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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Signs on the Path of Totality

Matthew 24: New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 

The Coming of the Son of Man 

29 "Immediately after the suffering of those days 

the sun will be darkened, 
    and the moon will not give its light; 
the stars will fall from heaven, 
    and the powers of heaven will be shaken. 

30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see 'the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven' with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 

36 "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 

42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.  




So, this Monday, August 21, 2017, at 2:34pm. Where will you be? What will you be doing? 


If you're like the masses along the diagonal from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina, you will be watching The Eclipse. This Act of God will place us squarely in the Path of Totality. If you're like the millions who will abandon their cars, or skip work... If you're one of the registered 500 coming to John Knox Center, you will be able to stand right here, or maybe over there, to view the eclipse, and you, too, will experience Totality.  


The Path of Totality. It sounds spiritual, doesn't it? Actually, it is. The Path of Totality is an essential teaching of Hwa-yen Buddhism from 7th century China. But that's not important on Monday. Monday, we'll all put on cheap cardboard glasses and stare at the sun, because that's what smart people do. We will dwell in the Path. Not the Buddhist pathThe Eclipse Path. 


The Solar Eclipse. Have you heard about it? People, this is huge. There will be traffic jams on the highways. Work will cease. Schools will let out. Birds will stop singing. Flowers will close. Animals will become very confused. It does sound apocalyptic, doesn't it?  


But if you think that's a sign of the end-times, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, folks onboard Royal Caribbean's 7-night Total Eclipse Cruise "will be will be treated to a full slate of eclipse-themed activities, including dance parties, trivia... and tasty cocktails and dishes with names like the Cosmic Cosmo, Planetary Punch and Moon Pie." All leading up to the moment of Totality when Welsh singer, Bonnie Tyler, will appear in person to sing her 1983 hit, "Total Eclipse of the Heart." 


Whatever you're doing Monday, that's cooler. Totality cooler. 


You won't be hanging with Bonnie Tyler, but wherever you are on Monday, whatever you're doing Monday, it's very likely that you will rememberfor a long time, where you were and what you were doing. A total eclipse is rare. Doesn't matter if you're religious, or a science nerd, or bored sick by the whole thing, you will remember the day. The day of the eclipse.  


And this shall be a sign unto you. But a sign of what? 




The heavens are telling the glory of God; 
    and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. 

God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.... (Gen 1:16) 


The sun and the moon, light and dark, day and night have been fascinations – deep, religious fascinations – signs from God - for as long as people have been looking up and looking around. Fans of The Eclipse are just doing what our great-great-great-great (great) ancestors have always done. In nearly all religions, and definitely in the Bible, a total eclipse, a time when the two great powers in the sky appear to collide, that's huge stuff. Spooky stuff. When what is natural becomes un-natural, when the normal becomes totally ab-normal – it gets our attention. We take notice. We wonder, What does it mean? What does it say 


It's a sign. It has to be a sign. 




Even Jesus spoke of the signs. Heavenly signs. He said,  

"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven.... 

the sun will be darkened, 
    and the moon will not give its light; 
the stars will fall from heaven, 
    and the powers of heaven will be shaken. 


Sure sounds like an eclipse. 


In other words, on the great and glorious Day of the Lord, everything gets re-ordered. The orderthe design, that God imposed upon the elements in Genesis, will all get flipped upside-down and turned inside-out. So we see an eclipse, or something else cosmically un-natural, cosmologically ab-normalheavenly weird – and it just makes sense to think, "Uh-oh. This is not going to end well." 


We all want order. We all crave the normal. We put our orders in for the ordered. Of course, what's normal for you might look totally ab-normal to someone else. Normal is a relative term. Teenagers often think order looks like having every piece of their clothing, not in drawers, not in cabinets their loving creators have provided, not hanging pressed in closets. No. They prefer it all be erupted in volcanic piles on their floor, so they can find them more easily, with their eyes closed, by sense of smell. This might be bizarrely unnatural to the rest of us. Normal is relative, yet our relatives are often most abnormal. 


