Beside Us in the Storm

Growing up in northwestern Wisconsin, I loved storms.  We lived on a lake, and so whenever a storm would roll through, my dad would take my sister outside on our back porch to watch the lightning over the water.  Standing under the overhang we’d stay dry as we’d watch the rain and hear the thunder.  Sometimes we’d have to go to the basement and light candles and watch the radar on tv, and it felt like a family slumber party.

As I got older, I lost a bit of wonder, but I could still appreciate storms.  Like on a day that was almost unbearably humid, the clouds would start to form and you’d know that relief was on its way.  And that chill in the air as a storm front rolled through would make me sigh in relief – and also make sure my car windows were rolled up.  And that smell right after the rain – mmm.

But storms are not always so benign.  I also remember tornado drills, as our class would hear the bell – different from the fire drill bell – and we’d all file into the nearest windowless room and practice kneeling and shielding our heads from debris.  I’ve known fear as the sirens go off and you don’t have a basement to go too.  I’ve pulled over when a little rain becomes a downpour that obscures your vision of the cars and signs and road paint.

And I watched the news all this week as Hurricane Ian destroyed parts of Cuba and Puerto Rico and then took aim and Florida and now the Carolinas.  I did my internship in Bradenton, FL, between Tampa and Sarasota, which was in the original path before Ian veered East, though many people still have damage to clean up from, or only just got power and internet, or are still waiting in line for gas.  I’ve been to Sanibel Island to renew a couple’s wedding vows, before it was completely decimated.

This week as we lift up storms as a part of Creation, I think we can join our ancient ancestors in remembering God when severe weather rolls through.  Even though we have radar and algorithms and sirens, storms are still mysterious and uncontrollable.  As much as we try to bring them under our own power, storms continue to defy us.  They make us feel small.  We may delight in them some times and fear them in others, but we can’t deny their power.

God too sometimes seems powerful and mysterious and entirely outside our control – sometimes comforting, other times awe-inspiring, even perhaps frightening.  So today we get two images of God.  God as the storm, and also God as Jesus in the midst of the storm.

The disciples in the boat are afraid, as we are sometimes afraid.  And it seems like God is aloof, asleep, uncaring.  And the disciples cry out, as we sometimes cry out,  “We are perishing” – we are struggling, we are hurting, we are panicking, we are in trouble –  don’t you notice? Don’t you care?  Why haven’t you done anything?

And in this story, jesus does do something.  He springs into action, calms the storm, saves the disciples.  Which is great.

But what does that mean for us when our storms continue?  What does it mean when storms kill and destroy?  What does it mean when our waves and winds are not stilled?

I think it means that  God doesn’t always calm the storm

But God is always in our boat

Through every storm, through every tumult, through chaos and destruction, we can trust that God is with us

God hears, “we are perishing” and God cares.

The question, now though, is do we?  Do we care?

Now as the planet has warmed and continues to warm through our own actions, storms are continually worse, and more damaging, and more deadly.  As oceans heat up, hurricanes become more frequent and are able to intensify more quickly, making it more difficult to warn people to get away.

A warmer climate means the atmosphere can hold more moisture, making floods more and more common.

A warmer climate moves jet streams and ocean currents, bring unseasonable weather to different regions, and unfavorable weather to more farms.

If we think storms are bad now, what about in 10 years?  What about in 50?

Creation is crying out now, can we hear it?

Earlier this summer, catastrophic monsoon rains caused damaging floods throughout 1/3 of Pakistan.  The people and animals and fields cry out, “we are perishing”

Hurricanes Fiona and Ian have destroyed homes and habitats and the very coastland itself, and all creatures who live there cry out, “we are perishing”

Throughout the world as heat waves and blizzards spread and droughts and flooding increase at the same time, the poor and marginalized and powerless cry out, “we are perishing.”

And the wind isn’t at fault, and the waves aren’t at fault

And so Jesus is getting up and rebuking us. Us. We are the source of great harm and we are the ones who need to be stilled.

            We are the ones who need to stop extracting

            We are the ones who need to stop burning

            We are the ones who need to stop destroying

            We are the ones who need to stop warming

Will we be like the wind and waves?  Will we hear the cries?  Will we listen to Jesus?  Will we be rebuked?  Will we be still?

May the Lord give us strength to do what needs to be done.  May the Lord give peace to the earth. In the days and years and storms to come, may we know that God is still in our boat.

Thanks be to God.

About Pastor Bridget Jones