Sunday, September 23, 2018

God of earth and Sky Mark 15:33-39

Today is our third Sunday in our season of creation…Sky Sunday…
I love those time lapse videos of the quote “fog” unquote Rolling over sutro tower. Actually, it is heaven touching the earth quite literally. Or as a kid I loved to watch the storms off in a distance you may know the ones where you can see the full cloud and the lightening.
We wake up in the morning on a clear day and greet a beautiful sky.
The sky can be a warning system if you are ever in a rainstorm and suddenly the sky turns this earie electric green and it gets very quiet…Take cover
Biblically speaking the sky not only announces and celebrates God’s presence, but also sympathizes with creation when it suffers.
“Have you ever watched the skies when a storm was brewing, black clouds rolling in like wall after wall of waves?   Have you ever had a sense of God’s presence in the storm or God’s voice in the thunder as many ancient peoples did?
 “The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory Thunders,
The Lord, over the mighty waters.  (Psalm 29)
 Have you ever sensed that eerie feeling that comes during an eclipse when all the animals are spooked?  
Why is the sky so important to us?  Our moods seem to change with the weather—when the sun shines we are likely to be happier than when darkness covers the sky.  Why?  What does the sky mean to us?  Is our faith influenced by the sky or related to the sky in some way?
I believe that it should be noted that most times, when the text of the Old Testament reads ‘heavens’ the original Hebrew could, and probably should, be translated ‘sky’ or ‘skies’.  In other words, texts that we often associate with heaven as the abode of God actually refer to that part of creation we call sky.
Think about Day Two of creation in Genesis One.  The text describes how God divides the primal waters and constructs a ‘dome’ to separate the waters above from those below (Gen. 1.6-8).  This dome or firmament God calls ‘sky’.  On Day Four God places lights in this sky/dome—sun, moon and stars (Gen. 1.14-18).
The word for sky in these two texts is precisely the same word found in Genesis 1.1 which should be translated: ‘In the beginning when God created sky and Earth…”. Genesis One is about God creating the physical universe, not the spiritual domain of heaven as the unseen realm of God.
I want you to ponder, just for a moment, some texts from the Old Testament that you have associated with heaven.  Is it possible they refer to the sky or to some other domain?   Can you think of any texts where the sky responds to what happens on Earth?
How about Genesis 7:11 “On that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened. (NRSV Harper Collins study bible) Or another translation reads ..on that very day all the fountains of the abyss were broken and the cataracts of heaven were opened. (A study Bible freshly translated by Nicholas King).
How about genesis 15:5 “He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
Or exodus 16:4 “Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.”
Change the words to sky as opposed to Heaven does it change the meaning? Maybe not so much for the text herself but it certainly changes how one may look at the sky.
The old testament reading associated with today is Jeremiah 4:23-28 in which Jeremiah sees a vision of what it will be like when the great enemy comes from the North to overwhelm God’s people and devastate the land. But listen to the words
Jeremiah 4:23-26
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
    and to the heavens, and they had no light.
24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
    and all the hills moved to and fro.
25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
    and all the birds of the air had fled.
26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
Jeremiah sees a reversal of all creation
He sees the land as it is in Genesis before creation all is ‘waste and void’
He sees the land as before day one:  No light in the sky
He sees creation as before day 5:  No birds in the sky
And he sees the land as before Day Three: No vegetation comes from the land/Earth

Jeremiah’s vision turns the whole of the original creation process upside down. This portrait, moreover, is more than a metaphor.  For Jeremiah the destruction brought about by the invading armies of Babylon and the subsequent fall of Jerusalem was more than a national catastrophe. The countryside of Canaan was also affected.  It intentionally shows that War brings environmental devastation. War is more than a de-struction it is a de-creation.
Jeremiah closes his vision with a forceful announcement that the desolation will be so great that creation will respond with empathy
Jeremiah 4:28 Because of this the earth shall mourn,
    and the heavens above grow black;
In other passages Jeremiah speaks of Earth mourning and the land crying aloud to God.  These passages are more than poetry.  They highlight how Jeremiah senses the sympathy of nature, the groaning of creation.  Because of the wickedness of the people, he cries to God:
                                How long will the land mourn?  (Jer. 12.4)                            
God responds by saying:
                                They (the people) have made it a desolation;
                                desolate it mourns to me’.  (Jer. 14.11)

