Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
This is the season of Creation and today the focus is the Ocean. My community of origin is often referred to as the people of Oceania or the Moana. Why are we called this name? Thousands of years ago our ancestors set sail across the world into the deep blue seas of the South Pacific. The fluidity and the powerful forces of the ocean is where our ancestors came to their first encounter with Moana.
I’ve often wondered what those encounters looked like! They came face to face with the powerful forces of the deep sea and some of them lost their lives while others survived and reached the final destination where they finally call home. The journey of our ancestors through the South Seas symbolises bravery and an encounter with nature which created a bonding between humanity and nature. That bonding is a relationship we call the tauhi Vā or in other words reciprocity.
The concept of tauhi Vā, is how one describes their relationship to their family, so you do not treat the land, animals and the ocean as a separate being but rather as family. Because we believe in the interconnectedness all of God’s creation – all God’s creation is connected like family. One must always look out for the other with respect and care. A reciprocal relationship meant that the people of Oceania saw the Moana or the ocean not only as a powerful force of nature, but as a life giving element of nature, because their main food supplies derived from the fishes and many other creatures who live in the sea. There is also the sacredness of the sea because the sharks, whales, turtles and other fishes were gods of our ancestors.
So the Ocean was not just for the use of human beings but it had its own sacredness and tabu because it was perceived as a place that the ancient gods called home. So therefore, it was a place of worship. As you can hear we the people of Oceania have upheld that reciprocal relationship between ourselves and the Moana. The ocean is powerful and so are our interconnections.
The Most Rev'd Dr Winston Halapua, Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in Polynesia, notes: “Moana is a powerful metaphor for the interconnectedness of life. Moana as a dynamic metaphor is derived and energized from an inherent welling-
Yet our proximity, relationship and faithfulness to the Moana has positioned us as the frontline victims of rising waters today. Some Pacific commentators refer to those of us of Oceania as the canaries of climate change. One of our neighbours, the Island of Tuvalu, is slowly being inundated – they say in less than 50 years there will be no more Tuvalu, most of its residents will have migrated to New Zealand and other Islands of the South Pacific. The Island of Kiribati is another frontline canary who no longer has freshwater because of the sea rising and affecting its waterways.
The words I often hear from my brothers and sisters from the South Pacific is “Why are we paying for the sins of those big polluters, when we have looked after nature and stayed faithful to the reciprocal relationship set by our ancestors?” “Why are we the poorest countries drowning when it’s the big empires who created all this this chaos of nationalism, globalisation etc?”
These are only some of the remarks from the people of Tuvalu, Kiribati and others. It echoes a lament of injustice, that the most vulnerable and poor people are paying for the sins of the powerful nations. With the rising seawaters people are losing their homes and having to migrate because of the destruction.
In the same way we hear Job lamenting about himself to God.
There are three parts to Job’s summation. He reminds God about all his blessings; the wealth, honour and happiness. The second is a lament over the loss of everything and the final part is the protest about his innocence. As we reach chapter 38:1-
Just a little background to remind us about the story of Job. Job is blameless and just, God fearing and turning from evil. He is what they refer to in the Bible as a righteous servant of God, who is blessed and in whom God delights and takes pride. When everything starts to fall apart for Job it makes us question why this is happening. This develops one of the central themes of the book, “undeserved evil”. Job loses his wealth, his sons and daughters and he is afflicted by sores. So he curses the day he was born but he also questions God on the matter.
Many scholars have argued that in the divine speech in chapter 38, God does not answer to Job’s nagging: “The answers do not address the concerns. God states that Job’s complaining and raging against God are unjustified and proceed from limited understanding... God says nothing about Job’s suffering nor does he address Job’s problem about divine justice.” These scholars say this because God speaks about creation.
But God’s divine speech does address the issue of undeserved evil because God is pointing Job to a bigger vision than his own human-
Old Testament scholar Kathryn Schifferdecker notes: “The divine speeches, contrary to first impressions, do contain an answer to the questions and problems of Job. The answer has to do in part with the issue of humanity’s place in the natural world. God’s description of creation reveals to Job that the world does not exist for the sake of humanity, but rather that humanity plays only a part in creation. The world exists for the sake of its Creator.”
To realise that we are only part of that order is a big slap in the face to Job, who thought that because he had been such a righteous person who played by the book he was supposed to be the most rewarded. We are part of the interconnectedness of God’s creation. Each one in God’s creation is part of a family. It becomes clear that God is reminding Job that this whole universe was not created just for you human beings, but you and others in creation are part of my making. We are not on the outside looking at the world and asking for big answers, infact we are on the inside seeing only our part in the magnificent creator’s purposes.
Those of us in the South Pacific are lamenting the loss of land and belongingness to our islands because of the rising waters. But we also resist our situation. We somehow see the effects of climate change as a reflection of our “coconut theology”, which points to the order of God’s creation. The late reverend Dr. Amanaki Havea writes: “The full Christology can be seen in the coconut. The incarnation and the Virgin Birth is in the coconut.” Meaning that the birth of the coconut tree to the coconut and once its ready it falls to the ground. The coconut is eaten, drank or used for other purposes. The shells or the outside layers of the coconut is thrown out or it will somehow find its way into the ocean and it starts to float to another place. The floating of the coconut to find a new home and contribute to giving life to that new place reflects the life for those of us from Oceania. For new life to happen sacrifices must take place. Unfortunately for some of us, the people of the sea have been called to be the canaries of climate change, chosen to be the first islands to sink and show others what the order of Creation may look like in the future. Climate change is then seen as the guiding force of nature for those of us in Oceania to navigate into the Moana on the same pilgrimage that our forefathers endeavoured. We know this calls on change in our leadership within the church and our communities.
God’s answer to Job also reminds each and every single one of us to look beyond our own human selfishness and worries. We must look to Creation and listen to its wisdom; others in Creation are not there to serve just the humans. They exist and we exist for something beyond ourselves. God’s response to Job illustrates that the Creator is one who has a relationship not only with us human beings because we are only part of the family. The Creator then cares for the cornerstones of the Earth, the morning stars, the deep sea, its springs and waves, clouds, light and darkness, the snow and hails, rain and thunderstorm, the land and desert, wasteland and grass. All that was created in the beginning of time. The Creator calls for us to look wider and see where the Spirit is at work. And set our sails to go with the wind of the Spirit once again.