Live Tomorrow’s Life Today
First United Presbyterian Church
Richard M. Webster
Jeremiah 6: 13-15; 2 Corinthians 5: 14-20
Sunday, June 17, 2018
“Live Tomorrow’s Life Today”
There was a time in the church when the period after Pentecost Sunday was called the Season of Pentecost and this season lasted until the Saturday before Advent. More recently, however, the Presbyterian Church USA and other denominations have set aside a single day to especially remember the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples of Christ. Pentecost (which means “fiftieth”) is now a festival on the seventh Sunday after Passover. Sometimes remembered as the church’s birthday, people are encouraged to wear red … the church is decorated with white doves symbolizing the Holy Spirit … and red banners are hung for the “tongues of fire” which were near those touched by the Spirit of Christ. Many churches save this Day of Pentecost to recognize their new leadership and receive new members into the church with services of ordination or confirmation. And when that day ends, the festivities are over… The red banners come down and are replaced by green liturgical colors. From the day after Pentecost to the end of November, the church turns its attention toward the witness and ministry of the church under the guidance of God’s Spirit. In the liturgical calendar, we call these weeks … Ordinary Time … a time to do the work of the church … a time to remember the ministry of Jesus the Christ.
In the calendar of the church this may be considered Ordinary Time, but as I have been reading the newspaper and as I have experience these days, they are anything but “ordinary.” In fact, as I look at the events of our time, I believe very strongly that these are “troubled times” … and even “troubling” times. I listen to people speak of the events of these times and they express anxiety … and worry … and sometimes fear. I have heard people express concerns and feelings about the prevalence of racism today. Depending on the color of their skin, people often tell personal experiences that lift up quite different emotions. - - - Then there is the ME TOO movement which has exposed the prevalence of a sexism that has gone ignored or denied for too long. Women today are finding a voice to express violations and violence they have silently hidden in the lonely corners of their hearts. - - - Ageism, nationalism, and all the other “isms” that are out there seem increasingly to find ways to divide us and set one group against the other ... one person against another. In these troubled times, there seem to be stories of widespread and open hatred: whites hating blacks, blacks hating whites … women hating men, men hating women … hating old people or young people … hating Muslims or Jews or Evangelicals, hating Russians or Syrians … hating Iranians or even Canadians …
Maybe it is all the fault of the internet and the media and those ever-present smartphones. Everything is captured today … and then it is transmitted in a speed and a volume that can overwhelm us. It takes a special skill to be able to filter and evaluate some of the news that hits us in any 24-hour cycle. And if we already are sensitive or wounded, the barrage of news (especially the news that touches us personally and emotionally) can overwhelm us… and cripple us … and cause us to react in ways that hurt others or ourselves. No, these are not “ordinary times.”
Granted, all our “isms” are not at the level of hatred. Some of our “isms” are ingrained within us … passed from one generation to the next … or erupting in our homogeneous groups where there are no checks and balances on what we say. As a result, our “isms” become normalized so that we are not even aware of the destructive nature of our thoughts and behavior. Whatever happened to our sense of community that used to allow (and even value) differences in our midst? Whatever happened to our civility, that now seems to allow us to say anything we think … or to do unto others what we surely do not want done to ourselves?
And then there are the natural phenomena that grab our attention. We may not be able to comprehend the reality and scope of climate change, but we can’t miss seeing that the wildfire seasons seem longer and more wide-spread. And now we are told that the hurricane season has begun … when some communities have not recovered from last year’s destruction. A reporter talking with people in Puerto Rico who still do not have electricity in their homes, asked a young girl if she had any hope for the future. She looked at him with this blank expression on her face and said, “No.” - - - 2 What happens to people when their worry and fear are replaced with depression and hopelessness? These are NOT ordinary times; these are troubled and troubling times…
And then there are the volcanos… One in Hawaii started out as a relentless ooze out of the earth, creeping through neighborhoods destroying everything with no end in sight. And one in Guatemala exploded suddenly, spewing lava and ash … and even triggering pyroclastic events that come racing down the side of the volcano killing everything and everyone before they can even react.
Maybe these volcanos stand as symbols of our times … where some events ooze out of the darkness creeping through neighborhoods changing everything … while other events explode and overwhelm everything and everyone. We can list some of the troubling events of our times: school shootings and road rage … the special counsel’s investigation and examples of political corruption … police brutality and violence against the police … drug-related violence and the opioid addiction crisis … situations of international turmoil in the Middle East – and at the G7 conference – and at the U.S.- North Korean summit … with leaders in Congress retiring in large numbers and an erosion of trust in authority. Some ooze while others explode. These ARE troubled times where uncertainty leads to anxiety - - where worry can escalate to fear. Do we fear the stranger? Do we no longer trust our leaders and our neighbors? Do we fear the unknowns of tomorrow? Do we have any hope for the future? The young girl in Puerto Rico says, “No.”
