Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 21, 2021
Psalm 93 Commentary
As I have noted before here on CEP, at Calvin Seminary we use Paul Scott Wilson’s “Four Pages of the Sermon” method as the grammar and structure of sermons. A key part of that is locating what Wilson calls “Trouble in the Text.” What is the tension, the crisis, the question, the issue at hand in the biblical text? What is “up in the air” in a given passage? And then where do we encounter that same dynamic in our world today?
But sometimes when my students are determined to go hunting for such Trouble, they focus on the wrong thing. A while back a student wrote a sermon on Psalm 93 and once he saw the middle part of this short poem and its words about a storm at sea, he decided that was the Trouble part of this psalm. Storms are problems, threats. They can be scary. As a mostly landlocked people, the Israelites feared storms (and the sea generally) and certainly a hallmark of several Gospel passages in the New Testament is Jesus calming storms on the Sea of Galilee, to the great relief of his terrified disciples in every instance. (Indeed, this student’s Psalm 93 sermon almost became a Mark 6 sermon by mistake!)
So one can see why spying a storm in a text would set one to thinking of this as a negative aspect. Storms certainly are presented problematically in a whole lot of other Bible passages. Except that what this student missed in the context of Psalm 93 is that here the storm is presented positively. This is not Trouble. The majesty of storms on the sea—the crashing of the waves, the roar of the wind, the howling force of the gales—is seen here as synecdoche for God’s majestic power. God not only controls the winds and the waves but something of his own power is reflected in all of that pelagic mayhem too.
A similar positive use of a thunderstorm can be seen in Psalm 29, which we looked at in a sermon commentary not long ago. But for this Christ the King / Reign of Christ Sunday, the Lectionary has opted for the majestic and regal power of an ocean storm in Psalm 93 to focus us on the awesome nature of our God in Christ.
But let’s back up and go through the psalm in order. The poem begins by noting how Yahweh is robed in majesty, that this God is armed with strength. Out of that power God long ago established the whole world along with God’s own throne. God alone is said to be from eternity, which is a reminder that God is not only the source of all that exists but God is also the only necessary being who predates anything to which we could assign a date. Or as my friend Luke Powery has put it, God was before was was.
Lest all this talk of majesty and strength remain in the abstract, however, the psalmist then makes things concrete by turning to that imagery of a storm on the sea. Are you having a hard time envisioning or picturing the majesty of a God who is mostly invisible to our eyes? Well, to give you an idea of what we’re talking about, take a gander at your average storm. Majesty looks like this. It looks like foaming and crashing waves, flashes of lightning, howling winds. It looks like the kind of thing that could scare you silly all things being equal.
But then the psalm takes one last turn. We leave behind the storm and turn to God’s statutes or laws. They stand firm even as we are told that holiness adorns God’s house for endless days. If this seems like almost a change of topic, it’s really not. What the conclusion of Psalm 93 tells us is that all of this awesome power of God is in service to something grander: holiness. God’s power brings about an orderly creation in which we can all flourish if we pay attention to the rules God has so lovingly given to us. (And yes, Israel saw the laws of God as a grace: these statutes were meant to keep them safe, to lead them to shalom.)
In the span of just 5 short verses, Psalm 93 packs a wallop. A whole lot of basic theology is tucked into this short poem. At a time when the world seems as out of control as a chaotic hurricane smashing into a coastline, we can be reassured that a far more powerful God is still in charge. And because of that, at the end of the day it will be cosmos, not chaos, that will have the last, best word on everything.
Please Note: Advent and Christmas 2021 Resources are now available on CEP!
In the quirky movie Forrest Gump, Gary Sinise plays Forrest’s commander in Vietnam, a man Forrest refers to only as Lt. Dan. Against Dan’s express wishes, Forrest refuses to let Lt. Dan die on the battlefield after he was grievously wounded. So he rescues and saves Lt. Dan but the man who survived lost both of his legs below the knees. He is angry, bitter, and cynical, seeing no future for himself now and he vents this anger onto Forrest while they are both recovering from their wounds.
Years later, Lt. Dan reappears in Forrest’s life after Forrest had begun a shrimping business. But Forrest is failing badly. He cannot seem to locate a decent amount of shrimp to save his life. Lt. Dan agrees to become his deckhand and on their first voyage together, a gargantuan storm blows up on the ocean. The other shrimping boats all head into port but Lt. Dan hoists himself high on the mast and insists they ride out the storm because he wants to have it out with the God who let him down. So as the storm rages, Lt. Dan tells God to bring it on. Turns out it was a hurricane and it destroyed every other shrimping boat on the coast. Only Forrest’s boat survived. Bubba Gump shrimp then took off and soon turned into a multi-million dollar business.
The storm was definitely a display of God’s majestic power. But as in Psalm 93, so in this odd little movie the storm also counts as a positive move on God’s part. Out of the storm came signs of God’s majestic power and goodness after all.
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