Total Eclipse of the Heart

by

Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures                Psalm 133

How wonderful, how beautiful,

when brothers and sisters get along!

It’s like costly anointing oil flowing down head and beard,

Flowing down Aaron’s beard,

flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.

It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon

flowing down the slopes of Zion.

Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,

ordains eternal life.

 

Sermon          Total Eclipse of the Heart 

 In just a little over 24 hours . . . millions of Americans

will gather within a 70-mile wide corridor

stretching across the heart of our country

from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean . .

. to witness the demise of the sun . . .

if but for just for a couple of minutes.

Our country will be split right in half.

Amazing . . . a tiny swath of darkness . . .

a shadow circle . . .

moving from coast to coast at a speed of 2,410 mph

when it crosses the Oregon coast . . .

slowing to a mere 1,502 mph when it passes

Charleston and heads out over the Atlantic.

The Atlantic magazine reports that in Silverton, Oregon,

Sonrise Ranch is hosting a sold-out, family-friendly

festival on its grounds called

“Eclipsed With God’s Love,”

which will include outdoor church services

and Christian film screenings . . .

In Casper, Wyoming, which is expecting thousands

of visitors, a pair of Baptist churches

and a local chapter of a Christian nonprofit

will hand out hundreds of copies of God of Wonders,

a movie, styled like a nature documentary,

that features creationist explanations for everything

from weather systems to DNA . . .

and some pastors are heralding this solar event

as a prelude to the second coming of Christ.

The Sun is going to provide a nation-wide festival

on Monday.

 

Now you’ve got to admit . . .

can you think of a better time

to have a solar eclipse cross our country . . .

whether you consider it a sign from God

or as an omen of destruction . . .

or just as an excuse to party.

After all . . . won’t it be nice to look up and watch

the sun (with protective glasses)

so we can take our minds off the never-ending stream

of bad news we are bombarded with day after day .

. . from Charlottesville to Barcelona . . .

as Pandora’s box of racism and bigotry and xenophobia

keep sweeping around the world.

We might get a few minutes on Monday afternoon

to forget about all the troubles of this world . . .

but it won’t last long . . . and whether we want to or not .

. . we’re going to have to come face to face

with an ugly truth about our own country . . .

and even about ourselves . . .

about racism and white supremacy . . .

in all its hate-filled rage and ugliness.

Now you might say . . . how can this be happening

in the 21st Century.

Didn’t we take care of all that back in the 1960s?

After all . . . we good progressive White folk

made sure the laws were made equal . . .

no more black and white . . . just one big happy family.

Oh sure . . . we knew there’d always be

a little more work to do . . .

but where the heck did these Neo-Nazis

and White Supremacists come from?

Why has our country become so divided and hostile?

Why do some belong and some do not?

Where’s the compassion and hope

that the United States used to stand for?

Why are we suddenly so angry and mad at each other?

Well . . . the answer to that question really depends

on who you are.

You see . . . unless you are one of the marginalized

in this great country . . .

unless your skin has color in it . . .

or you speak another language . . .

or you worship another God other than Jesus Christ

. . . or you live in a motel . . .

or you don’t identify yourself as straight . . .

you’re not going to experience what other people

experience in this country.

Most average White Americans don’t have a clue

what it is like to face the evils of prejudice

because we just don’t experience it.

We don’t worry about what might happen

to our 16-year-old son if he’s pulled over

by the police.

We don’t worry about walking into a store

and having someone follow around as we shop.

We don’t worry about being seen in public wearing

our religious clothing with head covering.

We don’t worry about whether to hold the hand

of our partner or not.

We don’t worry about being ridiculed

or told to go back to where we belong

because we have trouble speaking English.

The hard truth is . . .

this evilness has always been here.

Maybe it hides sometimes . . .

but racism and prejudice and bigotry and discrimination

have always been a part of this country.

It’s deeply woven into the fabric of our country . . .

it’s in our places of work . . . it’s in our schools . . .

it’s in our homes . . . it’s even in our churches.

It’s just that . . . if you’re not part of a minority . . .

than you don’t have a clue what it’s like

to experience it.

And now . . . in 2017 . . . it seems that the forces

of racism and prejudice and bigotry and discrimination

have been given the green light to scream

their evil message anyway they want to

across this land.

 

So why has the church been so silent for so long . . .

a silence that’s almost deafening.

