Saturday, 9 January 2021

Whirlwind God


Listening to the Whirlwind - sermon

Psalm 29:  Job 38:1-11
“God is not the voice in the whirlwind. God is the Whirlwind!” Margaret Atwood
 I chose today’s readings partly because I feel like we are living in a sort of whirlwind in the world at the moment. American politics, covid-19 etc. So often our hymns etc teach us that God’s promise is to save us from the whirlwind, to take us out of it, to give us peace in the midst of it. That is sometimes my experience but more often I just experience the power of the whirlwind and therefore the absence of God. That being said, I love feeling the power of nature in the wind. Being buffeted by the wind, or feeling the torrent of rain on my face rather than running from it. It makes me feel alive! The author of our Psalm seems to feel the same way. He sees the power of nature and he seems to take strength from it. He feels the power of the divine in it! He doesn’t ask God to same him from the storm, he hears the voice of God in it! He revels in his sense that God is not absent in the power of nature but evident in it.

When I was at theological college umpteen years ago, one of the theology books I studied was called, ‘Reaping the Whirlwind’ by Llangdon Gilkey’ The title of the book was based on this verse from the book of Job that we read this morning where God speaks to Job out of the heart of the whirlwind. The opening line of Chapter 38, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind,” has been prepared for by Job’s demand to see God. And what Job gets is no ‘still small voice’ but rather a raging whirlwind is the source of the Divine voice. For me this whirlwind is not necessarily a tornado or a hurricane or some other natural phenomena. It is instead a symbol of God’s own appearing in human affairs—a creative, life-changing force that is undefined, perhaps not understood. You can’t hold this God down, you can’t explain this God. This God is dynamic, in motion. Sometimes our ideas of God are static, trying to put God in a box, saying God is this or that. But for Job, God is a whirlwind. The whole book of job is the story of someone suffering enormously and desperate to know where God is in it all. His friends try to rationalise answers for him and finally God speaks up! For almost 90% of the book, Job has begged God to intervene, implored God to speak. Now that God has, uncharacteristically chosen to speak, we are reminded of the fact that God has been present through this whole story. God is God; Job is not. But God still treats Job with respect. There is no demand of apology or repentance. In Job, God doesn’t seem to be bothered with all the earlier rantings and arguments that have gone on. God just wants Job to realize that he is not God. Job doesn’t really receive an answer to his question of why he, or for that matter any human, has to suffer. God instead just reminds Job of the incredible Power and providence of God. In the midst of Job’s powerlessness, Job is reminded of God’s power for good. After God’s speech, Job is a changed man, but it is not the content of the speech that heals him. Rather, it is the fact that a God whom he had only heard about has now come to him personally. And the Divine has not come to him peacefully, quietly and gently. In fact, I wonder just how much use that sort of presence would have been to Job in his suffering. What helps Job is that he meets God and sees that the rough track of his life has led him through paths of joy and suffering. And Job realizes that in all things his path was held in the hand of a God who has the creative power to give new life and to change things for the good. Sometimes I think I have shied away from the idea of a powerful god because of the way religion has misused the idea. The only idea of a God of power that I grew up with was an angry vengeful God who would look after god’s followers (maybe) but chuck the rest of the sinful population in hell. God’s power was in judgement and vengeance. I know it is important to know that our God can bring peace in the storms. I know that a divine presence that brings solace and calm is important in us. But the God of the storm shows us the power of God, not just for the sake of power for power’s sake, but that the nature of the divine also has power to create and rebirth; power to bring justice. Like the psalmist, I love standing in the storm because it reminds me that the God in home we have our life is one that we can not only rely on for peace in the storm, but for the energy to create justice and dance with God. On Christmas Day, my family and I decided to go to the vigil for the asylum seekers being imprisoned at the Park Hotel in Carlton. There were about 30 of us and we spent time trying to see our friends inside through the one-way glass in the hotel windows and to show them our solidarity and love for them. It was beautiful and challenging. Then, as we were singing together in the street, we heard music coming through the streets and noticed an old ute that someone had rigged up with enormous speakers strapped to the back. It was coming through the street towards the hotel playing the music loud enough to hear blocks away! Playing Bob Marley’s ‘one love’. As it pulled in front of the hotel most in the crowd moved into the centre of Lygon st in front of the hotel and a dance party began. It was wonderful! It was a dance of love and solidarity with the Asylum seekers and it was powerful and for me, God was at the centre of that dance of justice and hope! This is the God speaking from the whirlwind, dancing with us in our hope for justice. Like Job, we don’t always get answers to our suffering or to why we sometimes find ourselves in the heart of the storm. But maybe like Job it can be enough to dance with God as a powerful whirlwind of mystery and love.