The web of life

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
First Sunday of Creation: Ocean
1 September 2019

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Broken Head Nature Reserve

Season of Creation: Ocean Sunday

Well, we have no shortage of themes to consider here this morning:

  • For starters, it’s Fathers’ Day (at least here in the southern hemisphere).
  • In addition, it is the first Sunday of the season of creation and a day when we celebrate the ocean (even though we are many kilometres from the sea).
  • It’s also a day when we will be baptising little Ruby and celebrating her presence among us and all that she is going to become in the wider world.
  • And it’s a day when the family of Jim Harper has gathered so that we can lay his ashes to rest in the memorial garden beside the cathedral.

Yes, we pretty well have it all today — without even thinking about the topics to be covered in the dean’s forum at 11 AM.

I want to keep our primary focus on Ocean Sunday but weave into that line of thought various other connections as we go along. So buckle your belts and get ready for the ride.

 

Season of Creation

The season of creation is a recent ecumenical and international initiative. It reflects a growing awareness of the ecological dimensions of our faith and also of the religious dimensions of the earth, and our deepest character as Earthlings.

For those of us in the southern hemisphere, one happy outcome from this initiative is that for once in the year what we’re doing inside the church with our liturgies reflects what is happening outside the church in nature.

For most of the year our liturgical cycle is based upon the northern calendar, but for the next few weeks what we’re doing inside church reflects what is happening outside in the garden as new life breaks through the soil, plants blossom and many creatures welcome their new offspring.

Of course, the choice of dates for the season of creation was not made for the benefit of Aussies, Argentinians, Kiwis, or South Africans. Rather, the timing of the season is based on the annual celebration of St Francis of Assisi on October 4. We simply work back the four or five Sundays during September to carve out this special opportunity to celebrate and to reflect upon our place within the web of life.

 

The web of life

We are becoming more familiar with the concept of the web of life.

This idea has deep theological and philosophical roots, and these have recently been validated and extended by scientific discoveries relating to DNA more generally and the human genome in particular.

We now have a whole new appreciation of our deep connection with other people as well as with all of the life forms on this fragile planet.

This sense of deep unity with one another and with all creation is something that we celebrate in the Holy Communion liturgy each and every time that we gather around the Table of Jesus.

 

Ocean Sunday

On this first Sunday of Creation we pause and reflect on the ocean, where all life began. We appreciate our intimate connection with oceans, seas, lake and rivers. And we reflect that our own lives took form in the secret ocean of our mother’s uterus. Before the waters broke.

When we stand on the seashore and watch the immense ocean flowing up to our feet, we are in a sacred space; just as when we hold a new-born baby in our arms. On the edge of mystery. On the edge of the deep.

For those of us who are fathers, we are conscious of being in a line that stretches back into the distant past and beyond us into our children and their children.

Our fathers and grandfathers held us in their arms as our life began, and we gently place their remains in the ground after their lives have ended.

The web of life. We are all connected. We are all one.

All this and more is swirling around us today as we celebrate Ocean Sunday.

But our Bible readings this morning nudge us to engage with these dynamics in some different and particular ways. Let’s turn to them now.

 

Job 38

The first reading this morning was from the book of Job, one of the classic texts of western civilisation.

As the story goes, for more than 30 consecutive chapters (chs 3–37) in that book, God has been listening to Job’s complaint. Life is unfair. He has been treated badly. Job is the ultimate good person to whom really bad things have happened. He wants to ‘shirt front’ God. He has had enough.

Starting with the passage we heard just now, God ‘spits the dummy’. God, for her part, has had enough of Job’s complaints. Enough already! Halaas!

Note the opening lines from chapter 38 as God calls Job into the conversation which he has been demanding the right to have:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.” (Job 38:1–3 NRSV)

 

Ouch!

This does not sound like a gentle conversation, and indeed that it how it unfolds …

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

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

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.” (Job 38:4–5, 8–11, 16–18 NRSV)

 

In the ancient text Job remains silent in the face of this divine barrage, but on this Ocean Sunday I suggest we can actually be bold enough to answer God: “Yes, we were and yes, we are!”

In saying that we are not speaking as particular individuals born in the very recent past.

But when we understand who we truly are—beings comprised of ancient atoms from the stardust of the big bang at the beginning of time— then we can claim our true identity and respond to God, “Yes, we were there and yes, we are able to plumb the depths of the sea. She is our mother.”

At the risk of a bad pun, on Ocean Sunday we appreciate the depths of our own existence.

We—that is, the universe finding its voice in us so late in time—we are 15 billion years old. We come from the first nano-seconds of the cosmos. We were conceived in the oceans. We are not just Earthlings, we are also sea creatures.

So today—as we baptise Ruby, and as we, celebrate fathers, and as we inter Jim’s ashes—we remember our deep and ancient roots. We appreciate our true selves, and we celebrate the amazing web of life of which we are integral parts.

 

Luke 5

Our Gospel reading was—most appropriately—a fishing story. A story set on the lake. A story that celebrates a deep intuitive knowledge of the ways of the sea.

But this reading is very different from Job.

God in the person of Jesus asks a very different question. Jesus is not asking, “Were you there?” rather, Jesus is asking, “Will come with me into the future?”

Will you trust my guidance and let down your nets into deep?

And that, of course, is the challenge.

We have some idea of where we have come from, but we have little idea of the future.

We had no choice about arriving here, but the future is ours to choose.

As we baptise Ruby this morning we are making a choice to let Jesus guide us into that future which is known only to God, and we are promising to teach her how to live that way as well.

Let down your nets … the future calls us on this Ocean Sunday.

 

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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