Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
I’m not a fan of chaos. Ask anyone in my family; they’ll tell you clean surfaces and organized closets lower my stress, and Goodwill drop offs lift my spirit. And the chaos of clutter is pretty tame in comparison to other types of chaos, isn’t it? We Sunoos all have seared in our memories the summer our house was robbed and both of our cars were stolen while one of my girls was in the hospital requiring surgery and my mom was being treated for brain cancer back east. The absence of control in the face of so many crises at once was overwhelming. Enough already! And whatever the particulars, I know some of you have had your seasons, too, when the challenges have really piled on.
Chaos. Disorder. Lack of control. Ancient Near Eastern texts speak of a powerful sea monster or deity embodying chaos and fighting against the forces of goodness and order. The Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, draws on that same imagery when it speaks of God’s power being greater than the power of the sea. As if to say: in a contest between Yahweh and Chaos, fear not! Yahweh will win every time. So we read here in Psalm 93 about the floods, the floods, the floods – and by the way that repetition is a powerful poetic device, isn’t it, if you think about the persistent motion of waves? But of course all around the mighty waters are reminders of God’s far greater might. “More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!” (Psalm 93:4)
It may sound strange to our ears to equate the waters of the sea with forces of disaster and destruction. How many of us find ourselves drawn to the water here in our area as a source of comfort and serenity: its breathtaking beauty, the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore? In ancient times, though, sea journeys would have been fraught with danger. And if you think about it, a people whose roots lay in the desert might well have been fearful of the sea.
Even today, it’s one thing to experience a beautiful view of the Puget Sound in summertime; it’s quite another to go crabbing off Alaska in late fall or winter. As I understand it, working in those waters at that time is one of the most dangerous ways on earth to make a living. Or think about parts of our country right now in the midst of hurricane season. Or islands in the Caribbean pounded repeatedly by storm after storm. Or those trying to reconstruct their lives after tsunamis have decimated places like Japan and Indonesia. Surely in those contexts this metaphor would make all the sense in the world – the sea with its pounding waves evoking danger and destruction, or a personification of Chaos as a sea monster wreaking havoc against the forces of goodness and life.
Even from our fairly safe, dry perches we can borrow the psalmist’s metaphor of the sea as destructive force, and not only when any one of us is experiencing personal challenges. For heaven knows 2020 has been a stormy season for us all. News headlines can feel like relentless waves coming one after another after another. Gun violence, and racial violence, and wildfires, and hurricanes, and yet more news, and more, and more, about the path of destruction COVID-19 has beaten around the world. All of these stories together pounding and pounding and pounding against our sense of order and control.
And if we feel this way, we who have for the most part really been so sheltered from the worst this year has brought, just imagine what it must feel like for those who’ve lost their homes in hurricanes and wildfires, those weathering the pandemic in places like refugee camps and detention centers, those whose own loved ones have died violently at the hands of others. The chaos is real. And it’s bad.
“The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.” (Psalm 93:3) At times like these that awful sea monster, that embodiment of chaos and destruction, really seems to be winning the battle.
But this is where the powerful affirmation of faith in Psalm 93 can help us. Anne Lamott reminds us that “in times of … fear, hope has to do push-ups out in the parking lot to stay pumped – and it does.” For we know that the worst the Sea can throw at us, the most destructive things that can happen in our world, will in the end be no match for the God of creation, the God of resurrection. Chaos is real, but we also know the end of the story: God wins.
So again we affirm with the psalmist: “More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!” (Psalm 93:4) Or to borrow Eugene Peterson’s translation of that same verse, God is “stronger than wild sea storms, mightier than [the] breakers.” (Psalm 93:4 The Message) In a contest between Yahweh and the Sea, Yahweh will win every time. So even though the world is as stormy as some of us have seen it in our lifetimes, even though we seem to be watching a cosmic battle between God and Chaos unfolding right in front of us, we continue - stubbornly, faithfully - to affirm that God will win. “In a world of despair, cultivating hope is a revolutionary act.” So we flex those hope muscles and stay pumped.
I have a small gift for you this morning to help in that effort. Several weeks ago I’d played for you a song by the band Sons of Korah whose mission has been to set all the biblical psalms to music. When I heard their interpretation of Psalm 93 a few weeks ago it made me sit up and take notice of this text in a way I really hadn’t before. You’ll hear them begin with an instrumental section that captures the uneasiness we feel when chaos swirls around us. And then they’ll move into the pounding of the waves. But throughout the song you’ll also hear those important reminders that God is mightier than the strongest storm.
Let’s listen together now, internalizing the calm, confident words that begin and end the psalm as our affirmation of faith today, our hope in the face of the storm. And then we’ll move into our time of prayer.
 Anne Lamott, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope (2018), p. 177.
 Jemar Tisby on Twitter, August 20, 2020. (Jemar Tisby is the author of The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism)