Creation – Ocean Sunday

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

I feel I always have to start Creation season, or Cretiontide as it is now being called in England, with a caveat: we are jumping off the regular lectionary cycle and jumping on another that  focuses us exclusively on God’s creation and our relationship to it. This cycle of readings was developed by the Church in Australia and follow a thematic approach, and so today is ‘Ocean Sunday.’ There is more information in the bulletin about Creation Season for you to read.

The gospel text takes us to the Sea of Galilee, Gennesaret in Luke. I’ve been to that sea, it’s really a freshwater lake, at 64 square miles large. But in antiquity, all bodies of water — salt seas and freshwater lakes — were viewed as a part of the same great subterranean reservoir that fed springs, rivers, lakes, and oceans.  For all their ignorance in these scientific details, their understanding of the interconnectedness of all things on this planet is to be admired. 

On ocean Sunday, rather than just the usual call story, we are asked to consider the thing itself, how do the themes of creation, ocean, discipleship and vocation come together? What do we see with the ocean in the foreground? 

Galilee is beautiful. A sight for sore eyes because much of the surrounding area is so arid.  It is the lifeblood of the area. It is a key area for bird migrations and, along with fishing, it has developed much agriculture around it.  It’s an obvious tourist destination now and much is invested in keeping it pristine. So much of life depends on keeping it that way.

If Galilee, then and now, is the model of how our oceans should be kept, then it’s probably fair to ask if this is the case, and what are we doing, how are we investing in keeping the seas, oceans and waterways as pristine and life-giving as Galilee?

I think we know the answer to that question. We are not doing well when it comes to caring for our oceans.  It may be a question of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ since we don’t live by the shore; it may be that we don’t think what we do has an impact on our oceans; it may be that because the oceans are so vast, we believe our actions don’t matter.  But they do.

Just this week I learned that there’s something called the Pacific trash vortex.  (NOAA) This vortex is a garbage patch of debris, mostly plastic, that swirls from one place to the other caught in currents from one end of the Pacific to the other. It is a spectacular sight –not in a good way.  Where does it come from? 8000 metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every day. It is mostly single-use plastic, everything from bottles to bags. This plastic trash makes its way to the sea and the currents push along, making it a swirling island of debris.

Obviously, it chokes everything it comes into contact with. Birds try to feed on it and die.  Turtles and other sea creatures become entangled in it, The plastic, as it breaks down, becomes microbeads that fish consume.  Because plastic really doesn’t biodegrade. It will be here forever.

As I was writing this, something popped into my mind that I couldn’t get rid of: a line in the old movie “The Graduate,” when the character Ben who is trying to figure out his life, is approached at a party by someone who is in the know and says: “I want to say one word to you. Just one word…are you listening? He says for emphasis.  “Plastics… there’s a great future in plastics…” At one point, we really believed that, but we can’t anymore.  

The rise in plastic packaging is exponential as Dave and I found out when we went to a WRWAC event recently.  The presenter, who was from the EPA, talked about how plastic is stifling the life of our waterways. We have to figure out a way to live with less of it. And to me, that means walking away from things that are disposable, favoring things that are reusable and recyclable, and we make this an act of discipleship

Usually, when we read this passage, the focus Jesus calling his first disciples from among the local fishermen.  This gospel gives us that wonderful quip at the end, where Jesus, with an artful change of phrase, gives Peter and the rest, a new vocation and mission.  “From now on… you will be catching people…”  

In this gospel story, we are accustomed to viewing the role of the sea as mere background, as the stage on which the human drama of Jesus and the disciples is played out. But the Gospel writers did not make the distinction between spiritual and material well-being that we do. For them, Jesus’ ministry was not about an escape from this world but a transformation of it, a world in which all would experience both physical and spiritual wholeness. We are being called to help make the world whole.

Sylvia Earle, Author and former Chief Scientist of  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 1990-1992, writes, “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.

So it turns out that plastic wasn’t our future at all.  Can we imagine life without it? Not really. But less of it? We must.

It’s interesting that Peter, an experienced fisherman, corrects Jesus when he’s sent out again into the deep.  He goes, even though he thinks it’s a waste of time. The catch is so surprising it brings him to his knees. Something miraculous has happened and Peter knows it and he’s not sure he’s worthy to be a part of it.  

But Jesus, who loves him more than he will ever know, has full confidence in Peter and invites him to join in this work, this making of miracles with him.  We are asked the same. Jesus chose regular people as his disciples…that means you and me get to work with him.

Surely, we could use a miracle to undo some of the damage that has been done to the oceans.  Jesus seems to be saying it will not happen without us, reassuring us “Do not be afraid, from now on…”  

So what from now on are we willing to do, to live without, to clean up to show we care? On the bulletin board in the back there are resources and suggestions, and also with post-it notes so you can add yours.  

Make this a commitment, make restoring the oceans part of your vocation, make using less plastic an act of your discipleship, make restoring the earth the beginning of a miracle.

Jesus says to Peter,”from now on you will be catching people. And they left everything  and followed him.” amen.

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