Storm Sunday

‘Finding the peace of God amidst storms, we are called to wake up and face up to the storms we have created.’[1]

Do you like storms? I usually do, although there has been some recently over Macksville that have seemed a little ferocious. I remember when I was in Singapore for a week while the ship that I was on underwent a period of maintenance. Each afternoon we would get a tropical storm that would be a very brief but drenching downpour. It was a pleasant experience – something to look forward to each day.

I also remember the storms when I was a child with the rain beating down on the corrugated iron roof and the feeling of cosiness tucked up in the bed and knowing that the crops and grass for the cattle was being watered. If it rained enough, it meant a day or two off school when the flood went over the bridge into town. So, I like storms!

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 the cosmos, all cry, “Glory!”—both humankind and other-kind.

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.

And we remember just a month or so ago the woman killed by the tree falling on her car during a storm in the Blue Mountains; and also the woman killed when a tree in a Melbourne park was uprooted during a storm. We have certainly had some very violent and destructive storms recently!

It seems to me that something has happened to the quality and quantity of storms in the last few years that has fundamentally changed the nature of these weather events. So, I decided to do some research on the Bureau of Meteorology Australian Climate website. It was most interesting – it is possible to bring up historical data for all sorts of weather events.

The Severe Storms Archive contains data relating to recorded Severe Thunderstorm and related events in Australia dating back to the 18th Century. Given my memories of floods from my childhood, I decided to compare the 20-year period 1951 – 1971 to the last 20 years, 1999 to 2019. These statistics are just for NSW. You can see the results in the slide – a dramatic increase in severe storms over the last 20 years!

During my childhood there was an average of 2.3 severe storms per year. In the last 20 years the average per year has been 63 so far and of course 2019 which so far has the highest number of 331 severe storms still has four months to go.

The website also indicates that temperatures are increasing. Graphs are available showing anomalies or departures from a standard temperature. The standard temperature used is the average temperature for the period 1961–1990. The broad time period of 1961 to 1990 is used to smooth out yearly fluctuations to get a better standard for comparison.

This next slide shows the mean temperature variation (or anomaly) from that standard temperature. You can see that from 1910 until around the 1970s the mean anomaly was more often a little cooler than the standard. But from the 1970s on the mean anomaly has been gradually getting hotter than the standard.

This next slide shows the increasing temperatures from 1910 to today of air temperatures and also sea-surface temperatures. There has been a steady rise since the 1950s.

There should not be any surprises for us in these statistics. You know that we have just had an unseasonably warm winter. And you have heard and seen the devastation of the long drought in Australia at the moment. The evidence indicates that temperatures and severe storms are increasing, yet rainfall is decreasing.

Now here is where I put some of my own opinion on the firing line! I know that some of you will say, “It’s only natural cycles of weather and we have always had cycles of weather”; and of course, it is true that we have always had cycles in weather patterns. Nevertheless, the cycles seem to be getting more extreme, and the likelihood that human activity is contributing to this must surely be taken seriously.

The bottom line for me is that, as God’s people, we should be caring for God’s creation in whatever way we can - and we should seek ways to reduce the impact of human activity regardless of whether we are a ‘climate change sceptic’ or not.

I also don’t think that we can pass off these extreme weather events as “acts of God”. Quite the contrary – they generally result from human activities that warm the planet. Ecotheologian, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, says that such activities that result in untold counts of destruction and suffering is actually a form of evil. This “systemic evil” 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.[2]

So, what is the voice of our Lord saying today, in the midst of these catastrophic weather events and the climate change? Where is the wisdom in all of this?

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. 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 means to have reverence and respect for God. Having reverence and respect for God also means respecting his creation. It also means that instead of seeing the creation as being there just to meet the needs of self-centred humanity, we recognise that God created all things for their own intrinsic value apart from us. God’s wisdom is behind the creation and can be found within it – if only we are prepared to change our attitudes and seek it out.

The passage from 1 Corinthians (1:21-31) speaks of the world lacking God’s wisdom. In its worldly wisdom the world does not know God or the wisdom by which he has created all things, sustains all things, and has reconciled all things to himself. Hence the world does not know the reconciliation and salvation that is available for us and for God’s creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The scriptures, however, speak of a ‘new creation’ at the future appearance of Jesus. We are told that God created a ‘good’ world through the mediation of Wisdom (Prov 8:22-31). However, sin damages this good creation by subjecting humankind to death (Rom 5:12-14, 1 Cor 15:21-22) and the natural world to decay (Rom 8:19-22).

Romans 8:19-22 tells us that, ‘… the creation waits with eager longing … for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now …’

Of course, reconciliation of ourselves with God, and reconciliation of the creation cannot occur until believers reject the standards of the world. Verse 24 of the 1 Corinthians 1 passage reminds us that we are called. Firstly, we are individually called to be reconciled to God through Jesus. Secondly we are called to a ministry of reconciliation.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17-19a, Paul writes that, ‘… if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; … everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself …’

This ministry of reconciliation requires Christians to stand up together to confront the storm of systemic evil and call for another way to live? It is therefore important that Christians tell others about God’s plan of salvation of the world – the whole world; and lead the way by demonstrating that we care for the environment.

Thankfully, many people, corporations and governments are 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.

We might see in this awakening a different way to understand the story from today’s gospel passage (Luke 8:22-25) of Jesus being roused from sleep to calm the storm. Jesus awoke to confront and calm the physical storm that was whipping up the waves and putting the safety of the boat and the lives of the disciples in peril. Similarly, we Christians today are to wake up to realise the peril in which our planet is being placed through the storms caused by the unthinking pollution and destruction of our environment through pollution and climate change. And then, we are to calm the storm by confronting and challenging such practices.

To quote The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD, “Finding the peace of God amidst storms, we are called to wake up and face up to the storms we have created.” Amen.

[1] Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year C by The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD

[2] Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, Fortress Press, MN, 2013

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