Season of Creation in Year B: Sky Sunday

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Jeremiah 4:23-28

Psalm 19:1-6

Philippians 2:14-18

Mark 15:33-39


Our house looks directly east towards the Dandenong Ranges.  So, every morning we see the sunrise and note the changing place of where the sun rises in winter compared to summer and in between.


I remember my time in WA looking at the sun setting into the ocean and seeing the brilliant colours that started in the red of the sun settling in the sea and then slowly observing the changing in colours from red to blue and then to black, with not a cloud in the sky. Or on the plane going to West Papua and seeing that unique cloud formation of long lines of clouds going on for 100s of kilometres. Magnificent signs of the creation in the sky.


We also talk about the sky as a great metaphor, we talk about “dark skies,” “New Dawn,” “Sunset clause,” “The sky is the limit,” “thunder and lightning,” or a “storm is brewing”  and my favourite “red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning, red sky at night shepherd’s delight.” Have you ever had a sense of God’s presence in a storm or God’s voice in the thunder as many ancient people did? (See today’s reading of Psalm 29) How have you felt when we have observed the sun at the time of an eclipse?


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 and when darkness covers the sky some people can feel a little depressed. Why? What does the sky mean to us? Does the sky have any theological meaning for us?


In the Old Testament we read about the ‘heavens’. The original Hebrew could, and probably should, have been 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 or the almosphere.


This point is well illustrated by the model of the world referred to in Day Two of the creation story in Genesis chapter 1. The text describes how God divided the primal waters by constructing a ‘dome’ to separate the waters that come from the sky from those of the seas (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 world, not the spiritual domain of heaven as the unseen abode of God.

It is the role of the part of this physical domain we call sky that is the focus of reflection.


In the Jeremiah reading we observe that the desolation of the land by an invading destructive army is seen in the blackness of the heavens devoid of light, the air devoid of birds and this would continue until the situation changed and moved back to normality.  This would be a good metaphor of the present destruction being caused by climate change and the need move towards a sustainable world.


Jeremiah closes his vision with an announcement that the desolation will be so great that sky will respond with empathy. The Earth is in mourning as the skies ‘turn black’ in empathy.  In other passages Jeremiah speaks of the Earth in 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.


The imagery of Jeremiah has parallels with that of St Paul in Romans 8. All creation, both Earth and sky, suffer and groan because of the actions of people. 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.


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 in many parts of the world is smog. Air pollution is no longer a crisis we can avoid. I remember in Sydney seeing the formation of such smog in the Sydney basin and reading about the effects on human health.


The sky is not all doom and gloom, as it is the place that can communicate the mysteries of God.  In the Psalms we read about the “The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork”. The sky is a tent for the sun or can be like a wedding canopy that celebrates the beauty of all human relationships.  The sky is a way that the voice and the knowledge of God is proclaimed through all the earth.


We can think this kind of talk is but poetic language, giving human voice to non-human reality. Psalm 19 however 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. In this Psalm the sky proclaims good news about God 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.


In Mark’s description of the crucifixion of Jesus, 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 recognise the metaphor of 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 sky becomes a metaphor of all that is darkness; it signals that 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 the curtain of the temple is torn in two so that the holy of holies is no longer contained in the temple but becomes part of everyday life. God is no longer hidden from humans. 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 Epistle reading (Phil. 2.9-13) declares that after Jesu’s death, Jesus the Incarnate One, was exalted and 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, including 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 is the Christ of all creation. In other words, the work of 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 asks us to do the same.


For the past three weeks we have celebrated the Season of Creation. Here are seven theological ways to make our connection with creation:

First, God is first and foremost the Creator of all of life. To fail to focus adequately on this dimension of God’s creativity in work and worship is to fail to appreciate the fullness God’s presence in the world. Our own fullness of life depends upon grasping this relationship with God and all creation.


Second, we are created as part of nature. In Genesis we came from Earth and we cannot survive without all that the Earth provides. Unless we have created opportunities to express our awareness of and gratitude for our dependence upon Earth and our relationship with other creatures, we will not be fully human.


Third, in recent years, much of humanity has viewed creation as a resource to be exploited rather than a mystery to be celebrated and sustained. It is time not only to celebrate creation but to transform our human relationship to creation by worshiping in solidarity with creation.


Fourth, worship gives us an opportunity to come to terms with the current ecological crises in a spiritual way so as to empathize with a groaning creation. Worship provides a viable and meaningful way not only to include creation’s praise of God but also to engender a deep relationship with the suffering of creation.


Fifth, A focus on the wonders of creation and the grief at what is happening to all of creation will help us in positive ways to both love creation and care for creation as a personal calling and a congregational ministry. Worshiping with this new awareness may well provide the impetus for a new mission for the church, a ministry with creation.


Sixth, this season enables us to celebrate the many ways in which Christ is connected with creation. From the mystery of the incarnation to the mystery of a cosmic Christ who reconciles all things in heaven and Earth, we celebrate the connection of Christ with creation. And we seek to identify with Earth in solidarity with Christ. 


Seventh, this season enables us to deepen our understanding and experience of the Holy Spirit in relationship with creation. As the “Giver of life” and the “Sustainer of life,” the Holy Spirit is the source of our empowerment, inspiration, and guidance as we seek to live in a sustainable way with all God’s creation. Being “in the unity of the Holy Spirit” encompasses our relationship with all of life, including creation. This is a foundational principle.


This is a call for a richer spiritual connection with creation. As Christians we are able to provide a theology for the care for Earth. Our precious planet is at risk. Through our worship we can provide the foundational motive to foster a deep transformation in our relationship with the rest of creation. By concentrating our theology and worship on God’s creation and developing our relationship with Christ in creation, we can seek ways to heal rather than exploit creation, to care for our planet home rather than destroy it. And, as we learn what it means to celebrate God the Creator through this Season of Creation.

Rev Dr Robert Stringer


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