From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food
from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart (Ps. 104:13-15, NRSV).
When the temperature reached 112° F (44° C) in South Dakota a month ago, a woman old enough to remember told me how the blast of hot south wind reminded her of the ’30s, the Dust Bowl. “Couldn’t stand to be outside,” she told me.
Last Sunday night I was sitting with some retirees in the basement of an old church after an evening service, and I wasn’t the only guest. They had worshiped that night with another congregation from just up the road—two churches losing members as the population of the Plains continues its century-long decline.
Losing a corn crop isn’t spectacularly rare where they live. Few farmers got a crop last year, or the year before, for that matter. One man told me they were in the last year of a five-year drought, but I don’t know how someone dares guess that this one is part of an already numbered set. Maybe they’ll lose next year’s crop too.
Rains came last week, however, enough to make some people think that the beans won’t go the way of the corn. But the jury’s out. They won’t know until the beans go into the bin. Still, it seems, there’s reason to hope.
Down the road, there’s a brand new Christian school that opened its doors yesterday, an enterprise that required far more than pocket change from hundreds of folks, none of them with a corn crop this year or last. That new school is a bigger gamble than the lottery or the daily transactions at a dozen South Dakota casinos. That brand new Christian school is a symbol of hope—and faith. But then, some say it’s sheer delusion.
Like that hot south wind, the young pastor’s sermon that night could well have been drawn from the ’30s, similarly offered to the needy faithful 75 years ago.
He told the people that, through the Word, God blesses them with all they need. He told them that in time of drought and starving cattle, God will provide vital daily bread. He preached from 2 Kings 4, the story of a miraculous feeding mid-famine. He told them what the psalmist says in 104 in a song with far more water running through it than Douglas County, South Dakota, has this summer. But I, for one, felt refreshed.
How does this water-park of a psalm read to good folks in the middle of drought? All this praise being offered to a God who happily turns on the spigots of our lives, who replenishes and refreshes—but how does all of that praise sound when outside the window a south wind of 112° wilts just about anything that grows?
I won’t speak for my South Dakota friends, but here’s what I saw. A church full of people on a Sunday night in August listened to a sermon about being filled with the Word, then had coffee and punch downstairs with their neighbors, chatting about the new school just down the road.
Let me a hazard a guess. When what the song praises doesn’t match what you see out the window, then a psalm like this one, Psalm 104, sounds bountifully like hope itself—and hope, as Paul says in Romans, “does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts. . .”
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