The solar eclipse eclipsed our ability to get ordinary work done yesterday. School parents were all over the map: some were insistent their child stay inside and not risk hurting their eyes while others were insistent their child get to experience the eclipse in some way. Mrs. Peace, our science teacher, made pin-hole viewers, and I brought NASA eclipse glasses. All of our grade schoolers and adults took turns going out to look through them at the sun as well as seeing how the pin-hole viewer worked. No one really knew what to expect. The response, over and over again, was a surprised and reverent, “That’s really cool!”
The eclipse had been determinedly hyped by media. We knew when it would happen, why it would happen, and how it would happen. We had tools to watch it, either online or with some sort of viewing apparatus. It was excitement slipped into a regular day.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for the ancients? An event dramatically out of the ordinary. There were skilled students of the night sky, but not many would have been able to predict a daytime solar eclipse. No build-up, no scientific explanation, and no models to demonstrate how it worked. No realistic explanation. However, there was a driving need for it to make sense, a compulsion to fit it into a frame of reference that gave it meaning commensurate with the drama of its experience, something like this:
Surely the gods are up to something! Be afraid! Be very afraid!!!
We are incredibly blessed to rest within the God of assurance.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labor until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works--
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
My primary goal in preaching is to help connect your story/our story with the story of God, woven throughout scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. This is a fancy way of saying I really just want to be a storyteller of God stories. Since Jesus has that covered, I often end up looking for God in my own stories.
Life at church this week is CHAOS! School starts Monday, the flooring is torn out of the parlor kitchen, we don’t have the church directory photos finished, we have 5 new teachers, newly painted classrooms, newly carpeted preschool classrooms, mammoth cleaning out and cleaning up, and action-packed late days trying to having everything ready. The internet is up today after being down since last Thursday so the calendar is already out of date on our sparkly new website. Also, because the state has refigured how much time children must have instruction, Chapel will begin at 7:45 instead of 8 am. CPR training was this morning but I had other stuff going on, and my desk looks like clutter central.
So I launched into sermon prep for the Gospel lection: Matthew 14:22-33. This is Matthew’s telling of Jesus coming to his disciples across water at night in a storm. It’s a great story. I was going to steal John Ortberg’s sensational sermon so you would all think I was really smart and clever but it never really works to preach someone else’s words. So I started digging in to do my own work and discovered this is a story about CHAOS, fear, risk, and salvation! Wow!!!!!
We Americans want life to make sense. We search for sensible explanations. We want verifiable results. We put a great deal of energy into transforming CHAOS into chaos that can be organized and controlled. We really like sound-bite scriptures we can keep handy to zap mess and trouble into something conquered and subdued. We focus on God bringing order out of CHAOS.
What if CHAOS is something we need? What if the disorientation of mess and uncertainty opens up pathways we were unaware of? What if CHAOS is necessary to birth anything new? What if CHAOS is a prerequisite for the church to become the engaging, transforming, worshipping community it is called to be? What if our mess is the raw material from which God creates, transforms, and makes God’s own self known through Jesus Christ?
This Sunday I’m preaching to rock our boat. I hope you will rock along with me!
Yesterday was Malfunction Day: the church security system announced we had a low battery – which we didn’t because the battery was tested yesterday and was fine. The low battery alarm was shrill, constant, and penetrating. Finally, Debbie unplugged the system until the service guy comes to fix the control panel. Confused control panels are a mess. They miscommunicate, shriek, and cause stress.
Silence brought blessed calm. Everyone began smiling. We could breathe again. Life calmed down.
It dawned on me that my personal control panel might need a check-up. How is your control panel doing these days? Let’s run a basic diagnostic check:
What gave you life today?
What took life away today?
Our culture wants to be your control panel. Marketers want to decide for you what will give you life. Government wants to determine how you understand right and wrong. The media intends to shape what you understand to be important.
Take a deep breath. Sigh loudly. Stretch your arms and legs. Walk to a window and find something lovely to look at. Stand at the window and drink some cold, refreshing water. Breathe again. Remind yourself that God loves you – not in some token way but truly, madly, deeply.
Remind yourself again. You are loved truly, madly, deeply.
Then ask yourself what gives you life. Mull it over. Imagine it. Settle into the question. Ask yourself what takes life away. Mull over it. Imagine it. Settle into the question.
Then – best part – reset your control panel to choose what really gives you life!
Deuteronomy 30:19 The Message (MSG)
I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live.
Rev. Marcia Hagee
She graduated from Duke University and the University of Missouri-Columbia studying Psychology and Religion. She earned her M. Div at Phillips Theological Seminary and was ordained by the Oklahoma Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).