Scripture: Luke 8:22–25
Are you cautious or curious?
Today we celebrate Storm Sunday and let me suggest a division that is admittedly a little oversimplified, but not by much. When it comes to storms, there are two kinds of people.
The first type is “Cautious.” You know who you are. When the clouds start to gather, you get a little closer to your weather radio, or app on your phone. You have spent more than one night in the basement or interior room, to make sure that you are safe. You may even have an emergency box with flashlights and bottled water, just in case. When the tornado sirens go off, you know exactly what to do. When it comes to storms, many of you are cautious.
And then there are the rest of you. When those tornado sirens go off, and your family members are huddled in the basement or bathtub, you are on the front porch! As soon as that weather alert goes off, you are out in your front yard, looking for which way the storm is coming. I would dare say that some of you even get in your car, so that you can drive out and have a better look! You belong in the second category: the “Curious.”
Now, I will admit that on that spectrum, I lean toward the curious side. I love to watch storms, or see pictures of storms, or marvel at the power of wind and rain. You have heard me go on and on about the beauty of creation, and I include in that the awe-inspiring power of storms!
But today, I want to acknowledge the wisdom of the cautious among us. Because I know that there is reason for many of you to be cautious. Maybe you have been in a tornado or serious storm. Maybe you have lost property or even loved ones. Maybe you have learned the hard way that storms are not to be trifled with. Storms can mess you up!
Because I also acknowledge that my curiosity comes from a place of comfort and privilege. I can go stand on my porch and watch because I know that I can run inside to my basement if I need to. I have a sturdy home that will protect me. I have disaster insurance. I have family members who will take me in if my home is destroyed. I acknowledge that for me, and for many of us, storms and even nature as a whole exists in the realm of recreation.
But what about those among us who have a very different experiences of storms, and even of nature? Those who have good reason to be cautious, or even afraid, of storms.
Consider the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. In 2005, they received a one-two punch. Developers had drained the wetlands around the city in order to build it up, but those wetlands served as a natural barrier to hurricanes and storms. When Hurricane Katrina hit, there was nothing to slow it down. Nearly 2,000 people lost their lives and millions lost their homes. And 17 years later, some have never returned.
Or consider the residents of Texas. In 2021, they received their own one-two punch. State officials had insisted that Texas didn’t need to be linked into a larger power grid…that they could cover the needs of their own. But they couldn’t. In February, snow and ice storms blanketed their region and the power grid failed, leaving residents in the dark and the cold. Hundreds died and millions of dollars of property damage was caused.
Consider the residents of Eastern Kentucky. Just a few short weeks ago, they felt their own one-two punch. For years now, coal companies have been strip mining in these hills, tearing the tops off of the mountains to get to the coal. And with it, they have taken the trees and the topsoil that once soaked up rainwater. But now, with nothing to stop it, heavy rains meant severe flooding, killing residents and destroying homes and communities.
Three distinct areas of the country. But three versions of the same story. Apathy of those in power, coupled with destructive events fueled by climate chaos. Yes, storms can be fun to watch, until you become vulnerable to their power and destruction.
The cautious among us seem wiser and wiser with each climate disaster.
Let me suggest that today’s Scripture passage is filled with those exposed and vulnerable to the power of nature.
In the narrative I read a few moments ago, Jesus and his disciples are out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a surprise storm comes up. Pretty quickly, it gets out of hand and the disciples start to freak out. Jesus, meanwhile, is taking a nap. Now, I thought for half a minute about making this a sermon about the theological and Scriptural wisdom of nap-taking, but then I realized that that probably wasn’t Luke’s main point.
Instead, it seems like his point is to capture the disciples’ response to the dangerous and destructive power in the world around them. I think this is Luke’s point because this story is the first in a series of stories in which Jesus is faced with that destructive power. A demon-possessed man. A young girl on the verge of death. And a woman suffering from a medical condition that caused her to hemorrhage. And today’s story of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Each of these represent a destructive and evil power. Even today’s passage reads like an exorcism: it says Jesus “rebuked the wind and waves.” In each of these four stories, there are those who are living in a vulnerability to the powers around them that many of us cannot comprehend from our privilege. These are forces which have the power to end life and take away loved ones. And they are not to be trifled with. For these people, nature does not exist in the realm of recreation, but in the realm of threat, of chaos, and of destructive power. The people in these stories, and those first reading them, would have had a lot more in common with the residents of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, East Texas, or Eastern Kentucky. They were vulnerable to the one-two punch of the destructive power of nature, and apathy of those in power who refused to protect them.
But look at how Jesus responds. According to Luke’s language, Jesus performs an exorcism on the destructive power of nature. The disciples wake Jesus up and cry to him for help. Jesus looks them in the eye and uses his amazing power to calm the wind and the waves. In each of these stories, Jesus stands in the gap. He looks in the eyes of those who are hurting or afraid and brings healing and hope and wholeness.
But that is just the beginning. After the winds calm down, he pushes the disciples to ask what they could have done differently. “Where is your faith?” he asks. This is no accident. This is training. Right after these four exorcism stories, in chapter 9, Jesus sends out these same disciples with a mission: to confront the powers of death and destruction and apathy, and to bring healing and hope and wholeness to those who need it. Jesus sends them to look into the eyes of the vulnerable and give them what they need. To proclaim the truth of injustice to those who are apathetic enough to shrug their shoulders to the vulnerable. In a few short verses, Jesus will send them out in order to accomplish the same mission that he has chosen to undertake. His question is pointed, but purposeful: “Where is your faith?” Because you’re going to need it.
