Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 18, 2016

2016.09.18 “Season of Creation: Storm Sunday” – Job 28: 20 – 27; Psalm 29: Luke 8: 22 – 25

Central United Methodist Church
Season of Creation: Storm Sunday
Pastor David L. Haley
Job 28: 20 – 27; Psalm 29: Luke 8: 22 – 25
September 18th, 2016


One day Jesus and his disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.

Then he said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust me?”

They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!” – Luke 8: 22 – 25, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson


It was August 28, 1990. After living in the city of Chicago for 11 years, just two months earlier I had arrived in West Chicago, in DuPage County, 30 miles west of Chicago, to begin my tenure as pastor of First United Methodist Church. I was working in my office in the church that afternoon (with its large windows), when the skies began to darken and the wind picked up and rain began to fall in torrents. I still vividly remember thinking, “Wow – I am fair game again!”

What I meant was I believed what many believe, that a tornado will never strike the city of Chicago, due to the disruption of the buildings. In fact, I was wrong about that, because according to Tom Skilling, it happened once, on May 6, 1876, and Tom says it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Anyway, what I suddenly realized that day was that I was no longer shielded by the city, and fair game for tornadoes one again.

Does anyone remember why that day in particular is significant? That was the day of the F5 tornado that struck Plainfield, Illinois; 19 miles south of where I was sitting. It killed 29 people, injured 353, and caused $165 million dollars in property damage in the space of 30 minutes. To this day, it is the only F5 tornado ever recorded in August and the only F5 tornado ever to strike the Chicago area.

Perhaps this is why that day is still engraved in my memory. Imagine how much more so, for all those in Plainfield that day, who experienced its deadly destruction.

It is our experience with storms of all kinds – thunderstorms, tornadoes, blizzards, hail, hurricanes, tsunamis, and even sandstorms (depending upon where we grew up) – that determines whether we are in awe and fascination of such storms, or scared to death of them, from the first moment clouds gather on the horizon.

I was one of the fearless kind; I loved to be out watching the clouds, feeling the wind blast and the first raindrops, at least until lighting started crashing. I used to work at the Fire Station at the DuPage Airport, which meant we had a mile or so vista to the west, and could watch the clouds and wind and rain roll in, literally like a wall, until it smashed into the west overhead doors, bowing them inwards, shaking the building.

But – like some of you – I have also seen the death and destruction caused by storms. When I was in grade school, a tornado swept through our county, destroying two of my classmates’ homes. Once as a fireman, as a member of a truck company, I helped retrieve off a roof in the middle of a thunderstorm the body of a roofer killed by a lightning. So though I have thankfully escaped myself, I can appreciate how people who have lived through such experiences, who lost homes or loved ones to storms, might understandably be terrified every time clouds gather on the horizon.

In a minor way, I understand that myself. Before I arrived here in Skokie, storms were a time to go to work. The second year after we moved here, during a storm the parsonage storm system failed and water began flooding downstairs, a few inches deep. We later learned the advice given by former pastor Bob Burkhart’s wife, Shirley, which was that every time it rains, put a bowling ball in the toilet! Since that experience, now whenever storms approach, I am filled with anxiety, and the first thing I check is the glowing red light on the sump pump switch, which means it’s working. Of course if the power goes out, I’m going to need that bowling ball. So now I get storm anxiety; pretty much like everyone else who lives in Skokie and most of Chicagoland. How many have experienced basement flooding?

Take our storm anxiety, and imagine how much more it must have been in the ancient world, where people knew nothing about meteorology, had no storm prediction or early warning systems, and were also less protected from the elements. No wonder as they looked up into the sky, experiencing the force of a storm, they viewed them as the vehicle or instruments of the gods, or in the case of the Hebrews, the One God.

For example, in the book of Job, we hear how God:

“gave to the wind its weight,
and meted out the waters by measure;
made a decree for the rain,
and a way for the lightning of the thunder;
that God saw it and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.”

