Father of the Seas

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Father of the Seas” Job 38:1-18

We live in a watery world.  70% of our planet is covered by ocean.  So important are the seas for the existence of life on earth that they are sometimes called the lifeblood or the lungs of the planet.

All life depends upon the water cycle that begins at sea.  The ocean is warmed by the sun and water evaporates. Warm water vapor rises and condenses into clouds as it enters the cool air of the atmosphere.  When clouds become filled with water, it precipitates, falling as rain or snow to fill our lakes, cap our mountains, bless our forests, and bring forth the harvest.

The ocean is equally essential in sustaining a breathable atmosphere.  Scientists estimate that seventy percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by marine plants, which absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to energy. At the same time, they release oxygen into the atmosphere, giving us fresh and healthy air to breathe.

The ocean is the great temperature regulator of the planet.  It absorbs heat in summer and disperses it in winter.  Currents within the ocean, like great rivers, sweep the globe, bringing warm tropical waters north and cool arctic waters south.  For example, the Gulf Stream sweeps northward through the Atlantic, bringing warmer tropical waters, rain, and milder winters to the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.  In fact, without the ocean to moderate the earth’s temperature, this planet would be in perpetual winter.

The ocean is also a haven of stunning biodiversity. Microscopic marine plants (phytoplankton) are the great base of the ocean food chain.  Bioluminescent fish dwell in the watery depths of the sea, never seeing the sun but generating their own light.  Enormous blue whales, the largest creatures to ever exist on the planet, live ninety years, can reach up to 110 feet, weigh more than 330,000 pounds, and eat six tons of tiny crustaceans called krill every day.  How amazing is that?

One of the most essential truths that we embrace as people of faith is that God created the world and all that is in it. In pondering the ocean, we can affirm that God is a master creator with a stunning, interconnected, complex plan for the flourishing of life as we know it. 

Our reading from the Book of Job offers one of many descriptions in scripture of God’s work in creation.  According to Job, God spoke out of the whirlwind, remembering the birth of the ocean.  The primordial waters gushed forth from the cosmic womb and into the hands of God, who shaped them and set their bounds and limits.  Next, God clothed the deeps, like a newborn child.  God wrapped them in clouds and swaddled them in darkness.  Then, God swam through the springs of the sea and walked in the recesses of the deep. 

I love this particular creation story.  It affirms the truth that God is the great creator, but it does a whole lot more.  In the setting of limits and the forging of bounds, we hear that bringing our oceans into being was hard and intentional work.  In the holding and clothing of the seas, we hear God’s love for the ocean, like a parent tending a firstborn child. Finally, as God swims through the waves and walks upon the sea floor, we learn that God inhabits and delights in creation.  Anyone who has done a little body surfing at the beach or snorkeled along a coral reef knows the joy that God experiences in the ocean.  Indeed, this is a creation story that inspires both awe for the Creator and reverence for God’s watery creation.

Unfortunately, our oceans are in trouble and the problem is manmade.  We have used our oceans as a dumping ground.  Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s a floating dump in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, two-times the size of Texas.  Prevailing currents have collected trash from America and Asia into a 100-million-ton debris field. It’s an ecological catastrophe.

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest challenges to healthy seas. 17.6 billion pounds of plastic enter our oceans every year. That’s equivalent to a garbage truck load of plastic being dumped into the sea every minute. Five trillion plastic pieces weighing 250,000 metric tons are floating in our oceans right now.

Climate change greatly impacts our oceans. In the last fifty years, oceans have absorbed ninety percent of the excess heat caused by global warming.  That means that ocean temperatures are rising, especially along coastlines and at the poles, where scientists say the earth is warming twice as fast as at the equator.  Cold water habitats are shrinking, including places where phytoplankton grow, that most essential link in the world’s food chain. As our oceans absorb the growing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, that increases the acidity of waters, killing coral reefs and eroding the shells of clams and crabs.

That stunning biodiversity of our seas is at risk, too.  90 million tons of seafood are fished each year. Sixty percent of the world’s fisheries are overfished and in danger of collapse.  In 1992, years of overfishing led to the collapse of the Canada’s Grand Banks. 40,000 fishermen found themselves out of work.  Despite a moratorium on cod fishing, the Grand Banks cod population has never recovered. 

