Sunday, January 13, 2019

Snow Happens (blast from the past)


Back in 1998 I was a minister in Fayetteville, WV. An almighty snow storm came our way, taking out the power, and eventually the water as well. As services at Mount Hebron Presbyterian are cancelled today, thought it would be an opportune moment to share a blast from the past...

Readings: Job 37:1-7: John 13:5-8
Preached at Fayetteville Presbyterian Church on February 8th
(following the Snows of 1998)

"For to the snow He says, 'Fall on the earth',
and to the downpour and the rain, 'Be strong
(Job 37:6)

I have added a new word to my vocabulary. "Tetchy".  When the power went out and the water stopped flowing and the snow kept coming a lot of folk started to get a little irritable.. a little on the edge.. a little "tetchy".  I was no exception.  I asked my wife for a cheese sandwich at one point of the powerout and.. well.. I guess it wasn't the right time. I know my household hasn't been the only one where things have been a little strained over the last few days.

The kids say, "Hooray.. no school again." But then it's, "Got nothing to do.  I'm bored."
Then more storms come along. And so it goes and again it snows.

The storms have had another affect on me than "Tetchiness".  They have been a hard lesson in humility.  Think about it.  We have computers that are monitoring the paths of storms and calculating their effects to the "n"th degree.  We have satellites circling the earth, watching us from beyond the atmosphere.  We have great nuclear power stations manufacturing power from plutonium. We have every imagined convenience, things our grandparents would never have dreamed of.

A couple of snow storms take an unpredictable course and catch us off guard.  The power stops coming.  The gadgets cease to function.  We start to realize just how dark and cold the nights can be.  We become very vulnerable.  Some people become mad about the situation.  Some get busy. Some get "tetchy". Most just get by.

All it takes is for God to say, as Elihu puts it in the book of Job, "Snow..Fall on the earth" and we're in a rare old mess.  Our technological advances seem to amount to so little when your huddled around a candle playing Scrabble for the fourth night in a row.

I feel humbled.  Things come along now and again that cut us down to size, make us realize that were it not for the Grace of God we would all be a bunch of gibbering idiots. 

These storms have been one of those things.

Somebody suggested that maybe these storms were a judgment of God on a wicked nation.  That didn't ring true to me.  If ice and snow are a sign of God's wrath then Eskimo's and Alaskans must be the most wicked people in all Creation and those near the equator the most righteous. I don't see the wrath of God as being distributed along topographic lines. Snow happens.  And that's that.

We certainly haven't had it as bad as some.  Further up towards Canada the power has been off for a month and still hasn't been restored. "No phone, no electricity, no hope of either" has become a familiar litany in New York States upper five counties.  Further North, over the border in Quebec, some families are reportedly tearing down decks and porches to use for heat because a whole years supplemental wood supply had been used up in a matter of weeks.

Storms have been hitting all over with many different effects, be it floods in California or Tornado's in Florida.  Seems the whole nation has got a reason to be tetchy! This puts me in mind of Job.  A different kind of storm hit his life.  It wasn't a judgment on him.  In God's eyes he was the righteous guy.  Then he saw his family dieing all around him, his livelihood slips away, his health deteriorates and his only place to stay is the towns garbage dump. He had more reason than most to be tetchy.

He, not surprisingly, does get mad at God. As the story unfolds his so called comforters give him all sorts of reasons why things had turned bad for him. Mostly they make him take the blame, using the argument that bad things didn't happen to good Godly people.  Then along comes Elihu, the fourth speaker who reasons with Job that whatever was going on was way out of his control and he had better just hang in there because God would show up sooner or later.

When God does show up, far from explaining anything as to the why's or whatever's, He just points Job to the mystery of the Creation around him and seems to say, "Job.. could you make all this stuff? can you make it snow or stop it raining? Can you tame sea monsters or dance along mountaintops?  Life is so much more than you can imagine".

And Job is left feeling rather small and humbled.  At the same time his faith receives a boost.  He realizes that it is not necessary to have all the answers.  He recognizes that there are things that happen you can never understand.  He feels humbled before the awesome mystery of the life God had called him to.  At the end of the book he is restored many of the things he had lost.  God even manages to turn his crisis into something good.

Springtime will come.  The sun will shine again.  The snows will melt and the waters recede.  We know that for a fact.  But it still gets us tetchy. It should humble us that compared to the Creative love of God our lives seem hopelessly limited.  To me the mystery is why God should even bother with the likes of us!

Let's think about thanksgiving. 

There are so many things right now we can be thankful for.
For power workers who have gone beyond the call of duty to get life back to normal.
Fors in touch with the outside world.
For blankets.
For hot flasks of coffee.
For warm clothing.
For firewood.
For shovels.
For chainsaws.
For emergency services.

For so many things and so many people.
We should be thankful.

When Jesus offered to wash Peter's feet, Peter wasn't thankful.  He said "No, you shouldn't be doing that, I don't need that."  He had to learn the hard way that unless he let Jesus help him and stepped down from His position of pride and self sufficiency then his journey of discipleship was coming to an end. "Unless I wash you" Jesus says, "You have no part of me".  Peter was humbled .

The mystery of a Creation which can dump so much snow on us; those around us who continue to work through this crisis, they are our wake up call.  They remind us that despite all our so called technological miracles God still calls the shots.  They remind us that we really can't get along without each other.

So be humbled.
And be thankful.
The two go hand in hand.

The words of a children's hymn that was in the Welsh Presbyterian hymnbook have been coming to mind these last days as I've been going about, shoveling snow and trying to keep warm.

"God who made the sun,
The moon, the stars, is he
Who, when lifes clouds come on,
Careth for me.

God, who made all things,
On earth, in air, in sea,
Who changing seasons brings,
Careth for me.

God, who sent His Son,
To die on Calvary
He, if I lean on him
Will care for me."

When life gets you tetchy, do a bit of leaning!
For as another popular song puts it;

"We all need somebody to lean on".

Whatever the future brings our way may God help us to see it through in the knowledge that though He may send the snow,
He also provides the sunshine that will one day,
(hopefully not to far down the road)
 be shining down on us.

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