A Hallelujah God

Isaiah 46:8-9

8 “Remember this, and show yourselves men;
Recall to mind, O you transgressors.

9 Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me.

Dear Friends in Christ,

What is your favorite story in the Bible?  That’s a tough question, isn’t it, because there are so many good ones from which to choose.  There’s the story of Noah and the Flood, Joseph and all that happened to him, David and Goliath, and Daniel in the lion’s den.  If you’ve listened carefully to me over the years, you know what my favorite story is, namely, that of the Prodigal Son because it’s such a beautiful and powerful picture of God’s forgiving love.  But running a close second to that story in my own personal preferences would be the one we heard before as our Old Testament reading for today, the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.  I guess because I’m a bit on the competitive side, I love how Elijah challenged these false prophets to a contest in order to prove which God was the true God and how after their futile efforts to contact their god and get him to send fire to consume their offering Elijah prayed to his God and the fire of the Lord instantly fell from heaven with such intensity that it not only consumed the burnt offering, but also the wood, the stones the altar was made of and the water in the trench surrounding it.

That was God’s way of demonstrating what he tells us in our text for today.  Listen to these words again from Is. 46:8-9: “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart…I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.”  Through those words and through what happened on Mt. Carmel with Elijah and the prophets of Baal, God is trying to do something for us.  He’s trying to deliver us from what I would call the burden of a lesser god.  He doesn’t want us fooling around with gods who are smaller than he is, gods who are going to disappoint us sooner or later because they are false gods, gods that don’t even exist.  And another way he does this is through an old worship word that we’ve all said countless times but perhaps never really understood, and that is the word HALLELUJAH.  Now I realize I’m breaking some rules today by even saying that word because we Lutherans traditionally omit that word from our liturgies during the Lenten season because it is a very joyful word that doesn’t fit real well with the somber and solemn mood that Lent brings with it.  But I have my reasons for looking at it today so please bear with me.

Before we get to our study of that word today, however, I want you to think with me for a few moments about some of the gods we human beings have made or imagined in our own minds.  See if you’re familiar with any of these gods. For example, are any of you acquainted with the “genie-in-a-bottle god”?  Need a parking space?  Need to sink a putt?  Need to pass a test?  Just give the bottle a rub with a prayer and out he pops.  This kind of god is convenient and portable.  And what’s really nice about him is that if you don’t want him around because you’re wanting to do something you know he wouldn’t approve of, you just shove him back in the bottle and forget about him.

Or have you ever heard of the “sweet grandpa god”?  He is so nice, so easy-going, so laid back.  He never gets upset about anything.  So when his children or grandchildren sin, he just turns his head the other way and says with a smile on his face, “Sinners will be sinners.”

Then there is the “busy dad god.”  This god has so much to do.  Goodness gracious, all those constellations and galaxies to take care of, not to mention the jungles and rivers and oceans and mountains of this world.  He is one busy fellow.  He leaves on Monday and comes back on Saturday.  We don’t exactly know what he does all that time, but we do show up on Sunday because we know that’s the day he said he’s going to show up.

If you’ve ever had any of these views of God, then you know the problems they can create.  For example, if your view of God is that of a busy dad, I hope you don’t ever need help with any problems you’re facing because he doesn’t have time for that.  Or if you’re view of God is that of a sweet grandpa, you might want to think twice about dying because a sweet grandpa doesn’t have the power to raise you from the dead.  If your view of God is that of a genie in a bottle, you know what that means?  It means you’re bigger than he is. You’re telling him when to come and go.  You’re the one who calls the shots.  Now that might work as long as you’ve got life figured out, but if you ever come across something you don’t have figured out, then you’re in trouble.

You understand what I’m getting at here?  We human beings make small gods.  And when we make small gods, we pay a high price.  That price might be worry, anxiety, fear, guilt, doubt, despair.  But God doesn’t want us paying those prices, so here’s what he does.  Through the word HALLELUJAH he gives us a clear and accurate picture of the kind of God he really is, and that’s what we want to spend our time looking at this morning, which is why I’ve entitled my sermon, “A Hallelujah God.”

Now the word HALLELUJAH is an interesting word.  It’s really the combining of 2 Hebrew words:  the Hebrew word hallel which means to praise and the ending jah which is the shortened version of God’s proper name in the Old Testament which was Yahweh.  So HALLELUJAH means simply to praise Yahweh, or as we most typically render it, it means “praise the Lord.”

Now the name Yahweh is a bit mysterious, but it was a name that was treasured and guarded by the God’s people in the Old Testament.  In fact, it was considered by them to be such a holy name that they would not even dare to speak it for fear that they might use it improperly.  So instead of saying the word Yahweh, they would substitute another word for it, the word Adoniwhich means Lord or Sovereign One.  I remember reading once that whenever a scribe would write the name Yahweh, he would take a bath before he wrote it and burn the pen after he wrote it.  That’s the kind of reverence and awe that they had for this holy and proper name of God.  Certainly a far cry from the way God’s names are used in our day and age!

