One week into the new year and the term ‘unprecedented’ floods back into our daily vocabulary.
Another unprecedented event thrown upon a world weary with the weight of trauma and tragedy.
One week into 2021 and it is apparent that the ills of our national culture are not bound by any calendar year. The societal and spiritual challenges travel with us. They rage around us as chaos burst through January’s door with familiar themes of racial injustice, political division, and diverging experiences of truth.
It is a natural response to be surprised, to be shocked, to be saddened. And, though the division we feel in our nation is real in our practices, our country is united in this reactionary cycle of suffering. While screaming rage contrasts with silent sorrow, both are manifestations of suffering. It is as Thích Nhất Hạnh says, “When a person’s speech is full of anger, it is because he or she suffers deeply.”
Whether in violent outrage or in stoic helplessness we, the people, are bonded together in the stories of our suffering in this year just as we were in the last.
This morning we walk into the words of Psalm 29 for guidance and wisdom in a culture freshly refamiliarized into the pattern of unprecedented proclamations.
Psalm 29 is considered to be the oldest of the psalms. Bible scholars believe that Psalm 29 is an Israelite adaptation of an ancient Canaanite hymn to Baal, a god of weather and fertility.
In the Northwest Semitic languages spoken in the Levant during antiquity, Ba’al was a title similar to ‘owner’ with an honorific meaning similar to “lord.” From its use among people, it came to be applied to gods with inscriptions showing the name Baʿal as being particularly associated with the storm and fertility god Hadad and his local manifestations.
The divine council to whom Psalm 29 is addressed is understood to be the deposed gods of the Canaanite pantheon and demands that these deposed gods worship or ‘bow down’ before Yahweh as the eternal ruler of all Creation. Unlike the monotheistic dialogues of today, Psalm 29 does not discredit or deny Ba’al as a god but names and reframes coexistent deities as a means of pulling people into a unified vision. A divine vision of a world bubbling and rising as a petri dish for Love, hope, and faith. A holy vision of a people placed within Creation to weave space for stories inaugurating the divine evolution of shalom.
Psalm 29 does not ignore competing cultural divinities but casts them as characters in a broader narrative in which they too play a role as participatory agents in God’s sovereignty over all Creation. In so doing, Psalm 29 diverges from an intellectual competition of truths and introduces an inclusive conversation of choice. To choose to abide in a story scripted outside of any being or entity’s control. A story bound solely in the breath of Yahweh. Or to choose to abide in a story represented in Baal. A story bound primarily in the actions and dictations of the human species.
Today’s biblical commentator explains:
“…the religion of Baal asserted what humans are all too inclined to believe in any era, that ultimately we are in control and that our efforts can ensure security. While Psalm 29 is not (necessarily) anti-science or anti-technology, it does suggest limits to both. The universe is the sphere of God’s reign. It is derived from and belongs to God and thus is not simply an object for our study, much less for our manipulation and control. Similarly, our strength, including our scientific knowledge and technological capabilities, are gifts from God, not simply results of human inquiry and ingenuity. Thus, shalom -peace, well-being, security-does not begin with our efforts but with our openness to God’s claim upon us and the ways God has gifted us.”
God is able to provide strength to collaborators with Creation and rules bound by a relational duty to provide peace for all Creation. Here the benefit of God’s sovereignty is not only the proclamation of Love as the ruling elite but the presentations of a method from which we can live outside the rhetoric of fear and the narratives of violence. Psalm 29 speaks to all human-created realities in a language present in Creation as a context of care of Yahweh and only Yahweh.
In short, Psalm 29 calls us – all of us – to yield to the sovereignty of God. To accept our stories’ limits even when we struggle to understand the lines surrounding these same limits. Psalm 29 is the great equalizer reclaiming truth from our grasp and replants us in the process of exploration in Creation for the presence of Christ. The promise of communal salvation.
My great-great-grandfather, James McClenney, was a Confederate soldier.
Born in 1845, James McClenney served as a private in the North Carolina Infantry in the Civil War.
In 1865, after his unit surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, my great-great-grandfather walked home to Wayne County, North Carolina. Upon arriving home, he packed everything related to the war in a trunk and refused to talk about the war from then on.
Public historical records state that “James McClenney and his family entered into the “Friends Meeting” after he came home from the Civil War.” They go on to describe him as “feeling very strongly about having an education and made sure that all of his children had one.” The record ends by stating that, “McClenney was on the Board of Education in the Grantham community and helped establish a school for African Americans.”
I believe salvations are most visible in long journeys home to our truest selves. The truest self-found placed and planted in the story of Creation. A Creation bound to the Divine essence named Yahweh experienced only as the manifestations of unconditional Love. Yahweh. The creator and nurturer of Creation. The scripter of the story of the Whole.
I believe salvations are most tangible in the light of unpredictable endings preceded by the presence of a dark beginning. The presence of a beginning that does not deny those parts prone to darkness. When the dark underbelly of the story that, “This is not who we are,” shows up and suggests repentance and reconciliation to a story defined beyond who we wish we were or who we fear we are becoming.
This morning Psalm 29 preaches that whether our story criminalizes pain or denies destruction, we do not own the truths of the universe. Psalm 29 reveals that abiding in the story of Yahweh, bowing to the source of eternal Love, requires the adjustment of our narratives because our narratives are only one piece of the truth, and our stories are only one view of reality. Psalm 29 defines faithfulness to Yahweh as a response to Ba’al, repentance for worshipping the stories we tell as though they were our gods, and we were the owners, the lords, of the universe. Psalm 29 suggests repentance for wherever that story of ownership, of Baal, has led us. Psalm 29 invites a reconciling to the great, unknowable story of Creation present just beyond our certainty.
Our rebellion, our insurrection, is the perpetual alignment of our lives as recipients of shalom that we may serve as conduits for peace in a world programmed for war. Not to deny the existence of worlds fostered in death but to rise with strength, courage, and compassion.
It is true that while the events of this week were unprecedented, they were not unpredictable.
Our call, our role in the world in this very moment, is to trust in the unpredictability of a story that is not our own. To expect stories of salvation possible only through the revelations of Christ present in the peace expressed in Creation. To hold strong to the unbelievable, unexplainable, unpredictable stories of repentance, of reconciliation, of resurrection.
Today, may we resign the scripted dramas and predetermined conclusions of our own narratives. May we accept the invitation to participate in the story authored by the mystery of Love and the power of grace. And, may these be the stories that own us, the stories that settle as a balm to our sorrow and fuel to the internal fire that will shine the light of Christ upon a dark and dreary world.