Sermon for Creation 4C “Cosmos Sunday”

Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 148; Colossians 1:15-20; John 6:41-51

 

            In the summer of 2011 I had finished my internship and returned back to seminary in Gettysburg.  I was living on campus and working odd jobs until the school year started, as well as working on my approval essay, which is one of the hoops you have to jump through on the road to ordination.  On August 23, I was sitting at my computer working on my approval essay when suddenly the building began to shake.  I looked around and said, “I think that’s an earthquake.”  I found out a little bit later that, in fact, it was a 5.8 earthquake with its epicenter in Louisa County, Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountain Range, and it was felt all up and down the East Coast.  I also found out later that the first year seminarians, who had already started their Greek class, had just learned the word κόσμος right before the earthquake hit.  And one of the meanings for the word κόσμος in Greek is “world”.  The world shook just as they learned that word.  And they were a little shaken up by this.

            Today we use the English word “cosmos” to mean the entire universe, which is why we have all of the pictures of space on the slideshow today.  What we don’t always understand when we use the word “cosmos” is that the word does not simply mean “universe” or “world,” but it also means “the world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system”.  From the very beginning of the Bible, we hear that God is a God of order.  “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.”  The Hebrew phrase that gets translated “formless void” is tohu vavohu, which literally means “formless, confusion, unreality, and emptiness”.  And out of this confusing emptiness, God created our orderly universe, or cosmos.

            Scientists investigating how the universe came to be tell us that if the forces holding the different parts of the atom together were off by just a hair, the earth could not have developed and life could not exist.  This makes me think of God as an engineer who measures everything very precisely to the point of annoying those around him.  But the phrase “it’s close enough for government work” is not even in God’s vocabulary.  We and all life exist because God is such a God of order.  But being a God of precision and order does not mean that God is not also playful.  And that’s where our Proverbs reading comes in today.

            The voice that is speaking in Proverbs is the voice of Wisdom.  This is poetic language and rich in metaphor, because today we would not think of Wisdom as a person.  To us, wisdom is an abstract concept that is defined as “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action”.  How can we imagine wisdom as a woman, as something that God created before he created even the universe?  Much less, how can we imagine wisdom, with such a dreary definition, dancing and rejoicing in God’s creation?

            I think for this, we need to return to the scientific point of view for a moment.  God’s wisdom knows that, if the forces holding atoms together are not precisely right, all life would disappear in an instant.  Picture now God’s joy in finding just the right measurements to hold everything together, so that life, all kinds of life, both plants and animals in all of their infinite varieties, can be created, can live and breathe.  That is wisdom rejoicing.  As for wisdom dancing—picture wisdom now as what science describes as the gravitational forces that hold everything together.   William P. Brown, a professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, writes, “Astronomers frequently refer to stars and galaxies ‘dancing’ in relation to each other” (171).  In the Perseus galaxy cluster, for example, billions of stars orbit one another.  Or, we can think of our own solar system:  the planets orbit the sun, and moons orbit the planets.  Nothing stands still in the universe.  God’s wisdom again found the precise forces needed to orchestrate this beautiful dance, and everything in the universe is constantly in motion.  Wisdom dances. 

Wisdom is the gravitational forces that pull on our solar systems and stars to keep them dancing around one another.  Wisdom is that precise measurement that makes all life possible.  And wisdom means that without others, we could not exist.  Nothing in this universe exists in isolation.  Scientists have found that, for example, even though this pulpit and I appear to be two separate objects, on the quantum level (which is smaller even than the particles that make up an atom), the space between the pulpit and me does not exist—we are entangled somehow on the quantum level.  It follows, then, that you and I, on that very tiny level, are all tangled together.  I cannot even begin to imagine how that works, can you?

The lesson then that we can take from Lady Wisdom is this:  no one of us can exist without the other.  Human beings need one another to survive.  Not only that, but human beings need each animal and each plant on this earth in order to exist:  grass, trees, birds, bears, buffalo, elk, deer, wolves—yes, I said wolves!—horses, dogs, flowers, the duck-billed platypus, and on and on—these are all necessary to our survival.  We exist on a cosmic level only in relationship to others.  We are all intertwined.  When you think that God Himself exists as a relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet is one God, it makes sense that he would make a creation that exists only in relationship to one another.  And Wisdom laughs and dances and sings, for even she cannot exist unless she is in relationship with God.

