The following service was streamed live via Zoom on September 19th at 10:30am.
The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
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“The future is not a place we are going to, but a place we are creating. The paths to it are not found, but are made. The making of those paths changes both the destination and the maker.”
(Australian Commission for the Future)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
R: Earth is filled with the presentness of God.
L: A planet filled with the presence of God
R: a living green blue planet, peoples from every corner of creation, the vast reaches of space above us, and the rocks and hills and wonders of the wild.
L: Together this day, let us sense the face of God in all creativity.
R: Sing, peoples, sing!
L: We invite the skies to worship with us:
R: the subtle orange skies at dawn and the bold red skies at sunset.
L: We join the heavens in praising God:
R: proclaiming God’s glory across the globe and hailing God’s name with the evening stars.
L: We join with the atmosphere in worship:
R: the air, the moisture, the oxygen, the wind and all the expressions of God’s Spirit.
L: We call the clouds to celebrate with storms:
R: to carry the life giving drops of rain, that give hope and healing to Earth.
L: We invite the winds to join our petitions:
R: to carry our prayers to God above and breathe our hopes to Christ in person.
L: We celebrate the song of the skies!
R: Sing! Skies! Sing!
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
Creating God, whose renewing breath fills our planet, may we discern your vibrant, creative presence among us. And may our spirits be lifted as we celebrate with the clouds, the winds, the dusk and the dawn. We stand in awe before the vast reaches of space above us and give thanks for the fragile piece of stardust we call Earth. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation – “The Glass House Canticle” by Carl Sandburg.
Bless Thee, O Lord,
for the living arc of the sky over me this morning.
Bless Thee, O Lord, for the companionship of night mist
far above the skyscraper peaks
I saw when I woke once during the night.
Bless Thee, O Lord, for the miracle of light to my eyes
and the mystery of it ever changing.
Bless Thee, O Lord, for the laws Thou hast ordained
holding fast these tall oblongs of stone and steel,
holding fast the planet Earth in its course
and farther beyond the circle of the Sun.
In the stillness, recall the memory of an outback dawn or a glorious evening sky. Now away from the busyness of life and in the silence of this place, let us now give thanks for the gift of beauty all around us!
(at least 30 seconds silence)
L: We remember the wonders of the worlds that surround us: of lingering sunset and early dawn, and we celebrate our kinship one with another and with the whole of creation.
R: We remember and rejoice.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION
L: We remember and confess how we have polluted our skies with toxins.
L: We remember and confess that we have turned the surrounding sky into a new domain to be conquered rather than a presence to protect us.
R: We are sorry. We have polluted the atmosphere with waste, We have depleted the ozone layer that protects us, We have filled our skies with floating toxins. We are sorry. We are sorry.
L: We are sorry.
R: We are sorry. We are sorry.
L: Christ hears your confession and forgives your sins against the atmosphere,
R: Christ, teach us to love the skies that surround and sustain our planet.
L: I speak for Christ: I invite you to come home to Earth by rejoicing under her skies, where the door to life has been opened to us all.
R: Shalom! Shalom! We are coming home!
FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 15: 33-39
33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “E′lo-i, E′lo-i, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Eli′jah.” 36 And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Eli′jah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
FROM THE EPISTLES – Philippians 2:9-13
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS
Among all the aspects of creation that we have celebrated in the past couple of years, the sky is special, for no other is so directly related to our faith. From the beginning of humanity, people looked to the sky for their gods. Thunder put the fear of God into their hearts and the occasional eclipse had them praying for mercy. The sky was the stimulus for the first human science, astronomy, because the sky was the place of portents, omens, and clues with which human could find a path through the mystery and uncertainty of their existence. The people who understood the movements of the sun, moon and stars were the wise men, the shamans, the priests of their peoples.
They already knew what Psalm 19 would later proclaim: the skies declare the glory of God; they announce and celebrate God’s presence. Jesus is said to have ascended on a cloud, and even today people look up for God and expect to go to “heaven” in the life hereafter. By the way, when the Bible mentions heaven in the Old Testament, a more proper definition is “skies.” Those texts into which we have read heaven as the abode of God, actually are referring to that part of creation we call sky.
Even without confusing sky and heaven, ordinary sky is important for us in this life. Our moods are affected by the sky: we are lifted by sunny skies, depressed by dreary ones. The finely balanced atmosphere keeps temperatures within the narrow range needed for life to flourish. One only needs to look to Mars, whose thin atmosphere cannot hold in enough heat for life, and Venus, an example of green house gases gone wild, whose surface temperature is around 800 C. because the thick atmosphere keeps the heat in.
My very first vision of God occurred when I was 4 or 5, and I was lying on the grass, looking at the sky, when suddenly the clouds parted. Above the hole in the lower level of clouds was another cloud above on which the sun shone, describing a giant face. To a 4-year-old, the obvious explanation was? … What else? God!
Of course, the imagination of a 4-year-old eventually had to give way to reality, but as rational as I am, I still am moved to awe by the infinite depth of the clear night sky and its uncountable astral residents. It is as close to divine as my mind can comprehend.
