Job 28 and Psalm 29

Creation Series Year C, Storm

September 15, 2019

Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, Oregon

Elizabeth Winslea, pastor

We’ve all read about it. Followed it. Seen images on our screens. The power and the destruction. Hurricane Dorian has made itself known.

Two weeks ago, it wreaked more devastation on the island nation of the Bahamas, a small outcropping of rock in a vast sea, more destruction than any hurricane in the history of that nation.

You all know the statistics.  A category 5 hurricane - the highest ranking there is, indicating the most intense storm. 185 mile an hour winds swept down on the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco. Gusts were up to 220 miles an hour - which is tornado level. But the difference is that a tornado has a very confined area and doesn’t stick around long.

Dorian, sadly, did. It moved in. As Dorian hit land the speed of travel slowed to 1 mile an hour and then came practically to a standstill. Fifty hours later, Dorian finally began to move on. Fifty hours. Two full days and nights plus two hours.

Of wind and rain that slammed into homes and neighborhoods. Tearing things apart and leaving a graveyard of debris and destruction. It seemed the forces of Dorian would not let the island go.

“Hear my cry,” says the psalmist, “Hear my cry, O Merciful One, listen to my prayer; From the depths of my being I call to You, for my heart is faint. Lead me to the Rock that is my strength, for you alone are my refuge.” (Psalm 61)

Photos show what looks like a sea of a swamped garbage dump - up turned cars, piles of lumber, insulation, kitchen appliances tipped and torn, boats on their sides - what looks like a garbage dump but just two weeks ago was someone’s neighborhood and home.

On Abaco they estimate that 3/4 to 100% of the homes have been destroyed. And between the two islands over 70,000 people are homeless.

“Hear my cry, O Merciful One, listen to my prayer; Lead me to the Rock that is my strength, for you alone are my refuge.”

Storm surges of up to 23 feet swept inland - not unlike a tsunami of water one and a half stories tall. Along with storm tides of 25 feet, the these rocks of an island were drowning in churning water.

This hurricane was 280 miles across with hurricane-force winds at 90 miles in diameter. As one news source delineated, this storm size meant that Dorian was 61,500 square miles, larger than the state of Georgia. Forces of nature that would not let these islands - these outcropping of rock in a vast see - forces that would not let go.

“Hear my cry, O Merciful One, listen to my prayer; Lead me to the Rock that is my strength.”

As we watched and read in horror, we were faced with the reality that the power of the storm is far beyond anything we can tame or direct. Our research and studies bring us up to the edge of the abyss, and we stare into the might, the magnitude, the muscle of nature. We stare and we measure, we plan, we problem-solve. We pray.

But we do not contain.

“Hear my cry, O Merciful One, listen to my prayer; Lead me to the Rock that is my strength.”

And sometimes, we know reprieve. Sometimes the storm swings out to sea. Sometimes the twister inexplicably dissipates. Sometimes the tectonic plates simply glance at each other and rumble a little. As Dickinson writes:

And then, as if the hands

That held the dams had parted hold,

The waters wrecked the sky,

But overlooked my father's house,

Just quartering a tree.

But we know enough to appreciate that this is really more like mere chance.

Wisdom tells us to face truth. To work at lowering the deceptions we try to live by.

Wisdom tells us that for all of our efforts at managing the world, we do not have ultimate control. And, in fact, nature will have its say over us.

This can feel unsettling, at best. When we stare into the power of a storm like Dorian, when we witness the destruction it creates, we feel a great turning inside. And in recent years, layered upon that truth is the equally upsetting one that the character and nature of the storm has been so deeply affected by climate change. And that’s enough to make us crawl back into our caves of denial and refusal.

Job had his whole world yanked out from under him. He lost family members to illness and death. He lost livelihood, home, friends, and even his own health. Job is faced with the question of why his life looks like this. He seeks the wisdom to understand what is happening to him and why God has made it so.

But even in his seeking, he understands. He understands that wisdom is not something he is going to be able to purchase, to discover, to dig up. It is not something that will be bequeathed upon him if he earns enough or tries hard enough.

Instead he knows that God is the source of wisdom. The rock upon which he can base his life. And sometimes the wisdom of God is beyond our human knowing.

That’s saying a lot, when wind and water has destroyed everything you have. When your own safety and well-being has been battered about by hurricane forces. What can these words from Job possibly offer in the face of such trauma and loss? Such sheer and utter devastation?

I wonder.

Too often this story has been used to tell people in distress that God was bringing them what they deserved. That somehow the destruction of their lives was just desserts for some evil or wrongdoing, and for a storm like Dorian, wrongdoing on a communal level. If God measured the breadth and the depth of the waters and made the rules for rain and designed paths for lightening, then it must be God’s design that they wreak havoc in the places they do.

We don’t believe that. Of course not, but it’s difficult when faced with a passage like this not to wonder.

But if anything, Job is the complete rebuttal to this type of thinking. The very point of this text is that Job did absolutely nothing to deserve all of his loss and trauma. In fact, he was blameless in all ways. This text is a moral tale about the ways in which life’s hardships so often are not predictable and not containable and are beyond our control. A tale that says, there’s nothing that makes sense about it. There’s no reasoning that will magically explain why this car crash, or this storm or this disease.

And that is why we are reminded by Job that wisdom - wisdom about how to survive with soul in tact - that kind of wisdom comes from stepping out of our storyline and turning to God. Reverence for God - that is wisdom.

There’s no amount of rationale that will make sense of why one group of people endure a trauma and another do not. Why one person is beset with such illness and another not.

And in fact, wandering down that path of why is like trying to make sense of why the hurricane stopped over the island for two days and two nights.

There’s no amount of rationale that will help us sort out that why - and the feeble answers we come to we can admit, when honest, are manipulative and often hurtful. And so, it appears that instead of seeking an answer to our storyline, that perhaps we are being invited to step out of the storyline, step out of the ego, step out of relentless cycle of seeking answers and instead seek something else.

“Hear my cry, O Merciful One, listen to my prayer; Lead me to the Rock that is my strength.”

Seek something other than an answer to why. Seek a comfort in prayer. Seek a comfort in helping where we can. Seek a comfort in trust.

Trust: that beyond the visible forces of nature lie forces beyond our detection. Forces we don’t have names for or tools to measure. Forces we cannot control. But forces that promise to stir our souls and strengthen our hearts and dry our tears.

Forces of love that will not let us go. That is a rock, a rock of strength, on which I think I’d like to try standing. I invite you to join me. Amen.

This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on September 15, 2019 at Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.