Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Being Thunderstruck

thunder and lightning

Texts used – Job 36:26-37:7; Mark 4:35-41

  • When we were little, our parents told us all sorts of things about thunder and lightning to make it seem less scary, right? → favorite examples
    • Thunder & lightning = God taking pictures
      • Thunder = sound of the shutter
      • Lightning = flash
    • Thunder & lightning = music
      • Thunder = drums
      • Lightning = cymbal crashes
    • Probably most classic: thunder & lightning = God and the angels bowling
      • Thunder = bowling balls and pins
      • Lightning = celebration
    • To little kids, the thunder and lightning can feel scary because thunder and lightning are so much bigger than we are! And they seem to come out of nowhere. And they’re unpredictable. You never know when and where they’re going to strike or how powerful they’re going to be.
  • Throughout the summer, we’ve been walking through the Dark Wood using Eric Elnes’ book, Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers)[1]
    • Talked about what the Dark Wood is → those moment of challenge and struggle in our lives
    • Talked about the first two gifts
      • Uncertainty leads us to trust in God
      • Emptiness helps us remember to make room for God and the leading of the Holy Spirit
    • Today = talking about the gift of being thunderstruck → not really a phrase we use a whole lot anymore – “thunderstruck”: extreme shock and surprise (other synonyms: astonished, dumbfounded, speechless, flabbergasted)
      • Like the unpredictability of real thunder and lightning, moments that leave us thunderstruck feel like they come out of nowhere. They flash and crash and reverberate in our hearts and souls long after the actual moment has passed, leaving us wondering and pondering and questioning and seeking.
        • Elnes’ approaches this idea through the interpretation lens of the Ancient Near East: The Dark Wood is that inner terrain you negotiate more through intuition, imagination, and indirect ways of knowing than through direct perception. In every mythology in the Ancient Near East, the elements of lightning and thunder are depicted in similar fashion: as instruments for conveying the voice of the highest deity. … When the ancients spoke of the deity flashing lightning and chasing it with claps of thunder, they meant that the voice of the divine often comes through momentary flashes of intuition or awareness that trigger sensations that reverberate within us like rolling thunder.[2]
          • Thunder and lightning are wholly other – something completely outside of us and different from us but also something that affects us when present no matter what → If you are awake, you cannot escape the sound of thunder or the flash of the lightning. Heck, if the thunder and lightning are powerful enough, they can even jolt us out of deep sleep, can’t they?
          • Encounters with God and the revelations that come from those encounters are the same: wholly other and completely outside of us but that affects us no matter what
  • Hear this understanding of God speaking in our OT passage this morning
    • Background
      • Basic story of Job: Job is a man who was “honest, a person of absolute integrity; he feared God and avoided evil.”[3] → blessed with many things (family, wealth, health & well-being) → catches the attention of Satan who says to God, “The only reason this Job guy worships you is because things have gone so well for him. If things were going poorly, he would turn his back on you.” → God’s response: “Look, all he has is within your power; only don’t stretch out your hand against him.”[4] → all sorts of terrible things happen to Job and he loses everything: family, wealth, health, even home → his 3 friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) and his wife tell him to curse and abandon God because his fortunes have turned so rapidly but Job refuses to do so
      • End of Job – enter Elihu
        • Description from earlier in text: Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite from the clan of Ram was angry, angry with Job because he considered himself more righteous than God. He was also angry with his three friends because they hadn’t found an answer but nevertheless thought Job wicked. Elihu had waited while Job spoke, for they were older than he. When Elihu saw that there had been no response in the speeches of the three men, he became very angry.[5] → The passage that we read today is part of Elihu’s speech to Job about how powerful and wholly other God is.
    • Today’s text – Elihu uses thunder/lightning language in reference to God over and over again:
      • Even if one perceives a spreading cloud and the thunder of his pavilion, look how he spreads lightning across is at covers the seabed[6]
      • [God] conceals lightning in his palms and orders it to its target. His thunder announces it[7]
      • Listen closely to the rumble of his voice, the roar issuing from his mouth. He looses it under the whole sky, his lightning on earth’s edges.[8]
      • All of these references speak to that awesome, soul-shaking, thunder-striking power that God has to shake up our lives – to intervene in ways that can be both subtle and sensational. Think about the varying ways that we observe thunder and lightning.
        • Thunder
          • Sometimes low and rolling – almost a background noise that you have to strain to hear
          • Sometimes a deafening crash that seems to come out of the blue (you know … those thunder claps that come crashing out of nowhere and make you jump)
          • Sometimes somewhere in between: start low and rolling and end up loud and attention-grabbing
        • Lightning
          • Sometimes soft flickers up in the clouds that you can only see if your attention is focused on the right place at the right time
          • Sometimes bright flashes – all you can see is the light itself (not sure where the lightning is … just see the after effect)
          • Sometimes one of those big, bright, powerful bolts that streaks from the clouds to the ground
        • When God breaks into our lives in ways that leave us thunderstruck, it can be in ways that are big and showy and impossible to ignore like a giant thunder clap or a fierce bolt of lightning but also in ways that build up like rolling thunder and flash as quick as lightning and are gone again. But no matter how they come, those moments leave us struck – struck by God’s presence with us and struck by revelation.
          • Revelation could be something God is calling us to do
          • Revelation could be something God is calling us to be
          • Revelation could be somewhere God is calling us to go