It isn’t just the fish we eat that is a threat to biodiversity. In the twentieth century, the whaling industry killed an estimated 2.9 million whales.  That’s a marine holocaust.  Some species, like the blue whales were reduced in population by ninety percent, putting them at risk for extinction. 

It isn’t just what we fish. It’s how we fish.  Trawling drags massive nets along the sea floor disrupting the ecosystem. Every year, hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, and porpoises are killed as they are caught and drowned in commercial nets – a practice that the fishing industry refers to a “bycatch” as if this is an acceptable by-product of the business.

If God were to speak to us from the whirlwind this morning, it would be a tale of lament.  The father of the oceans would weep as their beloved child suffers.  God would swim through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in disgust.  God would walk the devastated ocean floor in despair.  In our misuse of the oceans, we have failed to honor the creator and the creation. The lifeblood of the planet is bleeding out.  The lungs of the earth are gasping for air.  We have treated the keystone of creation like a sewer and a boundless resource for our personal profit.  In doing so, we have threatened death to the planet. It is time to gird up our loins like adults and account for our actions.  Lord, have mercy.

So, what we can do? It begins with a shift in how we see the world around us. If God is, indeed, the Creator who has birthed and delights in the creation, then we, as people of faith are called to touch the earth lightly, to carefully consider the impact of our actions upon this great web of being that God has woven.  If we can live and act from a place of reverence and humility, then there is hope for our oceans.

We can all make lifestyle choices that reduce our impact upon the oceans, starting with plastics.  We can stop using single use plastics like straws, cutlery, coffee cups, water bottles, plastic bags, and take-out containers.  If every American just used five fewer straws each year, it would keep 1.5 billion straws out of our landfills and oceans. We can also demand that restaurants and industries use and develop plastic alternatives like compostable containers for leftovers, re-useable cloth bags for produce, and bio-degradable plastics made from corn.

We can reduce our carbon footprint and take our little bite out of global warming.  If you live in town, try walking or riding a bike to run errands.  If you live out of town, combine errands to make only a trip or two each week.  Turn off lights when you leave a room.  Better insulate your home to reduce fuel consumption. Consider turning back the thermostat at night or when you are away from home for eight or more hours – you’ll save money and reduce heat loss through your building envelope.  Those of us who are carnivores can try eating less meat.  Land-based proteins like beef, pork, and lamb generate methane, a greenhouse gas, as part of their digestion.  If we really want to cut the world’s carbon footprint, we can make peace.  War consumes massive amounts of fossil fuels, devastates the natural world, and warships release extreme amounts of waste into bodies of water, degrading marine habitats and coastlines.

We can also do our part to maintain that stunning biodiversity of the ocean.  It can begin by making wise choices at the grocery for seafood that is sustainably fished or farmed.  I’ve made some copies for you of Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch National Consumer Guide.  The aquarium monitors the fishing industry to determine which seafoods are most sustainably fished or farmed.  They adjust their guide every six months so that you can trust that your fish dinner isn’t coming from fishing stocks in danger of collapse.  We can also speak out about “by-catch” that murders marine mammals in pursuit of a profit, and we can only purchase tuna that is sustainably caught – look for a label saying so on the can.  Finally, tell others about the importance of consumer choices for the world’s fisheries, and let your favorite restaurant know that you only want to see sustainable options on the menu.

We live in a wonderful, watery world.  It’s the pride and joy of the Father of the Seas.  On this Care for Creation Sunday, let’s resolve to do our part to keep the planet’s lifeblood flowing and lungs breathing.

Resources:

Joe McCarthy. “How War Impacts Climate Change and the Environment” in Global Citizen, April 26, 2022. Accessed online at https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/how-war-impacts-the-environment-and-climate-change/

Alison Bailes. “If You Think Thermostat Setbacks Don’t Save Energy, You’re Wrong!” in Energy Vanguard, Feb, 17, 2012. Accessed online at https://www.energyvanguard.com/blog/if-you-think-thermostat-setbacks-don-t-save-energy-you-re-wrong.

