All Things Dark and Dangerous

Sermon for First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Sunday, January 13, 2013

Psalm 29

(Singing in italics) “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful the Lord God made them all.”

This quaint little songs goes on to talk about the little flowers and the little birds. The serene little river, the pleasant summer sun, the ripe fruits in the garden. Isn’t it just great how God made everything so beautiful?

And we hear this all the time. “These cute little puppies tell me all I need to know about God.” “I worship God in the beauty of my backyard.” Or perhaps my favorite, “I’m closest to God when I’m walking on the beach at sunset.”

It’s all so quaint. So perfect. So serene. None of us really questions that we can see the beauty of God in kittens and butterflies. How…bright and beautiful it all is.

6a00d83452339969e200e5501dcb448833-640wiBut, but I have to ask – what about the scorpions? What about the black widow spiders? Puppies are great and all, but what about God and the killer bees and the killer whales and the killer sharks. And perhaps most sinister of all – what about the mosquitoes? Did the Lord God create them too?

And how come there aren’t any quaint little hymns about tornadoes and floods and earthquake and hurricanes? They were created by God just as much as the little flower that opens and the little bird that sings. So I propose a new chorus to that old hymn:

“All things dark and dangerous, all terrors great and small. All things hard and horrible the Lord God made them all.”

Doesn’t quite sound right, does it? We want God to fit in a box. We want a God who behaves nicely and has good manners. We want a God who delights in golden retrievers and butterflies, not a God who created electric eels and fire ants.

Now, I invite you to pick up your pew sheet and look at the psalm we just read, Psalm 29. The way we said, sort of dreary and boring like, doesn’t quite fit what’s being described. What the author of the psalm is describing is God in a thunderstorm.

Look at verse 3: “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters, the God of glory thunders; the Lord is upon the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.” This is not a God of kittens and butterflies, this is a God of power and might and thunderous strength.

“All things dark and dangerous, all terrors great and small. All things hard and horrible the Lord God made them all.”

Psalm 29 challenges us. Psalm 29 challenges us to face up to the reality of God. A God who splits the flames of fire and shakes the wilderness. This is not some tame God who fits in a box and who paints beautiful sunsets. This is a God of immeasurable power and strength. This is a God who has the power to shake us. This is the Lord whose voice makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.

Psalm 29 is a challenge. Psalm 29 challenges us to assess how God acts in our lives. Is God quaint, or does God have the power to shake us? This psalm stands as a mirror and asks us – is this the God we know?

b7fd094a97f703cca487b357fb5abc744644e11bOne day last year, I walked into a local Christian bookstore. I had just used up my last notecard, and I was looking for some new stationery. The stationery I found at this Christian bookstore dismayed and disturbed me. There were notecards with pictures of Jesus, with perfectly combed hair hanging out on a meadow with a rainbow. The Jesus who was nearly drowned in the Jordan River by John the Baptist was not there. On the sympathy cards, there were sappy sayings like, “God wanted another angel in heaven;” nothing about how our Lord died too. Everything about God was just so cute and perfect and kitten-like. There were no lightning bolts or flames of fire or writhing oak trees. Psalm 29 was not around.

So I went up to this an employee and said, “Hi. I’m looking for some stationery that isn’t sappy and won’t emasculate me.” Maybe I came across a little too strong, because that poor employee had no idea what to say. Refusing to buy anything that was sappy or sentimental, I left that Christian bookstore without any stationery. I was not going to buy into the idea that God is soft and fuzzy and weak. The god proclaimed at that bookstore was not a god of power or strength or might. The god of that bookstore was like a cheap drug – it feels good going down, but it leaves you empty. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, but it doesn’t have the power to change lives.

“All things dark and dangerous, all terrors great and small. All things hard and horrible the Lord God made them all.”

The most dangerous thing you can do in your life is follow Jesus. Taking up the cross, and deciding to be a disciple of Jesus is a challenge. This life we lead, this thing that we call “Being a Christian,” isn’t so easy. This life isn’t cute. A walk with God is not about little birds and flowers and the pleasant summer sun. In a life with God, sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of Psalm 29. As disciples, we are the oak trees and the forests – and the voice of the Lord comes upon us with power and might. We are the ones who are stripped down. As disciples, God’s thunder rips off our sin and pride and greed. Being a Christian is far more dangerous than coming across a black widow or a scorpion or a shark.

This life with God, following Jesus, becoming a disciple – it all means that we have to lose ourselves. It is the voice of God that thunders, not ours. It is the Lord who is enthroned above the flood, not us. And in the end, we don’t save ourselves, but God saves us.

Living with this God is dangerous, because you just never know what crazy thing God is going to call you to do. You might have to sell all your possessions. You might have to quit your job to become a monk or a nun. You will have to forgive that one person that you really hate. God is going call you to something hard and horrible. Your path may be dark and dangerous. Following Jesus is not a walk in the park – following Jesus is like living in a thunderstorm.

This is a dangerous life we lead. But it’s the only life worth living. Even though it’s a challenge, even though God is going to shake you – this life will not leave you empty. This God will not leave you all hollowed out inside like the god proclaimed in that silly song and in that bookstore. This God we worship will strip you down, and then build you up again with his love. In baptism, you were drowned, and then raised to a new life in Christ. This is the only life worth living, because it’s the only way to experience true love.

Take God out of the box you have made for him. Unleash the full effect of God in your life. Listen for the voice of the Lord – believe me, if you open your ears, you won’t miss it. God speaks loud enough to make the oak trees writhe.

“All things dark and dangerous, all terrors great and small. All things hard and horrible the Lord God made them all.” 

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