Genesis 1:1-8 – Job 38:1-18
The Rev. Helen Havlik
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 8, 2019
When I was in Houghton this summer, I went to outdoor worship with my niece and her family. One of the songs we sang was How Great Is Our God, which got me thinking about our great God, creator of the universe, who has given us this beautiful planet to live on. And how we take for granted this fragile and precious gift which is now threatened in multiple ways. So for the rest of September, we’re celebrating a Season of Creation—looking at what the Bible has to say about taking care of what God has given us, beginning with the ocean. I’m reading from Job, Ch. 38, beginning with vs. 1. Listen with me to God’s holy word.
In August I went out east to catch up with some of my oldest and dearest friends. I stayed several days in Ocean City, New Jersey, with Sue, whom I’ve known for nearly 40 years. Both of us used to love spending all day on the beach, catching some sun and plunging into the ocean every once in awhile. I’m not doing much intentional sunbathing anymore—and the water was too cold for swimming, so we walked the beach instead. I was hunting for shells when I heard Sue say, “There they go!” I looked where she was pointing and saw fins slipping through the water. Then suddenly two dolphins leaped high in the air, as if they were bumping chests. Apparently they were part of a dolphin pod, heading south along the shore, just far enough out that when I tried to take pictures, all I got were black bumps on the water. Can I just say this? It was AWESOME! I love Lake Michigan best, but there’s something grand and exciting and mysterious about the ocean. The waves, the seagulls, the salt that rimes your toenails—it’s home to the biggest mammals in the world and its power, witness Hurricane Dorian, never fails to take us back to Genesis and the beginning of the world.
Water is life. Our bodies are what, 98 percent water? Earth is 98 percent water—with the oceans themselves 90 percent of that? Whatever the figures, water is absolutely necessary for life as we know it. Just ask scientists who think they’ve finally spotted water buried deep on Mars, where it’s unreachable! Or closer to home, ask the Israelis and Palestinians what their real issue is. In the very dry region they share, the only source of fresh water is the Sea of Galilee, the level of which drops every year as more and more people use it not only for drinking but for booming Israeli agriculture. Israel supplies Europe with fresh flowers and fruit and vegetables. Growing strawberries in the desert, as I saw when I was there 20 years ago, depends on drip irrigation. It can be argued that as the Sea of Galilee dries up, so do Israeli-Palestinian relations.
So no wonder water plays a starring role in how the people of Israel tell about God creating the universe! Every ancient culture has what’s called a “creation narrative.” Kind of a fancy way of saying how we and everything we around us began. Professional storytellers passed on the words of Genesis 1 and 2 from generation to generation until the 6th century BC, at least 500 years before Jesus, when they finally wrote it down. This was about the time the people were sent into exile in Babylon and they wanted to honor and remember their special agreement with God. This covenant was pretty simple—God promises to be their God, the people promise to be God’s people. And this agreement is set in the context of God’s claim on the people as creator of them and everything else in the universe.
And what a creator this God is! This is a God who hovers and sweeps and sees and calls. God speaks and something new is created. Many Middle Eastern creation stories talk about horrible battles between divine beings that result in the death of one or more of them. And out of such death, the universe is born. This story is different. Here we have a God who creates and acts and delights in history—and this God is incredibly organized. God looks at the chaos and disorganization of all these elements and creates order. One element is water, so necessary for life but so destructive when out of control. Look at storm surges along the east coast, look at soggy fields this past spring, look at rivers overflowing their banks. By the end of Day Two, the water that’s so threatening in the beginning is under control. God gives chaos shape and structure—and puts the foundation in place for all the rest that follows. Pretty great, right?
And so easy to forget. Like Job had forgotten. He knew the creation stories. He’s a pious man who fasted and prayed and did what God asked. Yet when chaos breached his life, none of that helped. His so-called friends questioned his piety—and urged him to rely on his own wisdom for answers. Though Job longed for God to speak to him, his idea of God and how God acts was too small. Job, his friends—and we ourselves—have the arrogance to think that human knowledge is what saves us. Meanwhile, God is silent, waiting for Job to be ready to hear and trust what God has to say. And what does God, speaking into the chaos once again, say to Job? Look, buddy, just who do you think you are? Remember who made the world and who made you because, really, you don’t know that much—you seriously aren’t that great. You are a mere ignorant speck in this wonder I have created. And it’s time you listened to the wisdom that I built into creation from the beginning.
You may have heard of the pacific trash vortex? Better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this is a huge dump of plastic and other trash that has been accumulating in the Pacific Ocean since at least the 1970s. According to the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, the patch now measures more than 1.6 million square kilometers—three times the size of France—and weighs 80,000 tons. A couple of years ago, OCP did a major study that helped them estimate that the patch contains 1.8 trillion pieces of trash—that’s 250 pieces for every person on earth—92 percent of them are larger objects that are in the process of breaking down into micro-particles. And that’s just one of several garbage patches in the oceans of the world. It’s tempting to think, what’s the big deal? Better in the ocean than on land, right? And many people are wondering what we replace our plastic shopping bags and straws with—do we really need to? Human knowledge got us into this mess—human knowledge will get us out of it. Or will it?
Both Genesis and Job insist that human knowledge isn’t enough. We need true wisdom which leads to wise action—and we find that in the story of creation which at its core is a story of compassion, relationship and wholeness. True wisdom says that we are connected to God, to each other and to all of creation, and that God’s intention for everyone and everything is blessing and well-being. Our well-being depends on caring for each other and the earth—and the question is, how are we doing? Are we acting with compassion? Are we seeking healing and wholeness? Are we making decisions—what we buy, what we eat, what we do—based on what blesses our neighbors and our world? Taking care of the earth is the first job God gave Adam and Eve, after God created them and everything else. What we do with trash in the ocean starts with knowing it’s our job, too.