First, a bit of advice.
If at first you don’t succeed, …try shortstop!
That has little to do with today’s scriptures, but the playoffs are nearly here, and I really thought it was funny.
Today we begin Creation Season, and this year we are focusing on the four seasons. We begin with Fall – Autumn – whatever you like to call it. For me, there’s a poignancy to Autumn: many memories of starting new school years and new church years, getting ready and wondering how they’ll go. There’s also the dying part – the dying of the summer, the leaves coloring spectacularly and flinging themselves to the ground like some dramatic prima donna in an opera, only there are millions and millions of them, everywhere, reminding us that the natural world is shutting down – for a while.
Autumn, I think, points to transitions in our own lives – when one season is ending and we don’t know quite what the next will bring. Sometimes it feels like dying – when the kids first go off to school, or when they leave home, or a good friend dies, or we’ve chosen to leave a job or activity or relationship that’s been important to us. And it’s much worse if we didn’t choose: if we’ve been laid off our job our forced to quit something for some reason. I know we’re all thinking of the folks in the Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands – they’ve lost so much - that’s a real death experience. Not to mention in Mexico and Texas and Florida. It can feel like a death, even though we know rationally that there will be something new, a new season, perhaps after a fallow time of rest. For many of us, Autumn summons up a lot of history.
As such, it may be a good time to stop and consider our lives, re-examine how we live, and see if there are changes we’d like to make.
Jesus told a parable today about aligning our actions with our words… Two sons told to go work in Dad’s vineyard. Jesus’ parable illustrates how easy it is to say one thing and do another. Actually both sons are guilty of this – neither one does what he says he will do. Of course, one of them seems more virtuous, because he ends up following his father’s direction even after he refused at first. But the disconnect is there in both.
We could talk more about these two sons, and their words and their behavior, but generally we can all agree that it’s best to do what you say you’ll do. I can still go back to occasions when I haven’t done what I promised to do…and feel the hot shame of that. Maybe you can, too.
But that’s kind of a scolding approach to the parable. More often than not, Jesus is not trying to scold us. His real goal, I believe, is to call us to live a richer, fuller, more satisfying life. He called it abundant life, eternal life, fullness of life. So another approach to this parable, which appeals to me more, is to flip it over and talk about the things we say we’ll do in life – for our own good – and don’t necessarily follow through on. I’m talking about the resolutions we make to treat ourselves better, to be kinder to ourselves, to have a bit more fun in life, to enjoy our families and friends more. (I’m not really talking about resolutions to lose weight and get in shape, good those they may be for us. That gets back to the realm of scolding.)
I’ll start. I’ve been thinking and saying for a couple of years now that I really am going to get back to regular piano playing again – I know it brings me joy and a kind of serenity that’s rare. Other life demands had crowded out the piano for me, and I wanted to get back to it.
And yet, I have not done it. I have no good excuses. I’m not so busy that I couldn’t make time to play at least a little every day. But I have not. So why the disconnect? Why don’t I do what I say I’ll do? Why can’t I give myself and honest YES? Maybe preaching this sermon will give me the push I need to get on with it. I hope so. You can help me by asking how the piano is going….
I believe we are experiencing an Autumn in the life of our parish as well – here at St. Dunstan’s. Churches go through cycles, and we are a smaller congregation now than we were for many years. That means we’ve had to make changes in our life together – how we do things with fewer people. We miss the old crowds on Sundays. Churches are going through this all over – it’s a pattern in many American churches. It sometimes feels like a little death – the death of the way it was. We wonder what the Winter will be like. It’s all the more important to gather together and keep warm – keep the home-fires burning – during this time of change.
I have been thinking about the year coming up – 2018 – which will be our 60th anniversary year as a congregation in Bethesda. How will we reflect on that marker? How will we celebrate this milestone? Are there things we say we are, that we haven’t followed through on? Are there disconnects between what we say and what we do? These are all good questions for us to consider. I can sense Jesus prodding us gently to do that.
We should also ponder our hopes and dreams for St. Dunstan’s. What do we want our future to look like? What are we willing to do – to invest – to help make that future a reality? What can we give an honest YES to? And also - What would we like our surrounding community to know about St. Dunstan’s? And how will we tell them?
Jesus always has a way of gently calling us to reflect on how we live, and notice the disconnects that may be there – the disconnects between what we say and what we do, between how we live and how we really want to live. Maybe Autumn is a good time to do that, as old things are passing away and new things are yet to come. Sometimes we need a little nudge to move in the direction that’s best for us – move to a place where we might be more joyful, more connected to others, and more of a gift to the world around us. There’s no shame in change, in letting go of what is old, and making room for what is new. Jesus’ whole life was about that, culminating in a very painful death, followed by a most glorious resurrection. That is the source of all our hope.
So I hope this can be a season of honest reflection for us, and openness to change. If at first you don’t succeed, …try shortstop!