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January 1, 2005 (New Year’s Day: The Name of Jesus)—“Living Fully in the Present”

Pastor David Barber

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Romans 8:31-39

Sisters and brothers, children of the New Year, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

More than likely, if it wasn't this year, you've sung this sacred New Year's hymn sometime in your life:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne
We'll tak' a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Now I must admit that there were times when I was younger, of course, when I sang this song, I didn't know what I was singing--nor did I care. And I suspect that for many folks in a state of inebriation on New Year's Eve, the meaning of this New Year's ritual by Robert Burns has probably eluded them.

Burns presents the theme of passing time through the context of remembered friendship. Time turns childhood experiences into an old man's recollection, and time is the creator and the destroyer of human experience.

In a poem made famous for some of us in the late sixties in a popular folk song, the writer of Ecclesiastes also talks about the essence of time and its passage. At first glance, the words may sound beautiful, and perhaps they are, but one could also see them as being terribly dark.

In a format of seven sets of polarities, the writer presents the totality of life's tensions, and tells us, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven."

Some have looked at these words in light of human wisdom and human control. For instance, there are appropriate moments for people to act, and at the proper moment, even a difficult situation can be "beautiful in its own way." There is the right time for everything.

And I imagine there is some truth to all of this. We've all had moments when we've said the appropriate and the most helpful word at just the right time, or performed the right act at just the proper moment.

We've done what needed to get done, we've planted what needed to be planted, we've been silent when the situation demanded our silence, we've wept and we've laughed--all at the most timely moment.

And the few times when we've been lucky enough to discern the time and the most healthy response--let's say 10% or even 20% of the time--felt pretty good didn't it?

But all too often we're like Donald Rumsfeld saying some words that we'd like to recall or having the opportunity to push the "undo" button on our computers due to some inappropriate actions on our part.

However, transposing his words, I have found some insight and wisdom in realizing that I go to worship with the congregation I have, and not with the congregation I would like to have.

And I imagine that's true for you in regard to your pastors--you have to listen to the pastor you're stuck with, and not to the pastor you'd like to have! And underneath it all, there is some truth in this!

Wouldn't it be great to have such wisdom--to know the "teachable" moment, to know when to push and when to "lighten up," to know when to say the affirming word and when to say the word that confronts and challenges?

But we don't always have such wisdom, and we don't always know the time--no more than we know the "time to be born and the time to die."

This in itself, birth and death, should give us a clue that there is just too much that is outside of our ability to control and to predict--although even this is open to question with our technology.

But even though we can do it, do we know better than God the right season to be born and the right season to die? Do we really decide when to heal, or even when to laugh and when to weep, or the time for a multitude of other feelings or activities that we encounter?

To say that we do is idolatry, for time--the right time or the kairos moment if you will--is in God's hands not ours. And even when we bumble our own time, God often redeems it into the right time. In certain, wonderful grace-filled moments, God has a way of salvaging even our untimely actions into the right time.

Now, I find such news very comforting and a way to reduce much anxiety as I enter this New Year 2005. For such news equips and empowers me to live fully and faithfully in the present moment.

I remember five years ago when we stood at the threshold of the year 2000. You remember all the anxiety and concern about was going to happen at midnight--how the computers wouldn't make the transition and we would be without our basic services.

I must admit that I did store some water in plastic containers and even put some water in the bathtub before going out in the evening. And to curb my dog's anxiety I did buy some extra dog food, but fortunately, I didn't buy a generator.

However, as I think back to that New Year, I'm wondering if the apprehension we felt then pales in comparison to the trepidation we feel now in regard to what this New Year will bring to us and to our world. It seems like the dangers are ever present, and we know now--just like the rest of the world - how vulnerable we really are.

And yet, this is something over which I have very little control. It's outside of my power. Some may find this frustrating and even terrifying, but there's also great freedom in this awareness.

I'm not talking about passive resignation--"Que Sera Sera"--"whatever will be will be"--but rather living as fully as God wants me to live knowing that the times and the seasons are in the hands of God.

I believe it was Martin Luther who said something like this, and if he didn't, he should have: "We work as if everything depended upon us, knowing full well that nothing does."

Sister Joan Chittister also imparts some wisdom about living fully and faithfully in the present moment. "Real spirituality," she says, "demands that we care enough about all the moments of life to live them well. The only thing we cannot do in life, Ecclesiastes teaches, is to ignore it."

Then she also adds: "Birth and death, loving and laughing, gaining and losing, will happen in every life... We will not be able to avoid them however much we would like to do just that. The purpose of life lies in learning to enjoy each giddy part, to endure each costly part, to cope with every exhausting part, to learn from every colorless part, to stretch and groan and grow, to milk every single period of life dry."

With courage and confidence we approach every moment of life knowing that every moment rests in the love of God. Such courage and confidence comes from hearing and living the Good News that was proclaimed this afternoon from the Book of Romans.

If God is for us in this New Year, who will be against us? Who will condemn us? And who will separate us from the love of Christ?

Will hardship, or distress, or persecution do it, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? Absolutely not! We are more than conquerors through the one who loves us, and nothing in all of creation--not even all the terrors in the world--will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the good news on this New Year's Day: "Wherever life takes you in the coming year, the seasons of your life are held in the hands of God, and by God's grace, it will be well."


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