Loving God’s Creation: Sky Sunday 9/16/12

Loving God’s Creation: Sky Sunday

Jeremiah 4:23–28; I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light, I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds o the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Today is our third sermon in the series of sermons on Loving God’s Creation, during this Season of Creation. Two Sundays ago we began reading Genesis on Planet Earth Sunday. Last Sunday we continued for Humanity Sunday. Today we read Jeremiah and Revelation, two portrayals of God’s relation to earth, imagining an end to the earth as we have known it and a new beginning for all of creation.

Revelation 21: 1-6 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God’s peoples, and God will with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Loving God’s Creation: Sky Sunday

September 16 • 2012

The sky has always been an inspiration to people, a source of our ideas about who God is to us. We look at the sky and thank God for a beautiful day and wonder at how little we are in relation to God’s sky. I remember once as a youth at summer camp watching a particularly spectacular sunset, in which half the sky was black, half the sky blue, with wisps of cloud and sun right in the middle. I remember making up a whole allegory of what that sky signified – the crucifixion and resurrection all portrayed in that one sunset.

I’ll bet all of us have some memories of watching the sky – speculating on what animal or object a cumulus cloud represents or being amazed by the Milky Way in a night time sky, or watching storms form in the distance over an endless plain (in Kansas or Oklahoma). Maybe we can share some of those memories as we gather after church for our celebration of Lillian Harris.

So we thank God today for sky and for the imaginative visions God’s creation inspires.

Our scripture reading from Jeremiah this morning is pretty grim, in its vision of Earth returned to its primordial state. Jeremiah was writing during a time of invasion of Israel and he imagines God’s anguish at the world destroyed by the invaders, the world laid waste and in a reversal of the Genesis account, returned to chaos prior to creation, a world without form and void. It’s a totally grim picture of a world laid waste, except for a later prose insertion into the poem that insists the demolition will not be total, that God will not make a full end.

Part of the power of Scripture is its ability to make us look beyond ourselves, like looking at the sky and imagining a universe beyond our own lives, we read scripture and it shows us a bigger reality. Jeremiah was a prophet who told a truth that the kings and rulers did not want to hear. He proclaimed judgment on the rulers of Israel for turning away from God and disobeying God’s direction.

In preparation for this sermon series, I’ve been reading a book by a modern day prophet by the name of Bill McKibben. He teaches at my alma mater, Middlebury College in Vermont, and he writes about environmental destruction. His writing for the last 20 years, starting with a book called, The End of Nature, has been a warning of what will happen to our planet if we continue to use it up at an unsustainable rate.  In his current book, Eaarth, he says that we are so far along the path of climate change that in fact we no longer live on the same planet that we assumed was ours for centuries. It’s interesting how similar that thought is to the readings from Jeremiah and Revelation that

I talk to my mother every week on the phone on Saturday mornings. Last week, she asked, “Doesn’t it seem like we’re having a lot more bad weather than we used to have?” It was an observant question. It’s not just because we have more news coming to us that we’re noticing more hurricanes, violent storms, drought, and forest fires.

McKibben points out that one hundred eleven hurricanes formed in the tropical Atlantic between 1995 and 2008, a rise of 75 percent over the previous thirteen years. The temperature of the planet has been going up. A NASA study in 2008 found that warming the earth by 1 degree Celsius (a degree and a half Fahrenheit) is enough to trigger a 45 percent increase in thunderheads above the ocean, creating more rainfall and storms. In fact, he says, total global rainfall is not increasing 1.5 percent a decade, with more lightning and more forest fires. It’s not just because we hear about it more on TV. There is an increase in these events on our planet.

These stark realities are closely related to our prayers for those in poverty. Though people in poverty don’t have any time or attention for thinking about the increase of lightning and storms, or the loss of ice in the Arctic, poor people are the ones effected first and the most. When water levels rise, it effects first the people living in Bangladesh and other low-lying countries where people can’t afford to move to higher ground.

All of these facts could make our eyes glaze over. It feels too big to manage and too difficult. But McKibben is not just a doom and gloom prophet. He has been one of the most effective activists of our time, in organizing people to change the way they use energy. Middlebury College has invested in wood-burning furnaces that now supply half of the energy needs of the college.  They have decreased by half their burning of coal, and the school is committed to using energy on a much more localized basis.

In Revelation we read about God creating a new heaven and a new earth as the old reality passes away. In a time of devastation and loss, the writer of Revelation is hopeful that a new heaven and new earth are on their way through the power of the resurrection. McKibben is not that optimistic. He writes that we are living on a new eaarth, and that we can’t return to the old one. But he holds out hope that by encouraging local economies, local eating and local growing, local energy sources rather than centralized sources, we can limit the damage to our atmosphere and our planet. He holds out hope even for new technologies – for the internet and the power it gives us to communicate quickly and effectively, that we may encourage each other in building local economies, and reducing our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels.

I went outside yesterday to walk the dog just as the sun was setting. The clouds in the sky were gray and wispy. I watched them for a bit as they floated by. I imagined that one of them looked like a hand, like the hand of God – the arms of God opening and welcoming us to new realities, to new possibilities, to living in harmony with God’s creation.

May it be so.  Amen.

2148 Over My Head, I Hear Music in the Air