Environmental Investigation Agency. “The State of the Ocean.” Accessed online at https://eia-international.org/ocean/the-state-of-the-ocean/

David Bauman. “State of the World’s Oceans” in UCONN Today, Feb. 10, 2016. Accessed online at https://today.uconn.edu/2016/02/state-of-the-worlds-oceans/

World Wildlife Fund. “7 Ways You Can Help Save the Oceans,” June 6, 2018. Accessed online at https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/7-ways-you-can-help-save-the-ocean

Oceana. “10 Ways You Can Help Save the Oceans” in Protecting the World’s Oceans. Accessed online at https://oceana.org/living-blue-10-ways-you-can-help-save-oceans/

Diane Boudreau, et al. “All about the Ocean” in National Geographic Resource Library, May 20, 2022. Accessed online at https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/all-about-the-ocean


Job 38:1-18

38 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.

“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?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

“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,
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.


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Walk Gently

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” — Matt. 6:28-30

Earlier this year, we viewed “The Pollinators” at church. The documentary chronicles the lives of beekeepers who ensure that America’s orchards and fields are pollinated by trucking hives from Maine to California, timing their arrival to coincide with spring blooms. It was a fascinating look at the deft dance that makes our produce purchases possible. It was also scary. Prevalent use of pesticides and infestations of mites routinely cause the collapse of bee colonies. However, climate change is the biggest threat to bees. Heatwaves, floods, and hurricanes destroy hives, reduce food sources, and lower plant diversity.

Inspired by the film, Duane and I decided to join the “No Mow May” effort, letting our back lawn grow. The dandelions were prolific, the forget-me-nots abundant, and the grass grew long. These important early sources of pollen were a boon to bees, which happily buzzed from bloom to bloom.   As June arrived, we mowed portions of the back lawn and cut some paths through what we began to call “The Meadow.”  More beautiful wildflowers appeared: lupines, Queen Anne’s Lace, cardinal flower, evening primrose, and goldenrod.

Best of all, our meadow was a haven not only for bees but for other wildlife. Hummingbirds perched on our pole bean tower and skirmished over nectar. A fat and sassy groundhog appeared, munched on mallow, and ate up all my peas. One morning, part of the meadow lay flat where deer had bedded down for the night.

Our small effort to be hospitable to bees brought joy all summer. It also prompted reflection on the wonder and wisdom of God’s good work in creation. All creatures occupy a God-given niche on this planet. They do so with great elegance and sophistication. We can choose to live in ways that allow that great web of being to flourish as God intended. It can be as simple as skipping the May mowing and allowing an experiment in honey bee hospitality to bear witness to the infinite creativity and wisdom of the Holy One, who prizes the lilies of the field and loves us enough to die for us.

Let’s walk gently into the fall with great love for the world around us—and one another.


“Goldenrod” by Mary Oliver

 “On roadsides,

  in fall fields,

      in rumpy bunches,

          saffron and orange and pale gold,

in little towers,

  soft as mash,

      sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,

          full of bees and yellow beads and perfect flowerlets

and orange butterflies.

  I don’t suppose

      much notice comes of it, except for honey,

           and how it heartens the heart with its

blank blaze.

  I don’t suppose anything loves it, except, perhaps,

      the rocky voids

          filled by its dumb dazzle.

For myself,

  I was just passing by, when the wind flared

      and the blossoms rustled,

          and the glittering pandemonium

leaned on me.

  I was just minding my own business

      when I found myself on their straw hillsides,

          citron and butter-colored,

and was happy, and why not?

  Are not the difficult labors of our lives

      full of dark hours?

          And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?

  All day

       on their airy backbones

           they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,

  they rise in a stiff sweetness,

      in the pure peace of giving

           one’s gold away.”

in New and Selected Poems, Mary Oliver. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992, pg. 17.


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A New Earth

Sabbath Day Thoughts: “A New Earth” Isaiah 65:17-25

When it comes to climate change, the Adirondacks may not be at the top of our list of regions most impacted by our warming earth.