Recently, I sat in Sylvia Spearman’s funeral service and listened to the liturgist read Matthew 6: 25-33 … “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear.” And the passage went on telling why we should not worry, ending with the invitation to “strive first for the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” And the liturgist sat down … but I kept on reading. There is a verse 34 inserted here. It doesn’t really belong to the passage read by the liturgist and it doesn’t really belong to the next chapter. This verse seems to stand alone, … but for me as I was struggling with the events of the day and the week and the month this verse stood out. Listen to Matthew 6:34: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In these very un-ordinary times – these troubled and troubling times, this verse claimed my attention. This was not some platitude that said simply, “Don’t worry… Be happy” but advised the reader not to worry about tomorrow. Why? (aAnd this may not feel like good news) … “because tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” Tomorrow there will be more breaking news or fake news or sudden revelations or new discoveries. Today’s trouble is enough (or more than enough) just for today. - - - Today’s trouble is what we really have to deal with today. Maybe today’s trouble is where we need to focus the witness and ministry of the church under the guidance of God’s Spirit. Maybe today’s trouble is the reality of this ordinary time … and we need to live a day at a time trying not to anticipate the worries of tomorrow. Maybe the events of these times are rather ordinary … and we need to find ways to trust that the witness of Jesus the Christ and the power of God’s Spirit in our midst can lead us in new directions.
And yet, the “isms” of these troubling times are not unique to our times. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, has a book published this year entitled Fascism: A Warning. In it, she provides examples showing that fascism has occurred again and again in history. I myself struggle to define fascism, so I was grateful when Albright explained that “a Fascist is someone who identifies strongly with - and claims to speak for - a whole nation or group … is unconcerned with the rights of others … and is willing to use whatever means are necessary – including violence – to achieve his or her goals, (Fascism: A Warning, 2018, p. 11). And then comes her warning … as she points to the symptoms of fascism evident around us … and the threat of fascism tearing at the fabric of our society. Madeleine Albright seems to agree that these are troubled and troubling times.
And then I think about our First Reading from Jeremiah (6:13-15). In ancient Israel, Jeremiah indicted not a few but ALL the people … from the least to the greatest - everyone was greedy for unjust gain … from prophet to priest - everyone dealt falsely. Jeremiah speaking as the prophet of God says: “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly. They acted shamefully. They committed abomination.” He didn’t use the term, but he was describing a time of widespread fascism … the rights of others were being trampled by greed. When God through Jeremiah charged that they were acting 3 shamefully and committing abomination, I recall Madeleine Albright writing about the Fascist “who is willing to use whatever means are necessary – including violence – to achieve his or her goals.” And even in those ancient days there was fake news. Prophets and priests went about declaring “peace, peace” when there was no peace. Like Albright, Jeremiah was offering a warning: If they continued to live like this, they would fail … and be overthrown. And sure enough, in 598 B.C. Jerusalem was defeated … the king and its leading citizens were deported to Babylon … and in 587 B.C. the temple and the city were destroyed. The “ism” of those times did not lead to riches and power, but to brokenness and defeat.
And I believe that is true today. Recently Walter Brueggemann (a theologian) joined with his son John (a sociologist) to write a book called Rebuilding the Foundations. When the foundations of society have collapsed or are threatened, what do the people need to consider in order to put Humpty Dumpty back together again? It is interesting to read how a sociologist and a theologian jointly tackle the problem and relate it to our current social issues. John (the sociologist) begins by examining “social insecurity” where wealth inequality tears at the cohesiveness of a people … leading to some people making less because others make more … and those who make more have the power to protect and extend their own wealth. Walter (the theologian) examines the book of Deuteronomy where the practice of squeezing cheap labor was part of the deep memory of those people. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt … and remember that the Lord your God redeemed you” (Deut. 15:15). This was a frequent mantra that called the people to live differently … to always seek a different economy so that the inequalities that occurred in Egypt would never emerge in Israel. Walter (the theologian) found in those times that living as neighbors was the desire of YHWH their God. Abuse … exploitation … greed … violence … these are the things that threaten our sense of neighbor and neighborhood … and blind us to the goodness of God.
If we remember the Biblical story we know that the Babylonian captivity ended … and the people returned to find their promised land in shambles. Would they rekindle their “isms” and ignore their neighbor … or would they seek a renewed relationship with God? They began rebuilding the foundations of their society. They even sought a Messiah. But false messiahs were present, preaching their own gospels, proclaiming “peace, peace” when there was no peace. And Jesus of Nazareth came and caught the attention of many. Some were amazed at his good news; others felt threatened by his preaching and sought to kill him. And in those troubled times, the “isms” and their violence prevailed. Jesus the Christ was crucified … accused of being a terrorist and a blasphemer.
Years later, the apostle Paul would write to the Corinthians: “The Love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that One has died for all. - - - And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves” (2 Cor. 5:14- 15). Paul declared that because of Christ, we regard no one from a human point of view. The “isms” are behind us … there is a new creation. The old ways have passed away … everything has become new! Through Christ, we have been reconciled TO God - - we have been reconciled BY God. We have become ambassadors for Christ with a ministry of our own … a ministry of reconciliation.
So even in these times which I see as troubled and troubling, even these times are Ordinary Time … times to remember our own call to ministry whether we are young or old … times to regard no one from a human point of view … times to reach out and offer to all we meet the amazing love of Christ - - to offer the peace of God which surpasses all understanding - - to offer the healing forgiveness of Christ. And maybe … just maybe … when you gently say, “The peace of Christ be with you” someone will reply, “And also with you.” Then we will have a new creation. Even as there are troubling events out there … even as we struggle to separate fake news from good news … remember what Jesus told his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” May the peace of Christ change you … and guide you … and empower you to become a new creation. Live tomorrow’s life today … for this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Thanks be to God. Amen.