Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Reflecting on the new year, 1.5.14

Lamentations 3:21-26

21But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. 26It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Psalm 90

1Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

2Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”

4For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past,

or like a watch in the night.

5You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;

6in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.

7For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.

8You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

9For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.

10The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;

even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

12So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

13Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants!

14Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,

so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

One of the greatest strengths of the biblical faith we share with our Jewish neighbors is the ability to take in trouble and still rest in God’s care. We don’t read from Lamentations very often. As you might guess from the title, it’s sort of a depressing book.

Lamentations is a series of poems reflecting on the defeat and destruction of Jerusalem. It is heartbreaking poetry because the poet’s heart is broken. His city, not only his home, but the center of his religious and national life has been destroyed. The city lies in ruins. Many of the poet’s friends and family have probably been killed. The dead are still lying in the street.

The poet takes it all in and pours out his grief openly, mournfully and honestly. But right in the middle of this tragic book come the words we just read together: “But this I call to mind and so I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

There’s no covering over the shame and pain and grief. There is no disguising or pretending about the hardship that is still to come. And yet, there is still hope. God’s mercies never end; God’s love shines through even in the darkest night. We fail and fall, we suffer and we grieve, we get sick and we die. Through it all, God is faithful. Through it all, God loves us.

God is with us when things are going well, even though sometimes we’re too busy to notice. God is with us when things are just plodding along, when things are neither great nor terrible but just status quo. God’s faithfulness is great; God is steady and constant.

At the same time as God is constant, God’s mercies are new every morning. Each morning brings new joys and new challenges. There are new places we need God’s help, new failings and hurts that need God’s mercies. So every morning, every moment, God is finding new ways to show grace and love and care; we just have to open our eyes, open our hearts and receive.

The Bible teaches us about God. It also teaches us about ourselves. The new year is a natural time to reflect on our lives, on how we’ve done in the last year and what we want to do with the year to come. Psalm 90 is a great New Year’s passage because it invites us to that reflection.

God is eternal, but we are not. We ignore that fact at our peril. Our culture is so scared of death and illness that we are unable to face those things honestly or well. Instead, we rush around trying to cram as much as we can into our time while almost denying the reality of death. I’ve seen families in the hospital refuse to admit that their loved one is dying even in their last days. Most patients don’t take full advantage of the extra care available through hospice services because patients, families and doctors keep battling death long after the outcome is clear.

The psalmist encourages us to count our days so we can gain wise hearts. That means that we need to think about our life, our days and weeks and years, knowing that they are limited. Our time on earth is precious because we don’t have forever.

The trouble is, sometimes when we think of our time as precious, it makes us stingy with it, and that’s different than taking it seriously. We want to be generous with our time, like with our money and energy. We want to give freely, partly because that means we enjoy them (our energy, time and money) more than if we clutch them with white knuckles. At the same time, we don’t want to throw away our days because we can’t ever get them back.

Having a wise heart is not just about being generous with our time either. It’s about knowing our time on earth is precious and limited, but also that our impact is limited. We are fragile and, in the grand scheme of things, nothing we do will last forever either. The psalmist imagines us returning to the dust from which we came and pictures our days like grass springing up in the morning and withering away at the end of the day. Our lives, our accomplishments, the things that seem so important in the moment are fragile and temporary.

At first that sounds discouraging; it almost makes us think, “Why bother?” But ultimately it is liberating. We tend to get caught up in ourselves, caught up in our work or our family struggles or our decisions. The stakes feel so high; everything feels like an emergency, so we rush around constantly trying to manage situations to keep them from getting out of hand.

Thinking about life from the perspective of God’s time frame reminds us of that in a thousand years, whatever we are so worried about now will not matter. No one is going to remember why we were so mad at someone else. No one will care about the church budget or the rent or the election.

The moment at hand is both precious and ephemeral; both important and fleeting. That means taking our time, our decisions, our work seriously because they are precious. It also means taking them with a grain of salt because none of it lasts forever. It seems like those two things are opposites, but they aren’t. Holding on to our time and decisions lightly actually helps us make the most of them because it helps us see them more clearly, while treating every issue like a crisis makes us more likely to mess up. In almost everything we do, humans perform better if we are relaxed.

That’s where our passages come together. Our lives are temporary and precious. God is trustworthy and loving. God is faithful in hard times and in good times, and, while our lives are short, we also have the chance to be part of the work of God’s kingdom, which is eternal. God calls us to share in building up community, in making life better for others, to work for peace and reconciliation. That can be as involved as starting a hospital and as simple as saying a kind word to a stranger. Our calling as disciples of Jesus touches every part of our lives. We’re freed from the anxiety of our own lives because it’s really not about us in the end.

The new year is a great time to step back and take a look at our life. How are we doing at trusting God? Are we spending our time in a way that fits with our true priorities? Are we treating others kindly, like their lives and feelings are precious? What do you want to do differently this year?

The new year is also a time to think about our life and future as a church. As you probably know, I’m leaving this coming summer. That’s sad for me to think about because I love serving with you; this is a wonderful church. We have been a good fit for each other and we have grown together. There’s going to be a time to say goodbye to each other, but now isn’t that time.

Now is the time to think about how to use the time we have together to get ready for what’s next. We’ll be talking about that the next couple of weeks, including right after worship. Pastoral transition has not always been kind to Laurelton, but here we have time to do it right. So think about what do we need to work on together to help you take the next steps with courage and confidence.

A church is not about a pastor. It’s about a community making God’s love real through relationships and ministry. It’s about finding ways to make God’s eternal faithfulness make sense to people in everyday actions and words. It’s about growing together in trust, in faith and in love. It’s about learning to trust each other, to be honest and open with each other and to treat each other like the precious children of God we are. It’s also about having fun together because the message of faith is good news for all people.

This church has so many of the gifts the wider church and the world needs. You are relaxed and able to absorb change, which equips you well for the world we live in. You are open to all kinds of people, so you can welcome the community and invite them in to God’s story. You are committed, generous givers of time and money and energy. You have the gifts you need to thrive in ministry. This next six months we will work together to consolidate and polish your gifts and to discern how God is calling you in the next step of your ministry.

In our lives as individual disciples and our life as a church, a new year is a new beginning. It’s also a small part of the great tapestry of God’s love. God has been faithful in the past and God will be faithful in the future. This moment is full of potential for joyful, exciting ministry. So let us number our days, gain a wise heart and rest in God’s endless grace as we spend the precious time God has given us.

Thanks be to God.

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