reflections on storm sunday in the season of creation...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for Sunday, September 18, 2016 - Storm Sunday - during the new liturgical Season of Creation.

Introduction
Early in my days as an ordained clergy person, I went through a phase of experimenting with the then popular sounds of praise music. It didn’t last long, mind you, but I discovered two gifts in some of the songs. First, I could use some as a way of being in prayer almost any time and any place – at a meeting, in my car, before I went to sleep – because the melodies and lyrics were simple and highly accessible restatements of Scripture, much like “Seek Y First.” And second, I found myself drawn to some of these songs because they were humble – maybe even tender-hearted. Most of the hymns I had grown up with were big, bold theological dissertations in six verses – think “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” or “God of Grace and God of Glory” – profound and important musical and spiritual masterpieces. And while I loved them then – and cherish them today – there were times when I needed a more modest prayer song. Maybe you have had a similar experience?

For about six months I used this gentle chorus by Twila Paris as the opening to my time of Centering Prayer. It evokes reverence and praise, awe at God’s creation, and genuine humility:

You are the Lord of Creation and Lord of my life; Lord of the land and the sea.
You were Lord of the heavens before there was time and Lord of all lords you will be.
I bow down and worship you, Lord. I bow down and worship you, Lord.
I bow down and worship you, Lord: Lord of all lords you will be.


Like most praise songs, the subsequent verses involve just changing one or two words, so that this becomes: “You are King of creation and King of my life… and King of all kings you shall be.” Clearly praise music is not for every one – and I rarely go down that road any more – but this song still holds some power for me. And, from time to time, I still find myself praying it… even though I the language is not inclusive and the theology too domesticated. It is clearly not a comprehensive theological treatise on salvation history like Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts – and it fails to honor the awesome power of the Lord experienced in the storms of the natural world – but… it gets the call to reverence and humility right. And THAT, beloved, is what we’re invited to come to terms with on Storm Sunday in the Season of Creation: awe and respect, power and humility, trust and obedience. You are Lord of creation, gracious God, so we bow down.

On Storm Sunday we are invited to go beyond childish superstition and arrogant assumptions
about being the crown of creation when it comes to both God and storms. Storms have a sacramental wisdom to teach us about our important but modest role within the created order. Like the rabbis said: we are a little lower than the angles but simultaneously dust and ashes, too. So open your minds and your hearts to the wisdom of the Lord revealed in both the words of Job and Jesus as well as the poetry of Psalm 29 for there are blessing to receive if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

Insights
Chapter 28 of Job is a celebration of what God discovers about wisdom. Now please hear me correctly: I did not say what God reveals about wisdom, but rather what God as Lord of creation discovers. “Where does wisdom come from? What is the place of understanding?” is a Biblical chorus of sorts that God asks as a sacred challenge to the limitations of the human mind and imagination. In the opening of this text, Job boasts of human ingenuity – we can bring to the surface the precious metals of the earth to use them – he proclaims with pride. Only to be told by the Lord that wisdom is much more valuable than gold and silver. In fact, God scolds Job by saying that “wisdom is not a commodity that can be purchased, found, dug up or exchanged… wisdom is beyond human comprehension.” (Season of Creation, online resources)

+  This is one of the gifts of Job: it regularly reminds us that we understand only a tiny fraction of our lives and have even less control over them. We who exist in middle class privilege forget this so quickly – and remember that Job was being written for the best and the brightest of ancient Israel who were trying to make sense out of why their kingdom had been destroyed and sacked by Babylon – so Job is speaking to people like us.

+  In a way, the appointed text for Storm Sunday is as poignant for you and me at First Church as it was for the leaders of ancient Israel. Because, we too are struggling to understand how it came to pass that the FIRST church in our town – the flagship institution that gave birth to our city – could find itself in such turmoil and confusion. It was perplexing then, it is challenging now – so pay careful attention to what comes next.

God tells Job that the essence of wisdom was discovered by the Lord of creation by observing a storm: when the wind, the waters, the rain and the lighting come together, wisdom was revealed. Explicitly verses 25-26 speak of the “weight of the wind, the measure of the primordial waters, the seasons and locations of the rain and the way lighting moves through the heavens.” (Preaching Commentary on the Season of Creation, p. 206) Discernment, therefore, is the way into authentic wisdom.

