Sky Sunday

down angle photography of red clouds and blue sky

If you are still watching our service at this point, thank you! I will do my best to keep you engaged for the next 10 minutes. It will be difficult to compete with all you have just seen: a memorial, a tourist video, and a children’s cartoon!

Perhaps instead of preaching a sermon today, it would be better to connect all the different threads, you have been given today. By way of reflection, I would like to weave all of those threads back into today’s theme of Sky Sunday.

Thread #1 – The Lectionary

If you are familiar with the church lectionary – and most are at St Johns Papatoetoe – then you are familiar with the cycle of celebrations.

Beginning with the Advent, we work are way through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Following his ascension, we enter the season of Pentecost.

Pentecost is the last and largest portion of the church calendar. In fact, for those who follow the lectionary religiously, you will know that during Pentecost, there are a set of alternative readings.

The cycle is repeated every three years. As a church, we basically read through all the major portions of scripture every three years.

However, in recent decades, Creationtide or the Season of Creation has been more widely observed from 1st September to 4th October, dedicated to God as Creator and Sustainer of all life.

Thread #2 – The Creation Liturgy

So that is the first thread, the creation liturgy is the second thread. We opened the service recognising the sky is filled with God’s presence. We invited the skies to worship with us today.

Perhaps you think that sounds odd? Inviting the skies to worship with us? Yet you are familiar with Psalm 19 where it states the heavens declare God’s glory!

In 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul describes a vision as taking place in the “third heaven”. Students of scriptures understand that heaven in the Bible is not necessarily a reference to God’s place of abode. The way I was I taught as a child to remember the differences:

  • The first heaven is where the birds fly
  • The second heaven is where the astronauts fly, and
  • The third heaven is where the angels fly!

It is a nice little diddy not meant to be theologically accurate so much as to remind us that the term translated ‘heavens’ in the Old Testament normally means sky and/or outer space, not some abode of God far above. Truthfully, God abides everywhere.

It is the sky in Psalm 19 that proclaims God’s glory, God’s visible presence on Earth. It is the night sky and the daytime atmosphere.

During the memorial you saw earlier, the background song to the slideshow was about a child telling her mother to fly high into the skies into the arms of God.

Sky refers to the all the domains of creation above and around Earth. Sky especially refers to the domains close to Earth—the wind, the clouds, the air—the atmosphere.[i] The creation liturgies make this their point of emphasis:

Sky is readily associated with space, a domain that some powerful humans in recent years have had an urge to conquer! Far more important than exploring space, however, is preserving our atmosphere, the air we breathe.

Air is our breath! Air is also the life-giving breath from God.  In the Old Testament the Hebrew term ruach is used to refer to air, to wind, to breath and to spirit of God.  Air is sacred, God’s own breath in us. Polluting the air is a desecration of our planet.[ii]

seasonofcreation.com

Thread #3 – The Psalm

The third thread in today’s service was the Psalm and its cartoon application. Psalm 1 is part of the regular lectionary reading for Pentecost. I selected it to maintain continuity with the readings we enjoyed while still being able to gather in person under alert level 1.

The cartoon application for the children rightly emphasized the love for God’s words. Our theme for 2021 Season of Creation is The Word in Creation. That word is both written and living. God’s word is scripture and a Saviour; it is canon and Christ.

To love God’s word is to love God! Psalm 138:2 reminds that God magnifies His word above His own name. That makes sense and is expressed in our language as: “a man is no better than is word”.

Our observation of the Creation as part of the church calendar is a way of recognising that we are not the only creatures that exist. The universe is filled with voices that exalt the Creator.

In the context of Sky Sunday, Psalm 1:4 is fascinating. It compares the wicked – those who do not listen to God’s words – as “chaff that the wind drives away.”

In our Wednesday morning Bible Studies, where we look at the lectionary readings for Sundays, they discussed how tumbleweed in the North American west illustrates this line: “chaff that the wind drives away.” It is without root and not tapped into water.

Well, I grew up in the American Midwest, not “out west”. We did not have tumbleweed blowing down the streets! But on the farm, we understood chaff in its literal sense. It was the loose outer covering on our wheat and oat we grew.[iii] When we harvested the grain, it was come off and fly into the air.

The wind would drive it away.

The wind is part of the Sky. The Sky – a part of God’s creation – has discernment about what is good and what is not for our nutrition. And that brings us to the fourth thread in today’s service.

