Saturday, September 4, 2021

“Salty Saints and Bright Believers” - September 5, 2021

Text: Matthew 5:13-16

Can we talk about chemistry?  The school year has started, so I think this is OK.  You know, I don’t get to use chemistry that often, so I saw an opportunity this morning and thought I better take it.

Our scripture today is about salt.  Salt is made of sodium and chlorine – Sodium Chloride.  You can take sodium hydroxide--a super caustic substance used in things like oven cleaners.  It is used in things say, “keep out of reach of children.”  And then you can take hydrochloric acid, a very strong acid that will eat right through your clothes if you spill it.  (Don’t ask me how I know that.)  When you mix the two together, you get salt and water.

Salt is an amazing thing.  The ancient world didn’t know much chemistry, but they absolutely knew the importance of salt.  Jesus used salt to describe his followers.  He said, “You are the salt of the earth.”  We use that expression today to describe a good, solid, dependable person.  

When Jesus described his followers – when he described us – as the salt of the earth, what did he mean?  In the ancient world, salt was a valuable commodity.  

It was a preservative.  In a time when there was no refrigeration – which includes most of history – using salt was the best way to preserve food.  It was used to brine or cure meats and other foods.  

For most of us, the most obvious quality of salt is that it gives flavor.  What would food be like without flavoring?  

Several years ago I watched a show on the Food Network called "Restaurant Impossible."  It went out of production a few years back, but just this week I saw that it was back on the air with new episodes.  

The show combines cooking and travel and building renovation and marketing and budgeting and conflict management and sometimes family therapy – all interesting in themselves, but then you put those things together with this no-nonsense chef Robert Irvine, and you have great television.  At least on some nights.  

The way it works is that he travels to a failing restaurant, quickly assesses the situation, and then works to turn it around.  He has an interior designer, a carpenter, two days and $10,000.  They might remodel the dining room, tweak the menu, update the kitchen, or change the way the business is managed.  They work feverishly with the limited budget and time schedule, and then they reopen and a crowd of diners tests out the new and improved restaurant.

Sometimes it can be just a small thing causing the restaurant to do so poorly.  Robert Irvine will have the chef make four or five of their best dishes and he will taste them.  And it is amazing how often one of the big problems is that the food is just bland.  Tasteless.

The chef will put a little oil on the grill and then sear a steak, and Robert Irvine will go ballistic.  The chef had used no salt, no pepper, no seasoning.  You can fix everything else but if the food has no seasoning, if it is lacking in taste, you aren’t going to make a go of it.

As it turned out, I watched it this week for the first time in a long time, and part of the problem with this particular restaurant is that the food was just awash in salt.  The cook was using way too much of it.

Jesus says that in people, in the church, in life as in cooking, seasoning matters.

As followers of Jesus, we are to add flavor - to add life, to add zest, to add joy, to add goodness.  Sometimes Jesus’ followers can kind of oversalt things, if you will – aiming for power and control more than life and joy – but Jesus’ point is that we are called to make a difference, to add seasoning that blesses others and blesses our world.

Jesus says that if salt has lost its flavor, then it is good for nothing.  You know, you can get those little salt packets at fast food places.  You might find one of those in the back of the junk drawer that has been sitting there for 25 years, and if you open it and put in on some French fries, it will taste just fine.  I am not speaking from experience here, but some of you might be able to test this out and let me know.  Salt is salt, it just doesn’t go bad.

But here is the thing: in Jesus’ day, salt did go bad.  The salt that we use has been processed and cleaned up so that if you keep it dry, it can last pretty well indefinitely.  But in that day salt was harvested along with other natural substances.  It was never 100% sodium chloride.  When that other stuff went bad, you had to throw it out.

Jesus is saying that his followers are to preserve and protect and add flavor and seasoning to life.  When they no longer do that, they are like salt that has no flavor.

And then Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.”  What a big, bold statement – you are the light of the world!  

A little over a year ago, we were hit by a derecho – one of our new vocabulary words of the last year or so.  At our house, we were without power for 5 days.  For some of you, it was longer.  When it got dark, it was really dark.  Candles and cell phone flashlights only go so far.  

