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Season of Creation – Ocean Sunday, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
September 1, 2013

Job 38:1-18; Psalm 104; Ephesians 1:3-10; Luke 5:1-10

‘Facing the Deep’

Ocean refers to the mass of waters that cover two thirds of the Earth’s surface, the swirling seas and the watery deeps where a myriad species live, many still undiscovered. The ocean is a world of mystery and beauty, of fascinating depths and spectacular life forms. The ocean is that vast domain many of our ancestors crossed to reach all parts of the planet. And the waters of the oceans are ultimately the waters of life for the whole planet. “Let the sea roar and all that fills it!” (Ps. 96:11). God be with you

I remember, as a boy, how much I loved the beach. I used to love being there. In my memories, my father plays a prominent part. Teaching me to swim. I remember being carried along, my hands on his shoulders. Being carried “up and over the waves” (Paul Kelly, “Deeper Water”). Teaching me how to fish – fishing from the rocks, from the shore. Riding my surf-ski – he was always impressed by my sense of balance. Once I got out there beyond the breakers I could paddle up and down the beach all day. I remember going sailing with my dad – the water was wild and I remember being so cold. I wasn’t as tough as him. He never seemed to get sunburnt. He never needed sunglasses.

My dad isn’t just tough. He has ocean awareness, water wisdom, a respect for the sea and for what happens in and on the water ...

I used to fill steel cans with sand and throw them up into the air, make them spin and spill sand in swirling patterns to look like fireworks. Once, I lost sight of the spinning can and it came down and struck me on the head. My dad took me to the hospital for stitches.

I remember a birthday party one year. I was probably about 12. All I wanted was a birthday at the beach with my best friends. I remember spending hours in the surf and the sun – and then the headache and nausea of sunstroke. Years later, at theological college, I’d reflect on this experience in terms of awareness of colonial identity – I was a pale pink European on the “wrong” side of the world. There was some kind of work to do if I was ever to be at home in this country.

As a teenager I used to hang out at the beach – at Cronulla – at least on Saturday mornings. My mate Richard had a khaki green Kombi van and my mate Dave was always keen for a body surf. Without my glasses I couldn’t see that well. Dave would sometimes move the towels further up the beach while I was out swimming. He thought it was very amusing to watch me disoriented, squinting as I searched along the shore for the towels. Hilarious.

I remember being caught in a rip once. I was swimming alone at North Cronulla, beyond the patrols. One of those terrifying experiences I don’t think about much. I remember feeling sure that I would drown, I was so far out and so exhausted. A surfer came to my rescue – I don’t know where she came from.

I remember my 21st – an all-night “clam-bake” at Jibbon Beach – guitars, fires, eskies, friends in Hawaiian shirts.

I remember my first experience of snorkeling – at Jervis Bay – and the miracle of improved vision underwater. An exhilarating sense of connection with the world beneath the waves – with the fish, with the weeds, with a Grey Nurse shark in the sand, with my human companions.

During my first placement as a university chaplain I lived in a unit on Marine Parade at Maroubra Beach. I remember the sound of the waves crashing – a pleasant sound to hear at night, it drowned out the sound of the traffic at the Junction a kilometre away. I remember the salt on the window frames and sills. I remember the smell of the salt air. Mostly, I remember the healing quality of the water – the sheer rejuvenation of surf, salt and sun.

It still offers me the best interpretation of the Book of Job. The God who appears to Job in the whirlwind, in flashing images of the power and beauty of creation, makes me think of the sea – tumbling, shifting the shoreline, smoothing the rocks. I think of the ocean’s paradoxical power to make calm. The ocean as venue par excellence of divine freedom – creativity beyond the certainties of reason and morality. I can (almost) understand Job’s response to God: “Formerly I knew you only by word of mouth, but now I see you with my own eyes” (38:5). Everything looks different after an encounter with the ocean. Anxieties, problems, are relativised, if not washed away entirely.

The sea is other (in the Bible especially so). It’s only because Simon Peter trusts Jesus that he takes the risk and casts into “the deep”, the realm of the unknown. Luke’s text contains a little Greek word for “life” – zoe – that connotes “catching fish alive” – even some kind of sanctuary, some kind of fish farming we can associate with sustainability. The text, like a net, holds together these two ideas: catching fish alive, and catching human beings alive. It’s a wonderful notion of inter-dependence – the text/net as a web of life.

According to Ephesians, Jesus is a kind of text/net or web. God takes pleasure in revealing a plan that sees all things inscribed/gathered in Christ – in the Spirit/Wisdom of his life, death and resurrection.

I don’t go to the beach so much these days. I don’t fish. I don’t sunbake. I haven’t gone out on my surf-ski for years. I miss that. When I see Dad this afternoon I’ll ask him about a trip down the coast sometime soon (he still keeps my surf-ski in his house at St Georges Basin).

The sea is other and the sea is life-giving. I saw a documentary recently about an Aboriginal artist in Tasmania, Verna Nichols, who works with giant kelp. Amazing sculptures, vessels – enduring, strange …

I recoil at images of oil slicks, sticky and sickly marine animals, the deathly effects of poisonous dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico – on fish and birds, turtles and human beings. I fret over radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant – radioactive water pouring into the sea, the plume on its way to many places, doing damage I can’t imagine.

“Roar, ocean, roar!” Make us more attentive. Help put our petty politics into perspective – challenge our complacency, remind us that we live together on one planet, that salt and sun are gifts – that fish are finite, that ecosystems are fragile. “Roar, ocean, roar in praise.” Show us how to be, how to be free, how to play, how to swim and splash and paddle and surf.

These things are important. These things are godly.

Let us come to the altar-table and take a pinch of sea-salt. Let us taste and remember/rejoice – may our memories/spirits be stirred and new connections made – with the ocean, with the mystery of everything and with the Deep, and with each other … Amen.