Sermon: “Enduring the Storm”

September 18, 2016: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Season of Creation: Storm Sunday

Psalm 29
Luke 8:22-25

You’ll find a pair of words used over and over again in the beginning of the book of Psalms: “Of David.” Meaning that the people who collected the psalms, which you can think of as the hymnbook of ancient Israel and its temple, believed that this song was written by David, the shepherd who became a general, the general who became a rebel, and the rebel who became a king.

Psalm 29, which is credited to David, resonates with more than one part of David’s complex life. The psalm itself describes the approach of a thunderstorm, as it makes landfall from the Mediterranean Sea, and keeps moving east over the hills of Judea. If the description sounds familiar, it’s because we live on the coast as well, only our weather comes from the Pacific Ocean to the east rather than the Mediterranean to the west.

The cloud deck beneath the tall thunderheads would have extended far to the north and to the south. To the north, the clouds would have shadowed the mountains of Lebanon and Syria. To the south, they would have eclipsed the wilderness of Kadesh, through which David’s ancestors had traveled from Egypt to reach the promised land.

David would have seen the storms approaching at many points in his life. He would have seen them as a shepherd in his youth, probably watching keenly to see how quickly the lightning approached as he gathered his sheep and looked for shelter. He saw them as a general and as a rebel, too, the actual clouds of the approaching storm that would drench his army and the metaphorical storms of danger, hardship, and loss. Perhaps he watched the clouds to distinguish them from the rising dust clouds of King Saul’s pursuing army.

Late in life, he might have watched the approaching storms from the comfort of his palace in Jerusalem, secure and comfortable in his palace high on the slopes of Mount Zion.

Both from his history and from his poetry, we know: David knew his storms.

Among the first tempests of his life, I suspect, was his anointing by the prophet Samuel – David was declared the rightful king in preference to all seven of his older brothers. And they knew it. You might recall that some generations before, Joseph got in a lot of trouble with his brothers for becoming their father’s favorite. Family rivalry and jealousy can be terrible.

Other storms came, too. Still young, David found himself facing a hardened champion of a warrior in single combat. Goliath was not merely big, he was skilled. Having won that victory, David became both a general for King Saul and he made music in the king’s court. But Saul’s jealousy of David’s successes, and his growing paranoia, made life in the palace precarious indeed. David finally fled and gathered a small army around him. He was considered a rebel, despite a very deep friendship with Saul’s son and heir, Jonathan.

When Saul and Jonathan died in battle with the Philistines, David faced the storm of his bitter grief and loss even as he worked to re-unite a country that had been battered by foreign raids and invasions and racked by divided leadership.

That would be plenty of storms for one life, but more came to David: he had a wife who despised him, and a son who rebelled against him. David himself fell in lust with Bathsheba, and conspired to kill her husband Uriah the Hittite – and the prophet Nathan didn’t let him get away with it.

There’s no doubt about it: David lived a stormy life.

In the rumble of the thunder sweeping in from the sea, David heard the power of God:

“The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,” he wrote. “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness, the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.”

Doug Bratt writes, “Yet the psalmist perhaps strikingly ends this noisy psalm with descriptions of God’s tender, loving care for God’s adopted sons and daughters. Throughout the psalm the poet talks about God’s displays of strength. Yet she ends by quietly insisting that God also gives strength to God’s people.”

The storm displays the power, the danger, and the glory of God, while the power, the compassion, and the peace of God offer shelter from the very same storm.

There’s been an increasing amount of attention paid to something called resilience in human life of late. The American Psychological Association describes it this way:

“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.”

It’s not a trait that some people have and some don’t. Resilience is something people can develop and nurture within themselves.

The APA lists ten ways to build resilience:

  • Make connections,
  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems,
  • Accept that change is part of living,
  • Move toward your goals,
  • Take decisive actions,
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery,
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself,
  • Keep things in perspective,
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook, and
  • Take care of yourself.

My contribution to all this is that nine of these ways to build resilience get a lot easier of you work on the first one: Make connections with other people.

Support from family and friends, co-workers and colleagues, club members and church members, provides enormous help. With someone beside me, it’s a lot easier to see a crisis as manageable, to embark on a journey of self-discovery, and to maintain a hopeful outlook. The simple presence of someone who loves you makes a huge difference, before they ever say a single word.

I would also say that the most helpful relationship of all is the one we have with God, the One who gives strength to people, in the words of this psalm: the One who blesses people with peace.

The storms still come, and the storms still hurt. The APA brochure says, “Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives.”

And notice that it does not say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Because, that’s not true. The best you can say about what doesn’t kill you is that it didn’t kill you. We become stronger, perhaps, because of what we do when we respond to it. The storm doesn’t make us stronger. We may be able to become stronger in response. We can take the storm into ourselves to increase our resilience further down the road.

David felt the sadness. He wept. He wept over his dear friend Jonathan. He wept over Saul. He wept over his rebellious son, Absalom. He felt the sadness.

Just as we feel the sadness for Lily Inouye, and for Betty Pacheco, and for the Rev. Ichiro Annes, for others who have left us recently, and for others who died years ago. We feel the loss, and the ache, and we weep the tears.

David also practiced the facets of resilience. He accepted the transitions of his life and moved with them. He took decisive action. The many psalms attributed to him attest to the deep connection he maintained with God.

David endured the storms. We can endure the storms. We can join in the prayer of the shepherd king:

“May the Lord give strength to the people!
May the Lord bless the people with peace!”


Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on September 18, 2016

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