Houses in Palestine were very dark.  The lamp, such as it was, was typically a small bowl with oil and a floating wick.  They did not have matches, didn’t have cigarette lighters, and oil lamps could be difficult to re-light.  So when people left the home, the lamp was sometimes put under an earthen basket that allowed enough air for the flame to burn but also insured that it could burn safely.  

But that was not its purpose.  A lamp was not meant to be put under a basket; it was meant to provide light.  When Jesus says that we are the light of the world, we are to help others see the way.  We are to shine our lights so that others can see Jesus.  We are to shine our lights of kindness and compassion.  We are to shine our lights so that truth can be seen and injustice and falsehood and all kinds of wrong can be addressed.  
Jesus has said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Now on this Labor Day weekend, on this Labor Sunday, We need to hear Jesus’ words not so much as a suggestion or imperative – “You need to be the salt of the earth” – but more as a simple statement of fact.  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.

Jesus is saying that our lives matter, what we do matters, and we make a difference.  So this morning, I want to say to you that your labors, your efforts, matter a great deal.

Your work can be a holy calling.  I think of counselors and therapists and social workers and probation officers and nurses and teachers who make a real difference in people’s lives.  But it’s not just that – I think of accountants and factory workers and office workers and barbers and retail workers who are people of integrity and goodness.  We had a plumber out to our house this week.  He was humming and almost singing the whole time he worked.  It was a joy to have this guy working at our house.  We haven’t got the bill yet, maybe it won’t feel like such a joy, but I think in his way he was being salt and light.

I think of students of all ages who are fun people to be around, who are kind and helpful, who study hard but also take time for others.  I think of all those people who are working on big issues, big problems in science and engineering and medicine and social sciences, working to make the world a better place.

What you do is holy work. You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.

What Jesus says, really, is amazing.  And who are we to argue with Jesus?  I don’t mean to leave occupations out here.  And it isn’t just those who are in the ranks of the employed.  I think of all kinds of folks who bring salt and light to their friends, to their family, to their neighborhood, to their church, to places where they volunteer, to our community.  

David Lose, one of my professors at Luther Seminary, wrote:

Perhaps the largest challenge most congregations I know face — indeed, what the twenty-first century church faces, to be quite honest — is to overcome the disconnect most Christians experience between what we do on Sunday and what we do the rest of the week.  

That’s a little hard to hear, but I think Lose has a point.  Some of this may be on clergy who can spiritualize everything to the point that it doesn’t seem to have any real-life application.  And some of this may be on folks who have neatly separated their Sunday experience from the rest of the week.  

When we offer our time and talent and labor to God – whether through our job, through volunteering, through our family, or through being a good friend – we are being salt and light, and it is a holy calling.  Sunday and the rest of the week is all one package; it’s all God’s time.

Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”  This Labor Sunday is a good time to think about our work in terms of our faith, to think about being salt and light not so much here on a Sunday morning, but in our home, in our neighborhood, at school and in our places of work, and to commit our work to the Lord.

Lillian Daniel is a pastor in Davenport.  She shared that on the Sunday before Labor Day, her congregation is invited to bring symbols of their work to the altar to be blessed.  People bring laptop computers, shovels, notebooks, mops, boots, resumes, maybe an ear of corn.  You get the idea.

She shared that not everybody plans ahead.  So one time she invited people who hadn’t remembered to bring anything to come forward and leave the workplace symbols they had with them.  Yes, she asked them to put their cell phones on the table.

She said that you could feel a great awkwardness.  Only a few people walked forward and placed their phones at the front of the church.  She said, “Don’t be scared, we will give them back after the service - Pastor Seth and I are pretty trustworthy.  And you can keep an eye on them from the pews.”

This generated a lot of discussion at coffee hour.  People talked about being unwilling to part with their phones. Others talked about what it felt like - both the freedom and the anxiety of it.  

We may not be in the habit of asking God to bless the tools of our work.  We may not think in terms of committing our work to the Lord.  But our work can be a holy calling.  For many of us, one of the main places our ministry happens is through our work.