We are more likely to think of island nations like the Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean that rises only 2.4 meters above sea level at its high point.  As sea level rises with the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, the Maldives are in peril.  In 2015, the charismatic young President of the Maldives drew world attention to his nation’s plight by holding his first cabinet meeting underwater.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by 2010, sea levels will potentially rise 100 centimeters, covering almost the entire nation.

When it comes to climate change, we think of polar bears, the poster-child for the impact of global warming on our animal species.  Climate projections anticipate that, before mid-century, we could have a nearly ice-free Arctic in the summer.  Polar bears rely heavily on sea ice for traveling, hunting, mating, resting, and in some areas, for dens where cubs are birthed and nurtured.  Studies have linked the demise of sea ice with a 40% decline in the number of polar bears in northeast Alaska and Canada.  Will the bears survive a warming Arctic?

In the lower forty-eight states, we tend to think of the south when it comes to the impact of global warming.  Our warmer, wetter world has caused a surge in powerful tropical storms that have pounded the Gulf states and beyond.  Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana in August, second only to Hurricane Katrina as the most damaging and intense hurricane to hit the U.S., with maximum winds of 150 mph.  As Ida moved north, so did its destructive power.  The storm caused catastrophic flooding across northeastern states.  Ida caused $50.1 billion in damages.  In the storm’s aftermath, 95 Americans had been killed—33 deaths in Louisiana and 9 more across the southland, 30 in New Jersey, 18 in New York, and 5 in Pennsylvania.

Island nations sinking into the sea, polar bears threatened with extinction, massive storms inflicting heavy property damage and loss of life.  This is often the face of climate change on the evening news.  Yet we might be surprised to learn that the Adirondacks are being profoundly affected by our warming world.

Researchers at SUNY Plattsburgh report that the Adirondacks are warming at a rate that is twice as fast as the rest of the planet.  The global average temperature has increased 1.8 degrees over the past 30 years, but in Lake Placid, that increase has doubled to 3.6 degrees.  That means that our fall is longer than it once was.  Our spring comes earlier.  We have more winter warm-ups.  Ask anyone who grew up in Saranac Lake and they will tell you that winter isn’t what it used to be.

The Adirondacks sit at the southern edge of the great boreal forest that stretches north across Canada to the Arctic.  As our weather warms, that boreal forest will creep north as native plants and trees can’t take the relative heat.  It’s already happening.  It’s already having a big impact on our wild creatures.  The National Audubon Society reports that we are seeing a dramatic decline in our northern boreal birds, like gray jays, Bicknell’s thrush, spruce grouse, and the black-backed woodpecker.  We are also seeing a decline in fish.  Brook trout, lake trout, salmon, and round whitefish all need cold water to thrive.  An EPA report anticipates that brook trout fishing could disappear from the Adirondacks by the year 2100.  As the Adirondacks continue to warm, the animals of the boreal forest will migrate north in search of habitat.  Can we imagine the park without moose, bobcats, fishers, pine martens, and loons?  Unless there is collective action to limit the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, that will be the Adirondack Park that we leave to our children and grandchildren.  It’s a sobering possibility.

In our scripture lesson, the Prophet Isaiah shares God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth.  The people who first heard Isaiah’s prophecy were likewise living with the impact of their actions upon the good land that God had entrusted to their care.  The Israelites had returned home from decades of captivity in Babylon.  Their land, which had once flowed with milk and honey, had been devastated by foreign invasion and decades of war.  When the Babylonian army had rolled across Israel, they had destroyed everything in their path.  Every fortified city from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south had been conquered and flattened.  Jerusalem was hardly recognizable: its protective walls breached and pulled down, its homes in ruins, its Temple burned to the ground.  The reality was so overwhelming, that people didn’t know where to begin.  That may be how we feel about the reality of climate change.

In the midst of the people’s despair, God spoke a vision of hope.  God, who had created heaven and earth, would create again, a new world of harmony and abundance.  God’s word to the Prophet Isaiah is a sweet and joyous promise of long life, rebuilt homes, fruitful vineyards, simple abundance, and good health.  God anticipates a healed relationship between humanity and the holy: before we even begin to pray, God will hear and respond.  God anticipates a healed relationship between humanity and all creatures, great and small.  All will dwell peaceably, free from harm and the threat of destruction.  Isiah’s promise is so sweet, that we hear it and we want it for ourselves.  We want it for the generations to come.

