Sermon Aug. 28, 2016 "Learning from Lightning"

Sunday August 28, 2016

Scripture Lesson:  Job 37:1-13

Sermon:  Learning from Lightning

Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

If you’ve lived in Florida for more than 5 minutes, it won’t surprise you to find out that Florida has more lightning strikes per square mile than any other state in the United States. [July 5, 2013|By Arelis R. Hernández, Orlando Sentinel

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-07-05/news/os-lightning-deaths-florida-20130705_1_lightning-alley-lightning-deaths-john-jensenius ] Our routine thunderstorms bring fantastic theatrical displays of lightning especially upon the backdrop of a night sky. Lightning is a familiar part of our exotic tropical environment. In recent years, our family has had two trees in our yard struck by lightning. It’s no wonder one of our dogs starts to quiver as soon as he hears the thunder which is way before we do!

Kyle Cook of Lakeland knows the power of nature first hand. He has survived a bite from a venomous spider while unloading a truck, an attack from a rattlesnake while he was mowing his lawn, and a lightning strike while he was at work on a construction crew. And he has lived to tell about it all. The lightning knocked him back about 6 feet, left him unconscious for about a minute, and induced a mild heart attack. He still gets nerve pain and loss of feeling on his left side. While he is lucky to be alive, his father says, “He’s a walking Murphy’s law. I walk on the other side of the mall.” [AP August 26, 2016, 11:41 AM, Florida man survives lightning strike, spider, snake bites
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-man-survives-lightning-strike-spider-snake-bites/]

With the profusion of the occurrence of lightning, you would think that we would know exactly how it forms and how it functions. While scientists tell us there are still gaps in our understanding of how lightning works they are clear about its incredible power and frequency. A bolt of lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun! And it occurs 40-50 times per second somewhere on the face of Earth totaling about 1.4 billion flashes per year. It’s amazing we don’t all suffer from astraphobia. That’s the fear of lightning! [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning]

The formation of lightning is a complex process which involves ground elevation, latitude, wind, humidity, proximity to water, and temperature. Basically, a cloud becomes electrically charged and the charge goes out from the cloud to the Earth. The beautiful streaks of light in the sky are formed by the electrical charge from the cloud following paths of ionized air which have formed between the cloud and the ground. These paths of ionized air are called step leaders. Once these step leaders are formed, the electrical charge from the cloud is released along the path to Earth and we see the bright flash. Exactly how these paths begin to form has yet to be conclusively understood. But somehow paths are created through the air and the electric charge from the cloud follows the step leader path to Earth and lightning strikes bringing incredible heat, power, and energy to Earth’s surface. [John Zavisa “How Lightning Works” 1 April 2000.HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/lightning.htm> 26 August 2016]

While we can see the amazing power of lightning our faith tradition reminds us that we attribute even more power to God. God’s power, energy, and force for life and good is ultimate. We can think of God as love, the most impactful force known to humanity. And all of this divine power and energy is manifest in creation.

In the verses we listened to from Job, we heard a beautiful portrayal of how the writer sees the power of God displayed on Earth in thunder, snow, wind, cold, ice, clouds, and, of course, lightning: “God loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter God’s lightning.”

When we think of the formation of lightning, it takes the ionized pathways through the air, the step leaders, to conduct the electrical charge from the cloud to the earth. When it comes to God, I believe that we, as human beings, are here to be the channels conducting divine love to the Earth. We are here to be pathways for love in the world. We are to channel God’s love and light to the rest of the human family and to all of creation.

God is a word, a symbol, for unity, goodness, justice, evolving life, love. The power implied in the concept of God is beyond any power we can imagine. That power needs to manifest, to enliven, to support and sustain reality. We are part of channeling that power to the world. That’s what we see in Jesus. He is a conduit, a pathway, for the power of divine love to enter the world in an impactful way that is creative and life- giving; that is reconciling and healing. It is power for individual and social transformation. Jesus channels divine power into the world. And this is why we are here to be like the step leaders that make a pathway for lightening to be conducted from the clouds to the earth.

The movie, “Interstellar,” is about an attempt to find a location in the universe suitable for establishing a home for humanity since Earth has become so compromised that it is loosing the ability to support human life. A crew is sent into space to look for the optimum location for the new colony of humans.

In a moment of crisis, with limited time and resources, the crew is out in space trying to decide which planet to go to that might be the most hospitable to life so that they can save earthly life. Dr. Brandt, an eminent scientist, guided by science, steeped in science, her mind completely formed and shaped by the discipline of science, has this to say about the power of love in a conversation with her colleague, Cooper:

Brandt: Maybe we have spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory.
Cooper: You’re a scientist, Brandt.
Brandt: So listen to me when I say that love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful. It has to mean something.
Cooper: Love has meaning, yes, social utility, social bonding, child rearing.
Brandt: We love people who have died. Where is the social utility in that?
Cooper: None.
Brandt: Maybe it means something more. Something we can’t yet understand. Maybe it’s some evidence. Some artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends the dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that even if we can’t understand it yet.

Here we see a person of science recognizing the power of love, a power that we cannot fully understand, and yet that we perceive and know is at work in our lives, in the world, in the universe, and in all of reality, known and unknown. And we are called to be channels of that power, that force, that reality, into the world. It’s an awesome responsibility, and incredible charge.

Scientists tell us that the average lightning strike has an electric current of 30,000 amperes and transfers 15 coulombs of electric charge and 500 megajoules of energy. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning] Large bolts of lightning can carry much more electrical charge. If the energy of just an average bolt of lightning were harnessed for electricity, my physics teacher husband tells me that it could power our house for 200 years. And here we are with all this lightning striking all around us all the time. All that power. The time may come when we will learn to harness it and put it to constructive use.

So it is with the power of God. The power of Divine love is all around us, all the time, charged, ready, available, just waiting to be channeled into the world though our frail human forms which have been created for just such a purpose. How mysterious and miraculous! Well beyond our comprehension. Yet here we are meant to conduct goodness, justice, love and compassion into the world. Intended to power life with love. May it be so! Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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