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4 September 2022 – Season of Creation: Ocean Sunday

Sermon for Week One of the Season of Creation

Readings: Job 38:1–18; Ephesians 1:3–10 & Luke 5:1–11

Our service today marks the beginning of the Season of Creation for us at St Andrew’s. The Season of Creation is a time for all Christians to renew their relationship with God our Creator and all creation through celebration and commitment together. During the Season of Creation, Christians all over the world join in prayer and action for our common home. 

The season starts on 1 September, with the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends on 4 October, with the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, who is the patron saint of ecology, and a figure loved by many Christian denominations. 

With the ongoing debate surrounding climate change, and the drastic weather events that we continue to witness in the world, it’s appropriate for us to take time out from our regular pattern of worship, in order to acknowledge the gift of God’s Creation, and to pray both for its sustainability and renewal. Today we specifically celebrate Ocean Sunday. 

So let’s begin with a few facts in relation to the ocean. The ocean is the body of salt water that covers approximately 70.8% of the surface of Earth and contains 97% of Earth’s water. It is customarily divided into five different areas, each with its own name: Pacific (the largest), Atlantic, Indian, Southern (Antarctic), and Arctic (the smallest).

The ocean is the main component of Earth’s hydrosphere, and integral to life on Earth. The  hydrosphere is the combined mass of water found on, under, and above the surface of Earth. It is believed the hydrosphere has been around for about 4 billion years, and that it continues to change in shape, which is thought to be caused by volcanic activity and the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates.

The ocean currents, which are driven by wind, move enormous amounts of water and heat around the globe, which influences climate. The currents greatly affect Earth’s climate by transferring heat from the tropics to the polar regions, which affects air temperature and rainfall in coastal regions and further inland. 

Research released by the United Nations suggests the ocean soaks up most of the heat from global warming. It argues that the rate at which the ocean is warming strongly increased over the past two decades, across all depths of the ocean. As the ocean warms, its volume increases since water expands as it gets warmer. Melting ice sheets also cause sea levels to rise, threatening coastal and island communities. In addition, the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide, keeping it from the atmosphere. But more carbon dioxide makes the ocean more acidic, which endangers marine life and coral reefs.

So what does the Bible tell us about the ocean? Interestingly, in the Bible the ocean is often associated with evil. If we look at the ‘Creation Story’, which is told in the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis, God does not actually create the waters of the ocean. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1–2 NRSV)

The waters of the ocean seem to have been derived from a previous creation that has apparently been destroyed. These waters are composed of primeval chaos before they are gathered together, we read further in the ‘Creation Story’. ‘And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.’ (Genesis 1:9–10 NRSV) 

In verse 10 the pronouncement “good” refers to the separation of dry land and seas rather than to the seas themselves. The “waters” and “deep” of Genesis 1: 2 are not pronounced to be “good” either here or elsewhere in the Bible. Therefore, if we employ the usual Biblical contrast of good and evil, the sea is evil. This is reinforced by the fact that the sea is the dwelling place of the sea-monster Leviathan, a creature often associated with the devil. 

The sea in the Bible also repeatedly symbolises tumultuous peoples and kings who do not obey divine wisdom, and the sea is of itself uncontrollable and prone to flooding the land. It can only be controlled by divine intervention. And of course the Gospels provide us with several stories of that divine intervention in the form of Jesus.

One such story is from today’s gospel passage from the Gospel of Luke. This is Luke’s version of Jesus calling the first of his disciples – Simon Peter and his partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. This event takes place on the water, on the Lake of Gennesaret, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee. In this instance, the intervention of Jesus has less to do with controlling the nature of the sea itself, and more to do with controlling the creatures of the sea in the form of the volume of fish that Peter, James and John are able to catch when Jesus directs them to take their boats out into deep water and drop their fishing nets. This follows a fruitless night of fishing the previous evening when the men had caught nothing. Immediate following this miraculous event, Peter, James and John leave everything behind – their livelihood, family and possessions – to follow Jesus.

In the second last verse (v.10) of today’s passage, the version we read (NRSV) translates the original Greek text as: ‘Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” A closer translation actually reads, “you will be catching people alive.” While this may seem like a trivial difference, it does have significance. Luke has no doubt used this term very deliberately. When people catch fish, the fish obviously end up dead. But with Jesus calling the disciples from “fishing” to “mission”, the call communicates the fact that people are to be “captured” by the word of Jesus, and brought to the more abundant life of the kingdom of God.

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