Sermon for 18 October 2009 – The Whirlwind

Here is what I said in the pulpit this morning.

Hearing that Gospel, I always think how real it is.

If there are good seats, people always want them. And it seems very real that James and John were trying to secure for themselves the best seats in heaven.

People are funny about seats, aren’t they? I remember going to another church in Glasgow one week when I was on holiday from being here. And I got there earlier than anyone in the congregation. There I was. The church was full of empty chairs. And I chose one and sat down to have a bit of a pray and a think. And would you believe it, I’d sat down in the wrong seat. The next person though the door came over to me and asked me to move for he said (quite rightly, I’m sure), that I was sitting in his place.

James and John’s hubris lives on in many a seating plan and in many an order of precedence.

But what did they make of the answer that Jesus gave. He gave them no special seat, but instead, a special promise, which was that they would know suffering if they wanted to be close to him and they would know persecution unto death if they wanted to be near him.

It can hardly be what they hoped to hear.

Yet that notion that God is with us and near to us when things are hard, as much or perhaps even more, than when things are going well is central to who we are. And to meditate on that, we need to turn back to the book of Job. We heard today the second of the readings that we have had from Job over the last few weeks. I began talking about Job last week and the questions that his experience raises. We heard how Job was a righteous man. A good man. And yet someone to whom terrible things happened. And this story is unfolding – one of the attempts in the bible to answer the question “Why do bad things happen to good people.”

And perhaps more profoundly – why do bad things happen to God’s people.

What we get this week is Job’s only answer. God answers Job – but it is not a still small voice – it is not a voice of comfort – it is not a voice which calms and soothes. No, this is the voice of God speaking from the whirlwind.

I think that it is worth dwelling on that for a moment. One of the most favourite hymns of people today is “Dear Lord and Father” – a hymn which dwells on that experience of quiet peace and perfect rest and stillness and calmness. There is no doubt that most people find it easier to perceive God when they are at peace and can listen in the stillness.

I guess that not many of you have seen a whirlwind in the middle East. I have. I know what it looks like to see the wind uprooting the trees and whirling them around like matchsticks. And the sand and the dust that is such a part of life whirls and burls around making the sky change colour – black, orange, red, blue.

This is where Job got his answer. From the God of the whirlwind. Not the God of the quiet lakeside scene. Not the God of the lovely view. Not the God of the sunset.

It seems to suggest that we can know God when life is tough and we are whirling and birling ourselves.

For the writer of the book of Job understood something important – that Job’s questions do not have conventional answers. Job might have said “Why is this happening to me? I’ve lived a good life – I’ve done what I should. Why am I suffering?” Yet the author of his tale knew that he might as well ask why the wind blew. Or why are there stars in the sky. Or why there are floods or thunder or lightening.

You see, God has made us in love. God has created us in love. God has, in his love put us into a Creation in which Creation itself is still going on. The lions and ravens still hunt for their pray, says the author of Job. The creation is still going on. It is unfolding. Change is a part of creation and change, if we learn anything in life is inevitable and painful and sometimes leads to something wonderful.

The answer that Job gets from the whirlwind is another question. Were you there when the world was made? Do you, Job, know what it is like to be God? Do you know what it is to bear the suffering of the whole created world in your being.

God seems to be saying that Job is sharing in something which is already a part of God.

And of course, God said that in a different way to answer those difficult questions which we share with Job and which are part of our experience.

• Why do people in die meaninglessly in terrorist attacks

• Why do natural disasters occur and why do we think them unnatural when they do?

• Why does a young celebrity singer die on a carefree holiday at the age of 33?

• Why do children suffer?

• Why is there war in – the holy land – the land of the prophets of so many of God’s people?

• And why, why did a young man die on a cross – the most painful death in the world?

That question goes along with all the other questions that Job and we might ask. Why did a young man die on a cross?

God knows our questions.

God knows our pain.

God knows our suffering.

And God is mighty and powerful and great and good. And acts within the created world, out of love. And out of love, God came amongst us.

That is the power, the might and omnipotence of the God whom we worship. Not to perform magic tricks. Not to reward us for our devotion with tidbits of divine activity but to relish us and enjoy us and keep company with us and to become vulnerable. To face the things we face. Our God did not just speak out of the whirlwind, but shared with us what it felt like to look into a whirlwind. A whirlwind that comes out of the confusion which we feel in the face of terrible things.

And that is the best answer there is to these questions. It is not that God stands by and does nothing. But that God came and stood alongside us and shared what it was like for us to know the suffering that is a part of an undetermined world where creation goes on and on.

The creator has became one of us. It is what we celebrate at Christmas and what we celebrate in our lives week by week.

The God of the whirlwind became one of those who were blown about in the wind.

The mighty, powerful maker of all things. Became for a moment one of us. In creation. Out of love.



  1. fr dougal says

    This good thanks.

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    Even among habitually good sermons this one shone.

  3. Great sermon – sorry I missed it, but surprised you were not celebrating the feast of St Luke.

  4. I am really getting puzzled at to the observence of Saints Days. Following a small straw poll, St Mary’s was the only Anglican Church (checking various friends and websites in Scotland and Englandshire) that transfered St Luke from the recognised date of 18 October to the following day (19 October). the SEC church I attended on Sunday morning was observing St Luke.

    The appearance of various Saints Day during the sundays – after Trinity / after Pentecost / in Ordinary Time (select your prefered term) – has in the past seemed to given us a means every few years to consider these Saints in detail. However the wholesale translation away from the Sunday to my mind means we are losing the richness and inspiration that these days has and can provide.

  5. Wikipedia entry on Luke the Evangelist.

  6. We celebrated St Luke with a Eucharist in St Mary’s on the day on which the Scottish Episcopal Church commemorates him. This was 19 October this year. Normally it is 18 October.

    There is no confusion in the Calendar and Lectionary of the SEC. Churches with any particular devotion to the Blessed Doctor can celebrate on the Sunday according to local custom. There is no local custom here to warrant that and no whim of the Provost to do so.

  7. Then it is a loss to the SEC.

    None of the churches I checked were dedicated or had a particluar devotion to St Luke (including the SEC one I attended).

    What was the reason behind moving this and all other saints days away from the relevant sunday in ordinary time when they fell on a sunday?

  8. Sunday is more important.

    The rules have not changed since we went through this all before, Stewart. If you kept every saints day on the day, you would barely get Sundays at all.

    Neither the SEC nor St Mary’s can be said to be losing out as we kept both the normal Sunday and St Luke’s day.

  9. Great sermon, thanks.

    It is good to know that our cathedrals are keeping the great Feasts on the proper days.

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