O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
thy power throughout the universe displayed;
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee,
how great thou art! How great thou art
—“How Great Thou Art” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship 856)

The words of this treasured hymn always lift my spirit. The songwriter experiences God’s greatness through the beauty of nature. Indeed, God’s majesty is on full display throughout creation.

I’ve heard a familiar refrain in many conversations, sermons and speeches. People passionately share how they encounter God in nature—in mountains, sunsets, sunrises, birds’ songs, gentle breezes, warm summer sun and even frigid winter air.

Recently I had a conversation with a community member who had just returned from their annual trip “up north” to the family cabin. They shared with me vivid examples of how they had experienced God in nature during their time away in a place of solitude and beauty. They effused about experiencing the Divine while on a walk or a canoe excursion without giving one thought to the privilege of being able to escape to a cabin up north.

Since this person knew that I’m not the outdoorsy type, they concluded the conversation with: “You don’t know what you’re missing!” It seemed like they were bragging—as if they’ve achieved some heightened spiritual vista where they can experience God in ways other people can’t.

For some of us, it’s easy to pitch a tent in “God’s beautiful creation,” but we avoid unhoused members of our community who live in tents every day.

It’s easy to see God in the beauty of the great outdoors. What’s more difficult is facing the day-to-day financial struggles some people wrestle with that make cabin ownership and trips up north an unattainable luxury. Camping equipment alone can be too expensive, and paid vacations are simply nonexistent for many people.

I’m mindful of Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel where he illustrates the end-times. Jesus separates people into two groups—those who ministered to him when he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, and the others who didn’t (25:34-46).

But both groups were confused because neither recognized Jesus in these unexpected places. Jesus stressed, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these . . . you did it to me” (25:40).

Jesus told us exactly where he would be. We learn through this passage that Jesus so closely aligns himself with those on the margins that he is, in fact, indistinguishable from people who are oppressed, dehumanized and isolated.

For some of us, it’s easy to vacation in a cabin or pitch a tent in what we call “God’s beautiful creation,” but, ironically, we avoid unhoused members of our community who live in tents every day.

The God we serve is omnipresent. The same God who is present in mountain grandeur is just as present in a hospice room, in noisy streets, in alleys with neglected potholes and graffitied walls, and in mundane, everyday life. Can we witness Christ’s face in the face of a death row inmate, remembering that Jesus was also on death row and executed?

For more than a century, the hymn “How Great Thou Art” has illustrated Divine greatness in the breathtaking glory of God’s good creation. Is there a hymn that celebrates Christ’s sacred solidarity with the least of these in our society? I’m not a hymn writer, but I offer this attempt at a possible additional verse for the beloved hymn:

Oh Lord my God, we marvel at the mystery
that you are one among the least of these.
Christ is revealed, present beyond the boundaries,
and there we meet God’s holy majesty.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee,
how great thou art! How great thou art!

Let the church say, AMEN!

Angela T. !Khabeb
Angela T. !Khabeb is an ELCA pastor living in Minneapolis. She enjoys an active home life with her husband and three children. 

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