In Psalm 29, the Lord is portrayed as a storm God, with some scholars even suggesting this psalm was originally ascribed to the storm god Baal and later applied to the God of Israel. In Psalm 29, the thunder of the storm is the voice of God. That voice is so powerful it causes waters to rage, the mighty cedars of Lebanon to splinter and the forests to be stripped bare. God’s thundering voice also causes lightning to appear as flashes of fire, a devastating power on Earth, as indeed lightning still is.

Even today, despite our scientific knowledge and understanding of storms as natural phenomena, some people still think of storms in this way, as instruments of God to demonstrate power, to punish and destroy and intimidate us sinful mortals?

For example, in 2015, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council interviewed extreme Messianic Jewish pastor Jonathan Cahn, who suggested that Hurricane Joaquin, which devastated the Bahamas, was a “sign of God’s wrath” against abortion and the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on same-sex marriage. (If this is the case, God missed pretty badly.) Perkins agreed, saying that while “those on the left like to mock these things,” American leaders have historically viewed hurricanes as signs that “God is trying to send us a message.”

This year, however, it’s a different story. In the recent Louisiana flooding, Perkins and his family had to escape their Louisiana home in a canoe, and – like many others – are living in a trailer for six months while their home is under repair. Would it be fair to ask what the message is? I’m not saying this is good in any way; I’m only cautioning we all need to be careful when we attribute moral messages to natural phenomena, especially when we want to apply it to others, but not so much to ourselves.

Of course it is understandable that after every natural disaster where people – possibly people we love – die, we should not only ask “Why?” but “Why me?” trying to find some kind of meaning in it, whether rational or spiritual. And yet, as much as we might want an answer, sometimes the only answer is that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. After all, storms are natural meteorological disturbances that have rolled across the planet before humans even existed. When we build our houses in their paths (which could be anywhere), both homes and human lives are in danger. That’s why it’s always important to heed the warnings given, do all we can to rescue those in danger, and – failing the first two – aiding and assisting the victims of natural disaster.

We especially do this as Christians because the God revealed to us in the Gospels, in the life of Jesus Christ, is not a storm King, not a God of thundering power. The God revealed in Jesus does not blast away the evils of Earth with hurricanes and tornadoes and fires, nor does he strike the crowd taunting Jesus at the cross with bolts of lightning.

Rather, the God revealed in Jesus suffers for and with God’s people. Rather than riding the wind, this God revealed in Jesus is riding the waves with the victims of the storm, with his disciples in the boat but also with the fathers and mothers and children in the tsunami and the hurricane and the tornado. Jesus does not call down the storm; he calms a stormy sea. His role is to save lives and heal creation.

Even though storms are integral to the weather patterns of our planet and we as mortal creatures are subject to them, it is also clear that global warming and other human-related factors are making them worse, intensifying their frequency and severity, like the recent historic Louisiana flood, in which they experienced two feet of rain in 72 hours. Amid these ecological storms, could it be that the God we know in Christ is summoning us to calm the climate storms that threaten us, and to heal the people and creatures crushed by human greed and environmental pollution? Who else is going to do it?

Do you remember the story about the man in the flood, who climbed onto his roof and prayed to God to save him? As it began to rain, a rescuer came in a pick-up truck, which the man turned down, because he was waiting for God to save him. As the waters rose, rescuers came in a boat, but again the man turned them down. Finally, as the waters reached the roof, a helicopter came, but again he turned them down. The man drowned. He stood before God in heaven and said, “God I was waiting for you to save me, how come you let me drown?” God says, “Well, I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter, but you refused them. What else could I do?”

After the Plainfield Tornado, the people of Plainfield erected a Memorial not only to those who died that day, but to those who helped them in their time of need. It looks like this, and the inscription says:

“Thousands of volunteers came forward after the tornado and helped this area with its immediate needs and long-term recovery. We salute their spirit with this memorial. We will be eternally grateful for their helping hands.”

Where is God in the storm? God is not in the storm, but with the victim, and in the rescuer, and in all those who offer aid and assistance in every way. In the name of God, let us be among them. Amen.





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