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November 14, 2020

Sermon Psalm 29:3. . .“Silent witnesses:  Thunder”

“Silent witnesses:  Thunder”

Psalm 29:3

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

“In contrast to the bright morning about to dawn over Portsmouth, England, on June 4, 1944, gloom settled over the Allied commanders gathered inside Southwick House at 4:15 a.m.”  At least, that’s what Chris Klein writes in his article, The Weather Forecast that Saved D-Day.

You see, the invasion of Normandy, also known as “Operation Overlord,” had been years in the making.  Aware of the threat, Hitler had even put one of his best men, Erwin Rommel, also known as “the desert fox,” in charge.  And with a 2,400 mile fortification of bunkers, landmines, and beach and water obstacles, Hitler was sure he was safe.

But before the invasion could take place, everything had to be just right.  The moon had to be full, the tide had to be low, and the sea had to be calm.

So as the Allied commanders gathered early in the morning of June 4, 1944, they debated about what to do.  Could they go ahead on June 5th with their plan?

That’s when all attention turned to a weatherman, Group Captain James Stagg, Operation Overlord’s chief meteorological officer.  And after consulting numerous colleagues as well as weather stations all across the North Atlantic, he said that, on the 5th, the waves would be too high and the winds would be too strong to bring soldiers ashore.  He asked for one more day.

So on June 6, 1944, Eisenhower finally gave the order to go ahead.  He said, “You are about to embark on the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.  The eyes of the world are upon you.”  By the end of the day, four thousand lives were lost, while another 156,000 stormed the beaches of Normandy.

And it was all because of the weather.

But that’s not the only battle that was affected by the weather.  In the late 1500s, the British defeated the “invincible” Spanish Armada, as a storm smashed their ships against the rocks.  And in the 1800s, Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo, all because of a thunderstorm.  In the words of author Victor Hugo, “If it had not rained the night between the 17th and 18th of June, the future of Europe would have been changed.”

It’s amazing to think what a simple thing as weather can do.

So it is in the words of our text, Psalm 29.  I’ll begin at verse 1:  “A Psalm of David.  Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.  The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Psalm 29:1-4).

If you didn’t already know it, the book of Psalms is the Bible’s hymnbook.  With its 150 chapters, 150 songs, it’s the Bible’s third-longest book, right after the books of Jeremiah and Genesis.  And while David wrote more than half of the psalms, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Ethan the Ezrahite, and the sons of Korah wrote some too.

And their topics are many, ranging anywhere from war to peace, from lament to judgment, from thanksgiving to worship and praise.

And if you don’t mind a little trivia this morning, if you were to count all the chapters in the Bible from beginning to end, you’d find that Psalm 118 is the very middle one, with 594 chapters before and 594 chapters after.  And, interestingly enough, if you’d add those two numbers up, 594 plus 594, you’d get 1,188.

And one more thing--can you guess what verse is at the very center of the Bible?  It’s Psalm 118, verse 8:  “It’s better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in man.”

So what makes Psalm 29 so unique?  It’s essentially a celebration of thunderstorms.  In fact, Bible commentators have even nicknamed it, “The Thunderstorm Psalm.”  It’s a meteorological marvel!

Verse 3:  “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.”  Verse 5:  “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars.”  Verse 7:  “The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.”  Verse 8:  “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”  And verse 9:  “The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in His temple all cry, ‘Glory!’”

As we speak, right at this very moment, there are more than two thousand thunderstorms going on somewhere on earth.  It’s no surprise.  There are as many as one hundred lightning strikes every second, eight million a day, and three billion a year.

And if I can take you back for a moment to your high school science class, you might remember that thunderstorms are among the most powerful forces on earth.  Acting like a giant heat machine, they form when a bank of cold air moves across the top of a bank of warm air.  And in order to re-stabilize the atmosphere, the storm pumps warm air up and cold air down until everything balances back out.

And in the process, these storms produce some of our planet’s most amazing marvels.  Along with every storm, there’s wind, and rain, and even ice--usually no larger than pebbles, some as big as grapefruit.

