Ocean Sunday


‘Wisdom teaches that what God will gather up in Christ, we humans should make healthy, free from toxins, cleaned of garbage, and restored to abundance.’[i]

Today, and for the remainder of September, we join with churches of various denominations around the world to celebrate the Season of Creation.

The Season of Creation is not simply a harvest thanksgiving festival or an affirmation of the wonders of creation. It is also not primarily designed to redress the relative lack of emphasis that we Christians in this modern world tend to place on the First Article of the Creed in which we say, “We believe in one God, … maker of heaven and earth, and all that is, seen and unseen.”

Whilst these things are important, and may be a part of it, the Season of Creation is more than that. It challenges us to re-orient our relationship with creation.

This challenge has been provoked to some extent by the current ecological crisis and a growing awareness of our place in the web of creation; but it is important to recognize that the origins of our re-orientation lie deep in our Christian tradition, especially our biblical heritage.

So, we will be examining various bible passages to try to rediscover our intimate connections with creation, and to see ourselves again as part of the very Earth from which we are made.

This year we are in the third series of the Season of Creation, called The Wisdom Series. As we work through the four weeks of readings, it is helpful if we understand why this year is called the Wisdom Series.

In the scriptures, particularly in Proverbs, Wisdom is often seen as a personification of a quality of God and as the origin and creative force behind the creation of all creatures. (And by the way the Hebrew word for wisdom is feminine in gender, so Proverbs 1:20-21, for example, says, ‘she raises her voice …(and) she speaks.’

Proverbs 8:22-23 indicates that wisdom was created before mankind, and indeed, before the creation of the world. Wisdom speaking here says, ‘The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.’

In addition, Wisdom is seen as having an ongoing role in God’s creation – a role alongside Jesus and the Holy Spirit to enliven, restore, teach and bring justice to our world.

So, Wisdom is the designing force of creativity behind the creation of the world and all the creatures in it, both human and non-human – “all that is seen and unseen”, as we say in the Creed. It is the impulse, energy or urge, that enables the parts of creation to fulfil their roles as God intended. And it is the sustaining force in creation.

Perhaps now you may see a deeper meaning behind verse 24 of the Psalm set for today; ‘O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

What does that mean in a practical sense for you and me? Well, the study guide on the Book of Job that is being studied by our Wednesday Group puts it this way: ‘wisdom is based on understanding how the world operates (because it is God’s world), and therefore how to live best within it’.

So, in response to this understanding of Wisdom in the bible, over the next four weeks, we will be challenged to re-orient our relationship with creation and to try to discover and learn from the wisdom in creation. And we will be invited to model what it means to answer Wisdom’s call to take responsibility for the health and respectful treatment of all Creation.

In the reading from Luke 5, we have an example of the way in which elements of the Earth are used by Jesus’ to teach the disciples. When Jesus told Peter to let down his net into the lake of Gennesaret, Peter protested, saying in effect that their entire fishing trip had yielded nothing to that point—so what difference would it make now?

Yet when Peter finally complied with Jesus’ command, the amount of fish that came up in the net was so large that they needed the fishermen in the nearby boats to help haul it in. In this lesson, Jesus used the waters of the deep and the fish to teach Peter and the others that God’s power and abundant grace is far greater than we can ever imagine.

But if we set aside for a moment the possibility of Jesus working a miracle, we might wonder how this lesson would have worked today. It would be reasonable to think that if Peter were to let down his nets in the open waters of the oceans today, his catch would be significantly compromised.

Firstly, overfishing of the oceans has resulted in smaller and fewer fish. And secondly, the nets might well be still heavy, but not from aquatic life but from a huge amount of garbage, poisons, and toxic waste. If you want to know the extent of the pollution in our oceans from these sources, just open Google Images and type in “trash in the ocean”.

Here you will see pictures of floating islands of garbage both on the surface and below the water. You will also see some very disturbing images. Human waste chokes and poisons marine life in ways that cause immense suffering that most of us never see, nor want to face.

I don’t think it will come as news to any of you that due to indifference, ignorance, and greed, the human race has put the oceans in real danger. We dump massive amounts of contaminants and pollution into the ocean every year. Apparently, every year about three times as much garbage is dumped into the world’s oceans as the weight of fish caught.

