8/29/2011

Post Whatever Thoughts: After the Storm

The Storm came and went. Good night Irene.

As per the orders of the Governor of Delaware, we moved from our house very near the bay, its waters, and the big water beyond it, to the Rectory of St. Peter's Lewes, where the Rector of All Lewes and his wonderful family took us - dogs and all - in for the night. While it stormed and raged outside (actually kind of nice) we sat in candle light  (electricity having gone out about 8 PM) and ate, talked, played games, played music, and got the news by cell phone. 

It was not all easy news. A house got smashed by a tornado on the edge of Lewes,and others damaged. There was some flooding. Fortunately no one was killed. But all in all it was an easy storm.  Elizabeth, a good friend, texted, "Hurricanes, Tornadoes... what next, Frogs.?" 


No Frog storms sighted, yet.

By the next Morning, Sunday Pentecost XI, the eye of the storm (now half closed) had moved on up the coast. Local flooding was minimal, but the rivers are all high and water is rushing out into the bay. I am distressed to hear of flooding in New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont.

Photo by Rita Nelson.
St. Peter's was open for worship at 8 AM, although the curfew on driving was supposedly still in effect.  Eight folk made it in and we had a simple Eucharist, with homily. At 10 AM we had 25 folk and again Eucharist and homily.  Someone actually brought coffee-cake for after church coffee hour. By that time the rain was mostly gone, leaving sun and wind.

I was the preacher Sunday and here are the notes on what I had to say. Perhaps you will find them of some value. If not, pass them by.

Homily for a Hurricane Day:
May God’s Holy Name be Praised.

So... let me begin with a highly unsatisfactory story:
It was the day of the Hurricane and the owner of the house heard a knocking on the door. He opened the door and standing there in the rain was God.  He could tell it was God because of the glow that surrounded him and the odd triangular shaped halo, that and the fact that he wasn't wet although he didn't have an umbrella.

The guy said, “Oh, you’re here to answer my prayer!”

“What prayer?,” God said.

“You know, the one about keeping us safe and free from all harm in the hurricane.”

“Well,” God said, “I don’t usually interfere with natural events. You know, hurricanes just happen.”

“Then why are you here?” the guy said.

God looked at him and said, “I just stopped by to let  you know that I care, that I love you and will be with you no matter what happens. You know, like a friend.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” said God, “but it would be much easier if you would invite me in.”
________

This story is sort of true to the reality, but it is not very satisfying, at least at first. Our first desire in the face of a hurricane is precisely to pray for protection.
_________
It seems appropriate on this Hurricane Day to say something about God as a person. How does the God who created and sustains the Universe connect to the events of these days here in coastal Delaware on a fine Hurricane Morning  Does God connect? After all, from one standpoint, weather simply happens. The Creator of all things made mosquitoes, various small biting critters, an eco-system that seems to include storms and tornadoes. It’s nothing personal. It just is. But that says nothing about God’s relation to us in it all.

Such an exploration is also appropriate given the lessons for this Sunday – Moses and his encounter with God as personal, who reveals his name. Paul shares his belief that in mutual affection we find God present with us and his conviction that God will personally do the avenging for us. Jesus makes his vocation personal – that Jesus as God among us will suffer and we has his followers will have to live with that reality, that God will suffer in person.

So:  Some thoughts about God as distant or as close up and personal.
Last week, in the Gospel reading,  Jesus asked, "who do men say that I am?"  A person asked that. A person. We’ve never had any doubt that Jesus was a person, the question is what is his vocation – what is he called to be, by God, by his own drives and concerns, by others.  Jesus asks, who do people say that I am? 
I suppose he wants to know if anyone gets it.  So he finally asks his closest followers: who do you say that I am… and Peter answers, You are  Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
“Son of the Living God.”  Well that says two things, one about Jesus as a person: that he the anointed one. One about God.  God is “the Living God.”
 “The Living God.”
 How did Peter come to that? What did he mean, “the Living God”? 
 Well Peter got this from the place that the faith of Israel got it. He got this “Living God” business from the experience of the ancient bearers of the faith of Israel, from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and finally from Moses.  It involved an experience with God that was in some important way personal, in a way that made us understand that God was not simply out there, the source of great power, but also intimately connected with us. 

The voice in the burning bush is Elohim – God – speaking, but when God speaks he gives his name, not his label (GOD) but his name.  He enters into, well, let us say, a personal relationship with Moses. He says he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but that his name is “I AM.”  
 Moses…who asks God, when they ask your name, what am I to say? He does not say, “call me Elohim.” Rather he says, call me, “I am that I am”. The Hebrew Bible gives the name as “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,” which means (more or less) “I will be what I will be.”  Other ways of stating that are “I am what I will to be, “ “ I am what I am… etc.  Maybe “I be me.” But at any rate, Elohim is a title, “God.”  “I be me,” is a name.  And the God named by “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh” is YHWH.
Many people know that there is a God, but to know God’s name is, well personal.  This is the “living” God… who speaks from a burning bush, calls out in a still small voice, and more, is known by name.
I think “living” means here “personal.” 
The god of the ancient ones, the God of Moses, and the God of Peter and Jesus, is personal. So personal that Jesus calls God “Father” and is called the Son of God.  God is father, close, caring, disciplining, loving.   And in Jesus we see all the fullness of this personal God made real and tangible.
God is someone we know, not as an abstract “creator” but as someone who, well, cares. The God we know personally cares.
So the question  on this fine Hurricane morning is this: IF God’s name is “I am who I am” and that God is personal, known as someone one can talk to, will set matters straight, avenge us, etc. -  if God cares, then how come we are stuck with Hurricanes and earthquakes, tornadoes and who knows what all? 
The answer seems to be that God, the Creator of all that is, is not given very often to stopping natural processes. For sure God can rain down frogs, locusts and other such creepy crawly things. God can part the waters, speak in the thunder and in the still small voice. When it serves a purpose. But generally speaking God as source of all that is is content to allow what is to take its course, for that too serves a purpose.  

For most of us, most of the time, the forces in the world work their will: hurricanes happen, so do tornadoes, bad marriages, cancer, stupidity in high places, and even bedbugs. 
What we know in the God whose name Moses is given, God as Father, known by Jesus, and the community of mutual affection that Paul believes incorporates the presence of God’s love, is this: God is with us, goes before us, is our companion in the way.
What we know is in some odd way summed up in the old favorite hymn: “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”  God, it turns out, is our companion, our friend. Moses knew it with the cloud by day and the fire by night, and a name. Paul knew it in the community of loving affection. Jesus knew it and promised to be with us, even to the end of time.
That’s all I have to say. Amen.

8 comments:

  1. How did the good boat Amity fare?

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  2. Anddy... Amity fared well, thank you. There was about a 7' tide surge, but the lines held and the dock floated up with the surge, and all was safe.

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  3. That's a great sermon, and great news that you are safe and well.

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  4. I forwarded that picture by Chris Givens to family in the Keys and people there have actually questioned it's authenticity. All I could do was forward the link to your site and hope that Mr Givens is trustworthy.
    Thanks, Scott

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  5. Glad to hear that things are not too bad in the little town on the edge of the bay and the big water. My daughter has a college friend in Lewes -- I don't know whether she's heard from her or not, but I assume she's okay.

    Excellent homily for a Hurricane Day, and a superb opening story. I may have to steal that one....

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  6. Scott (aka anonymous) I can see why they question its authenticity. Not until I put in in photoshop could I tell that there seemed to be airbrushed or otherwise compromised changes where the image of the buildings meet the image of the storm. The problem was, it looks very much like the parking lot behind Five Points shopping area. So I used it as sent. It makes no difference to the blog that it was posted with the story, so I took it off. Thanks for the warning.

    We do have pictures in the cape gazette of the damage, which is real enough!

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  7. What a marvelous sermon, Mark. Thank you for this.

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  8. What a marvelous sermon, Mark. Thank you for this.

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