Monday, September 23, 2013

Waking Up to Confront the Storm

Third Sunday, Seasons of Creation Year C (Storm)
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD
 [This is part of a four-part series of commentaries for the lectionary series "Seasons of Creation."  You can find this commentary and others in the series here:  You can also find resources for sermons, liturgies, hymnody, devotions and other Creation-centered worship ideas at: and]

Job 28:20-27; Psalm 29; 1 Corinthians 1:21-31; Luke 8:22-25

When I was a child I looked forward to thunderstorms.  At the first rumble of thunder and crack of lightning, my father would call my three siblings and me out to the porch swing where we all cuddled under the blanket and sang the songs he taught us.  As the rain came down in sheets, bathing the green yard, we were bathed in the warmth of a father’s love singing “Down in the Valley.”  There was a feeling of peace in the midst of the storm.
The writer of Psalm 29 seems to have a similar positive experience with storms.  While there is certainly awe of those mighty energies of nature that can break trees and cause the wilderness to shake, there is also a feeling of comfort hearing the voice of God over the waters.  The psalmist recognizes that nature gives testimony to God’s ultimate power over the forces of nature.  In the temple of Earth, all say, “Glory!” – both human and other-than-human.
Insurance agencies and power company crews have a less positive view of these energies of nature.  Interestingly, when major weather events happen they are called “acts of God.”  But the attitude is not necessarily one of reverence.  When those broken trees fall on houses and cars, snapping lines strung between poles and cutting off electricity, very few are saying “Glory.”  More likely they are cursing or lamenting the destruction left behind.

Something has happened to the quality and quantity of storms in the last few decades, however, that has fundamentally changed the nature of these weather events.   In an interview with Bill Moyers on climate change, scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, described the situation: “2011 was an all-time record year in the United States, for example. We had 14 individual climate and weather related disasters that each cost this country more than $1 billion. That was an all-time record, blew away previous records. And in 2012 we had events ranging from the summer-like days in January in Chicago with people out on the beach, clearly not a normal occurrence, an unusually warm spring, record setting searing temperatures across much of the lower 48, one of the worst droughts that America has ever experienced, a whole succession of extreme weather events.” (
Are these really “acts of God”?  Or should they be described as “acts of human-induced climate change”?  How easy it is for some to wave away these new climate realities as just “part of the natural cycle of the earth.”  But the refusal to recognize that climate change is caused by humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels that leads to greenhouse emissions that warm the planet and cause untold counts of destruction and suffering is actually a form of evil.  Ecotheologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda calls it “systemic evil” that enlists the “over-consuming class” of society in its never-ending greed for more, at the cost of untold suffering of billions across the planet (Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil:  Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, Fortress Press, MN, 2013).

So what is the voice of the Lord saying today, in the midst of these catastrophic weather events and the climate crisis?  Where is Wisdom-Sophia when we need her most?  At a time when our little boat of Planet Earth is more threatened than it has ever been – by a storm of our own making – it appears that someone is blithely asleep on the deck below.
The reading from Job reminds us that God’s wisdom is sometimes hidden.  There is a mystery, a profound unknownness to the inner workings of God’s mind, so to speak.  And, according to verse 28, the way to access that wisdom is through fear of the Lord and departing from evil.  The Hebrew word for fear in this passage is yi’rah, meaning fear, reverence and respect.  The problem with the corporations who profit so mightily from our addiction to fossil fuels is that they have no fear of the Lord.  In fact, they think of themselves as gods, and, indeed, appear to have the power to affect wind and water just as much as God.
The preacher of today’s readings may want to give the congregation an example of someone or some entity departing from evil because they finally “get it,” grasping the import of their decisions and actions.  Moe-Lobeda’s book gives excellent examples of individuals and groups of citizens who are, in a sense, waking up to the reality of the state of our planet.  They are realizing the way in which our purchases and choices of energy sources are connected with the storms and droughts that ravage our communities and lives.  They are rousing from sleep, as it were, and finally taking up the work of rebuking those economic systems that cause the raging wind and waves.  Perhaps that is one way to understand the story of Jesus being roused from sleep to calm the storm.  It may be that his actions were a kind of parable:  “The kingdom of God is like waking from sleep to confront the storm.”  Perhaps the Jesus we seek is within us, just waiting to be roused from sleep to rebuke the forces that are causing the raging wind and waves. 
Verse 24 of the First Corinthians passage reminds us that we are called.  In what way do we understand our calling as Christians to stand up together to confront the storm of systemic evil and call for another way to live?  It can feel intimidating to stand up to the mighty Goliaths of industry who laugh at our tiny, insignificant voices.  To paraphrase verse 26, many in the environmental movement are neither powerful nor of noble birth.  Aside from the handful of celebrities who lend their name-recognition to the cause, the majority of those who work in the environmental movement are ordinary citizens, many of whom had never been politically active, but now are compelled to do something to respond to threats to their children’s and community’s air, water, land and public health.  And those individuals are often despised and publicly derided by bloggers and pundits directly or indirectly paid through polluting corporations.  Yet we have faith that the actions of those who are “low” will “reduce to nothing things that are.”  And as Christians, we proclaim this action as initiated by God and ultimately giving glory to God.

The good news for me as a Christian environmental activist who is storm-weary from skirmishes ranging from confronting fracking to standing up to a proposed tire burner in my community, is that ultimately the powers that think themselves greater than God will fall just as easily as the waves and wind before the hand of Jesus.  Internally, the storms that rage in me are just as answerable to the command of Jesus.  With one cry to the Master, the wild waves and wind always calm themselves in his presence, and, once again, I experience peace in the midst of the storms.

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