And it was the Wisdom of God that decided that it would be best for humankind if God himself became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation.  It was the Wisdom of God that caused Jesus to say, in today’s Gospel reading, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world—the cosmos—is my flesh.”  We human beings had forgotten that no one of us could exist apart from each other.  Each of us has turned in upon him or herself; we want to serve only ourselves.  And the Wisdom of God said, “If I send my Son, Jesus, in whom all things in this cosmos hold together, and he gives his flesh for the world to eat so that all may live, then my people will understand once more that they cannot exist apart from one another.  They will love and serve one another as they were meant to do for Jesus’ sake, and they will love and serve God.”  And Wisdom danced and clapped and sang at the idea that God the Creator would become part of his creation and bring all people together again as one.

So, as we close our Creation Season on this cosmic, mystical note, what is the lesson that we learn?  How are we to be in relationship with the creation that surrounds us?  We are to search for Wisdom, and when we find her, we recognize what a delight she is as we see how beautifully and wonderfully this cosmos was made and continues to be made.  We are to serve one another, as Jesus came to serve us, and to give of ourselves as Jesus gave of himself for the life of the cosmos.  And not only are we to serve our brother and sister human beings, we are to humbly serve and care for the creation with which we are so intimately intertwined that, on the smallest subatomic level, we cannot tell the difference between one person and object and the other.

Our Psalm today gives us an idea of how we are to begin caring for one another and for creation.  One of the commentaries on this psalm says that our duty as stewards of creation is to ensure creation’s unfettered praise to God.  We are the conductors of God’s cosmic symphony.  So, as we sing our hymn of the day, let us be mindful of ways in which we can care for and free up the creation to continue its cosmic song of praise to the One who made all things with great wisdom and precision.  Amen.

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Sermon for Third Sunday of Creation “Storm Sunday”

Note: Wyoming is a red state, possibly the reddest of the red. Much of the money the state generates comes from mineral mining. I have one retired oil man in my congregation who also happens to be council president and another who is still working for an oil company who is council vice-president.  My congregation is mixed politically, with a few “closet Democrats” hiding in the majority of Republicans. So, to utter the phrase “climate change” within my first year of call there is a tricky proposition. I wanted to go a lot further with this sermon than I did, but again, had to dance on a tightwire here. This is what I came up with, and I did get positive feedback from members of the congregation.

Sermon for Creation 3C “Storm Sunday”

Luke 8:22-25

            Storms are part of our daily lives, and I think everyone has a story about being caught in a storm.  My epic storm story was my senior year in college when I was driving home from college in Vermont to my family home in New Hampshire for Christmas break, in a blizzard, and having just caught the flu that day.  But, I have also experienced several other storms in my life:  several typhoons when I was living in Taiwan, a category 1 hurricane that came ashore on my birthday six years ago when I was living in southeast Texas, two major snowstorms that dumped two feet of snow, each, a week apart, when I was at the seminary in Gettysburg, along with many other storms that I’ve lived through.  We are now watching as storms and flooding devastate our neighbor to the south, Colorado, while we ourselves have experienced many thunderstorms and hailstorms this summer that, while not unheard of, have been unusually frequent.  As we’re living through the storms, we tend to be frightened, but then, after we have survived them, we tell our stories to one another—almost as if by sharing them, we can gain some comfort from other people who have lived through storms, too.

            I think storms are frightening because they are a force of nature that we have absolutely no control over, and because they are powerful and can cause much damage.  Some storms are predictable—for example, meteorologists can tell us when a hurricane, thunderstorm, or blizzard is coming, and we can make some preparations for those storms—but things like tornadoes will often spring up with little warning, and all we can do is to hide someplace safe and wait for it to be over.  When we see lightning in the sky, we know that is a form of raw electricity over which we have no power and that can strike people or objects at random. It is no wonder that people over the centuries have assigned gods to be in control over the lightning—surely someone must be in control of such deadly forces.  Two examples are Zeus, from ancient Greek mythology, and Thor, from Scandinavian mythology.  These gods were unpredictable and could be angered at many things, which was why they threw lightning bolts randomly to destroy things.  Thus, people would try to appease these gods so the lightning bolt wouldn’t come at them.  We even have this idea of God throwing lightning bolts at us in the Christian faith.  Last year, when I was in Florida with my parents waiting for the call to be a pastor here, I went with them one Sunday to their Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, and at the moment that I entered the sanctuary, there came a flash of lightning accompanied by the loud sound of thunder.  I looked around and wondered if God was unhappy that I, who was preparing to be a female pastor, had entered a church where women are not allowed to be ordained.

