Sept. 25, 2016
Readings: Jeremiah 4:23-28 Psalm 19 Philippians 2:14-18 Mark 15:33-39
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day makes utterance, night to night speaks out. There is no utterance, there are no words, whose sound goes unheard. Their shout carries throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world.”
Sky. Psalm 19 is a poetic and powerful witness to God’s creative majesty and God’s creative word. “Pay attention!” the poet shouts to us. Look up! See these heavens? They proclaim the glory of God. Those fluffy white clouds that drift and flow with the wind, those clouds that arrange themselves into creative shapes, those clouds have voices. All their voices praise the God who created them, who set them free to roam the heavens.
This morning, I have three images to share with you.
Image #1. This summer, I sat in a window seat of an airplane, 30,000 feet above the earth. As I looked out, all I could see below the airplane wings was clouds.Fluffy, white clouds in a brilliant, blue sky. It suddenly occurred to me that had I not known where I was—that is, buckled into the seat of a 737 airplane, en route to BWI, I might now have been able to tell you that I was ABOVE the clouds. Without being able to see the ground, I could just as easily have been looking UP as DOWN. I must admit that it was a bit unnerving to think about this possibility—and glad the pilot and co-pilots were more skilled than I!
Image #2. Another afternoon this summer, I lay back on a blanket on a flat surface of some rocky cliffs. As I watched fluffy, white clouds move slowly across the blue sky, all that was in my vision—if I looked straight up—was the sky. Had I not turned my head to the right and seen the row of tall spruce trees there, or turned my head to the left and watched the waves that crashed against the rocky shoreline, I would have had no way to orient myself.
Image #3. On August 10, about 9:00 p.m., my friends and I decided to drive up Cadillac Mountain near Bar Harbor, Maine. We wanted to look at the stars. But with so many other people on top of Cadillac wandering around with flashlights, it was impossible to get the full effect of the August night sky. After we drove back down the mountain, we turned to drive around the Park Loop Road in Acadia. The only lights that pierced the dark were the headlights of our car—the only car on that winding road. At a particular point, my friend Joan pulled over on the shoulder, parked, then turned the car off. We leaned out of the windows as far as possible to look upward. All I could see were stars. Millions of stars in a black sky. Big Dipper. Little Dipper. Orion’s Belt. I could even see the planet Jupiter. It was a dizzying panorama. After a few minutes of total silence, Joan said, “I feel like I am falling into the sky.” Perfect analogy.
As I continued to look up and out, I felt the same way. All of a sudden, I said, “Oh look, a falling star!” But it was not a falling star. I had just seen had one of the Perseid meteors. I looked out at a vast night sky carpeted with stars, a night sky where I could actually see part of the Milky Way with my own eyes. A night sky that was carpeted with stars and planets and meteors. I could have easily lost my perspective if I could not also have seen the dark shapes of fir trees along the horizon.
Here is my point. You can fly back and forth across the country (or the world), coasting above clouds. You can blue-sky-and-cloud-watch all afternoon. You can watch meteor showers late at night. But at some point in those panoramas, you need something to give you perspective. You need to be grounded. You need to figure out how those blue skies and puffy clouds or those night skies and pinpoints of light relate to other things that are in your peripheral vision—and that assumes you can see other things in your larger vision.
This truth has at least two implications.
One is that you have to pay attention. You cannot just look up, and get lost in the expanse of the blue sky, clouds and sunshine that you are useless. Someone might just say, “That girl has her head in the clouds!” Getting lost in blue skies, clouds and sunshine may be good for a vacation or sabbatical perspective. However, at some point, you have to come down to earth. . . maybe realize that you are sitting on rock. Realize that the vista is framed by beautiful pines and spruce and fir trees. That thanks to gravity, you are not floating unbound; you are grounded on the earth that God also created. So you have to pay attention.
The second implication is that you must be willing to broaden your horizons. In other words, you need some perspective. And you do not get the breadth of better perspective unless and until you also are willing to broaden your horizons. Of course, the sun is not always shining. Of course the sky is not always blue. Of course you cannot always see stars. The clouds are not always moving gently with the wind. In fact, around our cities and towns, you cannot see many stars at all, because of all the artificial lights.
Sometimes. . .sometimes, the sky darkens, the wind picks up, and the rain begins to pour down in torrents. Sometimes the trees sway and your butterfly bush gets uprooted by wind and rain. You find small tree branches littering your driveway the next morning. So God’s creation is not always quiet and content.
Today, we stand with the psalmist, who praises God’s creation of the heavens. The rising and setting of the sun. The firmament that proclaims God’s handiwork. We also stand with a prophet.
The prophet Jeremiah does not see so much beauty in the sky or on the earth. Jeremiah has had a vision, and it is not a beautiful happily-ever-after kind of vision. Jeremiah’s vision is that Babylon—Israel’s enemy—will sweep in from the north to destroy God’s people. They will roar through to leave a smoking trail of devastation and ruin in the land. Jeremiah sees the earth as it was before the first day of Creation: “waste and void.” He sees the heavens the day before God created light. Jeremiah feels the shaking of earth and mountains, as if standing in the midst of a great earthquake. No birds fly through the air. Nothing grows in the fields.
Why will all of these catastrophes happen and creation be reversed? Jeremiah believes it is because his people have lost their perspective. They have become self-centered and self-serving. They no longer love God first and love their neighbor second. Instead, they have put “me, myself and I” at the heart of everything. So Jeremiah sees the earth and heavens as rebellious. Human beings, you refuse to acknowledge the Creator of heaven and earth? You think you are better than God and deserve more attention than God? In response, the sun disappears. The birds vanish. The fields lie void of crops. Green grass turns to brown desert wasteland. In short, all of God’s creation mourns in natural response to the people’s sin and rebellion.
The gospel refers to the sky’s reaction to human events as well. “When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” It seems as if all of creation hears the sound of Jesus’ dying cries. Creation grieves—the sky turns ominously dark, as if the sun has turned her face.
As I have thought about the various moods of the sky, the clouds, and other parts of creation, I have wondered about how we ignore the silent voices of creation. We may think that trees, grass, flowers, trees, clouds, sky, sun and moon are silent. But what if they have a language all their own? What if you and I are simply unwilling to hear them or to learn their language? I have even found myself wondering. Are recent catastrophic events like floods, droughts, and earthquakes signs of the very earth groaning under the effects that we human beings have caused? Hard to say.
However, at the very least, it seems that the canon of scripture tells us that all of God’s created order has the capacity to proclaim the glory of God. They may not speak as we do. Yet as the psalmist says, “their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
When you walk outside today, look up. Then look at everything that is around you—the trees, the grass, the human beings whom God has created. Pay attention. Broaden your perspective. Ask this question: How can I glorify God with my language and with my life so that others can hear and see God’s love? Think of at least one way you can do that this week. If you have children, talk about what they might do this week at school to show God’s love to their classmates and teachers. Then the next night at dinner, ask them how they did that. Pray a prayer about it together. Give thanks to God who has created beautiful sky, fluffy clouds, a night sky carpeted with stars, and exquisitely made human beings. With such a creation, God is well pleased. Amen.
© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton
 Adapted (for inclusive language) from Tankakh: The Holy Scriptures, (Philadelphia, Jerusalem: The Jewish Publication Society, 1985), 1126.
Note: Image #1 and #4 from http://www.unsplash.com.
Images #2 & 3 taken by McJilton.