The Whirlwind – Sept. 8, 2019
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
Job 38: 1-18
September 8, 2019
Main Idea: God is powerful.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
When I picked this theme and sermon title, I had no idea that we would be watching a massive hurricane, a massive whirlwind, wreak havoc on the Bahamas and Carolina coast for the past week. But that experience certainly brings to the forefront the importance and power of creation. This month we are lifting up a Season of Creation, to recognize the vastness of creation, the blessings of our Creator, and our responsibilities as stewards of the earth. Next week we will celebrate the Flora and Fauna (plants and animals) of our world. The following week we will consider Storms and weather. The final week of the Season is Cosmos Sunday when we will acknowledge that creation extends beyond the earth and beyond our comprehension. Today we will consider the great blessings that are the oceans of our planet, to think about how they reveal God to us, and to explore how as stewards of God’s creation, we can positively impact the watery foundation of our planet.
Growing up in Vermont, the ocean was basically unknown to me. I was comfortable with the cozy confines of Lake Champlain, seemingly nestled between our beaches and the mountains on the New York side. I could always see all the way across. I knew there were no sharks, or jellyfish, or other dangers swimming around nearby. I did not worry about tides, or big waves, or hurricanes. But as an adult, living near the beach, in Plymouth, MA and in Florida, gave me an appreciation for the beauty, power, and importance of our oceans. In Plymouth, on a clear day, we could see Provincetown in the distance but in Florida, the ocean’s horizon stretched out beyond our sight. We could explore tide pools where we found living sand dollars, and sea urchins, and other amazing things. We could hear the surf from our home and the rhythmic pulse of the waves rocked us to sleep.
Our text for today puts us in right and proper relation with the grandeur of the ocean and of God. It comes from the end of the book of Job. For 37 chapters Job rails against his suffering and against God. For 37 chapters Job pleads and demands that God answer his questions and here in chapter 38 God does answer.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:”(38:1). Imagine the scale of that! God speaking from the eye of a tornado or a hurricane hundreds of miles across. And what God says is “Frankly Job, you don’t know what you are talking about. But if you want to talk with me, let’s talk.”
Through a series of more than 60 questions over 4 chapters, God brings Job back to the beginning of creation, when God built the earth and birthed the sea, “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy” (38:7). Today’s text has two beautiful descriptions of God and the oceans. Eugene Peterson in the Message puts verses 8-10 this way. “And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb? That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds, and tucked it in safely at night. Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it couldn’t run loose, And I said, ‘Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’” The vastness of the ocean, which covers 70% of our planet, is but a fussy baby to God!
The second ocean text is verse 16 which in the Message reads ““Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?” Can Job, or we, ever explore all there is to learn at the bottom of the sea? Of course not. The answer to Job’s questions is the vastness and beauty of all of God’s creation. God is a creator intimately connected to creation, not a record keeper doling out rewards for our good behavior or punishments for our sins.
The nature of the Ocean reveals to us aspects of the nature of God. The ocean is vast and beyond our simple understandings. God is beyond vast and way beyond our simple understanding. The ocean teams with diverse life from the smallest viruses and creatures like plankton, to the largest beings on earth, the whales. God encompasses the tiniest to the largest life and beyond. The ocean is beyond our control and we will never learn all of its secrets. God is beyond our control and our small attempts to box God in. The ocean provides the foundation for all life on the planet. We evolved out of the ocean and our tears are the same salt water as the waves which crash upon the shore. God is the source of life for all things. We are made in the image of God and the Spirit of God resides within us. When we stand on the beach looking out at the sea, we are reminded of our smallness and of our interconnectedness with all of creation. The ocean reveals our connection to God.
As beautiful, and wonderous, and vast is the ocean, it is not all powerful like God. It depends on our faithful stewardship. We cannot control the ocean but our actions deeply affect it. Frankly, our way of life has harmed the oceans and the creatures that call it home. We know that climate change is dramatically impacting the ocean. 25% of the Carbon dioxide emitted globally is absorbed by the ocean leading to acidification which disrupts the growth of organisms like oysters and corals, which then disrupts entire ecosystems. “What’s more, oceans absorb 93% of the excess heat that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap on the planet. As a result, oceans are warming about 40% faster than experts previously thought. This can harm marine life, kill coral, and cause flooding.” (https://www.businessinsider.com/ways-you-hurt-the-oceans-2019-5) The ocean reveals our connection to God and the ocean needs us to care for it as God does.
So, how can we in Vermont, with no ocean coastline, care for this great gift of creation? There is actually much that we can do.
First of course, we should all be looking to reduce our carbon footprint. This is beneficial to all of the earth, not just the ocean. Cutting back on our energy use, our dependence on fossil fuels, and our disposable culture is good for the earth as a whole.
For the ocean, paying attention to the plastics we use is imperative. We used to just worry about 6pack rings getting caught around the neck of seabirds but now plastics are imperiling ocean life as we know it. “About 320 million metric tons of plastic are produced around the world annually and much of it ends up in the oceans — an estimated 8 million metric tons per year, according to the Ocean Conservancy.
This pollution accumulates in swirling vortexes such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a patch of waste twice the size of Texas. Plastic has even been found in the deepest-known parts of the ocean. (https://www.businessinsider.com/ways-you-hurt-the-oceans-2019-5) “Over 100 million marine animals are killed each year by plastic – either from ingesting it or being strangled by it.” (Seasons of the Spirit Seasons Fusion p. 28). Even more insidious are microplastics that are often added to toothpaste and skincare products and microplastic fibers which are released as plastic trash breaks down or as polyester clothing goes through the washing machine. These are not caught in water filtration systems and instead work their way into the watershed, and eventually to the ocean where they move up through the food chain. Microplastics have been found in all parts of the ocean as well in the rain in Colorado and France. https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2019/1048/ofr20191048.pdf). Reducing our plastic use will help the ocean and all of life.
Changing our sunscreen and our gardening habits can also help the ocean. Hawaii has banned sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate because they damage coral reefs. Mineral based sunscreens are just as effective and a much better choice. Fertilizers and pesticides can run off of gardens and end up in our waterways as we see in Lake Champlain. Fertilizers can cause algae blooms and dead zones where the water is devoid of oxygen, killing the fish that live there. Pesticides can kill the fish that ingest them. Avoiding these products helps the ocean and all of our waterways.
The beauty, wonder, and power of the Ocean points us to God. It reminds us of our place in the world, and it brings us joy, peace, and blessings beyond measure. God loves the Ocean and all that dwells within it. We are called to love and care for the ocean and all of creation as God does.
Let us pray,
God of all mystery and wonder, your being is as vast as the ocean – beyond our comprehension, life-giving, and unfathomable. Yet you invite us to swim in the wonder that is your grace, to bask in the refreshing presence of your unquestionable and unquenchable love. Keep us ever mindful of the importance of the ocean in our daily living, and of the vast life it gives to our world. Amen.