            We laugh, but there is still the idea out there that God speaks through disastrous storms that happen to us.  When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and killed 1,836 people, these are some of the things that religious people said:

  • Ultra-Orthodox rabbi Ovadia Yosef declared that Hurricane Katrina was punishment for then-President Bush’s support of the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip, and also because people in New Orleans did not study the Torah.
  • Louis Farrakhan asserted that Hurricane Katrina was “God’s way of punishing America for its warmongering and racism.”
  • Conservative Christian Pat Robertson implied that the hurricane was God’s punishment for America’s abortion policy.
  • Gerhard Maria Wagner, briefly an auxiliary bishop of Linz, said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for New Orleans’ reputation for lax sexual behavior.
  • Another conservative Christian, John Hagee, linked the hurricane to homosexual behavior happening in New Orleans.

In contrast to this, today’s Gospel story sends a very different message about storms than any of these people do, and I think this should be our basis for understanding what storms are all about.  Jesus, the very Son of God, is in the boat with his disciples.  As he was very tired, he fell asleep as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee.  You would think that God the Father would have let his Son have a brief nap.  But no, a fierce windstorm sweeps down on the lake, the boat fills up with water, the disciples panic, and they wake Jesus up.  Jesus, as I imagined during my storytelling, was probably really annoyed at being woken up, but he stopped the storm and then scolded the disciples for their lack of faith.

            The message that we can take from this story is this:  storms happen.  They are not divine punishment for any human sin, for Jesus took that punishment on himself when he died for us on the cross.  No, storms are a part of God’s creation, and as violent and frightening as they can be, they are simply God’s way of cleansing and refreshing the earth.  And yes, God does have power over the storms, as demonstrated in Jesus’ commanding the wind and the waves to cease and desist.

            However, stating this truth begs the question:  If God has power over the storms, why doesn’t he stop those big ones like Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy or the rains and floods in Colorado and thus save so many people from injury and death?  Well, this type of question falls into the same category as the question:  Why do bad things happen to good people?  And the answer is:  I don’t know.  We pastors aren’t given an answer to that any more than lay people are.  One thing that we do know, though:  just as Jesus was present with his disciples in the boat when the windstorm blew up on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus is present with us through the storms we suffer in life, and he weeps with us when we lose loved ones, too.  And Jesus is present with us when we go to help those without anything rebuild their lives out of the ruins the storm leaves behind.  Just as we see a glimpse of God in the people who need our help, they see a glimpse of God in those who come to help.  God is indeed present with his creation through the storm and in the rebuilding process.

            Although the storms we encounter today are not sending a message from God, some of them are, however, a sign that something is wrong with creation.  Let me explain what I mean by that.  In recent years, storms have gotten stronger and more devastating in the United States than people generally remember them to be.  To the south of us, we are seeing devastating rains in an area that doesn’t get much rain during the year.  According to Time magazine, (http://science.time.com/2013/09/17/the-science-behind-colorados-thousand-year-flood/), Boulder usually receives about 1.7 inches of rain during the entire month of September.  However, as of 7 a.m. on September 16, Boulder had received 17.17 inches of rain and has already broken its yearly record for precipitation.  And just a few months ago, Boulder was still in the midst of a drought.  While it is too early for scientists to definitively pin this “once in 1000 years” event on climate change, it does fit the pattern for what scientists are expecting to happen in this area due to climate change.  Since Colorado sits on the dividing line between the section of the country that is expected to get drier and the section that is expected to receive more rain, scientists are saying that the area should expect to see more frequent and devastating swings between drought and flood.  This rain, and other storms such as Hurricane Sandy last year and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are signs of a changing climate.

