(a meditation for December 31, 2017, the First Sunday after Christmas and New Year’s Eve, based on Ephesians 3:14-21)
“I’ve made my New Year’s resolution this year.” Or so said the man on the radio as I was driving down the road one day about this time of year; and he went on to say, “And it’s the same one I make every year: not to make any New Year’s resolutions!”
Now that’s noble, I remember thinking. What better way to avoid not keeping a resolution for the coming year than not to make one in the first place! Kind of misses the whole point of the thing, but even then I had to admit I did understand his thinking! I mean, how many of us have made all these grand commitments to self-improvement on January 1st only to find our firm resolve slipping away long before the month has passed! At least this way you’re guaranteed success; because if you promise nothing then you’re responsible to nothing!
Of course, if you think about it for very long you discover that idea doesn’t really hold water, either. The truth is that we’re all responsible to something or someone: our families, our friends, the people with whom and for whom we labor; and certainly, as Christians, we’re responsible to God! Bottom line is that we have obligations of one sort or another that extend to just about every facet of our lives; and every decision we make on a day to day basis (even something as seemingly but deceptively simple as how we eat or exercise) ends up saying something not only about ourselves and our own lives, but also about how we value and relate to those around us. So we can avoid making resolutions; but the responsibilities and the relationships that inspired those resolutions will always be there!
So what are we to do about this resolution conundrum, especially today as we literally come to the brink of a brand new year? Maybe the answer comes in changing how we think of this idea of making resolutions. Rather than making promises we’re not at all sure we can or that we’re even willing (!) to keep, maybe on this last day of 2017 we should be seizing the opportunity for honest assessment of where we actually are in our lives, so that we might make a “mid-course correction” for the journey that awaits us in 2018. In other words, we need to ask ourselves, how did it go last year, anyway? Were there things we should have done differently? How far off track did we find ourselves wandering from where we wanted to be and where we are right now; and how do we keep that from happening in the year to come? Because it’s one thing, friends, for us to make a list of resolutions for a new year; but it’s quite another to be purposeful in finding ways that’ll make those resolutions a reality in our lives.
I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot as of late; and perhaps it’s because it’s been such a tumultuous year in the world around us that we’ve felt a bit “blown off course,” so to speak, or maybe it’s because even as I’m getting older, I feel like I’m heading in a direction that inevitably becomes busier and busier (which is not really the direction I was expecting to go!), but it seems to me that this kind of “mid-course correction” would be most appropriate for any of us as enter into a new year! In fact, as I’ve been thinking on this I realize I’ve come up with three “resolutions” that might just help in getting us “back on course,” not only in the walk of life but the walk of faith as well. So in lieu of a real sermon today, I’d like to take a couple moments to share those resolutions with you.
The first resolution I want to make for 2018 is to GIVE MORE. You know, not only in having had not one, but two hip replacements this past year and my wife Lisa having to deal with surgeries and illness of her own, but also in walking with many of you in the challenges, struggles and unwelcome transitions of life, I was reminded once again of the truth that there is so much in this life that is completely out of our control. Though we might, in our weaker moments, fear otherwise, I’m here to remind us all of the truth that none of what happens to us is contingent on how “good” or “bad” we are; the bottom line, folks, is, as Christ himself said, it rains on the just and the unjust. But… by the same token there is no way that any of us could possibly earn or be deserving of the blessings of love, joy and insight we’ve received at the hand of God and in the care of God’s people; as much as we may try, there is no way we can even begin to live up to what we’ve been given in such abundance. In the end, all any of us really can do is to try to live our lives faithfully in the midst of all of its myriad joys and struggles.
So be it resolve that we give more of ourselves to God’s movement and purpose as life, with all its unpredictability, unfolds before us; to be more “in the moment” where faith is concerned; to be intentional in recognizing that in every happenstance and casual conversation God’s Spirit might well be moving and we would best pay attention! Also, we need to listen better and talk a whole lot less; and to be more aware of the opportunities that will arise to show God’s love and care in what we say and in what we do. Let us resolve in 2018 to give more of ourselves to God.
The second resolution I want to make is sort of the flip side of this; for not only do I resolve to give more, I also resolve to COMPLAIN LESS. That’s right… I said it! Actually, I’m reminded here of the old joke you’ve probably heard me tell: how many Congregationals does it take to change a light bulb? And the answer is, CHANGE? We can’t change that light bulb? My grandfather gave that light bulb? And besides, the old light bulb was just fine… we don’t need any new light bulbs in this church!
That’s a joke that applies in more ways than one! I’ll make a confession here and now; sometimes change comes hard for me. In the words of Paul Simon, “I seem to lean on old familiar ways.” I like what’s comfortable and easy, and I don’t always want to see things move away from that; but you see, the problem with that kind of thinking is that life does not always flow in a way that’s comfortable and easy! Life is always moving, always changing, always shifting, always creating a new landscape and offering up new challenges. And truly, that’s now it should be; for that’s how the living God moves and works for the good. Life is change, and in the end, we have a choice: we can either be reluctant about change and grouse about it to the extent that we’ll miss its excitement and joy, or we can resolve to trust God’s leading us through the changes of our lives, and view it as the next good step of the adventure that the Lord is setting before us. So be it resolved that we quit complaining about all the changes going on and… and let God lead us forward. Let us rejoice that God is alive and moving, and has something wonderful in store for us as this new year unfolds!
And in that regard, finally, the third resolution I would make this year would be to PRAISE GOD ALWAYS. There’s an old saying – I think it might have been C.S. Lewis who said it, I’m not sure – that “none are so unholy as those whose hands are cauterized with holy things; sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job.” That quote has always hit close to home for me, because even as a minister, it’s very easy to lose sight of what it is I’m supposed to be doing; easy to become so consumed with the work of ministry that I get momentarily misplace, shall we say, my ultimate calling, which is to love and serve Jesus Christ our Lord as a pastor, as a husband and father, and as a man with all-too-human and occasionally quirky tendencies!
And unless I miss my guess, most of you can probably say the same thing! Let me just say this outright: in this year to come, we cannot let ourselves become so busy, so overwhelmed with all the minutiae of our lives that we I forget to praise God, and to do so with our words, our deeds and our very lives! No matter what it is we say or do; no matter whether we succeed or fail in it; no matter how much we give of ourselves or how much less we complain about it, in all things the Lord needs to be acknowledged, or else it means… nothing. Without praise and thanksgiving unto God, it’s just a job; it’s just a chore; it’s just another day.
So be it resolved that we praise God always; and in all ways! At this time of the year more than any other, you and I must never forget that we are children of light, and that light needs to illumine everything we set out to do or to be as persons, as a people and might I add, most especially as the church. Actually this resolution ends up the key to fulfilling the other two; for as you and I praise God with our whole hearts in the year ahead we will be moved to give more and what’s more, to complain less as we do; in the process we’ll discovering the true wisdom of life and living: which is, as we’ve heard proclaimed this morning, “the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
I really can’t think of what would make for a happier or more blessed new year… but I dare say it begins with our resolve to make it happen!
So let us pray for each other in making and keeping these resolutions and others as well, as we embark on the next part of our shared journey of life and faith.
Happy New Year, dear friends; and may our thanks be to God!
AMEN and AMEN!
c. 2017 Rev. Michael W. Lowry