Storm Sunday 9-18-16

Psalm 29 Give glory to YHWH, you heavenly court, give YHWH glory and strength! Give forth the glory that God’s Name deserves, and worship YHWH in the splendor of holiness! The voice of YHWH responds over the waters; the God of glory thunders over the raging seas. God’s voice is powerful. God’s voice is full of majesty. The voice of YHWH snaps the cedars, shatters the cedars of Lebanon. It makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of YHWH strikes with bolts of lightning; the voice of YHWH shakes the wilderness, the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of God twists the oaks, and strips the forests bare; and in God’s temple all cry, “Glory!” YHWH sits in judgment over the flood; YHWH is its ruler forever. Give strength to your people, YHWH! Bless your people with peace!

September is Open House month at St. Luke, during which we celebrate the Season of Creation, God as Creator of us all. The first Sunday, we celebrated Ocean Sunday; last Sunday we recognized Plant and Animal Sunday. Today is Storm Sunday – a more complicated celebration. Sometimes storms can be fun; sometimes they are dangerous. Listen for Jesus perspective on the storm from Luke 8: 22.

Luke 8:22-25 One day Jesus boarded a boat with the disciples & said, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” so they cast off. As they were sailing, Jesus took a nap. Soon a squall came down on the lake, and they began to take on water to a dangerous degree. They woke him and said, “Rabbi, Rabbi! We’re sinking!” Jesus got up, and reprimanded the wind and the waves immediately the storm subsided and all was calm again. “Where is your faith?” he asked them.

Sept. 18, 2016

Season of Creation: Storm Sunday

The wind started to come up as I walked up Walnut St. going toward 30th St. in center city Philadelphia. Just as I stepped onto the bridge going across the Schuylkill River, there was a big gust of wind that threatened to just about blow me into the river. I stepped back behind a wooden wall next to a building. I was glad it was there as this storm broiled around me to give me a little protection from the elements.

As I stood there, however, all of a sudden the plywood wall next to me blew over onto my head. It didn’t hurt me just surprised me. It pushed me out into the weather and I ran across the river to find a way home.

Most of us have been surprised by a sudden storm at sometime in our lives. Sometimes it comes at a time when we can enjoy it. I remember a church camp where our youth group was really disappointed when it started to rain when we were starting up the traditional campfire on the last night of camp. Then, we decided to go ahead with the campfire, and ended up sliding in the mud most of the evening. Great teenage fun, – not so much for the moms dealing with the clothes when we got home.

Other storms are not such great surprises. At best they make us change our plans. At worst, they catch us unguarded and vulnerable and leave us shivering and sick. A bolt of lightning can kill. A wet highway can be lethally dangerous. Similarly, on a larger scale, as we see every year in the fall, a hurricane, tornado or tsunami can be a scary and deadly surprise.

Religions over the ages and all over the world have seen God at work in these kinds of natural disasters. Many cultures have storm gods. Baal in Hebrew scripture was a storm god and we hear echoes of that cultural belief in some passages in the Bible, including our Psalm this morning. Thor was a storm god. They imagined that thunder was the sound the wheels of Thor’s chariot. I remember growing up vague myths about thunder being the sound of bowling by sky gods of some kind. And the image of a god throwing lighting bolts down to earth was very common, coming from a variety of imaginative religious cultures.

Hebrew scripture images invoke the fear of God and the awe of God through the belief that God is experienced in these fearful and awe-inspiring natural events. Whenever we have a really big storm, I find myself on the porch watching in wonder, thankful I’m not caught in it, praying for those who are, and amazed at the power of nature.

In our passage from Luke this morning we see Jesus portrayed as a wonder worker and holy person when he stills the storm in front of the disciples, reprimanding them for their lack of faith, calling them to not live in fear but to deal with the storm themselves. Notice that he doesn’t say there is nothing to be afraid of. He just suggests that they need not be afraid.

The storm in Luke and the cedar-snapping thunderous voice of God in the Psalm today are symbolic of all the occasions in our lives that fill us with fear. We face plenty of storms in our lives – plenty of surprises that leave us grasping for help, making us feel puny in the face of the winds of destruction that are swirling around us. Often it is hardest when we are already facing a pretty stiff wind and we think we can handle it and then all of a sudden a wall falls down on us, an extra unexpected blow just when we need it least.

Remember that during this Season of Creation we are not just praying for the oceans, the plants and animals, and the storms. We are praying with them, knowing ourselves as part of God’s creation. What would it be to pray with the storm, instead of just praying for those of us effected by the storms of our lives?

First, we remind ourselves that storms are a natural part of God’s creation, a natural and necessary part of the circulation of the atmosphere, solar energy and the effects of the earth’s circular movement. Secondly we recognize that our own fears and our own greed are making storms worse than they need to be, as we burn up fossil fuels at unprecedented rates without regard to what it’s doing to the temperature of the ocean and the air, exacerbating el niño and other storm systems.

So thirdly, if we see ourselves as part of creation and accept Jesus challenge to live without fear even in the face of scary storms in our lives, we may be able to begin the needed major shifts to clean and renewable power sources which don’t make the storms worse, but allow us to live in harmony with what God is doing in the world.

Thunderstorms may still be thought of as divine in that they are part of God’s creation, part of God’s work for regenerating and sustaining life on Earth. We are part of that creation as we let go of fear and work to help all of creation including humanity as we work with UMCOR and Volunteers in Mission for recovery work when a hurricane or flood does cause damage

We trust in the power of the Living God in Christ to stand by us through all the storms of our lives, even the ones that hit us when we are most vulnerable, because we know we are in the boat with Jesus. We know that we are not alone. We know that we are part of God’s work to sustain each other through the storm.

This is God’s good news.


PS. The death of Shirley Brautigam is part of the storm that we’re going through this week. I’ve been thinking about her a lot, of course. I talked with her daughter a couple of times. She asked me to express her gratitude to our congregation and particularly to the women’s group for the home that we have been for Shirley for so many years. I, of course, told her that we loved her deeply and we’re really going to miss her. I found myself thinking that Shirley was one of our anchors, an anchor in the storm. And that not having her for this particular storm leaves us a little bit adrift. We will be celebrating her life in a service in November. In the meantime, we hold each other as we move through this part of the storm.

Responsive hymn:  512     Stand By Me