Pentecost 4B: Lessons of the Storm

Option III Readings for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost are

Old Testament       Job 38:1–11

Psalm                    Psalm 107:1–3, 23–32

New Testament      2 Corinthians 6:1–13

Gospel                   Mark 4:35–41

The first reading holds a wakeup call for Christians and modern society. Christians have operated on the basis of Genesis 1:28:   

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

That word, “dominion” is a troubling word. The the ecologically minded have tried to soften it to “exercise stewardship.” And that, indeed, is a good idea generally. God goes on to emphasize that all the wonders and fruitfulness of the earth are a gifts from God; and surely the Bible urges us to hold holy every such divine grace. But the Hebrew word used here, radah, has a basic meaning of treading on things like grapes. It does, indeed carry the meaning of domination, and that may well have been the anthropology of the author.

But the wisdom book of Job serves as a stark corrective. The Lord speaks from a windstorm: “Gird up your loins…where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Then the Lord follows up by asking the “who, what, when, where, why, and how?” of true dominion, knowing full well that Job doesn’t have any of the answers. So Job has no solid ground to stand on when he questions God’s disposition of justice.

And God means to say human beings are not in charge. They are not authorized or equipped to tread the earth like a vat of grapes. The human race carries much promise, and much responsibility, but desperately needs much humility.

Without humility we forget our heavy responsibility. We forget to reverence the gifts we hold in our hands. We spiral downwards from creativity to destruction.

Yesterday, about 35 miles from here, a fire and chain of explosions destroyed a chemical plant and sent a cloud of noxious chemicals into the skies for miles around. How many miles? No one truly knows. How many days will it burn? Who can tell. Will the chemicals leach into the Rock River? No guarantee one way or the other.

Less than two weeks ago a container ship laden with thousands of tons of nitric acid, fuel oil, plastic pellets, and other poisons, caught fire, exploded and sank along the pristine shores of Sri Lanka.

And, of course, all of this is happening while we try desperately to cover up the truth that our cavalier ways of encroaching on natural habitats, and dangerously crowding both human and non-human animals together, makes viral outbreaks and epidemics inevitable. When it is convenient, we swear by science, and count on it to clean up our mistakes. When it is not convenient, we vilify and blame our scientists for the messes caused by our collective greed and hubris.

In Mark’s gospel story the waves are beating into the little boat of the disciples. “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” they cry out. They would rather blame anyone or Christ than learn the lesson of the storm. The waves breaking over the gunnels of the boat are the Word of God. They are the lesson. “No, you humans are not in charge. The wind and the waves don’t do your bidding. They obey someone much wiser, more caring, and more powerful. They obey the word of Christ the Lord.”

What I see happening throughout the fires, the shipwrecks, and the pandemic, is that we want to shut our ears and eyes to the shouts of God. All around the world people are trying to act as though the pandemic is over and done with. Cases and deaths have gone down. Millions have been vaccinated, and billions more jabs are in the freezer. So, at last we can party! Now we can get back to normal!

But normal has been lousy. Blacks and Latinos and all those serving in menial jobs in the US are still dying at an alarming rate. Still the bosses want them to return to work for below-subsistence wages. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and deaths are spiking in India, Africa, and South America. Variants are evolving. But we still want to pretend we have licked Covid, and so still have dominion over the earth.

Genesis is right that we are gifted by God’s Creation, but wrong if it means we have dominion. Job is right about our being most often clueless as to the who, what, when, where, why, and how of nature. We surely are working harder to destroy rather than to exercise faithful stewardship over our home planet.

Please, God, help us learn the lessons of these storms. Help us heed the waves breaking over the gunnels. Help us join the wind and the waves, be still, and obey.  Amen.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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