Vacations are a good idea.
Becky and I returned from a ten-day vacation in Montana on Wednesday. Our time away could not have been better. We spent the first half of the vacation in Glacier National Park. My apologies to social media folks whose feeds were flooded with one photo of spectacular scenery after another. The second half of the vacation was taken with visiting Becky’s brothers in Billings, and it was a very good time.
Before we left for Montana, I wrote of my expectations that God would speak during our time away. With eager anticipation of the spectacular scenery we would see, I said, “As we enjoy our time in Glacier National Park, God’s word may speak again. Perhaps from Psalm 95: In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. Or maybe Psalm 90: Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. And, it being Glacier Park, I am kind of hoping to be reminded of Psalm 104: The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.”
We were not disappointed. God’s word gave great meaning to what we saw in God’s creation.
It was not alone through the beauty of the creation that God’s word spoke while we were on vacation, however. Our first early morning in Whitefish, Montana, God’s word startled me. Like a splash of cold mountain water in the face or the sudden sound of rolling thunder as lightning flashes above the forest floor, the word was a jolt, saying something I was not expecting, something contrary to all else that was being said that morning. Whatever else I had been thinking was lost. Could this be true?
I was reading Psalm 33, a familiar and encouraging text. As I read that morning, though, the familiar words surprised me. I read verse 5 and stopped, I could not go any further. Could this be true?
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
Could it be true in the summer of 2016 that the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord? Could it be true in the hate-plagued world of Orlando and Nice, Munich, New Orleans, and Dallas that the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord? Could it be true in the discouraging world of American politics and cultural decline that the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord? Could it be true in a world where friends lose jobs and are diagnosed with serious illnesses, where addictions rage and hopelessness holds too many captive in its dungeons of despair, that the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord?
Still dazed by this astounding word, I finished my morning readings and we left Whitefish for our first day in Glacier. Around every curve the word sang to us, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Psalm 104 has it right, “The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers” (if by rock badgers the psalmist meant marmots).
Yet even as we hiked the high trails and were splashed by glacier-fed streams cascading down the steep slopes, Psalm 33 kept whispering, sometimes shouting, in my ear. “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”
Vacationers, families and retirees, fill the national parks in the summer. The crowds can be a nuisance. But knowing that the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord, we were reminded not just of the Beauty of the Earth, but of the need to give thanks
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.
We were on vacation, but I still read the news feeds each morning. The news of our world is not good. Knowing that the earth if full of the steadfast love of the Lord, however, we were reminded that This is My Father’s World –
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.
Returning from vacation and to a new program year at the church and to ninety long days until the election, to lives shaken by illness, unemployment, and hurt, I pray that I might, in all I say and do, in my thoughts and in my prayers, reflect the hope of that word that startled me so one morning in Whitefish, Montana: He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
Indeed, the Gospel, the Good News, is a gospel of hope. The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
See you Sunday.