Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 4, 2016

2016.09.04 “Season of Creation: Ocean Sunday” – Job 38: 1 – 18; Psalm 104: 24 -34; Luke 5: 1 – 11

Central United Methodist Church
Season of Creation: Ocean Sunday
Pastor David L. Haley
Job 38: 1 – 18; Psalm 104: 24 -34; Luke 5: 1 – 11
September 4th, 2016

 ocean

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,

and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal, and it is dyed like a garment.
Light is withheld from the wicked, and their uplifted arm is broken.

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,

or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this
. – Job 38: 1 – 18, New Revised Standard Version

 

Today as I talk about oceans, let me be the first to admit I am out of my depth. As a boy growing up in Kentucky, in the middle of the country, the first ocean I saw was the Pacific, when I was 20 years old and spent a summer in California. For the first time in my life I tasted the salt water and felt the force of the waves, and I have loved the ocean ever since, trying to visit as often as I can.

Those of you who grew up near an ocean likely have such love for the sea as well, but an equal mixture of awe and respect, which all of us have to learn. For example, on a trip to Kenya in Africa, I rode the train from Nairobi to Mombasa, on the coast. Dying to get into the water, I waded out until I was up to my chest, put my goggles on, and dove in. I found myself face-to-face with a large tiger moray eel. I stood back up and thought, “Maybe I ought to learn more about this before I jump in.”

In subsequent years, I went scuba diving in Cozumel, and gained an even greater appreciation of the world beneath the surface, of which most of us have little appreciation or knowledge. There, on the edge of the reef, at about 100 feet depth, you could look down into the dark blue abyss of the deep. Most of us have come to appreciate the wonders of the ocean just by walking along the beach, but there is oh so much more beneath the surface, a deep and deadly wonderland we know little about.

Indeed, all of us who have experienced the ocean – the sea breeze, the sight and sound of the crashing surf, the feel of the sand beneath our feet, the salty taste of the water, the frightening ease with which those waves can toss you around – all who have experienced this will know that anything and everything I say today is nothing compared to that experience. There is something about that experience that stimulates feelings very deep and primal in us.

When we read the Bible, we get the sense that our ancestors were as awed and as scared of the oceans as we are. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the creation of the world is expressed in mythological terms: the earth was formless and void (tohu wu bohu) are the Hebrew words) and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God (literally “wind from God”) brooded over the face of the waters. And God began to create, dividing the waters, until finally, in verses 20- 23:

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.”

In most ancient understandings, the realms of nature were under the control of gods (as for, example, in ancient Greece, Neptune was the god of the sea) and part of that understanding is present here. What the Hebrews were claiming is that their God – Yahweh, the one God, Creator of all – was greater than all those lessor gods. Even so, there was always a war between deities going on, and that is why there are such verses – as in Psalm 29:

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

As far as I can tell, the Hebrews were afraid of the seas, perhaps that is why they were never a sea-faring people like the Phoenicians (the sea peoples) or the Greeks. The Hebrews were not the only ones to fear the seas: up until the invention of modern air transportation, seafaring explorers and sailors often feared for their lives, describing monstrous storms at sea at which they feared for their lives. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was one of them; it even played an instructive role in his spiritual life.  (And of course, let’s not forget the Titanic or Gilligan’s Island!)

Isn’t it interesting, that even according to a modern scientific understanding, the seas were most likely the primordial soup, leading to the birth of those organic compounds that – over the course of billions of years – would lead to life on the planet? Did you know that one theory why we humans are the only hairless ape (relatively speaking) is that our primordial ancestors may have lived for a time in an aquatic environment. Could that still be why the seas and oceans have such a fascination and attraction to us, because they literally are in our DNA?

What is the status of the world’s seas and oceans? The oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water. Less than 1% of the Earth’s water is fresh water, and another 2 to 3% is contained in glaciers and ice caps. In an amazing number, the oceans contain 99 percent of the living space on the whole planet; just not for us, unless you have gills and fins.

As we should all know by now, despite their enormity and importance to the planet, earth’s oceans and the life in them is endangered by the irresponsible actions of one Homo Sapiens (often more unwise than wise.) I did not have the time to do the research I wished, but global warming is leading not only to a rise in atmospheric temperature, but also ocean temperature, leading to a host of ominous consequences, such as a rise in ocean levels, which could lead to massive population migration. (If I were you, I wouldn’t be buying any beachfront property.) A rise in ocean temperatures has also led to changes in aquatic environments and migration of species, like whales for example, but also toxic algae blooms along coastal areas, deadly to both aquatic life and humans.

Another global danger to the oceans is pollution, not only from petroleum or toxic chemical spills by corporations, but through such things we contribute daily such as plastic or non-biodegradable material, which gets washed down rivers and streams into the ocean, where it accumulates. For example, did you know there is one called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive dump of floating garbage in the Pacific Ocean, parts of which are said to be twice the size of the state of Texas. If you are interested in finding out more about how our oceans are endangered, there are far more resources online.

The last thing I want to talk about in regard to oceans and seas is that while we may be at the same time both attracted to and fearful of them, even though we are distant from them, they still serve powerfully as metaphors of our spiritual lives.

Think of all the Scriptures in which the seas and sea imagery plays a role: from the opening verses of Genesis, to the escape of the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, to such psalms as Psalm 130 (Out of the depths, O Lord, I call to you), to the story of Jonah and the whale, a Sunday School favorite. And let’s not forget all those stories about Jesus as Lord of Nature and Master of the Sea, even though it was no ocean but a rather small sea at that, the Sea of Galilee. Even though today you see more windsurfers than fishing boats, even that small sea was a metaphor of raging winds and tossing waves, threatening to overwhelm Jesus’ disciples if not for Jesus’ intervention. And also of him also always knowing – to their consternation and amazement – where the fish were, and thus where the best place to throw the nets was. Like those incompetent fishermen who were his disciples, we’re been throwing the nets on the wrong side for a long time now, and even though we’ve never done it that way before, maybe it’s time to throw them on the other side.

Even watching the waves is not only comforting to the soul but enlightening, as to the spiritual nature of life. Like a molecule of water rising and falling with each passing wave, the molecule of water is not destroyed, it only becomes a part of another wave. As the French philosopher, theologian, paleontologist and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Much like that drop of water in the wave.

My favorite yet is the meditation attributed to St. Teresa of Avila:
Her heart is full of joy with love
For in the Lord her mind is stilled.
She has renounced every selfish attachment
And draws abiding joy and strength
From the One within.
She lives not for herself, but lives
to serve the Lord of Love in all,
And swims across the sea of life
Breasting its rough waves joyfully.

Don’t you love that image? It is one of my favorites. We are like surfers, entering the waves. Along comes a massive wave, and – what do we do? – we jump to break through it with our chest. Says Teresa – who must have gone surfing somewhere, sometime – this is what we do we do in life, as it throws its massive waves at us: “We swim across the sea of life, breasting its rough waves joyfully.”

We have come from the ocean, and whether we love earth’s seas and oceans or fear them, they are a vital and beautiful part of our planet. Let us care for them and learn from them, as they teach us about God our Creator and ourselves as God’s creatures. Want to play with Leviathan, anyone?

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