A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: “Our First Mission” – Ocean Sunday 2024 Sermon

“Our First Mission” – Ocean Sunday 2024 Sermon

June 9, 2024


Does anyone know how many planets scientists estimate are in our galaxy?

Thousands? Millions? A billion?  

How about 10 billion. 10 billion.  (I can’t even begin to visualize that.  Can you???)

And of these 10 billion planets, how many likely have life on them?

Most?  Many? Some? How about one? As far as we know, one.

We live on the one known planet where there is life.   And life depends on the health of the ocean, which gives us 50% of our oxygen and so much more. 

In the story from Genesis David just read, the Creator gives humans our first and most important job: to cultivate and care for the garden; to cultivate and care for life on earth.

That’s it.  The first and most fundamental mission God gives us is to take care of the only planet in the whole galaxy that has life.  Ours. Our home. 

And in return for caring for our earth home, we receive EVERYTHING we need to thrive.  By caring for our earth home, we are caring for ourselves. Destroy our earth home? We destroy ourselves. 

With all of the countless tomes written on the so-called “Fall of Adam and Eve,”  tell me – what is actually worse: eating the apple? or destroying the garden?  

I don’t think it’s even close. 

The creation stories in the Book of Genesis attempt to disclose not science    or history, but insight into the relationship between God and humanity.   Genesis chapters 2 and 3 reveal a God who creates us out of the dust of the earth (the name Adam means “earth creature”). 

This is a God who walks in the garden with us, searches for us, inquires of us, and wants to be in relationship with us. This is a God who will listen to us and wants us to listen in return;  a God who is not too happy when we listen to other voices, especially voices that want to trick and deceive us

The picture painted of the humans in chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis is not flattering. We are not only easily deceived,     but we fail to take responsibility for our actions.

Adam says “She made me do it!”

The woman says “The serpent tricked me!”

Both responses reflect the human inclination to evade accountability for our actions.

Sadly, in the likely thousands of years since it was written, human nature is much the same.

Even though the ocean is essential  to life on earth, we have treated it as our dumping ground. According to National Geographic, more than 80 percent of marine pollution comes from land-based human activities:

*Many pesticides used in agriculture and landscaping end up in the coastal waters, resulting in oxygen depletion that kills marine plants and shellfish.

*Factories,  industrial plants and municipalities discharge sewage and other runoff into the oceans. It happens right here in Gloucester after a big storm. 

*Oil spills pollute the oceans, though U.S. water-sewage treatment plants discharge twice as much oil each year as tanker spills.

*Air pollution is responsible for almost one-third of the toxic contaminants that enter coastal areas and oceans.

Who is responsible? Who takes responsibility?

First, enter the Serpent. Riley Dunlap, a professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University writes “Corporate America in general has always tried to, with the help of all kinds of other actors, put the onus of environmental protection in general and dealing with climate change on individuals.”

In 2020, NPR and PBS Frontline spent months digging into internal plastics industry documents and interviewing top former officials. They found that the industry sold the public on an idea it knew wouldn’t work — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled — all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic.

The plastic industry has known for 50 years! that recycling wouldn’t keep its products out of landfills and the environment. In a 1974 speech an industry insider wrote, “There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis.”

Yet the industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because, as one former top industry official told NPR, selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn’t true

Serpents. Corporate serpents. 

Second, “the man” – These are people or groups who blame someone else for their own actions, who are unwilling to take responsibility. Who is evading accountability for the degradation of the planet? 

This may surprise you.  It shocked me. Did you know that the term “carbon footprint” did not originate from any environmental organization, but from BP – Yes, BP – British Petroleum!

British Petroleum hired the public relations professionals Ogilvy & Mather to promote the slant that climate change is not the fault of any oil giant, but that of individuals. The company unveiled its “carbon footprint calculator” in 2004 so one could assess how their normal daily life – going to work, buying food, and traveling – is largely responsible for heating the globe. BP began spending $100,000 year in the U.K. on this marketing campaign.

But today, more and more people recognize that corporate interests are behind the push to hold individuals responsible for our crisis.

In other words, BP is saying “It’s not our fault there is a problem with the environment, it’s individuals who need to change. Not us.”   

The third character in this story –  the one who says “I was tricked!” This is the person who realizes,  “I recycled and tried to reduce my carbon footprint because I thought these were good things to do, but now I know that I was deceived by corporate interests!”

In 2019, two thirds of Americans said that their individual actions had an effect on climate change. But by 2022, only about half say this and over 60 percent of Americans think that governments and companies have a large responsibility to take on climate change. By comparison, only 45 percent think the blame rests with individuals, down from 50 percent in 2019. More finger-pointing!

Kimberly Nicholas, a Sustainability Professor from the Lund University in Sweden, writes, “It feels like a lot of the time, people are looking for ways to kind of justify why their own personal responsibility is as small as possible and someone else should be making a change.”

When it comes to the climate crisis and destruction of ocean life, it seems that individuals, corporations, and governments are ALL pointing fingers elsewhere. Just like in Genesis. So very human.  So very dangerous.

Just last year, a study of young people in 10 countries around the world found that more than half thought humanity was “doomed.”

Genesis 2 and 3 remind us that the first (and most important) job God gave us is to cultivate and care for our earth home. 

At a time when microplastics, that likely contribute to cancer and reproductive issues, are now found throughout the ocean, from tropical waters to polar ice… they have even been found in tap and bottled water, sea salt, and in our food and drink, and have even been detected throughout the human body, in  blood, saliva, the liver, kidneys, and placenta,  there is no one or no sector that can say – “the earth is not my home, not my responsibility.” 

The God given responsibility to care for our land, sea, and sky falls on all of us: individuals, businesses, corporations, governments, and, yes, spiritual communities.  

From the beginning, we were designed to collaborate with God, each other, and all of the Creation. When we begin to take responsibility for our actions, care for our earth home, and the other creatures we share it with, we are fulfilling our Divine Mandate.

We can do it! The story of Yoshi is one example. She was likely hurt because she had been struck by a boat. Human’s fault. Then, Japanese fisherman rescued her and aquarium staff in Cape Town cared for her for 20 years, before ultimately releasing her. When we humans lovingly take responsibility to tend the creation and her creatures, then we will be amazed and in awe of the ways that the miraculous is present.  

Closer to home, organizations like Seaside Sustainability, which facilitates ocean-cleaning blue technologies; advocates for single-use plastics ban; mitigates invasive species; develops Green Scholars, and offers other wide-ranging education programs.

Genesis imagines God walking in the garden. Can you imagine God walking on the shore or taking a swim at one of our beautiful Cape Ann beaches today?? How do you think the Creator would feel seeing all the brightly colored plastic trash on land and in the sea? Might God ask us the same question asked of the woman: “What is this that you have done?”

It is time – past time – for all of us (individuals, members and leaders of families and communities, as share holders, consumers, and voters) to take responsibility for the garden, for the earth and sea.   It is time – past time – for you and me to remember and embrace the very first mission our God has given us: to care for the one planet in 10 billion that is blessed to have life, our one and only home. Amen.