But what does the word Yahweh mean?  Well, most pastors would say it simply means “I am.”  That’s what I’ve always said.  But I did some extra digging lately and found that it really means even more than that.  One scholar I came across said this word is the merging of the verb tense that says “I am” and the causative tense of that same verb which says “I cause to be.”  Consequently this scholar renders the meaning of Yahweh as follows:  “I am the one who is and the one who causes to be.”  And that is a very interesting description of God, for if he is the One who is and the One who causes to be then that has incredible implications for you and me.  Allow me to share 4 of those implications with you right now.

First of all, it implies that God is unchanging.  And what a comforting thought that is because we are constantly surrounded by change these days, aren’t we?  Have you ever visited in a home that you had once lived in years ago? I remember doing that a long time ago when I was invited to preach the 150th anniversary service at the Lutheran church in Staunton where I grew up.  Following that service the pastor was gracious enough to allow us into the parsonage where I lived the first 18 years of my life.  I guess I was expecting it to look like it did when we lived there, but it didn’t.  Not even close.

And as I observed all of those changes, I’m not exactly sure why, but I had this feeling of sadness and disappointment come over me because I guess I expected everything to be the same, but it wasn’t.  Yet that’s life, isn’t it?  Constantly changing, constantly in a state of flux – whether it’s our hometown or the stock market or losses of loved ones, we are surrounded by change.  What a comfort it is to know then that we have a God who never changes, that his love for us never diminishes, that his power never decreases, that he’s the same yesterday, today, and forever as he tells us in his Word.

But not only is he unchanging, his name Yahweh also tells us that God is uncaused.  How many of you here today were caused?  I was too.  There was a time when you and I took our first breath.  But you know what?  There never was a time when God took his first breath because he’s just always been.  There never was a time when God was not.  Now that will short-circuit your brain space if you think about it long enough, but what that means is that God is bigger than we are, much bigger.  And if he’s bigger than we are, then that means he’s bigger than any problem, any challenge, any task, any concern we could ever face.

But there’s more.  The name Yahweh also implies that God is ungoverned.  Again, that’s so different than us because we are governed by so many things. Gravity governs how high we can jump; the weather governs when you plant your crops or your garden; the opinions of others sometimes govern how we feel about ourselves.  The fashion world governs the clothes we buy and wear.  I remember some years ago my daughters were making fun of the long white socks that I wore with my shorts, so what did I do?  I went out and bought some low-cut socks so they wouldn’t be embarrassed of ol’ dad anymore. But after wearing those socks for several years and finding them to be so uncomfortable I went back to my old socks again.  Sorry, but this guy’s getting too old to ride that fashion train anymore.  The point I’m getting at though is that we are governed by so many different things.  But God is ungoverned.  Nobody tells him what to do.  Nobody tells him how to dress, think, walk, or act.  He doesn’t check the weather each day to see what it’s going to do because guess what?  He makes the weather.

Then one more thing the name Yahweh implies is that God is unstoppable.  The Red Sea posed no challenge for him.  The walls of Jericho tumbled before him.  The storm that Jesus encountered on the Sea of Galilee with his disciples was brought to an abrupt halt with a single word from him.  And when his lifeless body was placed into that cold, dark tomb on that first Good Friday afternoon so long ago, not even death could stop him for on Sunday morning the ground shook, the stone rolled away, and the tomb was empty because the Son of God had risen victoriously.

Now what’s the big deal about all this?  Well, don’t you need the kind of big God that we’ve been talking about here today?  Don’t you need an unchanging God?  As I said before, everything around us is changing.  We are changing, especially as we go through the aging process.  So we need an anchor in the midst of all that change to hold us steady, something that we can be sure is never going to shift or vary over the course of time.

And don’t you need an uncaused and ungoverned God too?  One who is untouched and unaffected by the events of the world; One who is over and above it all.  Listen, my friends, since no act brought him forth, then that means no act can take him out.  Our God is not afraid of cemeteries.  He’s not intimidated by the cancer ward or disturbed by the nursing home.  He’s not terrified of terrorists.  He’s not shaken by the rises and falls of the American economy.  Don’t you need that kind of a God?  I sure do.

And then lastly, don’t you need an unstoppable God?  You don’t need what Dorothy found at the end of the yellow brick road.  Remember that?  She discovered that the wizard was really a wimp, that he was no greater than she was.  You don’t need that kind of a god – a god that is all smoke and mirrors, a god you can package or put in a bottle.  You need a Hallelujah God, a God who can put a 100 billion stars in our galaxy and a hundred billion galaxies in the universe.  You need a God who can take a 3-pound lump of corrugated tissue and shape it into 100 billion nerve cells, each with as many as 10,000 connections to other nerve cells and place them in your skull and call it a brain.  But most of all, you need a God who can take a cruel instrument of torture and execution known as a cross and turn it into an altar or where the penalty for your sins is paid in full.  You need a God who can take that same cross and transform it into a bridge that can take you from earth to heaven.  You need a God who is not only mind-numbingly mighty, but also tender enough to call you by name.  You need Yahweh, our one and only unchanging, uncaused, ungoverned, and unstoppable Hallelujah God.