            When we look at the storms around us growing more and more powerful and more and more disastrous, our natural reaction is one of fear.  The majority of climate scientists agree that climate change is largely due to the activities of human beings that are putting more and more carbon into the atmosphere, thus warming it to an extent not seen before in human history.  Our reaction, then, besides one of fear, may also be one of despair:  what can we do?  It seems like the damage is already done.  But if we return to our Gospel lesson, we see Jesus scolding the disciples for their lack of faith.  He is not saying that if they had had more faith, there would not have been a storm.  He is also not saying that if they had had more faith, they could have stopped the storm.  No, Jesus is saying that they have been with him long enough to know that, as long as they were with him, they had nothing to fear from the storm.  And so it is with us:  as long as we trust in Jesus and have faith in him, we have nothing to fear.  For even when we are afraid and even when we are in danger, we know that he is with us and will be with us until the end.

            So, what should we do as we encounter ever-stronger storms in our changing climate?  As I said on Ocean Sunday, I believe God is a God of forgiveness and of second chances.  There are things that we can do to be better stewards of our environment.  Find out what those things are.  It can be as simple as recycling as much as we can, or it can be as complicated as advocating for changes in laws that make our environment cleaner.  What we do may not seem like much, but if enough of us together do these things, we may make some change.  But, even if our environment were perfectly healthy, there would still be storms.  Storms are nature’s way of refreshing and renewing the earth, and the earth is nourished and sustained by them.  But Jesus has taught us that, no matter how frightening the storms might be, we have nothing to fear as long as we have faith in him.  So let’s continue weathering the storms and sharing the stories with one another, always putting our trust in him to see us through.  Amen.

Sermon for Creation Sunday 2C “Animal Sunday”

Job 39:1-8, 26-30 & Luke 12:22-31

 

            Do animals go to heaven?  I think this is a question that every child asks when a beloved pet dies.  When our family dog, an Old English sheepdog named Sherlock, died when I was a junior in high school, our family all imagined him in doggie heaven.  We knew that, if there were UPS trucks driving around in heaven, Sherlock would be barking at them and that if anyone in heaven made popcorn, Sherlock would be there begging for pieces of popcorn.  I accepted this belief that dogs go to heaven without question, until it came up in conversation with some pastors that I knew several years ago.  These pastors were very offended that anyone could even think that animals went to heaven.  Their argument was that since animals don’t have souls, and since Jesus didn’t die for animals, that there were no animals in heaven, end of story.  I was crushed, and thus I began a theological journey into the status of animals to see if these pastors were really right, and I will share with you the answer that I came up with during the course of this sermon.

            I think that this argument that animals have no souls is part of what leads us to treat them as though they are ours to do with as we please.  If we go back to the creation account in Genesis 1, we hear God say, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”  This idea of dominion also feeds into the idea that animals are there for our use and our pleasure, regardless of the consequences.  But, if we look at our reading from Job today, we see God demanding from Job an answer to his question, “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?  Do you observe the calving of the deer? . . . Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south?”  This Scripture tells us that the animals can get along just fine without human beings, for it is God who gives the animals the knowledge they need to survive.  And Jesus, in our Gospel reading today, points out the fact that the ravens, which were considered by the Jewish people to be unclean birds, still looked to God to feed them.  In other words, these lowly birds are an example of trust in God that we “superior” human beings should be following!  So, how do we reconcile the description in Genesis that we are to have “dominion” over the animals with our accounts from Job and from Luke?

            In order to answer this, we need to first do some exploring of what it means for humankind to be made in the image of God, which is also part of the creation account in Genesis 1.  In the countries surrounding Israel who worshiped other gods, it was customary to put up a statue of the god and worship the statue.  This god-statue, or idol, was also called an image of whatever god the people were worshiping.  However, in the Old Testament, it was expressly forbidden to make an image, or a statue, of God, in the Ten Commandments.  One reason why was that humans are already made in the image of God.  Think about it—we are the image of God.  People see something of God in us, and we see something of God in other people.  That’s absolutely astounding, when you think about it!