Just as the Lord watched, waited and trusted the rhythm of creation, looking deeper than the obvious and listening to truths that escaped the powerful, so too do we find God’s wisdom in our lives. Discernment – contemplation – taking a long, loving look at what is real – is the way into authentic wisdom. Psalm 111 tells us that “fear of the Lord” – yirat in Hebrew that might better be translated as awe and respect – is the beginning or first step towards wisdom.” Reverence. Humility. Perspective and place properly discerned in the grand order of creation leads us into wisdom.

+  And the Hebrew Bible is saturated with this truth: Abraham is commended because he trusts and respects the Lord as God. The prophet Isaiah teaches that the Messiah will experience "The spirit of the Lord shall resting upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his joy in living shall be sharing the fear of the Lord.” Both Proverbs and the Psalms say again and again: fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

+  That’s what ancient Israel had to relearn – humility and awe – and I believe it is crucial for us, too. We are in a time when bowing down is the beginning of wisdom for us. Of course as 21st century people we know more about science and nature than the poets who first constructed Psalm 29. We know that the thunder is not God’s anger and lightning has nothing to do with bolts of fire being hurled down from heaven as punishment. But our knowledge too often blunts the poetry, mystery and metaphor of the Bible and we easily forget to bow down and worship the One who knows true wisdom and power and creativity. So often I think that we trust ourselves more than the Lord.

On Storm Sunday that is why the words of God in Job are linked to the silence of Jesus as he brings stillness to the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Whatever else you may think or remember about this story – where an exhausted Messiah is napping in a boat only to be awakened by frightened disciples who fear their vessel will sink – let me suggest two other insights based upon where this story takes place in the arch of St. Luke’s narrative. Scholars note that the miracle story of “calming the storm serves as a preface to three healings AND the commissioning of the twelve apostles for lives of ministry… so this story presents Jesus as the Lord of nature and history, the Lord of the land and the sea.” And by doing so, it points to Christ’s unity with God’s wisdom from the beginning of time as the source of our peace that can still the raging winds, calm threatening waves, and bring us into such intimacy with God’s love that we can even face the Cross with an equanimity like his own. (Season of Creation Commentary, p. 211) 

Jesus, like God in Job, honors the wisdom in the storm. He evokes harmony and balance with nature and presents us with a choice: Join him in this trust and find rest for everything that makes us tired and afraid; or, perish under the weight of our own limited knowledge and strength. Jesus is right there in the boat with his friends as they face the danger of the storm to-gether. His being testifies to God being right there with us in our doubts, confusion, anger and fear, too. That’s why I keep asking you to learn the scriptures, beloved. Not because knowing Bible facts matter – mostly they don’t – but with careful interpretation, these stories synthesize the truth of God for those willing to look beyond the obvious.

Conclusion
When we become anxious – confused over how to make sense of the storms and fears of life – when we find ourselves having to wrestle with hard questions like the fate of our church and what ministry Gods need from us right now, these stories help us remember:

+  Nowhere does Jesus provoke the storm – he brings calm and peace. Nowhere does Jesus call down a hurricane to punish the wicked. Jesus always heals rather than curses, casts out demons rather than impose plagues and goes to the Cross to suffer in love rather than strengthen hatred. (on-line Creation commentary)

+  And he is able to do this – and commissions his friends to do so, too – NOT because he has superhuman power. Jesus shows us what a man or woman who trusts God boldly can do in the excruciating conflicts of real life. He reminds us that in this trust God’s love carries him through this life and beyond the grave so that he might be with us now to encourage and guide us through our tempest, too.

Storms are real. They have a purpose and place in renewing God’s creation even when they frighten us. The people of First Church have faced storms before – sometimes faithfully, sometimes foolishly – and we’ll face them again. My prayer is that we do so now with trust – not anxiety – with humility, creativity and awe. Let us bow down and worship the Lord of creation and making choices grounded in God’s peace that passes all understanding. This is what I want to reassure you of and keep sharing with you over the next few months: God’s abiding love born of humility and awe leads to peace. This peace is real. It is what we need more than anything else right now. And, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is available to us always if we but open our hearts in trust. This is the good news for those willing to get out of their own way and let God be God. If you know this to be true – or want to know this to be true – sing with me:

Oh come let us adore Him, oh come let us adore Him, oh come let us adore Him: 
Christ the Lord.


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