Thread #4 – The Gospel

The theme of our study is the voice of creation, or more specifically the way which the sky not only announces and celebrates God’s presence, but also sympathises with creation when it suffers.[iv]

Good News from Sky

Our Gospel passage today mentioned that when Jesus hung on the cross, the sky mourned by going black for three hours. The sky turned black in sympathy for our Lord. This represents the other readings normally associated with Sky Sunday:

  • Jeremiah 4.23-28 uses the phrase: When the heavens mourn. Jeremiah sees Earth return to chaos and the skies respond with mourning. The passage is fascinating with compared with Genesis 1!
  • Psalm 19.1-6 gives us good news from sky. The Psalmist declares that the sky announces God’s presence on Earth, and that space proclaims the work of God’s hands. Most of us have been conditioned to think humans are the only ones capable of communicating the mysteries of God. Yet the Psalmist indicates otherwise!
  • Philippians 2.9-13 informs us that Jesus is now the “Cosmic Christ”. After being humbled in death, Jesus is exalted above every 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, including the domains of the sky. The sky that once responded to Jesus’ death responds in praise to Jesus’ exaltation as the cosmic Christ.[v]

seasonofcreation.com

And that brings us to yet another thread in today’s service:

Thread #5 – Sky Sunday

Last week, I mentioned how Creation Liturgy is often designed to make us feel guilty for being human. We are told that we destroyed the planet and now we must save it. We are told that we are polluting the skies and now we must clean it up. Where did this come from?

In 1967, the American historian Lynn White Jr (1907-1987) wrote an article for Science magazine. In it, he charged that Christianity was at the root of the ecological crisis. His opinion is not always accepted by Christian and non-Christian thinkers, but his essay had a significant effect on the way Christians started to engage with environmental issues. It is also important to note that towards the end of his essay, not quoted [always], he notes that although Christianity had a role in creating the current ecological challenges it also has an important role to play in resolving them.[vi]

Lynn Townsend White, Jr

The 1960’s were a traumatic time in Western civilisation. Future generations will look back and identify it as a revolutionary turning point for Western culture. The Western Church, as part of that society, was heavily influenced by the issues of that era.

So here we are 60 years later. An entire generation has lived under this cloud of guilt for being human. Liturgies and sermons now ask us to repent of our actions against creation. In the context of Sky Sunday, here is what I am meant to tell you.

An average person breathes over 15,000 litres of air each day. At the same time, we are inhaling life-sustaining oxygen, we are also breathing in the by-products of our lifestyles choices—the fumes of cars, the waste of industrial production and air-borne chemicals. It is time to be part of the campaign to purify the air we share with all creatures on this planet.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 2 million children die each year from respiratory ailments, making air pollution the second leading cause of disease for children under four.  Air pollution creates disease and destroys lives around the globe, yet few countries have taken the reduction of air pollution seriously.  Carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases are threatening to undermine all of Earth’s ecosystems, including our own agricultural systems.

seasonofcreation.com

And may I remind you? Air is our breath! Air is sacred, God’s own breath in us. Polluting the air is a desecration of our planet.

Thread #6 – The Twin Teachings

I want to close my reflections and bind all of these different threads together with one last thread. Today’s lectionary readings emphasise there are two types of wisdoms.

  • The Book of Proverbs ends with the epitome of its personification of wisdom as a capable wife.
  • The Psalms contrast two ways of proceeding through life. One way is encouraged by those who understand God’s teachings. The other is a way influenced by those who scoff at God’s words.
  • Jesus provides a contrast in thinking about greatness being that of servitude, not position or power.
  • James explicitly states there are two wisdoms.

I would suggest there are two teachings at play when it comes to the Season of Creation. One emphasizes the wisdom from above, the other that from below. They are twins. They are from the same mother. They are two sides to the same coin.

Let us be careful not use the Season of Creation to worship man above the Son of Man; creation above the Creator; creatures above the Creator.

The Seasons of Creation is a beautiful opportunity for us to sing in harmony with the rest of creation the glory of our Creator. We sing with the Earth, the Sky, the Mountains, and the Animals. We sing of God’s Word. We sing of God’s glory.

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. Rev 4:11

Prayer of Application

God, our Creator, as we look into the skies we celebrate the wonders of the worlds that surround us. Help us to see your presence in the evening sky, your spirit in the wind, your mercy in the falling rain.  Teach us to hear the good news from the sky celebrating the glory of God in Earth. Rejoice with us as we behold the dawn revealing the mysteries of the skies above and Earth below. In the name of Christ who unites heaven and Earth.  Amen.[vii]


[i] Sky Sunday, Australian Version 1 https://seasonofcreation.com/

[ii] https://seasonofcreation.com/earth-ministry-ideas/earth-care-%e2%80%93-sky%c2%a0sunday/

[iii] https://www.gotquestions.org/chaff-in-the-Bible.html

[iv] Good News From Sky, https://seasonofcreation.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/bible-studies-sky-sunday1.pdf

[v] https://seasonofcreation.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/bible-studies-sky-sunday1.pdf

[vi] https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2019-06/Creationtide%20discussion%20materials%20-%20Week%20three.pdf

[vii] Good News From Sky, https://seasonofcreation.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/bible-studies-sky-sunday1.pdf

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Video of full service, including sermon, available on Facebook here.

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Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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