In our reading from Jeremiah 4, it is not only Earth but also sky that responds. The sky that has lost its light and its life ‘grows black’ (4.28).  The expression ‘grow black’ also means to be gloomy, mourn and be depressed (cf. Job 5.11). This imagery of Jeremiah can be compared with that of St Paul in Romans 8.  All creation, both Earth and sky, suffer and groan because of the evils perpetrated by God’s people.
We have experienced the sky responding to human behavior.  What are the signs in the sky that indicate sky is suffering or mourning?   The smoke in the air of course is an easy one that comes to mind. As a matter of fact, as I was writing this a news wire had popped up “The Mendocino Complex, a pair of wildfires that erupted in Lake County in late July and went on to become the largest recorded fire complex in California history, has been reported 100 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday.
The two fires burned a combined 459,123 acres, destroyed 280 structures including 157 residences, killed one firefighter and injured four others, the latest incident report says.
At 100 percent containment, there are still 22 miles of fire line to repair and some fire activity left to monitor. A news release by the Forest Service said the primary goal now is to “reduce erosion and other impacts from suppression activities.”[1]
Besides the smoke in the air how about the pollution.  Has anyone ever driven up from the Coachella valley through riverside county over the ridge to approach the Los Angeles basin?  All you can see is a brown ugly haze hanging over the valley.
The distant sky that we call space is not something we humans have influenced greatly, in spite of our effort to ‘conquer’ space.  The more immediate sky that we call our atmosphere, however, has been affected greatly by numerous human acts of abuse.
We have created a hole in the ozone layer.  By excessive use of various sprays and chemicals we have released chlorofluorocarbon molecules into the atmosphere. In the stratosphere chlorine atoms escape from these molecules and attack the ozone molecules.  The resulting ‘hole’ first appeared over the South Pole, but the ozone layer is thinning over other continents.  Because of this thinning, UV rays from the sun have now increased and so have skin cancer rates.
However, because we have changed our behavior, the scientist predict the ozone layer may be fully recovered by 2060 or as late as 2080.[2]
There are many ways in which we have polluted our skies.  The combustion of fossil fuels in factories and cars produces a host of noxious materials that fill our skies.  One of the common effects is smog. Air pollution is no longer a crisis we can avoid.
One person shares a story of being in a fifth story apartment in Mumbai (Bombay) some years ago.  I rose early to watch the dawn.  I did not see the sun rise over the horizon!  The smog was so dense it took another half an hour before the sun came up over the smog and appeared.
We were called to be the care takers of the Garden…so does the sky affect the garden?  Are we not responsible for it as well?
Many of us have been conditioned to think that only humans communicate the mysteries of God. We do not expect other parts of creation to have a voice like that of humans.  Butterflies do not talk. Trees do not sing the way we do.  Skies do not communicate….um??
The psalms celebrate and remind us that trees sing, fields rejoice and the rest of creation praises God.  This Psalmist invites all creation—including sea monsters and storms—to praise the Creator!
Sometimes we think this kind of talk is but poetic language, giving human voice to non-human reality.  Psalm 19 suggests that the voice of creation is more than a poetic way of praising God.  All creation is here communicating about—and with—the Creator.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament[a] proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In this Psalm the sky proclaims good news in its own way, not a human way. The sky is the mediator of God’s word.  The sky announces two things—the vibrant presence of God and the creative work of God.

The skies ‘declare the glory of God’.  The glory of God is the visible presence of God in creation, a presence that permeates all of Earth.  Isaiah 6.3 assures us that the glory, the visible presence of God, ‘fills’ all of Earth, just as it once ‘filled’ the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple of Solomon.  If we have eyes of faith, we can see the presence of God shining through creation. The sky proclaims that glory, that presence on Earth. And that is good news, good news from sky!

The sky also announces the work of the Creator everywhere in Earth and sky. The firmament God created above is the story of God’s work above and around us. The sky is a testimony to the creative forces of God currently at work.   Creation continues into the present!
The Psalmist goes a step further and declares that the voices in the sky are a conversation between one day and the next.  Light communicates with light and darkness with darkness!  The messages in creation are not only from the sun and the moon, but via light. 
The communication that fills creation is not dependent on human words. It is the pulse of God’s word penetrating all of creation announcing the good news that God’s presence and creative power permeates every part of the cosmos. This living creation also celebrates God’s presence.  And we are invited to join the rest of creation in worshipping our Creator.
In Mark’s description of the passion of Jesus Christ, we again meet the sympathy of sky.  He tells us that from noon on the day Jesus was crucified, ‘darkness came over the whole land’. For three hours, while Jesus hung in agony on the cross, the sky was dark.   Or, in the language of our reading from Jeremiah, the sky was ‘mourning’
If we recognize this darkness, we gain an even greater appreciation of Jesus’ final words.  He is crying into the darkness when he yells: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’  The signal from sky is that all is darkness; that all is in mourning that even God is absent in that dark hour. It is in this darkness that Jesus gives a loud cry and breathes his last.
 It is in this darkness that Christs last words comes down even to us here, now, very present; “ why have you forsaken me?”  Why have you forsaken my Garden that was created through me?  The garden that I place you in to care for and love.
The verses go on to tell us that the curtain in the temple is torn.
That action indicates that the very darkness, the temple veil that hides God from humans, has been rent asunder.  The sky is open and God is accessible.  In Luke’s Gospel this rending of the veil is directly linked with the darkness covering Earth. Now the cosmos is God’s temple and God’s presence is everywhere. Once again, there is good news from sky.
The Old Testament texts spell out the sympathy of sky and good news from sky.  The Gospel reinforces the sympathy of sky that accompanies the passion narrative of Jesus. 
The Epistle reading (
Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Creator.(Phil. 2.9-13)
This reading declares that after his death, Jesus the Incarnate One, was exalted and given the highest name.  The text goes on to say that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, whether in heaven/sky, on Earth or under Earth.  Christ becomes Lord of the entire universe, Jesus becomes lord of all that was created through the word, for Christ was the word, this includes the domains of the sky.
The sky that once responded to Jesus’ death responds in praise to Jesus’ exaltation as the cosmic Christ.
That does not mean that Jesus is located specifically in sky or some domain of sky. According to Ephesians (1.9-10, 23), the cosmic Christ gathers all creation into himself. Moreover, this cosmic Christ fills all things, all the cosmos.
In other words, the risen Christ is not located in one place, whether that be called heaven or sky.  Christ holds all things in the cosmos together and permeates all things in the cosmos.  And that is good news for sky as well as for us. Amen.

(Adapted from Bible study resource for sky Sunday)


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