It’s a promise that reveals God’s best hope for us.  Indeed, in the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos described God’s coming Kingdom as Isaiah did, as a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem in right relationship with God.  Humanity gets things so wrong.  The ancient Israelites bring death to the land by exploiting its bounty, oppressing one another, and waging endless wars in pursuit of wealth and national greatness.  We, with our unbridled consumption and short-sighted pursuit of prosperity, pump the atmosphere full of greenhouse gases that trap ultraviolet rays and turn up the heat.  Our world is suffering.  Creation is groaning.  And in the middle of the mess that we have made, God dares to dream that things can be different.  There can be a fresh start, a new earth.

What might it look like for us to claim Isaiah’s vision, to begin living in ways that give us a foretaste of the coming Kingdom that God will one day bring to completion?  Jerry Jenkins, the leading expert on climate change in the Adirondacks, says that we can personally start to mitigate climate change with simple thrift.  Don’t buy new stuff: reduce, re-use, recycle.

We can make changes at home.  If we dial back the thermostat by two degrees, we can not only reduce our household carbon emissions, but also save as much as 5% on our heating bill.  We can turn off un-needed lights.  We can replace energy-wasting lightbulbs with high-quality LED bulbs that last a long time, consume less electricity, and save lots of money, year in and year out.  We can use native plants in our flower gardens to attract pollinators, like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

We can change our habits.  We can bring our own re-useable bottle or mug wherever we go.  We can drive less—plan our trips into town, walk to nearby destinations, or ride our bikes instead of hopping in the car.  We can cut down on food waste by eating leftovers.  We can eat less meat—those concentrated animal feeding operations, where cattle and pork are warehoused in close proximity and force-fed, are massive emitters of methane, a greenhouse gas.

If we are in a position to make big ticket investments, we can consider purchasing a hybrid car.  We could add a solar array to our homes to begin moving off the grid.  We could invest in a renewable heat source.  Burn wood pellets.  Go geo-thermal. 

These are simple steps that each of us can embrace.  You can give them a try, even if you deny the truth of climate science.  What’s to lose?  These simple actions are good for us, good for the planet, and they save money.  Who doesn’t want to save money?

William Janeway of the Adirondack Council envisions a day when the Adirondack Park will be “energy neutral.”  We’ll preserve our wild beauty and ecological integrity.  We’ll be a world-class natural resource and a premier tourism destination.  We’ll be a model for the world to see of a “climate-smart, public-private conservation landscape.”  The stakes are huge.  Our failure to take action could have dire consequences for our children and grandchildren.  Jerry Jenkins cautions that if we do not slow the course of human-caused climate change, “We may be the last generation to see the big bogs and the boreal creatures.”  Would our children ever forgive us?

May we find in Isaiah’s vision of the new heaven and the new earth the holy will to make a better future for our park and our planet.


Resources

–. “Peril and Promise” on Mountain Lakes Journal, May 21, 2019.

Craig, Gewndolyn. “Adirondacks Affected by Warming Climate in a Number of Ways” in The Post Start, October 13, 2018.  Accessed online at www.poststar.com.

Foderaro, Lisa. “Savoring Bogs and Moss, Fearing They’ll Vanish as the Adirondacks Warm” in The New York Times, Dec. 11, 2011.  Accessed online at www.nytimes.com

Kerlin, Kat. “18 Simple Things You Can Do about Climate Change” in UC Davis: Science and Health. January 8, 2019.  Accessed online at www.climatechange.ucdavis.edu

Mann, Brian. “Effects of Climate Change on the Adirondacks” on North Country Public Radio, Feb. 25, 2019.  Accessed online at www.ncpr.org

Rivera, Nelson. “Homiletical Perspective on Isaiah 65:17-25” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Johns, Mary Eleanor. “Pastoral Perspective on Isaiah 65:17-25” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.


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