God in the Oceans

Sep 9, 2019 by

Sermon for Ocean Sunday by Paula Papky

Job 38:1-18            Psalm 104:24-26           Ephesians 1:3-10           Luke 5:1-11


This fishing story is a key story in Luke’s Gospel, but first I want to take another look at our Job reading.  I love this part of the story of Job, chapter 38.  This is where God takes exception to Job’s attitude, to Job’s certainty that he is right and that he doesn’t deserve the misfortunes he has suffered.  And God points out at great length – but poetic length – Job’s lack of wisdom, saying, “Who are you to counsel by words without knowledge?”

What follows are questions that make very clear who God is:  The Wisdom of Creation.  And also who Job is:  a man in a dunce cap, you might say.  If you really listen you can hear Job’s mumbled replies.

God demands, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”

Job mumbles, “Nowhere.  I wasn’t even born yet.”

God continues, “Who shut in the sea with its doors when it burst out from the womb?”

Job mutters, “Not me.  I can’t control my own body, much less the ocean.”

And this question I love:  “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?”  This is one of my new favourite images for the Divine:  not a King or a Warrior but the One who walks in the recesses of the deep.

Not even David Attenborough can make that claim in his marvelous Netflix documentaries about the ocean.  It’s called Blue Planet II and I highly recommend it.  We may now have better cameras and better lighting to discover what lives miles and miles below the ocean’s surface but the “springs of the sea” and “the recesses of the deep” are still unreachable.  They are the pathways of the Divine.

Attenborough pays attention to what lives near the ocean’s surface, too, filming a pod of dolphins leaping through and above wave after wave.  He says, no one knows why dolphins do this.  It doesn’t seem to serve any evolutionary purpose.  Maybe they do it for the sheer joy of it.  And one remembers what the Psalmist says in today’s reading:  “Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable there, living things both small and great.  There go the ships, and Leviathan that you, Creator, formed to sport in the sea.”  Before Netflix and Attenborough there was Job 38 and Psalm 104.

We could ponder all week the tragic deterioration of our oceans at human hands but maybe that would rob us of hope and of the energy to be part of healing the oceans.  It might be better to ponder images of oceans, from whatever source, that are full of beauty and wonder.  Out of these images, we cannot help but desire to heal the oceans.  If we ponder images of the sea’s beauty, abundance and power, if we take them to heart, we wouldn’t dream of adding to the plastic already there or using phosphates to grow our food, phosphates that wash into our water table and eventually, the seas.

In scientific terms, life began in the seas.  Now, the seas keep us alive – that is, if we respect and honour them; if we don’t disturb their balance and order.  As people of faith, as well as people of the scientific era, we know actions have impact on oceans and their creatures:  negative impact.  But perhaps healing can begin with a deep pondering of their wonder and beauty.

In Jesus’ day people knew the value of the seas to feed people.  Along with huge amounts of bread, fish was a large part of the ancient diet throughout the Roman Empire.  Fish was salted and smoked and distributed far and wide.  Knowing this, we aren’t surprised to come upon this story in Luke 5 about a huge catch, almost comical in its exaggeration.

At Jesus’ urging, the tired and discouraged fishermen cast their nets again and catch so many fish they need help to pull the nets in.  A night of empty nets becomes a morning of abundance.  The story is a clue to who Jesus is:  none other than the One who has power to still wind and waves, to control the sea and its fish.

Luke’s use of the story is perfect for the Jesus followers of Luke’s day, spread out all over the Roman Empire, struggling to survive in a culture of many gods and needing to attract others to their faith in Jesus Christ.  The churches are tiny communities, worshipping in people’s homes.  No wonder the work Jesus gives his followers is that of gathering.  It turns out, those most in need of gathering are the poor, the hungry, those who have no voice, those who work all night and have nothing to show for it.  The disrespected.  The excluded.

There’s risk, of course, especially by Luke’s time.  When in the story Jesus says to the fishermen, “Put out into the deep water,” his words have a double meaning.  There is a literal one, suggesting deep water is where fish are found, but also a metaphorical one, meaning, set out from the comfortable, familiar shore and take a risk.  Even today, when we speak of getting into deep water we mean taking a risk, going where it’s not safe.  To call people to fish for human souls was, in Luke’s day, dangerous.  It continues to be dangerous to follow Christ in some places around the world.

So, to fish for people, to win their hearts and minds, is to leave behind what is safe:  village, occupation, family, even honour, and gather together a new family of believers.

This week has shown us how very dangerous the wind and ocean can be.  We have watched in horror the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorion.  And we have received from scientists dire warnings about the connection between climate change and more frequent and more powerful storms.  A young Swedish girl is doing more than refusing to use plastic bags and phosphate detergents.  She’s like those disciples of old who receive a call and leave everything to spread the word about healing the earth.  It’s risky.  Some try to shame her, saying she’s mentally unstable.  Makes me think of Jesus’ mother and brothers who come to take him home because people are saying he’s out of his mind.

There are powerful people who want us to behave ourselves.  To shut up.  Go home.  Mind our own business.  What if they saw us today – really saw us – gathered at the table, taking nourishment for the journey?  What if they knew what an act of rebellion this communion with Christ can be?  Here we prepare ourselves for a fight, the fight of our lives, in the company of the One who still walks in the recesses of the deep; the One who still walks along our shores saying, follow me.


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