But Jesus isn’t done, even then. If Chapter 8 is the last minute training program, and Chapter 9 is the mission of the Twelve, read on into Chapter 10: “After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them…” The mission of Jesus becomes the mission of the Twelve becomes the mission of the Seventy. And a lot of scholars suggest that Jesus’ language in Luke here is intentional and symbolic. The Seventy are meant to signify everyone else. Everyone picking up this book now has a mission to confront the powers of death and destruction and apathy. Everyone calling themselves Christian has a calling to look into the eyes of the vulnerable and bring healing and hope and wholeness. WE, all of us, as the followers of Jesus, have the same power. WE, too, are meant to stand up to the apathetic and greedy. WE, too, are meant to look into the eyes of those who are hurting and do everything we can to care for them.
So what does that look like today? What does that look like in the context of the residents of the Ninth Ward, and East Texas, and Eastern Kentucky? Is our calling to read these stories and proclaim, “Boy, am I glad that I don’t live there!” To settle back into our privilege and hope against hope that we aren’t the next ones on the news?
Or shall we be more? Shall we take seriously the call of Luke 10? To stand up to the powers of death and destruction and apathy and bring healing and hope and wholeness? Katherine Hayhoe thinks it’s the second option. I know I have referenced Hayhoe before; she’s a climate scientist at Texas Tech, AND is a lifelong passionate Christian and missionary kid. She has held fast to the evidence of climate change AND to her faith in Jesus. She names both the destruction AND the hope. She writes it this way:
“But hope is that faint, small, bright light at the end of the dark tunnel that we head for with all our might and all our strength. And when we get dragged down, when we get discouraged, when we get anxious and depressed…we take a breath, we fix our eyes on that hope…and then we pick ourselves up, and we keep on going because what is at state is too valuable to lose. It’s not our planet itself: it will orbit the sun long after we’re gone. What’s at stake is literally us.”
That’s how we respond to the vulnerable victims of climate chaos. Hope. Now, I get it…climate change seems overwhelming. We, too, look at climate chaos and want to shake Jesus from his apparent napping, throw our hands in the air, and cry out, “Jesus, just make it all better for us! Fix it for us! Or in the very least, take us home so that we don’t have to deal with it!” But perhaps Jesus looks at us and asks “where is your faith?” Just like he was training them to enter the world and bring that hope…he asks us to do the same.
As we wrap up today, I want to give you three avenues in which to live out that faith. We started out leaning into the cautious…now I want us to lean into the curious. What can we learn about what is happening in our world? Who can we partner with that is making a difference, like Hayhoe invites?
One. Research the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering. We talk about it every year, at the beginning of the summer, but I’d invite you to look up some of the folks that they help, and consider giving a little more this year. They helped Kentucky flood victims, and Texas ice storm victims, and Katrina victims, and plenty of folks who aren’t on the front page of the news. They look into the eyes of the hurting and vulnerable, and choose to make a difference. Support One Great Hour of Sharing.
For more information, follow this link: http://abc-oghs.org/
Two. Join the Purple Team. This FBC Earthworks subteam has been dubbed the Scholars, but I think that has scared a few folks off. It isn’t as though the folks on this team already know it all, but they are curious about the world that God created and how they might be good stewards in the name of faith. Perhaps we should rename them “The Curious!” They want to learn more, so they read, and invite speakers, and talk about these ideas. You can find archived conversations on the website, or join us every month.
For more information, follow this link: https://firstbaptistlawrence.com/book-study-videos/
Finally, three. Look into the Creation Justice Network. This is a network of American Baptist Churches, one we just joined last month. We are learning more from these churches, specifically how to offer healing and hope to those suffering from climate disaster. We are all learning how to do this together, so join us in that journey of curiosity.
For more information, follow this link: https://www.abc-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/creation-justice-bch.1pdf.pdf
These are just a handful of the ways to be curious about God’s call on us to be stewards of creation!
Andrew Farley allowed himself to be curious. He was an evangelical pastor in Texas, and found himself believing the rhetoric of politicians and lobbyists, skeptical about climate change: “I am not sure it’s real. I am not sure if it is real that I can do anything about it. I am not sure that if I can do something about it that I actually want to make any sacrifices to my way of living!”
But his wife believed. So she continued to present the evidence. Day in and day out. For over a year and a half, she presented the scientific evidence about climate change. And it worked. Eventually, he came to understand the evidence and believed that there was something that he could do! Now, it doesn’t hurt that Pastor Farley was married to Katherine Hayhoe, the climate scientist! But because of her consistency and insistency, and her message of faith and action, he came to understand the importance of her words. Together they wrote a book, A Climate for Change, that has been a meaningful message to so many Christians and activists alike.
All because he was curious. All because he heard the call to care for the vulnerable in our world. All because Jesus asked him, “Where is your faith?” He found a way to stand in the gap.
May we follow his example, and join afresh the mission of Christ.