            However, the Bible also makes clear that, even though we are the image of God, we are not to be worshiped as gods.  We are most definitely creatures, but we are God’s images, and how we behave towards the rest of creation will say something about the God that we worship.  Let’s look at this from the point of view of another Bible passage:  Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”.  Jesus also says that he came to serve and not to be served—this is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.  Jesus is our model for being in the image of God:  not only to serve one another, but to serve, that is, care for with a loving hand, all of creation.  Just as Jesus came to rule over us with his example of servanthood, so we, too, rule over creation by serving and caring for creation, not by exploiting it or abusing it.

            So, with this background in mind, let’s return to Jesus’ teaching today in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat, and he uses the example of the raven.  As I mentioned before, the raven was considered an unclean bird by the Jewish people.  When we look at what exactly the raven eats, we can understand why.  The raven will eat just about anything, including things that are dead.  If God provides food for this lowly and hated bird, God will most certainly provide food for us.  So, in other words, we can learn from the raven how to trust in God for our daily bread and not to worry about where it is coming from.  Just as God cares for the raven, he cares for us humans as well.  If the raven can trust God for provision, why don’t we?

            Animals are thus not only there for us to care for, but for us to learn from as well.  The raven is not the only animal in the Bible who people learn from.  One of my favorite stories, and one of the funniest in the Bible, I think, is the story in Numbers of Balaam and his donkey.  Balaam was a sorcerer from a non-Israelite people who was summoned by King Balak to curse the Israelites.  As he traveled to the king, Balaam’s donkey veered off the road twice and then lay down to go around the angel of the Lord, who was standing in Balaam’s path.  Balaam, who did not see the angel, beat his donkey each time.  And God enabled the donkey to speak and to ask Balaam why he had beat it each time.  It turned out that the donkey, the supposedly dumb animal, recognized the angel of the Lord before Balaam did!

            So, if we are to respect animals, to learn from them, and to care for them as part of God’s creation, how does that work in today’s society?  Some people decide to eat vegetarian or vegan in protest of how human beings treat animals.  I think that’s okay, but I want to state for the record that I like beef, chicken, and pork, and since I’m very fussy about which vegetables I eat, I don’t think I could survive as a vegetarian.  As Christians, it is okay for us to use animals for food, but we should raise them humanely, for domesticated livestock, and for wild animals, hunt them in a sustainable matter so that no animal ever goes extinct because of our actions.  By trusting in God’s abundance and trusting that he will feed us as he does the raven, we do not need to worry that in taking steps to help an animal to survive, we will go without.  Caring for God’s creation in a servant-like manner demands that we trust in God to supply all of our needs.

            Then what about the questions with which I opened this sermon:  Do animals have souls?  Well, we have seen from Scripture that animals are a part of creation, just as humans are, and that God intends for us to care for them as part of that creation.  We have seen from Job that there are some animals who do not need us to survive, but who simply depend upon God to feed them and care for them.  We have seen from Jesus’ teaching that we humans can learn from the way that animals behave.  All of these things hint at animals having souls just as humans do.  What is a soul, though?  The dictionary defines a soul as “the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans”.  I would argue, though, that animals do have that same principle of life, feeling, thought, and action.  They have different personalities, which to me also defines what a soul is.  The dog that I used to have was scared to death of thunderstorms and there was nothing to be done to calm him down until the storm had passed.  My dog now, Otis, could care less about thunderstorms, but he flips out when you touch his paws and when he thinks I’ve left him home alone for too long.  So I would say, yes, animals do have souls, just as we do.

            Do animals go to heaven?  In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, . . . in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. . .”  So when Paul is talking about the whole creation, that means everything:  plants, animals, and people.  We are all waiting for the second coming of Christ so that we may be set free from our sinfulness and decay.  So, yes, I believe that there will be animals in heaven, and that we will live in harmony with them as Adam and Eve once lived in harmony with the animals in the Garden of Eden.

            So now, in the in-between time, while we wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus, let us learn from the animals as Jesus suggested.  Let us trust in God to give us our daily needs, as the ravens and the other animals do.  As we figure out how best to care for the animals in God’s creation, let us do so with respect for our fellow creatures, who have souls just as we do and who are sometimes better able to recognize their Creator than we are.  Let us recognize that there are some animals out there who can get along just fine without us, as God told Job, and let that keep us humble.  Above all, in all that we do, let us remember that we share this creation of God with the animals as we make decisions on how best to live together with them.  And let us remember that we are the image of God, and how we treat the rest of Creation will reflect what we believe about the God who made us.  Amen.

