Sky Sunday 9-20-15

Jeremiah 4:23-28 I looked at the earth—it was chaos and emptiness.  I looked to the heavens—their light was gone. I looked to the mountains—they quaked, and the hills swayed back and forth. I looked—I saw no one.  Nothing!  All the birds had flown sway. I looked—the fertile land was desert.  All its towns laid waste before YHWH, before God’s fierce wrath. Thus says YHWH:  “the whole land will be desolate, but I will not completely destroy it. So the earth mourns and the heavens above turn black.  For I made known my intentions.  I made up my mind.  I will not turn back.

Psalm 19-1-6 The heavens behold your glory, O God, and the skies display your handiwork. Day after day they tell their story, and night after night they reveal the depth of their understanding. Without speech, without words, without even an audible voice, their cry echoes through all the world, and their message reaches the ends of the earth.  For in the heavens the sun has pitched a tent. It comes forth with the grandeur of a wedding procession, with the eagerness of an athlete ready to race. It rises at one end of the sky and travels to the other end, and nothing escapes its warmth.

Our readings this morning are just a few of many references in the Bible to the sky. The sky in the Bible is representative of heaven, and the home of God. The sky often serves therefore as a kind of metaphor for God’s presence – in anger or joy or whatever. Brian read an example of each of these. Let’s look at these passages and reflect on the voice of the sky and the gift of God’s presence. First, listen to one more example of the sky as a voice of God in the critical scene of Jesus’ crucifixion.

 Mark 15:33-39 When noon came, darkness fell on the whole countryside and lasted until about three in the afternoon. At three, Jesus cried out in a loud voice. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” A few of the bystanders who heard it remarked, “Listen!  He is calling on Elijah!” Someone ran and soaked a sponge in sour wine and stuck it on a reed to try to make Jesus drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” Then Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The centurion who stood guard over Jesus, seeing how he died, declared.  “Clearly, this was God’s Own.”

Sept 20, 2015

Loving God’s Creation: Sky Sunday

I suppose all of our lives will be effected by Pope Francis this week, no matter what. I ran into Father Denny from Our Mother of Good Counsel this week, and I told him we are praying this week for him and and his church and for the positive effects of the Pope’s visit.

God and Father of us all, in Jesus, your Son and our Savior, you have made us your sons and daughters in the family of the Church. May your grace and love help our families in every part of the world be united to one another in fidelity to the Gospel. May the example of the Holy Family, with the aid of your Holy Spirit, guide all families, especially those most troubled, to be homes of communion and prayer and to always seek truth and live in your love. Guide Pope Francis and all of his followers safely in all his travels this week. May the world be moved by his teaching and example. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen

I have never in my lifetime seen people so excited about a pope. I guess a lot of people get more excited than me fairly regularly, but Pope Francis has genuinely struck a nerve and become a voice that people listen to and respond to. Good for him. My favorite line was when he said “Who am I to judge?”

Particularly relevant to our topic for today is Pope Francis’ recent encyclical called “Laudato Si’” (“Praised Be”).  The name of the encyclical comes from a line from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of Creatures.” St. Francis of course is Pope Francis’ namesake and model, and that’s a lovely model to have. Even in the Protestant Church, we love St. Francis. Last week, Robb sang a solo with words from St. Francis. In two weeks, the first Sunday of October, we recognize St. Francis Sunday with our yearly Blessing of the Animals. (Let me know if you want to bring any animals to be blessed after church that Sunday.)

He calls for human change: “to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs.”

Francis bemoans pollution, waste and a throwaway culture, highlights the climate as a common good to be protected, protecting water and biodiversity, and he connects it all to caring for poor people and the problem of unequal access to resources of the earth. He gives a history of the Biblical story of creation using the same readings we have used over the last 3 weeks. Then he points to the increased valuing of technology and human created stuff over God’s creation.

He calls for us to have more of a focus on the common good and on justice for future generations. He calls for better education for “ecological citizenship,” personal lifestyle conversion, and deeper more consistent spiritual practice.

 

With that call to Christian spirituality, let me say a word about Sky Sunday before we close today. In the Bible, especially in the passages that we read today, the sky has a voice. The sky has something to say about what is happening on Earth. In the Psalm the sky is the backdrop to a wedding procession led by the joyous sun. Jeremiah and Mark, on the other hand, do not depict the sun in times of joy. Jeremiah is a grim portrayal of desolation, when the birds have flown away and the earth becomes like a desert. The earth returns to its original formlessness portrayed in Genesis, as the sky turns black. Only God can save the earth from destruction.

Similarly the sky turns black at the death of Jesus. Mark alludes to the Hebrew scripture passage in Amos where darkness at noon is associating with mourning an only son. God’s anger at human rejection of Jesus is voiced by the darkened heavens, the whole of creation protesting what human beings are doing.

I have a neighbor who is from China. He moved back to China this last year, but still owns his house on my block. He brought his kids back to be here for the summer and they were very happy to be here. They said they can’t go outside in their neighborhood in Beijing because the pollution is so bad it stings your lungs. Everything is dark and cloudy, covered in smog and haze. The earth itself protests against this treatment of creation. The earth cannot survive this kind of mistreatment for long.

The light begins to return after Jesus has died, and a new creation revives with the resurrection. The return of light is not just a resumption of normal life. The power of darkness at that point has been broken and God brings light out of darkness as Jesus triumphs over death on the cross.

Pope Francis has a point. Our scripture, our faith and our tradition have a depth of wisdom that we are ignoring. When we ignore the voice of the sky, when we ignore the voice of Planet Earth, when we ignore the voice of the mountains, when we ignore the voice of humanity, we ignore the voice of God.

It is not just China that needs to listen to the voice of the sky. We have made some progress in dealing with air pollution in our country, but as Pope Francis points out, we need to listen to the call of the Living God to care for the environment, to care for those living in poverty around the world.

A new creation is possible. It is not too late for us to listen to God’s voice, the voice of creation. Even this week, the voice speaks to us through a Pope who says, “Who am I to judge?” Who would have thought?

Responsive hymn  347    Spirit Song   (#30 on our top 40 chart)