We human beings respond to what happens in the sky! But does the sky respond to what happens here? Can you think of any stories in the Bible where this happens? **
Read Jeremiah 4:23-28.
23 I beheld the earth,
and indeed it was without form, and void;
And the heavens, they had no light.
24 I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled,
And all the hills moved back and forth.
25 I beheld, and indeed there was no man,
And all the birds of the heavens had fled.
26 I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness,
And all its cities were broken down
At the presence of the Lord,
By His fierce anger.
27 For thus says the Lord:
“The whole land shall be desolate;
Yet I will not make a full end.
28 For this shall the earth mourn,
And the heavens above be black,
Because I have spoken.
I have purposed and will not relent,
Nor will I turn back from it.
29 The whole city shall flee
from the noise of the horsemen and bowmen.
They shall go into thickets and climb up on the rocks.
Every city shall be forsaken,
And not a man shall dwell in it.
This is Jeremiah’s vision of the invasion by Babylon. This vision is almost the reverse of creation, but it is more than just a metaphor, for in fact, the invasion brought about environmental as well as cultural upheaval. He tells the people that the devastation will be so great that the Earth will mourn and the skies turn 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 Jer. 4 it is not only the earth that responds. The sky 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).
In other words, the 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.
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’.
The signal from sky is that all is darkness; even God is absent in that dark hour. It is in this darkness that Jesus gives a loud cry and breathes his last.
Have you experienced the sky responding to human evils? What are the signs in the sky that indicate sky is suffering or mourning? (Take time to respond to these questions)
It is in this darkness that the curtain of the temple is torn in two. 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.
But it is not all good. Today the sky still is in dialogue with events on the surface. A while back ago we learned that we were being exposed to much greater levels of damaging ultraviolet radiation because of a hole in the ozone layer. It was caused due the use of chloro-fluoro-carbons (CFC) in refrigerators and air conditioners. In the other words, we acted by polluting with CFCs, the sky reacted, and then we reacted by eliminating CFCs, and the hole in the sky has just about been fixed.
You may have heard that about 1200 people die every year in Sydney because of air pollution, mostly due to cars. Though this exceeds the number of people killed on the roads in all of NSW, it is insignificant compared to the casualties of global warming. As Al Gore pointed out in An Inconvenient Truth, the sky, or more precisely, the atmosphere, is the most vulnerable part of the Earth because it is so thin. It doesn’t take much messing with to throw it all out of balance. The sky and the surface of the planet are part of the same system; they are one, and what happens in one part of the system affects the rest.
The sky and the earth are indivisible in another way, too. It is easy for us to fall into the old belief that heaven or the sky is God’s domain and that Earth is where humans and other creatures live. It is also easy, given our traditions, to believe that because Jesus is portrayed as ascending into the clouds, that his residence is in heaven. Ephesians makes it clear that the risen Christ gathers all things into himself, things in Earth and in heaven. In Christ they are one. As the Cosmic One, Christ also fills the universe, sky and space, heaven and Earth. The healing, life-giving presence and power of Christ permeates every piece of the planet and the universes beyond. Christ is not only our redeemer, he is the redeemer of the cosmos.
** (Did you remember the flood story or the manna in the wilderness)
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
R: who lives and speaks in sunsets, in love-wrapped gifts, and fleeting butterflies.
L: We celebrate a Christ
R: who honoured our humanness, who climbed trees, skinned knees; who laughed and cried, loved and wept, bled and died.
L: We celebrate a Spirit,
R: who mystically joins us to people everywhere, and incorporates us into Christ.
PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
Holy Friend, we your people, on whom the sun has shone and the wind has blown. Bless the strong that they may be compassionate, the very capable that they may be patient with the inept, and the attractive people that they may be walk humbly.
Bless the healthy that they may be gentle, the successful that they may keep the common touch, and the elderly that they may cherish each day as a bonus..
Bless the diseased that they may be given the best treatments, the dying that they may be loved until the end, and the grieving that loss may be tempered with comfort and hope.
Bless the rich that they may be more than generous, the famous that they may use their fame for good, and rulers that they may be seek justice and love mercy.
Bless the poor that they may break out of poverty, the unthanked and ignored folk that they may retain self respect, and all electors that they may cast their votes wisely.
Bless the waverers that their faith may consolidate, those of small gifts that they may employ them well, and struggling churches that they may encourage one another in love.
Most loving God, keep our hearts always open to the inflow of your compassion, that we may receive it gladly and spend it freely for the welfare of those whom others forget.. In the name of our Lord Jesus, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us in the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory
are yours now and forever. Amen.
WORDS OF MISSION
R: We will remember our planet home! We will act graciously to all humanity! We will wonder at the beauty of dawn and sunset! We will celebrate life!
May the God you see in all the colours of creation
arouse in you a sense of awe and wonder.
May the God who is a sacred presence be real to you.
May the God who is a source of inspiration and courage
keep calling you forward.
May your God go with you, and bless you.