Sermon: August 27, 2017 – “Everyone’s Looking Up”

“Everyone’s Looking Up”

Text: Psalm 19:1

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

The eclipse mania has been a fun thing to watch this week. One of the things which I particularly enjoyed were the many puns and jokes that began to circulate with regard to the eclipse. You have probably heard some of these but a couple of my favorites are things like how does the man in the moon cut his hair? Eclipse it. Another was a little boy asked his dad if he could explain the eclipse and his dad responded, “no sun.” But my all-time favorite is the man who was praying; “Dear God, if I am supposed to buy that new boat, send me a sign. Like blot out the sun for a couple of minutes.”

The jokes were fun, but it was also nice to see the nation have a positive experience for a change. For the first few days after the event, the news seemed to be – uh – overshadowed – by the eclipse. Sorry, I can’t help myself. But seriously, I heard news reports about what a spectacular event it was and people were moved to tears and others spoke about what a spiritual experience it was. It was nice to see the country united around an event and it was nice to hear about all the positive experiences everyone was having. It feels good to have something unique and positive going on. It feels good to hear about people talking about spirituality and connecting with the universe and paying attention to how things have been designed. People didn’t always say it, but the underlying theme of all this, at least in my opinion, is a recognition that the universe has an intelligent design and it is remarkable.

Another thing I find incredible about the eclipse is the notion that our sun and our moon appear to be about the same size. The probability of that happening doesn’t seem random to me; it almost seems intentional. Think about it. Our sun is approximately 400 times the size of our moon. The sun is 93 million miles away from planet earth. The moon is just under 300,000 miles from earth. The distances from earth to moon, earth to sun, our angle of view, all those variables need to line up perfectly in order for those two bodies to appear to be about the same size. Pretty remarkable, really.

Overall, I would have to say the eclipse was a remarkable event and I think had a positive impact on anyone who participated on almost any level. We had a small eclipse viewing party here at the church and it was fun. I didn’t planet, (sorry) but the party just sort of happened.

In the days since the eclipse I have been reflecting on all the experiences and all the news reports and all the hype leading up to the event. As I thought about things, I began to notice something about all the news and all the reports. Something was missing that often is in the news. What was missing is there wasn’t anyone claiming the science was wrong, there wasn’t anyone saying the eclipse was fake news, there wasn’t any hint of a counter information effort at all.

Of course how could there be? The eclipse had been forecasted for decades. Everyone knew where and when and how it was going to take place. If anyone had challenged the science, they would have looked foolish on Monday when the eclipse actually took place, exactly as predicted. Everything happened exactly when and where and how it was predicted. In our location I had looked up the times when it was supposed to start, and it began at the right time. I had looked up the time of most totality for our area, and again it was right on schedule. Everything was absolutely predictable and verifiable and proved to be the case. Science won the day.

I bring this up because we are victims of a lot of misinformation that is passed off as being scientific or accurate or even true that is simply not the case. Last week I mentioned the Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky. This is just one example. Some attacks on science claim the earth is just 6,000 years old, some attacks on science want to discredit the evolutionary process, and other attacks on science question the origin of the universe or even the existence of dinosaurs. There is even a flat earth society. Most of these things are harmless and fall into the category of personal opinion or belief and no one gets hurt and no real damage is done. But that isn’t always the case.

What we may not recognize is that in this country we protect free speech. Which is a good thing, generally. But along with free speech comes the ability to say anything you want about almost any topic and pass it off as truth. It becomes the responsibility of the hearer to determine if what they hear or see in print is true or not. There are organizations that abuse this freedom of speech to enhance their profitability or to protect an industry that is already profitable and they don’t want to lose any ground.

In the big picture, I think this is a fairly recent phenomenon, but with the increasing number of ways that we have to communicate, I think it is getting worse. Misinformation campaigns are a real thing.

One of the first examples of a misinformation campaign happened in this country when cigarette smoking was first linked to poor health, lung cancer, and breathing problems. The large tobacco companies actually hired advertising firms to create information that would undermine or discredit the claims of science that cigarettes will kill you. Some of you may remember some of these ads. There were ads proclaiming the health benefits of smoking. There were ads that stated things like “more doctors smoke Camels than any other brand” and similar claims. All in an effort to protect profits and keep a good business good. This kind of attack on science does matter and it does have consequences. I would venture to say that the scientific community was as certain about the harmful effects of smoking as they were certain of the eclipse. But in spite of the science, the misinformation campaign went on for decades.

You may not be as aware of this as I am, but we are in the midst of another huge misinformation campaign. The attack on science this time comes to us courtesy of big oil and coal companies attacking the science of climate change. Let me say the same thing about climate change as I said about the science of smoking; I believe that the scientific community has the same level of confidence about climate change as they had about the eclipse. In other words; there isn’t any scientific debate about the existence or the cause of climate change. The science is pretty clear.

There is a bulletin insert in the bulletin this morning that I want to call your attention to. You may remember that Cody Stauffer, the pastor over at Clarkston UMC, he and I cooperated last year on a series of discussions around inclusiveness. We called this series the inclusive experience. We read a book, watched some films and had some really good discussions over the course of several weeks.

We have decided to repeat this idea again this fall. This time we are building the experience around different environmental issues, climate change, pollution of our oceans and some of the misinformation campaigns that impact our attitudes and decisions about these issues. We have decided to offer it as a time release film festival; so over the next few months you will have the opportunity to meet with others and view different documentaries or feature films that deal with some of these topics. The insert in the bulletin gives you more complete information, but one documentary that will be shown on September 21 deals specifically with the topic I was mentioning earlier. This documentary is called “Merchants of Doubt” and it promises to be an educational and informative event.

The film festival will begin this Thursday, August 31 at 6:30PM and we will be viewing a documentary called “Chasing Coral”.  All of the films will be shown in our Fellowship Hall. This one is fascinating as well and I encourage you to give it a try. I can promise that the films and the discussions before and after will always be food for thought.

Go in Peace,

Amen.

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