“Where is your faith?”
God in the Storm: Season of Creation Week 3 – September 15, 2019, St. Raphael’s Lexington
This congregation was working through the “Season of Creation” lectionary. The readings were Job 28:20-27, Ps. 29, 1 Corinthians 1:21-31, and Luke 8:22-25. Some of the commentaries online (here and here) have a woeful misreading of Job, “God discovered wisdom imbedded in nature.” (Perhaps written by the same person?) I may post something another time on that, but thinking about “God in the storm” my mind when to Ezekiel’s vision so that is where I began.
[Ezekiel wrote,] I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. …As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber.Ezek 1:1, 4
“Into every life a little rain must fall.” “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “When it rains it pours.”
Clichés, I love ‘em! Did you know that the last actually began as an ad campaign for Morton’s salt? They wanted people to know that when it got humid out their salt wouldn’t clump together so, “When it rains it pours.” Today we think of it to mean when one bad thing happens a whole lot of bad things will happen. As corny as they may be, clichés still have their place. We resort to them because they are true, even if they make for bad literature. Clichés capture the truth of our lived experience and there are a LOT of clichés about storms because, well, sometimes, for everyone, eventually, life gets rough and stormy. We find storm imagery throughout the Bible, our readings this morning are just a few.
I worked at Tulane University in New Orleans for 9 years. Every year but one we evacuated due to tropical storms or hurricane threats, including Katrina. Violent storms are something you live with in hurricane alley. The same is true on the plains where tornados come through, but in NOLA there are no basements and that is what always scared me about hurricanes. It is not the sustained winds, the rain, or the rising water. You can barricade against the winds, sandbag against the water and move to higher ground. It is very rare that people drown in a hurricane unless they have done something very foolish. But hurricanes spin off tornadoes, hundreds of them. They cannot be predicted or defended against, you just have to hunker down and wait for them to pass.
I suppose at this point I should make some analogies between the storms and our lives. Perhaps you have already made the connection in your own mind. In my own life, I might reflect how those 9 years at Tulane, our first back in the States and the first 9 years of our daughter’s life, both our children were born in that time, those years were in many ways a time of hunkering down and enduring the blowing, sustained winds. We generally knew where to sandbag to keep the flooding out, but with a low-paying job, two children, and uncertainty for both Elizabeth and me as to what our future careers might be, it sometimes felt like we were simply huddled in the bathroom listening to the wind howl around the eaves of the house. Once we moved to Pennsylvania, when our son died unexpectedly from a blood infection, the tornado hit with the potential to destroy everything in its path. Certainly it was devastating, but even in the midst of a storm there can be peace.
The Book of Ezekiel opens with this amazing vision of a storm. “As I looked, a stormy wind came out of the north: a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber.” The prophet is living in Mesopotamia, among the other exiles from Judah, after the Babylonians had conquered them and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Their entire world has been disassembled and the only way they knew to worship God, offering sacrifices at the Temple, had been destroyed.
Can you imagine their despair? Have you ever been there, that place where everything has been taken from you and you just don’t know if you can pray or worship and, even if you can, if it will do any good? Ezekiel and the other exiles lived there, in the middle of anxiety and defeat, and he sees this vision of a storm, boiling down out of the north, the direction from which they had come on their journey from Jerusalem.
5 In the middle of [the storm] was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. 6 Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. …12 Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. 15 As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 …their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they moved, they moved in any of the four directions without veering as they moved. … 22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was something like a dome, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads. …25 And there came a voice from above the dome over their heads. …28 This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.Ezek. 1
Can you see Ezekiel’s vision? Do you recognize what he is describing? It is a wheelchair! It is a mobility scooter for God! You’ve got the four creatures on each corner and each has a wheel within a wheel, a kind of ancient gyroscope perhaps, allowing them to move in any direction and above them, on their shoulders sits God. It is God’s throne-chariot, the merkavah. But what is the meaning of this vision?
It is two-fold. Not only is God in the midst of the storm, God is where you are.
The message to the Jews living in exile is the same for us as well. No matter where we are, geographically, financially, socially, or emotionally, God is with us. Their limited view that God only being able to be worshipped at the Temple was destroyed. Their belief that they were beyond God’s reach and his ability to save them was destroyed. But it was the kind of demolition that leads to a more sure foundation. All creation worships God and there is no where that we can be that God is not.
We live in our own exile, as we live after Jesus’ resurrection but before our own. The peace and love of God is ours through Christ and yet we still live in a world that has shootings and homelessness, addiction and infection. But even here, in this broken world, in the midst of the howling winds and pouring rains of life, God is with us.
Remember that story of the prophet Elijah, who was running away from Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him for standing true to the Lord (and, it should be added, killing all the prophets of Baal). He had been faithful to God for his whole life and in the last three years it had been nothing but drought and hardship. Now, he was running for his life and finally he climbed up a mountain to lie down and die.
19:11 [God] said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire … a sound of sheer silence. … Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”1 Kings. 19:11-12
Elijah restates his priorities, that he has been committed to God, declaring God’s covenant and love for his people, and what he has received in return is to be threatened with death. He is here, standing on the mount of God, because he is committed to the Lord and unwilling to bow down to any other gods. He continued to stand up for what was right and holy and for that, they wanted to kill him. And God’s response was: “Go, return on your way” and continue your ministry, continue your work of being my spokesman, my prophet.
Elijah was not being let off the hook, God was not taking his life, as Elijah had asked, but sending him back out into the world to continue to do the work of God. BUT in the midst of all the tumult of his life, even as he tried to retreat to the mountain, there in that lonely place of quiet and solitude yet in the midst of thundering and lightening, Elijah had heard God’s voice. The challenge is to listen.
Let’s be honest, it doesn’t always feel like God is there, in the midst of the storms of life. I know that as well as anyone. We may truly be alone sometimes, without anyone we know around us, and yet even there, if we listen, we can hear and know that God is with us. But that doesn’t make it easy or less frightening.
The disciples were in the midst of a real storm, facing the very real prospect of death. Jesus was with them and they had seen him do all sorts of miracles and yet who could control the weather, who can keep the storm from swamping their boat?
Luke 8:24 They went to [Jesus] and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?”
The storms of life rage all around, there is no doubt of that, and they are real. Yet so is the presence of God. Have faith. Listen for the voice of God. Elijah heard God in the still, silence after the earthquake, the thunder, and lightening. In the midst of the roiling storm comes God on his throne-chariot and speaks. In a crowded room, sometimes we have to SHOUT before we can speak quietly to be heard and understood.
God was present for us, for my wife, daughter, and I, in our embrace of one another as the winds howled around us. Jesus is present in the love of those who sent a short note, even, and especially, months and years after Mack died. We could have given in to the voices shouting in our heads about doubt, fear, and failure. We lose a job and feel defeated and question our self-worth and purpose. But there God remains, waiting for us, wanting to speak to us through the noise and the silence, through our friends and the events of our lives.
Hear God and know he is present in your life through faith. Where is your faith? If it is in Jesus Christ, then the peace of God will be with you, even in the midst of the biggest storm of your life. Believe in him and call on him and…
“May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13) Amen. ✠