And did you know that more oil reaches the oceans every year as a result of leaking cars, etcetera, than the BP oil spill of a few years ago? We also dump massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air every year, and that ends up in the ocean as well with the outcome being that the oceans become more acidic and the ocean temperature is raised. Apparently, air pollution alone is responsible for about a third of the contamination that ends up in the water. And we’ve also overfished everywhere and upset the delicate natural balance of life.

Some theologians take Jesus’ teaching on the Gennesaret Sea as a metaphor for how the Kingdom of God will manifest itself. But it also has important significance for this particular time of ecological destruction in which we live, because it shows us that the very illustration that Jesus uses — i.e. the basic, natural and life-giving phenomenon of fish thriving in a healthy aquatic ecosystem —is under serious threat of ceasing to exist.

In the reading from Job 38:1-18, God takes Job on a whirlwind tour of the physical universe and challenges him to look beyond his own personal crisis and consider the ‘design’ implanted in the universe. God asks Job to consider the many components of the cosmos — the Earth, the oceans, the constellations, the lightning, the deeps, the clouds and more. It is all part of God’s design and each component works together with the rest of creation according to the purposes and wisdom for which God has created it.

You might note that the words ‘knowledge,’ ‘know’, ‘comprehend’ and ‘understanding’ are prominent in the questions that God puts to Job. Job gets the point – his knowledge and understanding of the wisdom in the creation is not even a miniscule amount of God’s.

Perhaps we too would do well to realize just how little we truly know and understand about Creation and perhaps then people would become, like Job, more humble and less arrogant in our opinions about the impact that we are having on the creation. Instead of arguing against what is clearly evident, we might be more willing just to get on with finding ways to reduce the impact that we are having upon the ocean through the pollution of human garbage.

So Job, and you and I today, are challenged to try to grasp the inner way of things, the wisdom implanted in nature. As we discover the wisdom in nature, God is revealed in nature as well as through Jesus Christ. In the passage from Ephesians 1, Paul tells us that the ultimate expression of God’s wisdom is found in our Lord Jesus Christ, who not only reveals God presence but also gathers together all the components of the cosmos into himself. Verses 8b to 10, tell us that God, ‘With all wisdom and insight … has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.’

At this time, everything will be brought into a meaningful relationship under the headship of Christ. But in the meantime, it seems that we are working against this ultimate purpose for God’s creation by damaging and destroying much of what God created as good and by upsetting the relationship in the wisdom of creation – the relationship that we sometimes refer to as the ‘balance of nature’.

So, the current campaign to make people aware of the amount of plastic waste that has already gone into our oceans, and the impact that this and other forms of pollution are having on the fish and ecosystems is something that Christians should be actively supporting. As people of the Trinitarian God, the source of all creation, we must seek to do everything that we possibly can to eliminate further pollution of the oceans.

But despite all that, it is relatively easy for us to ignore the condition of the sea. It seems so vast and distant. How can a few people on land create a genuine problem for the sea and the 226,000 identified species that live there? Does it really matter?

A scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sylvia Earl, said, “The living ocean drives planetary chemistry, governs climate and weather, and otherwise provides the cornerstone of the life-support system for all creatures on our planet, from deep-sea starfish to desert sagebrush. That’s why the ocean matters. If the sea is sick, we’ll feel it. If it dies, we die. Our future and the state of the oceans are one.”

Here then is our challenge! Today, you and I are challenged to try to grasp how God’s world operates, the wisdom implanted in nature. And then we are challenged to endeavour to live according to that wisdom, i.e. to live in harmony with both nature and with God.

This is part of our calling as Christians: to care for Wisdom’s creation. And this requires us to devote ourselves to learning about the ecosystems that sustain us. And to seek to find better ways to care for these systems.

Amen.

[i] Acknowledgement: Material incorporated into this sermon has been drawn from Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year C by The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD; and from the Bible Study available on the website www.Season of Creation.com, copyright held jointly by Norman Habel and the Justice and International Mission unit within the Commission for Mission of the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania – used with permission.

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