 

Israel knew what it was like to be a divided country.

When the psalmist wrote these words . . .

How wonderful, how beautiful,

when brothers and sisters get along . . .

the ancient author was expressing a desire for the unity

of all of Israel . . .

both the northern and southern kingdoms . . .

because only when Israel could learn to live together

in unity with justice and compassion

for both the rich and the poor . . .

when the people could put aside their differences

and work for the good of all the people . . .

only then would God bless Israel . . .

blessings forevermore.

 

Can you imagine that . . . here . . .

in the good ol’ U S of A . . .

How wonderful, how beautiful,

when brothers and sisters get along?

 

Friends . . . we’ve a long way to go . . .

a long way to go.

 

Dr. William Yoo, a professor next door at the seminary .

. . recently shared these two examples

of Presbyterians in the 19th and 20th Century . . .

who remained silent.

In 1831, three Presbyterian missionaries working

in Cherokee land within the state of Georgia

were arrested for their activism against

unjust policies to forcibly relocate American Indians

under President Andrew Jackson’s administration.

 

Several presbyteries and synods in Alabama, North Carolina,

Tennessee and Virginia protested

the imprisonment of the white missionaries.

But there was less support among Presbyterians

for the graver injustice toward the Cherokees.

By and large, Presbyterians in the 19th century

remained silent as the U.S. government

coerced most American Indian tribes

east of the Mississippi River to sign unequal treaties

and surrender their ancestral lands.

 

And . . . during the civil rights movement

and the push for racial integration in the 20th century,

the majority of white Presbyterians

also remained silent.

Reports from the General Assemblies of the northern

and southern denominations denounced racism

and promoted racial justice.

In 1958, the uniting General Assembly

of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

called upon every congregation to welcome all

“without regard to their racial, economic, or cultural

background and condition.”

But many congregations in the very neighborhoods

that were becoming more racially and ethnically

diverse opted to flee to the white suburbs.

In Atlanta, several white churches stayed,

but a high number of white persons,

including some white church members,

moved out of the city.

Between 1960 and 1980, the white population in the city

decreased by more than half –

from 300,000 to 127,000.

Some white Presbyterians were not silent,

but they spoke out to preserve white domination. One congregation in Kirkwood,

a neighborhood in southeast Atlanta,

partnered with five other local white churches in 1961

to prevent realtors from selling homes

to black residents and to discourage bankers

from providing loans to black buyers.

(August 18, 2017 by The Presbyterian Outlook)

 

If we . . . who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ . .

.continue to remain silent . . .

then we cannot call ourselves

disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

If we close our eyes and our mouths to the evil

that is in our country . . . the evil of racism . . .

the evil of discrimination . . . the evil of prejudice

. . . the evil of bigotry . . . that is rearing its ugly head . . .

then we cannot call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

If we ignore the cries of our neighbors

who are oppressed and the forgotten . . .

and instead sit quietly as these forces of evil

walk with torches through our cities . . .

then we cannot call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

Remember the parable I heard earlier from Matthew 21

. . . “There was a man who had two sons.

He went to the first and said,

‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

‘I will not,’ he answered,

but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said

the same thing.

He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

 

Barbara Brown Taylor writes about that parable in her book  Home by Another Way . .

God has been telling us all along—

that there is no shortage of people who say,

believe, or stand for all the right things.

There have always been plenty of those in the world.

What God is short of are people who will go

where God calls them and do

what God gives them to do—

even, say, when it goes against their beliefs.

To quote Soren Kierkegaard, Jesus wants followers,

not admirers.

Whether we say yes or no to him

is apparently less important to him

than what we actually do.

The important thing is what our lives say,

and they are as easy for most people to read

as the story of the Yes and No brothers.

To tell which one you are, look in any mirror.

What is moving? Your mouth or your feet?

 

So here is what I ask of you . . .

and what I ask of myself . . .

tomorrow afternoon . . . as the moon begins to block

the light of sun . . . and a shadow of darkness

begins to cross the land . . .

let us prayerfully consider what it is in our own lives

that has gone into eclipse.

What is it in our lives that remains dark and hidden

that we need to bring out into the light?

What is it in our lives that prevents us

for standing against injustice and racism . . .

 

and then consider this . . .

what is moving . . .

our mouth . . . or our feet?

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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