You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  May God bless your labors.  May God bless your ministry.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A Note to Readers

Hello Everybody, 

It has been some time since I have posted here.  We have been putting worship videos on our YouTube channel for many/most Sundays and in the craziness of the past months, I have simply gotten out of the habit of posting sermons here.

This past Sunday, however, we had more than the usual amount of difficulty with technology, including a power outage at church which necessitated setting up for Zoom worship with a cell phone for audio/video at our outdoor service, only to have power return five minutes before the service began.  A few minutes into the service, audio inexplicably went out and we switched back to a cellphone, which worked fine until the battery got low.  We then switched to another cell phone, and that change did not go well.  There was an unexplained echo loop that we worked on for a few monutes - in the middle of the service - until we were finally forced to close the Zoom meeting.  About half of our worshipers were on Zoom.  

So, I have been prompted to post sermons here again.  For those who were "kicked out" of worship on August 29, I apologize, and you can at least read the sermon below.  I have added the recent series on the Psalms and will try to keep posting in the weeks ahead.



“A Song for the Journey” - August 29, 2021

Text:Psalm 121

This summer, we have been looking at a number of different Psalms in worship, and this is the last in a series of sermons from the Psalms.  (Please, hold your applause!)   Our scripture this morning is Psalm 121.  If you look in your Bible, the heading over this Psalm probably says something like “A Song of Ascents.”  Not a Song of Scents, as in Smells; or Sense, as in Common Sense; or Cents, as in Dollars and Cents; but a Song of Ascents, as in going up.  Psalm 120 through 134 are all songs of ascent.

What does that mean?  They didn’t need elevator music, right? Basically, these were travel songs, songs that groups of travelers would sing on the way to Jerusalem.  The journey was along a road that increased in elevation, especially as one approached the city.  It was a mostly uphill journey, and the Psalms of Ascent were traveling songs for that journey.

You know, traveling has always had its challenges.  I have two siblings, two sisters, and I remember as a child our family traveling to grandma’s house.  We had a 1960 Ford Falcon.  It was an automatic, a fancy 2-speed automatic, if you can believe it.  The car was blue-green, a shade they don’t really use for cars anymore. It had vinyl upholstery on the seats with lines on it, and in the back seat those lines defined our territory – I was on one side, Leigh Ann on the other, and Amy, the youngest, stuck in the middle.  Those lines were not just suggestions – they were absolute boundaries that you were not to cross.  It just made for a better trip for everybody.  Especially my mom and dad, I’m sure.  

Enough fighting went on in the back seat that this rule was necessary.  Susan also has two sisters, and they had the same setup on their car trips.  Maybe you had a similar rule.  Maybe you still do.

Today, when we go on trips to see family, we will usually have our dog Rudy with us.  He is a terrible traveler.  He is actually better than he used to be; you could say that he has improved to terrible.  And then in the summer, because of the heat, we can’t go in somewhere and leave Rudy in the car, so we often take a picnic lunch, which can be nice, but it’s one more thing to take care of before we leave, and who really wants to have a picnic when it’s 96 degrees?

The ancient Israelites did not face these specific challenges, but then again, they had challenges that we definitely don’t have to worry about.

Over the last few weeks, thousands of students have descended on Ames.  Some of you are among them.  Many came from a short distance – maybe from a town in Iowa, an hour or two away.  Others had a longer trip – maybe from the Twin Cities or Chicago, or maybe from a place like Texas or New Jersey or Florida.  And then a good number of students came from other countries, from China or Indonesia or Ghana or Nigeria.  No matter how far you have traveled to get here, moving into the dorm or into an apartment can be a major undertaking.   

What do you do on those long trips?  How do you pass the time while traveling?  For thousands of years, one of the answers has been music.  So we have travel songs.  “Found a Peanut.”  “There’s a Hole in the Ground.”  And then one of the worst songs ever, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.

Nowadays we can be a bit more sophisticated than that.  Technology make a difference.  We have radio.  We have Spotify.  We can stream whatever music we want.  If you are going to the ocean, you can play beach music and surfer songs.  Going to visit my parents, I have sometimes played “Indiana Wants Me, Lord I Can’t Go Back There.”