          • Whatever it is, those thunderstruck moments reveal God’s will to us in ways that we cannot ignore sort of the way a flash of lightning in the dark can light up a previously-unseen path in the middle of a Dark Wood.
    • Elnes: While you may be able to identify times when you’ve experienced flashes of insight, you may find the thunder easier to locate. In an actual storm you may miss the lightning entirely. It is brief, soundless, and often comes from a distant place. But even quiet thunder is hard to miss. Even if you overlook or forget the inner realization that triggers your inner thunder, the ongoing reverberations caused by the lightning sometimes last for years. I cannot remember the specific moment when I first realized that I wanted to marry [my wife], for instance, but the reverberations have continued to thunder for twenty-six years.[9]
  • See this flash of revelation in our NT passage this morning (another Jesus/disciples/boat/crappy weather story)
    • Storyline: Jesus has spent another long day teaching and preaching, both to the disciples and to a large crowd by the side of the sea → end of the day, Jesus tells the disciples that they’re going to cross to the other side of the sea/lake (way to remove themselves from the crowds) → exhausted Jesus falls asleep in the back of the boat on the way across → giant storm blows up (“Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped”[10] → fearing for their lives, disciples wake Jesus rather dramatically – “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”[11] → Jesus silences the storm, then silences the disciples – “He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked [the disciples], ‘Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?’”[12] → disciples are indeed thunderstruck – “Overcome with awe, they said to each other, ‘Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!’”[13]
    • In this passage, the disciples experience a flash of brilliant, soul-shaking, world-altering revelation that continues to roll and thunder within them long after that initial moment has passed. Their lives are inarguably altered after this encounter. They literally watched Jesus calm a raging storm and a roiling sea with his voice. He spoke, and the winds and the waves ceased. There’s no way they could go back to “business as usual” after that! But there are a couple of important things that we have to notice about this interaction.
      • First: comes from a place of discomfort – disciples in the boat are basically in a life-or-death situation → Now, not every revelation has to come in such an extreme moment of life or death, but are revelations that come in times of comfort and calm and contentment ever really going to effectively grab our attention? Probably not. When things are going well, we have no reason to be looking for something better, something brighter, something more … because we’re happy with the way things are.
        • To stick with our analogy: thunder and lightning don’t appear out of nowhere on a beautiful, sunny day → they are always found in the midst of a storm
        • Greatest revelations are often found in the midst of turmoil
      • Also notice: disciples don’t come away from this revelation with all the answers → They don’t come away saying, “Oh my gosh, this Jesus guy that we’ve been traveling with must be the Son of God sent into the world to bring us God’s love and salvation. Thanks be to God!” Even after this pretty striking revelation, they don’t have the whole picture. But they do have greater insight. They have a small piece of the puzzle. Their viewpoint has been shifted by what they have seen and heard and experienced. And it’s that experience that matters more than having all the answers.
  • Elnes speaks of the necessity of this nature being fleeting (describes those thunder and lightning moments of revelation as “liquid joy”): I would lose those feelings of liquid joy many times … But every time I would lose it, it would circle back again, with growing intensity. … [These sweet spot moments] act like crumbs in the Dark Wood of life that indicate the direction of my particular path ahead.[14] → So while a few weeks ago we talked about how the uncertainty of the path through the Dark Wood is a blessing in that it teaches us to trust God, these moments of being thunderstruck – these flash moments of revelation and the reverberation that resonates in our souls long afterward – are gifts of reassurance in the face of all that scares us in the Dark Wood.
    • Moments themselves can be jarring – can be unexpected, can reveal things we didn’t even know were there (blessings or obstacles) – but they can also be flashes that reassure us we are going in the right direction → find that reassurance in the frequency: Do we keep hearing the thunder and seeing flashes of lightning?
      • Disciples as an e.g. → If Jesus had never ever done another miraculous thing, they may have brushed off that experience in the boat as just a coincidence. Just one of those crazy things. Maybe they would have thought they themselves were going crazy! But through his healings, his teachings, his miracles, and finally through his resurrection, Jesus continued to give the disciples flashing glimpses of his true identity and the Kingdom of God that reverberated within their hearts and minds long after the moment itself had passed.
  • And how can we identify those thunderstruck moments?
    • Elnes: We must always ask ourselves a question I once heard author Phyllis Tickle ask: “Was that the Holy Spirit talking or the pizza I just ate?” … One of the hallmarks of authentic spiritual experience is that it continues to repeat itself – like thunder and lightning in a good storm – long after the pizza is gone.[15] → So friends, as we wander through this Dark Wood together, let us keep our eyes and our ears and our souls poised for those thunderstruck moments – those flashes of God in our midst. Amen.

[1] Eric Elnes. Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers). (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), 2015.

[2] Elnes, 66, 67-68.

[3] Job 1:1.

[4] Job 1:12.

[5] Job 32:2-5.

[6] Job 36:29.

[7] Job 36:32-33a.

[8] Job 7:2-3.

[9] Elnes, 68.

[10] Mk 4:37.

[11] Mk 4:38.

[12] Mk 4:39-40.

[13] Mk 4:41.

[14] Elnes, 76.

[15] Elnes, 71.

5 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Being Thunderstruck

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Getting Lost | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Temptation | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  3. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Disappearing | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  4. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Misfits | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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