much as dreamed what a Tree really was.
For I can’t help but imagine that ... amid those moments ... there was something of a paradigm shift that took place in those kids ...
A paradigm shift from “The world is all about me” to “The world is larger than me” or maybe even to “This is God’s world.”
For THAT ... my friends ... is the psalmist’s invitation to each of us this Trinity Sunday ...
Not to understand the nature and the goodness of God ...
But to stand in awe of the nature and goodness of God.
To allow ourselves to undergo a paradigm shift .... from “The world is all about me” to “The world is larger than me” or maybe even to “This is My Father’s world.”
For I suspect Abraham Lincoln had it right when he wrote “I never behold the heavens filled with stars that I do not feel I am looking in the face of God. I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could lie looking up into the heavens and say there is no God.”