And as positively and negatively-charged particles rise to the top and sink to the bottom, they create a high-voltage chasm that gives off a brilliant, fiery, flash of light.  Lasting all of thirty microseconds, the bolt peaks out at one trillion watts, with a temperature of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

And the damage a strike can cause is absolutely frightening!  Not only can it burn tissue and stop a human heart, it can explode trees, melt metal, and break concrete, brick and stone.

Now as I said a moment ago, Psalm 29 is an ode to a thunderstorm.  But it’s not meant to wow us with the kind of facts I just gave you.  Instead, it’s meant to lead us through the storm to the Lord of the storm, to the King of creation, to the one true, sovereign God.

Let’s look again at the text.  Psalm 29, verse 3:  “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”  Verse 6:  “He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.”  Verse 8:  “The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.”  And verse 9:  “The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare.”

Can you picture it?  At the sound of the Lord’s voice, the storm moves from the Mediterranean in the west, across the plains of Lebanon, on to the heights of Mount Hermon, and finally to the wilderness east of Canaan.  And with it comes splintering trees, resounding thunder, and flames of fire.  It’s so loud and so terrifying that even deer give birth too soon.

No wonder all stand in awe and cry, “Glory!”

But you know what?  What happens just as soon as the storm passes and nature is once again at rest?

The answer is in the very last word of the very last verse of Psalm 29.  It’s the word, “shalom,” a word that means, “peace.”

As David wrote:  “May the Lord give strength to His people!  May the Lord bless His people with peace!”

What does all this mean for us?  I don’t have to tell that our lives are literally filled with storms, and neither do I have to tell you just how dark and terrifying those storms can be, when all things seem against us, and all hope is gone.

 But our God isn’t only a God in the storm, He’s the God of the storm.

Think about it--when the sun rises every morning, a star the size of one million earths, it means to remind us of just how strong and reliable our God can be, for “He is our sun and shield, full of grace and glory” (Psalm 84:11).

When we see the stars scattered across the night sky, with three hundred billion in our galaxy alone, they mean to remind us of how detailed and personal our God can be, for “He determines their numbers, and gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4).

When clouds sweep over our heads, cirrus, cumulus, and nimbostratus, they mean to remind us of His faithfulness, for “His steadfast love extends to the heavens, His faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).

When mountains stand so silently and majestically before us, they mean to remind us that God is higher than the mountains (Psalm 104:32), older than the mountains (Psalm 90:2), and stronger than the mountains could ever be (Psalm 46:2-3).

When we hear the rush of a river or stream, it means to remind us to give praise to our God, for they’re clapping their hands, and singing together for joy (Psalm 98:8).

And when we come across a rock too big and too heavy for us to possibly move, it means to remind us of our fortress and our deliverer, our rock in whom we take refuge (Psalm 18:2).

No wonder David wrote in Psalm 19:  “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim His handiwork.”

It’s been said that if you only hear two hymns in life, chances are that one of them is Amazing Grace, and the other is, How Great Thou Art.

Sung by almost everyone from Elvis, to Susan Boyle, to Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood, How Great Thou Art didn’t start out as a song.  At first, it was a poem, and a Swedish one at that.

The year was 1885, and Carl Boberg, a newspaper editor, lay minister, and future politician, was on his way home on Sweden’s southeastern coast.  But as he walked along, a storm suddenly appeared on the horizon.  Lightning flashed, and thunder shook the ground.  Boberg ran for safety.

Later, when the storm finally began to calm down, he rushed home, then opened his windows to let in some fresh air.  The sky had cleared, birds were singing, and in the distance, church bells began to ring.  That’s when something stirred inside, a feeling of tranquility and peace.  

So he wrote the words of a poem.  “O Store Gud,” he wrote.  It meant, “O Great God.”

You know how it goes:  “O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder/Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made/I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder/Thy power throughout the universe displayed/Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee/How great Thou art, how great Thou art/Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee/How great Thou art, how great Thou art.”

How great is our God?  When the fullness of time had come, He sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And though for a good man, someone might possibly dare to die, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  And now that He stands risen from the dead, we know that neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from Him.

 

We thank You, dear Father, that You are a God not only in the storm, but a God of the storm.  Help us at all times and in every way to find our hope and help in You, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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