<To listen to the sermon, click here. Sermons are best heard. Kind of like rock concerts. Except not as exciting. Well…depends on the band, I guess…>
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[a]
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[b] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
God of all things,
You make us alive with the very
Breath of your being.
All of creation testifies to your
Fill us again today, holy one:
With graceful awe
With loving breath
With new life.
Ok, favorite memories that have to do with the sky. Anyone? Picturesque moments? Anything?
We have a book called I Am Peace that I read to the boys sometimes. And it has a moment in there where the main character is lying in the grass, looking up at the sky, and he’s finding shapes in the clouds. I think they secretly hate this book, btw, but their hippie dad loves it…
And I asked the boys, “What kind of shapes can clouds be in?” And Finn pipes up right away, sitting up straight and goes, “Oh, all kinds of shapes! Guitars. Turtles. Houses. Dogs…”
And that went on forever. Apparently when he says “all kinds of things” he means “all of the things” and intends to name all of the things…probably to stop me from reading this book that they don’t really like (but it’s great!).
On the 8 hour ride home from St. Augustine yesterday Finn yelled, “Dad! That cloud looks like a tornado!” which is not something you want to hear when driving through the middle of nowhere Georgia. But, sure enough, the whispy cloud did look like a mini-tornado in the sky. All kinds of things.
We always look to the sky for answers. We’ve always thought our future was written in the stars. From Apollo pulling the sun up every day with his chariot to finding the man on the moon, whether it was for signs, omens, portents, horoscopes, humans have had a love affair with the sky.
And not just the sky, but the gifts of the sky. Every day you breathe over 3900 gallons of air. Your luxurious hair blows in the wind. You jet setters walk on air weekly. Flight is amazing.
The sky plays a classic role in much of scripture, too. In Genesis God separates the waters above from the waters below. Moses follows the pillar of cloud or fire out of Egypt, to Elijah calling down the fire of heaven on the priests of Baal, to that star of wonder, star of night/star with royal beauty bright…and Jesus notes that the creatures of the air, the sparrows, are known and noted by God, so you’re surely known, by God…
The sky, and all therein, holds wonders.
In the Hebrew Scriptures God’s spirit is assigned the attributes of the sky. Ruach, or “God’s Breath” blows through people, in people, carrying messages, carrying life.
And in this passage of scripture, perhaps an odd one to read on a Sunday where we’re focusing on how the sky plays a part in telling humanity about the ways of God, the sky goes dark at Jesus’ crucifixion, bringing to mind for me that old spiritual, Were you there when the sun refused to shine? Were you there when the sun refused to shine? Oh, oh, oh, oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble. Tremble. Tremble. Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
In Mark’s Gospel everything mourns at Jesus’ death. Even the sky. And some of the people standing around are expecting Elijah to fly down from the sky and save Jesus. But that doesn’t happen. Salvation won’t come falling down from the sky like that. The sky mourns as one of the disciples that day. Jesus won’t be saved. He’ll do the saving.
And sometimes life surely feels that way, right? Like everything, even creation, is crying. We all know what it feels like when the sky is falling.
Or when we’re so anxious with fear or pain or heartache we can barely catch our breath.
Or when something strikes us so to the core that the only air that slips from our lips is the sigh, “My God…” which is the most honest prayer I know.
I’m not here to tell you that we need to take better care of our atmosphere. If you’ve ever flown into Mexico City or Los Angeles you don’t need convincing. That sage and saintly Scottish-American John Muir, the father of our national parks, wrote in his diary one morning, “Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.” He wasn’t standing in LA…while Los Angeles County’s air quality has improved, health officials note that air pollution kills 1,300 people a year there, making it the deadliest air in the country.
Leave it to us to screw everything up, not only what we can see, but also even the things we can’t: air, oxygen, the very breath of life. Somehow we find a way…
We care for the sky not because it tells us about the future, but because God has intended it as part of our shared future, friends. If we think we can survive without clean air, well, don’t hold your breath…
Has anyone seen skywriting? It costs a fortune, I looked up some prices, but you hire that skilled pilot to spray paraffin oil into a smoky exhaust in the sky. A single letter can be over a mile in length in the sky.
Well, I like the idea of God sky writing to us. I don’t put much stock into horoscopes or anything like that, so I was thinking of the different kinds of skies that I’ve observed and how they can be reminders to me about the nature of God (not to mention a reminder of how important the atmosphere is to my life). Because I want us friends to walk away from today able to look up at the sky and be reminded somehow of God and God’s promises.
So I imagined a clear sky at night, where the stars are so numerous they look like the seeds of a strawberry. And how in that moment I usually feel so small in this galaxy. Small, but still a part of it all. That clear night sky speaks to me about God’s love. So small, yet part of it all: love.
And then I imagined that warm spring day where the wind and sun fall gently on your skin in equal measure. The possibilities are endless because the weather is right for just about anything. That warm spring day speaks to me about God’s resurrection power. That God can make anything life-giving again.
And then I imagined that still moment after a storm has passed. Even a terrible storm. When everything is quiet, and you start to hear life again from birds. People rustling about, coming out of their shelters. That stillness, that calm after the storm speaks to me of God’s grace. Grace, that stillness that invades the house after the blow-up. That falls upon everything after the worst is over and the mending is about to begin.
What about when the sky is falling? What about when the air feels thin? What about when the only prayer that you can spit out into the air is a sob or a curse? What about when the sun refuses to shine in your life? What then?
Then, beloved, we look up, as if we are standing at the foot of the cross. And against that dark backdrop of a sky we see clearly the lengths that God will go for us to show love, and grace, and resurrection power.
When the sky is falling in your life, look up. Not for God to fly down from somewhere to make it all better. Not for Elijah or an angel or anything like that. Beloved, look up to the cross, and see the day when the sky fell upon the Christ, and remember that this was not the end. That in God there is always love. Always resurrection. Always grace that follows every storm.
Because God is determined to redeem us, friends. Despite our best efforts to mess everything up, God won’t let it happen in the end.
There’s a musician, Kyler England, who has this lovely, haunting song called “Holding Up the Sky.” It reminds me of those moments in my life when I was sure the sky was falling, and yet there I was still alive. Breathing.
every time i think i can’t go on
every time i think my will is gone
every time i think i’m broken, there you are
when i’m alone out in the wilderness of my heart
i know that it’s ok to come apart
cause when it all comes falling
and i start to cry
there you are holding up the sky
when it all comes falling
and i don’t know why
there you are holding up the sky
And there, on the cross, with arms outstretched, we find God with skin on, holding up the sky for a humanity that just can’t seem to get it right. Determined to stand with us when all is calm, all is bright, and…when the sky is falling? God’s determined to outstretch the holy arms and hold it up so that we have nothing to fear.
What resurrection is written in that sky.
Surely anyone who would do that must be the Son of God.