4 Pentecost, Year B
The Rev. Ted Berktold
Propers: Job 38: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-32;
2 Cor. 6: 1-13; Mark 4: 35-41
Paul left us a lot of memorable phrases in his letters to the Corinthians. Who doesn’t know these words from chapter 13 in I Corinthians: “Faith, hope and love abide; these three. But the greatest of these is love.” In last week’s epistle he said: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5: 6) It’s such a good line it was the title and theme of the recessional hymn. In today’s Epistle, he quotes a memorable phrase from Isaiah, chapter 49, verse 8: “At an acceptable time I listened to you,” says the Lord, speaking through Isaiah to the people of Israel, “and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” And then we hear Paul’s words, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation.” How often do we, like Paul, have to remind ourselves to live in “the here and now?” A favorite phrase 2000 years ago was “carpe diem,” Latin for “seize the day.” The American version might be, “Have a nice day.” Australians simply say, “G’day”. “Carpe diem” is a phrase we still use, even if most people don’t know Latin. We pray a version of “carpe diem” in Psalm 118, verse 24: "This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." This is God's day, seize it; make it a joyful one. Paul picks up that theme of seizing each day and finding joy in the present in his letter to the Philippians. "Rejoice in the Lord always," he writes in chapter four. (Phil. 4: 4) Rejoice in the Lord right now; rejoice in the Lord every day.
The world is filled with people who wake up in the morning dreading the day. They don't want to seize it; they would like to avoid it. For them, there is nothing to look forward to, nothing to rejoice about. Needless to say, if you start the day like that, you are not likely to live it fully. There are reasons some people feel that way all of the time, and reasons all people feel that way some of the time. Illness can bring you down, or the death of someone close to you, or your job, or family problems. While these external things affect us and cannot be changed, much of our response to the day comes from inside us, and it can be changed. One way to seize the day is to realize that there is no time like the present. "This is the day," says the psalmist. Yesterday is gone, we can't bring it back. Tomorrow hasn't arrived yet, and day-dreaming won't bring it any faster. But today is here, with all its possibilities. We can live it, explore it, enjoy it. Don't let it go by like a good book left unopened on a shelf. It’s possible to live so much in the past that today never touches you, like the people who look back on their school days and the relationships of that time so intensely that they never seem to make friends today. Some people live in the past because of mistakes they have made. They carry a mountain of regret and remorse. Their day is overshadowed before the dawn has a chance to lighten it, and they dread it. Other people live in the future. They may see the future with anxiety, or look to it as a way of escaping anxiety, but the result is the same. They miss today. How many couples have spent so much time preparing for the kind of life they wanted in old age that they eventually grew apart in middle age? The Spanish have a proverb: The path of presently and the road of tomorrow lead to the castle of nothing at all.
Not so with Jesus. Certainly no one appreciated the past more than he did. He was always turning back to the spiritual insights of his ancestors. It’s easy to find a story in the Old Testament that relates to an Epistle or a Gospel. We do it every Sunday. He didn't ignore the future. He spoke of the life that is to come, in the fullness of time. But you can't miss the fact that while he appreciated the past and looked to the future, he lived in the present. For Jesus, this day was the important day. He taught us to pray "Give us this day our daily bread." When people were anxious about the future, he told them "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." When a man was busy building barns preparing for an abundant tomorrow here on earth, he was told, "This night thy soul shall be required of thee." When Jesus' friends were fearful about what might happen to them and wondered what to say if persecuted, he told them, "Words will be given to you when the time comes." At the last hour of his life, he turned to the penitent thief on the cross next to his and said, "Today you shall be with me in paradise." There is no time like the present. More important than making a “bucket list” is making the most of today. We need a life, not a list. Alcoholics Anonymous is right; live your life a day at a time. If you have made mistakes, do what you can to correct them. If you're not prepared for the future, make reasonable preparations, and then let the future take care of itself, let the past go, and live today. Enjoy it, that's what God wants us to do. Not just endure it, but enjoy it as a gift filled with blessings.
Today is such a gift we call it the present, the saying goes.
"We will be glad and rejoice in this day," says the psalm. It doesn't say "we shall be glad." That would mean we would be glad regardless.... But we will be glad means that we are determined to be glad. We may not feel like it, but we're going to do it because we have a share in the control of our emotions. We're not entirely the victim of the way we feel at the moment.
I know that inside us there is something like a house with separate rooms. One holds our thoughts, our intentions, our conscious activities. In another are the things we don't have control over, like the nerve in our eye that twitches and we can't tell it to stop. There are instinctive emotions, fears which rise up when we least expect them and over which we appear to have no control. There is a feeling today among many people that they are the victim of what's in that room. While there are things we can't control the way we control our hands, we can send messages inside ourselves. Just as we can tell our muscles to relax, we can send messages to our emotions and change them. Dealing with Penny’s continuing health concerns over the past three years has made us both realize just how much we can change our emotions. One way we do that is to say this verse together every morning when she wakes up (they are the first words she says aloud): "This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." We can be better than we feel. Sometimes the words came only from our lips, but eventually, they get from one room to the other inside us and they change our feelings, they change us. They heal us, just as your prayers and love for us have changed us and healed us. We thank you for that from the bottom of our hearts.
Paul got it right. “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” With God’s help, we are all able to seize the day, this day which the Lord has made. With God’s help, we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Let us pray:
Let your love be here
Fill us with your peace
Let your joy be here
Fill us with your grace
Let your light be here
Fill us with your power
Let us know that you are here
Fill us with your presence
Today and every day. Amen.