Whatever it is, however it looks to the uninitiated, we all have systems. Maybe not solar systems, but systems of our souls. We get our system down. We construct our processes. We have our way of doing things. Like tiny gods on a miniature scale, we create our little universes of which we are the center. And we are at peace. We are connected to the Path of Totality in our own blissful ways. Until. 


Until something happens that turns our universe upside-down and inside-out. What we think is important becomes eclipsed. The littlest moon collides with the light of the big sun – blocks the light – deflects the light – steals our light. And if we aren't somehow prepared, and sometimes when we are, it freaks us out. It becomes a sign. A sign that everything is spinning out of alignment. A sign that chaos is coming. Disaster is on the horizon. Because if it can happen once, it'll happen again. 


Maybe it's a sign from God. And if it is, things are not going to end well. 




If we listen to preachers - always a dubious endeavor – we learn that religious people in general – but preachers in particular – tend to assume the worst. We're very pessimistic. A few of us are just angry. One preacher whose worldwide website I visited had the article, "Is a Solar Eclipse a Sign from God?" Gee, wonder what he's going to say. You know what the answer is going to be. Yes! Of course the eclipse is a sign from GodAnd not a good one. It's a sign of judgment. It's a sign of the apocalypse. A sign that Jesus is coming and he is not happy. Probably because of something you did. So, repent, you sinners! 


Sadly, no amount of repentance is going to stop the eclipse. They've happened before and they'll happen again. This particular preacher noted that (because of science) we know that the Path of Totality is swiping down and right across the United States. Also because of science, so he says, we know that in 2024, there will be another solar eclipse. But this time the Path of Totality will swipe up from the lower right to the upper left, from San Diego up to Maine. So, you put the two paths on top of each other, and they form a giant X right over our nation. Uh-ohCouldn't have been Canada. Better get to church quick. 


All the signs are there, the preacher says. We just have to look for the patterns. And then we can assume the worst. 


Or, we can see something else in the signs. 




Do you all know Neil deGrasse Tyson? Guy with the moustache and goofy star vests. He's an astrophysicist by degrees. But more than anything, Tyson's a teacher. He's not scared of The Eclipse. He's downright giggly. 


If we listen to science teachers, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, we should all just chill out and enjoy the cosmic light show. Tyson says he's going to be in an undisclosed location where he can be, (quote) "In totality somewhere on Earth." I doubt that will be a cruise ship, but it may involve Planetary Punch. Tnerds with telescopes, the eclipse is completely predictable. If it DIDN'T happen, they'd freak out. The eclipse means simply that the astrophysics obeyed the math and lined up the earth, the moon, and the sun. It's rare, but it's no sign of chaos. In fact, it's a sign that everything's working exactly as it should. A sign that all is right with our world. 


Some signs are good signs. We can be religious AND be optimistic. 


If you think of it this way, the eclipse is NOT a sign that God's angry. Instead, it's a sign of God's enduring, unstoppable, irresistible grace, of God's undeniable order, and God's everlasting love. Love for all creation. Love for the sun. Love for the moon. Love for the earth. And love for us. 




Jesus didn't have science, but he did have common sense. When asked about signs and omens, he said, nobody knows. Not even me. Jesus didn't try to predict the future. But he did trust that the future would come. And that's a good thing. It means the Creator God and Father of All Creation is still God. God's in charge. So there is order. There is stability. As surely as night turns into day. We may not know the astrophysics of why, but we trust that it will. One day will follow the next. And whether that's a good sign or a bad one depends on how you see the patterns. 


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God put the stars in the sky and the moon to rule the night. God put color in the flowers. God put laughter in little kids. God put bad knees and aching backs in the old people. We might not always like the signs of God's totality, but there they are. God's Path of Totality surrounds us every single day. Our biggest sign of that God's totality may be the minds God gave us. The miracle of our minds allows us to experience both the eclipses and the reveals of each day. The miracle of our minds is the gift we have to choose. We can choose to see God's infinite structures of love. Or we can choose to be blind to what's right in front of our eyes. 


The signs are there. Every single day. It's up to you how you see them. 






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