Sermon for Creation Sunday 1C “Ocean Sunday”

Today marked the first day of the “Season of Creation” that my congregation is doing in worship this month. Each Sunday has a different theme, with different readings. You can find this information at http://www.seasonofcreation.com. We made it fun by bringing in seashells to decorate the sanctuary, and one parishioner even had a piece of baleen from a whale! We also had a PowerPoint slideshow of different ocean shots going throughout the service. I think it went over very well with the congregation.  Below is my sermon, based on the Gospel reading, Luke 5:1-11:

 

My first memory of the ocean is this:  I was a little girl and we were living in New Hampshire.  One day my parents took us to Hampton Beach, which is part of the small stretch of coastline that New Hampshire owns.  While my brother took to the water naturally and swam, with my father, out into the deeper water, I stood in the sand absolutely mesmerized by and terrified of the huge waves that were crashing in.  When I was little, I didn’t know how to express my fears very well, so I just stood there, while my mother tried to convince me that it was okay to go out further and she would be right by my side.  But nothing she said could convince me that all of that water crashing in waves on the shore was safe.

            It turns out that my childhood fear of the ocean is understandable, in the grand scheme of things.  In the ancient Near East, which is where the stories in the Bible take place, the sea was the primary symbol of chaos and death.  In the creation story of Genesis 1, God gathers the seas together and subdues them in order for dry land to appear.  In our reading today from Job, God describes his act of creation as “shutting in the sea with doors” and “prescribing bounds for” the ocean, and telling the seas, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped.”  The ocean is a fearful place, one where human beings cannot survive for long without special equipment to help us breathe.

            But the ocean is also a source of life for us.  The oceans account for 97 percent of the earth’s water and more than 95 percent of the earth’s living space.  Scientists believe that the ocean is where all life on our planet began.  Oceans absorb roughly one-third of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activity, which slows the buildup of heat-trapping gases and works against global warming.  And, of course, oceans are home to all sorts of creatures, from the familiar, such as fish and whales, to the exotic, such as octopus and jellyfish.

            It might seem strange to us then that the Gospel lesson chosen for “Ocean Sunday” takes place not on an ocean, but on the Sea of Galilee—which Luke calls Gennesaret– which is actually a large freshwater lake.  But in Bible times, both salt seas and freshwater lakes were viewed as a part of the same great subterranean reservoir that fed springs, rivers, lakes, and oceans.  So, in other words, these great bodies of water are not separate, as we think of them, but are all part of the same body of water.  According to the Biblical worldview, the land that we live on floats on the water.  And even though today’s Gospel lesson does not take place on the ocean proper, it still has some important things to teach us about God’s abundant creation.

            Usually when we approach this text, we read it as the great call to follow Jesus and “fish for” or “catch” people for him.  It is both a discipleship text—leave everything and follow Jesus—and a missionary text—“become fishers of people”.  But as I was preparing this sermon and reading about the text from an environmental point of view, one of the comments really hit me hard.  Luke does not tell us what happened to that enormous catch of fish.  He simply says that the fishermen left everything and followed Jesus.  So, what happened to the fish?  Certainly after God had provided this abundance, he would not let it go to waste.

            Since the Gospel does not tell us, I think we need to guess what happened to the fish, and I think there are two possibilities.  Since Peter, James, and John were partners in a fishing business, it is possible that they sold the fish and created a financial “nest egg” for Jesus and themselves as they left their business behind and followed Jesus.  But, somehow, I don’t think they sold the fish.  We don’t know what Jesus was teaching the crowds that day from the boat, but I believe the miraculous catch of fish was a type of “sermon illustration”.  What I infer from that illustration is this:  Trust in God to supply your needs, because God is a God of abundance.  For if this is indeed what Jesus was teaching to the crowds, the great catch of fish was the proof that Peter, James, and John could indeed leave everything behind to follow Jesus, trusting in God to supply all of their physical needs.  And so, I believe that these first disciples of Jesus gave the fish away and did not charge the people for the fish, as a further demonstration of trusting in God’s abundance.

