Today's uplifting message “Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Being Thunderstruck” by Pastor Toni Carmer.
Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Being Thunderstruck
First United Methodist Church, March 4, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
This morning as we continue our series on the Gifts of the Dark Wood we are talking about the gift of being thunderstruck.
So, what does that mean?
A familiar word at one time, we don't use it much today. Today we can use science to explain away much of what we don't understand, while ancient cultures turned to what they could see in the natural world, creating stories or myths to help them understand and to bring meaning and purpose to the unknown.
Lightning and thunder, Elnes tells us in his book Gifts of the Dark Wood, are the means by which every mythology in the Ancient Near East describes the voice of their highest deity. That makes sense, I think. The flashes of lightning that shoot through the sky, followed by the rumbling of thunder can be startling; it can be so loud when you're outside that you can't help but cover your ears and cower. If you're imagining the voice of a god of power and might, what more could you ask for? Light and sound grab your attention—there is no way that you can pretend it's not there.
In our own holy scripture, we remember how God's presence was thought to be on Mount Sinai, where Moses would ascend while the people below witnessed thunder and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain that indicated the presence of God (Exodus 19:16). Psalm 29 speaks of the voice of God being over the waters…"the God of glory thunders…the voice of the Lord is powerful…the voice of the Lord is full of majesty" (v. 3-4). In today's scripture from Job, we read how the voice of God "thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding" (v. 5).
So thunderstruck is that moment when God speaks to you…when God catches your attention. There is this unexpected flash of light, an awareness, an ability to see what perhaps you couldn't see before…and then this moment continues to impact your life, sometimes changing everything from that moment forward. That's what it means to be thunderstruck.
We don't talk about being thunderstruck so much anymore. We wonder instead, why God doesn't speak to us today like God spoke to people during biblical times. And yet when we stop and think about it, so many of us can identify moments when we might say "the light bulb came on," or when we experienced an "ah-ha" moment, when everything clicked into place and there was this moment of clarity.
Do we attribute those moments to God? Or do we attribute them to our own keen minds…or maybe just to good luck or…something else?
Christian author Phyllis Tickle once asked, "Was that the Holy Spirit talking or the pizza I just ate?"
I can think of moments of clarity in my life. They weren't always life changing, they weren’t always faith-related, but they were amazing moments, blessed in their own way.
This may sound kind of silly, but the first one I remember was how it felt when I finally understood how to tell time. Really. I must have been about 5 years old or so, because I was sitting in the kitchen of the woman who was my baby-sitter from my 3rd birthday through kindergarten and who I called "Grandma."
Either she or my mom or school had given me all the information I needed about that round thing with those 12 numbers and a big hand and a little hand. I had been sitting there at her kitchen table just focusing on that clock and trying to bring it at all together, and then suddenly it made sense. I just had it.
It wasn't a God-moment, but it was a good moment, because digitals didn't come out until many years later, and now all I have to figure out when it comes to time is which time zone I’m in, and from what I understand maybe that will even get easier before too long.
There have been other moments when I've been thunderstruck. When I've been reminded of the gifts God has given me. I was thunderstruck when our babies were born. When our grandchildren were born and when the older two became a part of our lives. You look at those little miracles and perhaps Thunderstruck is as good a word as any other. Your life changes from that point on.
I think of the first time I saw mountains, the first time I saw the ocean, the first time I saw the Caribbean blue waters (I always thought they were photo-shopped, but they aren't!) I never really thought so much about the coolness of the Eiffel Tower, and then I saw it in person, I saw it twinkle at night, and I thought, if I lived here, I'd have to find a place to watch it twinkle every night! When I see art: paintings and sculptures, when I listen to music—I'm amazed at the gifts and talents that God gives people and the way those gifts can inspire. Those are moments when I’ve been thunderstruck.
Over these past few weeks as we've talked about the gifts of the Dark Wood, we've talked about things that are tough for us to live through…that cause us fear…things that we would prefer to avoid altogether if we could. And yet, as we live through those Dark Wood moments, we’re given the possibility that they can bring us closer to God. They can grow our faith and our understanding of who God as we face the challenges.
The gift of being Thunderstruck seems to me to be a more obviously good thing than the others: the gift of uncertainty, the gift of emptiness. Those can be tough. You don’t have to work hard to find the positive in being Thunderstruck. Still, the light and the sound, the experience of this unexpected insight or however you might describe it, might initially throw us off, make us a little fearful of the future, of what’s ahead. It can be a challenge for us because now we're responsible to live out what we now understand. But if all of that calls you to a new way of living, a better way of living, that's good, isn't it?
Our oldest son has been a collector of guns. He loves to hunt, but he had other guns, as well. After the Parkland, FL shooting, he felt God call him to get rid of those, and he did. He called and talked to me, who he knew would support him in that decision, and then he talked to his pastor who enjoys guns, too. It was a hard decision for him, but he felt the call clearly and he responded.
We’re each called in different ways at different times for different reasons.
Being thunderstruck can change our lives.
I was thunderstruck in my call to ministry. I was working as a registered nurse and I loved it, and then I felt the voice of God speak to me. It wasn’t exactly thunder and lightning, but God caught my attention in a big way. Scott and I had talked about my being a pastor beginning when he was in seminary (which was about 15 years before that), but I always responded—I could do the tasks of ministry, but I don’t have the call. So, in the midst of a worship service in Louisville Kentucky at a Global Gathering for United Methodists, God called me. I heard God’s voice as clearly as if I'd received that call over my cell phone. And I knew that sounded pretty crazy. I’d worked in psychiatric nursing for some time by then, was teaching psychiatric nursing at the time—hearing voices, I knew, generally meant you could use some medication.
Scott and I talked about it, I started sharing with a couple of friends, and then the circle widened. Instead of taking medication, I went to seminary, and I knew from that moment on that that’s what I was supposed to do. What I had been called to do. It felt right. It wasn’t easy, but it was right.
That “rightness” has remained with me. There are times when I don’t get it all right, when I get tired, and need a bit of a break. But it’s right. God has blessed me through the Dark Wood and through the change that brought to our lives.
It’s not only pastors being called to ministry, but some of us are called to teach, to serve as social workers, to serve the community in public service, to be creators, organizers, salespeople, administrators, physicians… Elnes speaks of 2 brothers who run the best mechanic shop around, who get the job done right, who don’t do more than what needs to be done, and where you’re treated so well you almost want your car to be sick just to experience the vibe of the place. What motivated them to be so honest? One of the brothers replied: “We’re Muslim. We treat every automobile as if Muhammed himself will be driving away in it.”
A stockbroker he knows has a similar attitude, treating every client as if Jesus himself is the investor. She takes into account, as well, the ethics of the companies in which she invests. Would Jesus want me investing in this? What she does is a calling.
Each of these folks, and thankfully, so many of us—have been thunderstruck, and it has changed our lives…guided us…given us joy.
God continues to speak to us today, calling us anew, affirming where we are, or perhaps challenging us to do something new. It might not be easy, whatever that may be…and yet, it may bless your life in some amazing new ways.
Are you open to being Thunderstruck?