Sermon: “What a Wonderful World: Oceans” (Sep. 8, 2013)

            Job suffers.  He loses his livelihood, his health, his children.  He loses everything.  “Curse God and die,” says Job’s wife.  He doesn’t.  Instead, he sits in sackcloth and ashes pondering the question of all who suffer:  Why has this happened to me?

 

As he sits in silence, trying to make sense of the tragedies that have befallen him, Job’s friends drop by.  At first, they simply sit with Job in his grief.  What a gift silent presence can be when we suffer!  But then–they open their mouths.  And what do they say?  “Tragedy doesn’t strike unless someone sins.  The only explanation for what has happened is that you sinned.”  Can you imagine?  He’d lost his children. 

 

Job listens to his friends…and let me tell you:  they were some long-winded dudes!  Even so, Job listens to every argument they make.  He hears their message that:  “Bad things happen to bad people….so if something bad happens, you must be bad.”

 

Finally, when he’s had enough, Job cries: “Stop!  I have searched my heart and I know I’ve done nothing to deserve what’s happened.”  Then he turns to the heavens and—perhaps—shaking his fist at God says the same thing:  “I did nothing to deserve this!”

 

Job 38 contains God’s response to Job.  “Who are you to question anything about me or my ways?” God thunders.  “Were you there when I formed the earth?  Did you set the boundaries for the sea?  Have you walked in the depths of the ocean?  If you can’t understand something as basic as creation, how in the world will you understand suffering?”

 

The book of Job was written around 2500 years ago, probably as a play.  It makes sense that 2500 years ago, a playwright trying to make sense of suffering would put this “Who do you think you are?” speech in God’s mouth.  Our forebears in faith knew God best as Creator—“melek ha-olam” (King of the World) was a favorite way to refer to God.  The playwright drew on this understanding of God as ruler of the universe to make the argument that there really is no way to understand it or make sense of suffering.  The only way to understand suffering is to understand creation…. and the only way to understand creation is to have created it…and since we didn’t create creation, there really is no way to understand it or suffering.  Not the most satisfying answer to the problem of suffering, but it’s the answer the book of Job offers.  Who knows?  Maybe it worked 2500 years ago.

 

But would the same argument work today?  Let’s try it and see.  Let’s say something tragic happens, something that causes you to suffer.  You shake your fist at God and ask why this terrible thing has happened.  God responds with words similar to those found in Job 38.

 

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God thunders.  It’s true–we weren’t there at the moment of creation, but we do have some good theories to explain it… like the Big Bang theory (the scientific theory, not the TV show).

 

“Who determined the earth’s measurements?  Surely you know!”  God says.  Actually, we do know.  I found it on Wikipedia.  The first person to measure the circumference of the earth was Greek scientist Eratosthenes in the third century BCE.  He measured it at 5,000 stadia—or stadium lengths.  That translates to roughly 24,860 miles.

 

“Who shut in the sea with doors…and prescribed bounds for it…and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther?”  God might have prescribed bounds for the ocean way back when, but we—through our unrelenting use of fossil fuels—skooch them further out every day….to the point that some island nations already are making plans to relocate in anticipation of the day when their homelands sink forever.

            God goes on:  “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?”  I saw it this week:  You can now rent a hotel room on the bottom of the sea.  Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?  Declare, if you know all this.”  We do declare that we know all this–at least the oceanographers do. 

 

When Job suffered, drawing on human beings’ lack of knowledge about creation made sense as a response to that suffering.  With scientific advances made in the 2500 years since Job was written, though, the argument doesn’t pack the punch it once did.  We didn’t create creation, but we sure do understand a lot about it…much more than people did 2500 years ago.  Come on!  We are part of the generation that discovered the “God particle!” 

 

So, if appealing to our lack of knowledge and naïve assumptions about creation won’t work anymore, what kind of argument might work?  What response to suffering might resonate with us scientifically-minded people in the 21st century?

 

If we brought our suffering to God today, I don’t know this, but I wonder if God might not still direct our attention to creation…not as a given or as something we know nothing about and have no control over, though.  No, I wonder if, on hearing our cries of “why?” God might instead come, sit with us in our suffering, and say, “Your sister earth suffers, too.”  “Don’t tell me about the suffering of creation,” we might say back.  “I’m hurting here!  I want to feel better!”  “Earth wants to feel better, too.  You see, you and earth are kin.  In your health, lies hers.  In her health, lies yours.  Help heal her suffering, and she will help heal yours.”

 

In a movie about a severely depressed woman who remains hospitalized for weeks, her psychiatrist finally confronts the woman about a painful issue.  The woman becomes so resistant and combative, the psychiatrist leaves.  Enraged, the woman chases after her doctor, down the hall, and out the door, ready to give the psychiatrist a piece of her mind.

 

Before she speaks a word, though, she stops… looks up into the sky… breathes.  “Why do I suddenly feel better?” she asks.  “It’s because you’re outside,” the doctor responds.  From that moment, the woman begins to heal.

 

Were the author of Job alive today, I’m not sure how he or she would write it….but it does make sense, that, though the tack taken might be different, the argument still would be based in creation…. because we are kin with creation.  We suffer; creation suffers.  In creation’s healing, we find our own healing.  In our healing, creation, too, is healed.

 

We know too well some of the symptoms of Sister Sea’s disease.  As you’ll read in the bulletin insert, acidity in the ocean is increasing, threatening the life in it.  And as acid levels rise, so do noise levels.  Noise pollution in the ocean has become so prevalent that whales are diving deeper, seeking the quiet they once knew.  They literally are dying for quiet.  Sea turtles are eating plastic grocery bags–mistaking them for jellyfish–and dying when the bags get caught in their digestive tracks.  If you watched the TED talk on ocean pollution included in my eblurb this week, you saw the deleterious effects of water bottle caps.  Mama birds unwittingly feed them to baby birds, thinking they are food.  The baby birds can’t digest them and die.

 

Just thinking about trying to do anything to help the ocean can be overwhelming.  So, what say let’s not try to solve all of Sister Sea’s problems by the end of the worship service.  Let’s do this instead.  Let’s listen to the sounds of the ocean.  As you listen, remember your love for the ocean.  Remember times you have been at or on or in it.  Remember how it felt to be there.  As you reflect on your experiences of and love for the ocean, begin to imagine what you might do to act it into well-being.  It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something little.  Don’t force this idea…simply let it rise up out of your reflections, your memories, your love.

 

If something comes to you—and it might not.  It could be that an idea of some action you can take will come to you later on—that’s perfectly okay.  But if an idea comes to you in the

next few minutes, I invite you to come up to the art installation, remove a piece of litter, and put it in the trash box provided.  If an idea doesn’t come to you, simply use this time to remember your kinship with the sea and your love for it.

[Ocean sounds…  5 minutes]

 In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness and the wholeness of all creation.  Amen.

 

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2013

 

Music for Reflection:  “What a Wonderful World”

Offertory:  “Sounds of the Humpback Whales”

 

Job 38:1-18

<!– 38 –>

The Lord Answers Job

38Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,    I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?    Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!    Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,    or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together    and all the heavenly beings* shouted for joy?

8 ‘Or who shut in the sea with doors    when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,    and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?

12 ‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began,    and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,    and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,    and it is dyed* like a garment.
15 Light is withheld from the wicked,    and their uplifted arm is broken.

16 ‘Have you entered into the springs of the sea,    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?    Declare, if you know all this.

 

 

 

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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