            Trusting in God’s abundance is the first lesson that we can learn about proper stewardship of God’s creation.  But, like Peter who says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” we in our sinfulness shove God away.  We think we know better than God and take on the burden of trusting in ourselves and our own work to provide for not only our needs, but our desires as well.  To use a local fishing example, let’s look at the lake trout vs. cutthroat trout problem in Yellowstone.  About 20 years ago, lake trout were illegally introduced to Yellowstone Lake.  Why?  I couldn’t find the why, but my guess is because people wanted more fish to catch in the lake for their recreation, rather than trusting that what was already in the lake would supply their needs.  The consequences were that the lake trout fed on the cutthroat trout.  With the decrease in numbers of the cutthroat trout, bears, otters and other wildlife could no longer eat the fish they needed, because the lake trout inhabit deeper waters than these animals can reach.  This causes these animals to go elsewhere in search of food and to find other sources of food that they might not normally eat, which in turn causes a chain reaction continuing up the food chain.  Human beings, who think they knew best by playing God and introducing lake trout into an area where they were not native, caused even more problems in God’s very good creation.

            Another way that human beings do not trust in God’s abundance is to take that abundance for granted.  To use an example from the ocean proper, let’s look at shark finning.  I have a confession to make:  I have eaten shark fin soup.  It was when I was in Taiwan, and I was the guest of friends at a very expensive meal.  It would have been the height of rudeness to refuse to eat it, and it was very tasty.  What’s wrong with shark fin soup, you ask?  In order to obtain the fins, the practice is to catch the sharks from the ocean, cut the fins off, and toss the injured shark back into the ocean, where it will bleed to death.  The reason for this inhumane practice is that the shark fins can fetch up to $300 a pound, while the rest of the meat sells for a much lower price.  Shark fin soup is a part of Asian culture, and the fins are in high demand.  So these fishermen throw the rest of the shark back in order to make room on their boats for more fins.  We might say, “So what?  They’re sharks, and we all hear about shark attacks on humans whose only crime has been to swim in the ocean.”  But, if sharks were to die out, other fish species that the shark keeps under control would multiply, then overcrowd the oceans and die off themselves.   To this day, I still feel guilty about that bowl of shark fin soup that I ate in order to maintain a good relationship with my hosts.  When we think that God’s abundance in creation is never ending and waste it to supply our needs and desires, then we create difficulties not only for God’s creation, but eventually for ourselves.  For everything in God’s creation is intricately and intimately interconnected.

            And when I say everything is interconnected, I mean everything.  We as humans are a part of God’s creation that he named “very good”, and not set apart from creation.  God has given us a role to play in his creation.  And in spite of the two examples that I’ve named above, along with numerous other threats to our oceans, I see signs of hope.  I see hope in how many people are working to remove the lake trout from Yellowstone Lake in order to help restore the delicate balance in that ecosystem.  I see hope in the simple act of the fishermen in this area who, every fall, work to rescue the fish that are cut off from water when the canals are turned off and return them to the rivers.  I see hope in places like Hawaii that have banned shark fin soup in the hope that by decreasing the demand for the product, the fishermen who fin sharks will one day stop doing so.  I have hope because the God of creation is a God of forgiveness and of second chances, and I believe that he has given us the opportunity to learn from and to correct our mistakes.

            What is done with the abundance of the ocean that God has given to us?  Many of us use these resources wisely, while we hear of others who don’t.  Introduction of non-native species and shark finning are only two problems that are going on in our waters today; there are also many others out there.  I encourage each of us, as part of living out our baptism, to find out what is going on with our oceans, and then to pick an issue, pray about it, and discern how God is calling us to advocate for wise and responsible care for our oceans.  Because, even though here in Wyoming we live nowhere near an ocean, that ocean water is necessary for our life here.  Life has been born from the oceans and life on this planet is maintained through our oceans.  God is indeed a God of abundance, but abundance misused is gone sooner than we think.  Let us pray for forgiveness and make good use of those second chances that God gives us to care for our oceans.  Amen.Image