Isaiah 25:1-5     –     Psalm 29

The Rev. Helen Havlik

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time     –     September 22, 2019

During a worship service I attended this summer we sang How Great Is Our God. And it got me thinking about our great God, creator of the universe, who has given us this beautiful planet to live on. And how we take for granted this fragile and precious gift which is now threatened in multiple ways. So during September, we’re celebrating a Season of Creation—looking at what the Bible has to say about taking care of what God has given us. We began with the ocean and then thought about flora and fauna. Today we turn to finding safe haven in our stormy world. I’m reading Psalm 29. Listen with me to God’s holy word.

When I was in 7th grade, an EF-3 tornado tore through the southeast side of Grand Rapids. I remember that late April Friday well—hot and muggy, the air tinged eerie green most of the afternoon. Shawnee Park Elementary school was having its annual spring carnival that evening, so we all went over there to eat hot dogs and play games in the gym because it looked like rain was coming. No one paid much attention to what was happening outside until the principal walked onto the stage. Speaking into a mic, she told us that a tornado warning was in effect—because of the noise of a hundred kids playing, no one heard the sirens until she was speaking. She said all those tornado drills were going to pay off as she and other teachers ushered us to the south hallway to sit out the warning with our families. While we were shuffling out of the gym, the lights went out and suddenly it all was real. Sirens wailed as we sat in the dark while a torrent of rain pounded against the roof.

It seemed like we were there for hours—the clocks had stopped so I don’t know how long. Eventually the sirens stopped and the rain let up. No one was making a move or giving us further instructions, so my dad said, “Let’s get out of here,” and the seven of us stepped out into the dark parking lot. The storm had ended and the sky was glowing a strange orangey white—even though streetlights were out my dad got us onto Burton St. for what should have been a five-minute ride home. We went west for a couple of blocks only to be stopped by downed trees and power lines. Turning around my dad went back through Indian Village to get to Breton and we had to keep zigzagging to avoid trees. On 28th St., police told us to turn around again, so we cut through another neighborhood before making it to Eastern—two miles on the other side of our house from school. It took over an hour for us to get home—police and firefighters wanted to stop us from going east on Burton from Kalamazoo, but when my dad told them where we lived, they let us through with a warning about the power lines that were snapping and crackling on the ground.

We pulled up opposite our house—and our neighbors across the street invited us in as they told us what happened. Though we begged to go with him, only my dad went across the street to see about our house. We saw him talking to some Consumers guys who were clearing trees so they could get to the downed lines. As we watched, we could make out some things were different. The back yard tree that towered over our house was gone. So was the greenhouse up the hill behind our house. Our next door neighbors’ roof was gone. And there was a lot of debris in the street besides tree branches. About 15 minutes later my dad came back to report that the greenhouse was a pile of shards and our tree had come down on the back of the house and broken through the roof upstairs. Our garage had been lifted off its foundation and set back down crooked. The back door was hanging open on one hinge. And he couldn’t find our dog.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord over the mighty waters…. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon…. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire… shakes the wilderness… strips the forest bare… The people of Israel ascribed to God the power of wind and rain and fire and earthquake, and whether or not it was God or what God had let loose in creation, the awestruck people cried, “Glory!” These appearances of God in the world are called “theophanies,” reminders that God reigns supreme over all things in the natural world as well as in human community. Psalm 29 is a really old psalm —maybe having roots in the worship of the storm god, Baal, who was thought to appear through rain, thunder and lightning. The psalmist, though, isn’t thinking of Baal. Instead, we’re called to listen to the voice of God—seven times, the number of perfection—so that we won’t ascribe strength and glory to any other forces at work in the world. Writing about this psalm, Joel LeMon says that “voice” here literally means “sound”—that booming thunder that sometimes wakes us in the night as a storm rolls right overhead. We not only hear thunder, we often feel it as it shakes the bed or the ground under our feet. That’s God’s voice, the Psalmist says, shaking us up, getting our attention, reminding us that salvation and destruction both are part of God’s heavenly power. Important to remember because it’s God who brings order out of chaos, whether the sea or the wilderness; who sits enthroned above it all. Nothing is beyond the reach of God’s powerful voice that ultimately brings blessing and peace and safe haven in the storms of life. And all creation responds. (Working Preacher, Joel LeMon, 1/10/16)

Science tells us that some of the “storms” we experience, inconvenient and scary as they often are, are how creation renews itself. Witness the way fire in Oscoda County periodically clears out overgrown habitat so Kirtland warblers can reproduce. Or how flooding in the Midwest enriches cropland that becomes depleted of nutrients and periodically needs to be replenished. But not all of what we experience is part of this built-in balance keeping. Science also tells us that our planet is warming rapidly. Not because God planned it that way, but because we aren’t paying close enough attention and so aren’t making—or willing to make—adjustments in how we live. Hurricanes are stronger, fires are hotter, floods are reaching places that never flooded before, all because of circumstances within our control. God’s “voice” may be warning us to take action before we and our children and our children’s children find ourselves in a wasteland of our own making.

Chester, our dog, apparently found a safe haven in the storm. As my dad, flashlight in hand, led us back into the house, Chester came bounding out of nowhere, as happy to see us as we were to see him. Four days later the lights came back on; in the meantime, we nested in front of the fireplace in the living room. I’m thinking of this as I watch the continuing coverage of death and destruction in the Bahamas. As more hurricanes form in the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters. As fires roar through the Amazon rainforest and Greenland melts before our eyes, God’s voice also can be heard through the people who speak for those who are most affected by the greed and indifference that have gripped us for too long. God’s power working through us to clean up—again—the chaos we ourselves have made.

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