September 1, 2013
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
In the month of September, we celebrate the Season of Creation. We began last year with this new season, we have great paraments and banners that remind us that God’s creation is a gift of color and variety and diversity and and mystery.
We are not going to be pantheists who believe the tree is God or the flower is some kind of divine being; nor are we going to Disney-fy creation pretending that everything gets along and only the good guys win at the end of the day.
What we will do this season is remind ourselves that in the created we can see and experience the wisdom of God. Which isn’t always gentle.
As a matter of fact this Sunday we are led by our scripture passages to focus on the untamed and life giving, powerful and yet fragile oceans of the world.
The scriptures tell us that to the ancients the sea was a great mystery, a powerful force of nature that could destroy if not kept in its boundaries. The psalmist writes: Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. We have experienced that as we have watched tsunamis destroy.
To the ancients the sea held danger, chaos, and wild beasts. In Job 41 the great sea monster the Leviathan is described in great detail. I urge you to read the entire chapter of Job 41. Here are a few words from that chapter. The sea monster has an abdomen like jagged pottery shards; its sharp edges leave a trail in the mud. He causes the depths to churn like a boiling pot, None on earth can compare to him; he is made to be without fear. He is king over all proud beasts.
Even today the great beasts of the ocean are mysterious to us.
Just this month on NPR we heard of a beast of the sea, the whale shark (pictured). It's the biggest shark there is, 30 feet or more in length and weighing in at around 10 tons. Yet, it eats the smallest creatures in the ocean.
Plankton are the flotsam of tiny plants and shrimplike animals that float in the ocean. The whale shark just opens its mouth — about twice the size of a manhole cover — and sucks them in. It filters out the plankton much the way a baleen whale filter-feeds.
A scientist by the name of Robert Huetner is intrigued by whale sharks. "It's polka-dotted," he says, "and it lets people swim with it. When you go down and see them at these feed aggregation sites, it's a spectacle of nature. It's unlike anything else that you'll ever experience."
But what is really amazing about whale sharks, the biggest shark there is, is that we don’t know where they give birth to their babies. Even after putting tracking devices on them, the ocean is so big and they migrate so far out that we can’t find out exactly where they give birth.
To the ancients the sea was the gateway to the end of the world, to hades and deep darkness. “Have you gone to the sea’s sources, walked in the chamber of the deep? Have death’s gates been revealed to you?”
Even now, us moderns who have flown into space, created the submarine, put tracking devises on whale sharks. We know very little about the ocean. while the ocean covers 97% of the earth, we have only explored 5% of it! 
The sea was the great place of danger, monsters and mystery to the ancient people, to our ancestors, and it still is to us in the 21st century.
When we, along with Job consider the ocean, we realize that we are a little speck in the great vastness of the creation. Who are you Job? God asks, “Were you around when the world was created? When I set the seas in their boundaries? When the ocean began to be alive with sea creatures?”
Sometimes we need to be reminded of this, don’t we? We think that this is all there is to life. Life becomes routine and we become complacent. We think we have a handle on life and that we know all that we need to know. We start to think our little world that we have created around us is the be all end all of the universe.
And then we hear about the whale shark. Or a new discovery somewhere in the ocean depths. Or we hear that the ocean might produce natural means of controlling some of our dangerous diseases like cancer, inflammatory disease or pain.
During this season of creation we are going to sing a song every Sunday. I do this, not to bore you or because I couldn’t come us with a new song for the season. But because I want you to become so familiar with the song that you will start to sing it at other times. Just like when your favorite song comes on the radio. And you start to sing along and the words start speaking to you again and reminding you of that time when you had such a good time listening to the song. Just like that, I hope this song will help remind you of standing on the edge of an ocean or a great lake, looking out over the horizon, wondering what is down there? What is out there?
What great mysteries that I will never ever see lie below the surface of that vast area of water?
And in sensing our smallness against that great vastness, we remember:
God of wonders beyond our galaxy, you are holy, you are holy.
The universe declares your Majesty And you are holy, holy Lord of Heaven and Earth
Steve and I are reading a very powerful book: Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti by Ted Oswald.
A little girl’s story of living in the slums of Port-a-Prince is told from the time before the great earthquake to afterwards. It is a novel, but the story could be true.
The little girl is taken by her mentor to the edge of the ocean and asked what she sees. She replies: “Trash, rubbish, It’s everywhere. Floating in the water, sitting on the sand.”
The mentor persists: “Anything else?”
“No, that’s all there is”
“Then you don’t see it. Beauty is here, Li-bet-a, Look at the ocean expanding before your eyes. Feel the sand at your feet. The breeze cooling us. You must cling to the beautiful thing even when they are blemished and stained. For me, when I am made desperate by all that’s wrong in the world, all its evil, I retreat into beauty. I come here to pray often. I sit and talk to God and wait for him to answer.”
We hear the statistics all the time: the ocean is warming, the glaciers are melting, the sea is full of islands of trash. MPR reported yesterday that plastic pellets have been found in every one of the great lakes. They are microscopic and get through the waste treatment screens because they are so small. They come from bath scrubs, toothpaste, household cleaners. Now here what was interesting, these pellets absorb toxic chemicals. “So the floating plastic beads act like tiny, toxic sponges.” That’s bad, the scientist Lorena Rios-Mendoza says, because tiny fish mistake them for food and they can get into our water system.” 
We have used the oceans are our convenient trash can. It was so vast that we thought that all pollutants would be diluted and dispersed to safe levels. But in reality, they have not disappeared - and some toxic man-made chemicals have even become more concentrated as they have entered the food chain. The smallest creature eats the pollution and the chemical becomes more concentrated and then on up the food chain it goes. It is reasonable to assume that humans as a part of the food chain who eat food provided by the sea are also affected. We know and have seen the signs along the rivers: be careful, women who are pregnant and children should not consume fish from these waters.
But we want to be careful, to not become cynical like little Li bet a. Seeing only the ugliness, the despair of pollution and global warming. Feeling hopeless and powerless. I do respond well to guilt trips. I’m not motivated to care about something because someone wants me to feel shamed and guilt-ridden about it. I am motivated to care about something because I can see and know that God cares about it. Or I can see and know that the wisdom of God compels me to be mindful and caring and motivated to make a change.
We want to be like Job and the Psalmist to be challenged by our God: who are you? Were there at the creation? Do you hold the power over the sea? Do you know how to control it boundaries?
We want to see the beauty, the mystery, yes even the monsters and the power of the oceans, lakes, river and streams that we experience.
We want to be awed by the wonder, the mystery and the power of our waters. So that we can see the beauty, the fragility, venerability, and the great wisdom that went in to creating these waters for our sustenance.
Then we can pray earnestly and truthfully: O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.
And then we can work, earnestly and truthfully to protect with wisdom these manifold works of God. Not out of guilt but out of love for our God. Then we can work to stop messing up the beauty of God’s great gifts.