What are the dolphins saying? A sermon from 1 Corinthians 12.14-26

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Most of what we emphasize in most churches comes from the noösphere. If you haven’t heard that word before, it’s okay, and there won’t be a test later. The noösphere is the world of human thought. It comes from the Greek root noos, meaning mind or thought, and sphere, meaning world.

We’re familiar with the geosphere and biosphere. The geosphere comprises the different layers of the earth—lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, and the atmosphere. It’s the land, water, polar ice caps, and air. The biosphere is sum of all ecosystems—the plants and animals.

The noösphere is the world of thought. In 1924, Teilhard de Chardin, Edouard Le Roy, and Vladimir Vernadsky came up with the concept. In 2011, I wrote about it for the Philosophy of Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion, and it’s a fascinating concept. The noösphere (or world of thought) isn’t separate from the geosphere and biosphere. They are interconnected.

Having everything connected means that when we read something in the Bible, it doesn’t just speak to our minds. We can apply it to the whole world. When we read about Paul’s letter to the Corinthians describing the church as the body of Christ, the concept goes beyond our understanding and it connects to the world.

If what we read only relates to our mind, then doesn’t mean anything. It wouldn’t matter what the dolphins have to say because they are outside of us. But they are not. Nothing is. Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 of the human body invites theologians and followers of Christ away from the noösphere and into the biosphere.

The Bible is full of biological references. Starting in Genesis (1.21), “God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves.” In Job 12.7-12, Job says God holds every living thing and all the creatures of nature know this. He names the fish of the sea as bearers of this testimony of God’s presence and power. Psalm 104.24b says, “The earth is full of [the Lord’s] creatures.” These are just a few examples.

Dolphins Singing

The most fitting biological reference and the answer to the question “What are the dolphins saying,” comes from Daniel—not the Protestant-Bible-Daniel. Due to some complicated history, going back several hundred years before the time of Christ, there are some additional books in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. They are known as the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books.

In addition to books like Maccabees and Bel and the Dragon, there’s an additional section from the book of Daniel. It comes right after Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survive the furnace. They sing a song of praise to God. In it, they sing, “Dolphins and all creatures that live in water, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him forever” (3.79 NCB).

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, the dolphins joined all of creation in singing a song praising God. What are the dolphins saying? According to the deuterocanonical addition to Daniel, they are praising God.

I wonder what are they singing now.

1 Corinthians 12.26 says, “If one part is hurt, then all parts of the body share its pain. If one part is honored, then all parts share its joy.” Think about that. If you stub your toe, that takes all of your attention.

Web of Life

We are all strands in the web of life, and the earth is really hurting right now.

There’s a glacier in Antarctica people are calling the “Doomsday Glacier” and scientists say it is melting faster than they thought.[1] Overfishing is draining life from the ocean.[2] Ocean acidification makes it difficult for species to survive and some scientists estimate that, by the end of the century, the pH balance could be as low as it was 14-17 million years ago.[3] Dying coral reefs[4] and ocean dead zones[5] are big problems.

If the world is a living organism and everything is in God’s church, then we have a problem. The human body isn’t Paul’s only image the church. He also used a building, a temple, and a field. He uses the body when there’s a problem.[6]

Paul starts with the idea that the church is the body of Christ because of our baptism liturgy. We die to the self and are one with Christ in baptism. When we think about the world as God’s church, the oceans and rains baptize the world and join us all together in one sacred family. Yet, if we destroy the world, we are destroying something that is sacred. We are destroying what God has made and called ‘good’ (Genesis 1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).

Asking, “What are the dolphins saying,” invites us to extend Paul’s image in 1 Corinthians 12. It pushes us to move beyond thinking about faith only in our minds. Faith connects to everything we do. And God is watching.

Gospel Response

Our gospel lesson pushes us to see how we behave even when God isn’t looking. The famous sheep and goats passage often comes up around caring for others. We join together to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, house the homeless, and so on. These are good and right actions.

I chose to include Matthew 25.31-46 today for the way the sheep and goats responded. Both groups seemed surprised. “Lord, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?”

Jesus responds with the memorable line, “Whenever you did it unto the least of these, you did it to me.”

I wonder if Jesus were speaking to us right now, in this moment of ecological crisis, if he might amend (or expand) the actions people could take toward the ‘least of these.’

Whenever you picked up a piece of trash, you did it unto the least of these.

When you reduced your own personal carbon footprint, you did it unto the least of these.

When you found sustainable sources of food for your family and your church, you did it unto the least of these.

When you reduced your food waste, you did it unto the least of these.

Whenever you found ways to reduce your energy consumption, you did it unto the least of these.

When you found green transportation by cycling, using public transit, or walking, you did it unto the least of these.

There’s so much we can do. We don’t have to tackle climate change just because it’s good for the planet or our children… or because it’s fashionable. We can do it as an expression of our faith.

God loves the world, and if we are all part of this system God loves, then we can be part of the solution to this environmental dilemma humanity faces.

Faith and the environment are not separate. They are connected.

We are all part of God’s family, so whatever the dolphins are saying, we would do well to listen. Amen.

[1] https://www.snexplores.org/article/antarctica-thwaites-glacier-ice-shelf-collapse-climate-5-years

[2] Sylvia Earle, “Overfishing,” in Recipe for Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life, ed. Dana Hunnes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022).

[3] Jean-Pierre Gattuso and Lina Hansson, eds., Ocean Acidification (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[4] Thomas J Goreau et al., “Rapid spread of diseases in Caribbean coral reefs,” Revista de biología tropical  (1998).

[5] Andrew H Altieri and Keryn B Gedan, “Climate change and dead zones,” Global change biology 21, no. 4 (2015).

[6] J. Paul Sampley, “1 Corinthians,” in New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander Keck (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 947.

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