It is interesting that the Psalms contain 15 different songs of ascent – essentially, 15 different traveling songs.  That’s ten percent of the Psalms.  But then, consider that there were numerous festivals in Jerusalem each year, with the biggest and most important being Passover.  These were songs that you would sing every year on your way to Jerusalem.  When you think of it in this way, the Songs of Ascents become a kind of seasonal collection of music – maybe a distant cousin to our Christmas carols, which as it happens make up close to 10% of our hymnal.

I am impressed that as the Israelites traveled, they sang Psalms filled with an awareness and a dependence on God.  Psalm 121 is maybe the best-known of the Psalms of Ascent.  It begins with an acknowledgment of need.

We often use the metaphor of life as a journey.  This can be a helpful image, and if that’s the case, then we all need some help along the way.  When we travel, many of us depend on GPS or a navigation system.  We have to stop for gas – or maybe a charging station.  Our car may break down on the side of the road and we have to call AAA.  And if we are traveling very far we need a place to stay and a place to stop and eat.  We cannot get very far all on our own.  

In the journey of life, we need help.  The question is, where do we turn for help?  “I lift my eyes to the hills - from where does my help come?”

I had always thought of this as a beautiful, poetic phrase, which it is – “I lift my eyes to the hills” - but there is a reason the hills are mentioned.  It is not that they portray strength and steadfastness and power; it is not that we might identify the majesty of the mountains with God.  In this case, it is actually the opposite.  If you were to look to the hills ahead as one journeyed to Jerusalem, you might think of danger.  The hills provided opportunities for robbers to hide and ambush travelers.  And in the hills were altars to the god Ba’al and sacred Asherah poles dedicated to foreign deities.  Who one might call on for help was a real question.  

Beyond that, it could be just plain tough going traveling uphill, most often by foot, and maybe carrying small children.  The hills were not necessarily a welcome sight.  

I lift my eyes to the hills – a place of uncertainty, hardship, potential danger - from where will my help come?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved… he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

Having one’s “foot moved” was an expression of misfortune.  In mountainous areas, losing your footing could lead to a very dangerous situation.  I remember helping roof a house one time – it was on a Habitat for Humanity work site.  It had rained earlier in the morning, and at one point as I walked across the roof my foot started to slide – I was afraid I might fall right off the roof.   

There are a those times in life when our feet may slip.  It can come in any number of ways - through a layoff, a divorce, an illness, through a disagreement that becomes a feud that becomes a personal vendetta, it can come through loss and grief.  It can come about because of a poor choice we have made.  It happens.  As we journey through life, we need to know that God is there and God will keep us from falling.

And we know that God will be there because God does not sleep.  God will not fail to take notice.  

The journey to Jerusalem might take a few days.  When the group stopped for the night, someone would keep watch.  After a hard day of traveling, staying awake was hard.  It was important to stay awake and alert.  There were dangers lurking, both wild animals and unsavory people.

Some of you can have difficulty staying awake.  I know it because I’ve seen it on Sunday mornings.  But I have the same trouble, especially on Sunday afternoons.  

In this journey of life, we need someone to look out for us, someone to keep watch that we can depend on, someone who will be there, who will not doze off.  

“The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”

There is a reason we call this service “Worship under the Trees.”  How many people would come if we decided to have “Worship under the Hot Sun?”  It’s just not as inviting.

Imagine walking all day on that hot, dusty road to Jerusalem.  You are tired and thirsty and the sun is blazing down.  Then you round a bend in the road and the trees cover you overhead and there is shade.  You never thought you’d be so glad just for a little shade.

In the trials of life, in the hard times, God protects us, shades us, helps us on our way.  In those times when stress and worry and conflict and apprehension beat down on us like the hot sun, God is there.  When we are treated unjustly, when we are afraid, when we are hurting, “The Lord is your shade at your right hand.”
The Psalm concludes, “The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”  God’s protection is not a fleeting, temporary thing.  God goes ahead of us, God is with us, God is behind us, God is all around us, and God will always be there.  

I look to the hills – from where will my help come?  We actually ask this question all the time.

I look at the syllabus – from where will my help come?

I think about my roommate – from where will my help come?

I look at the bank statement - from where will my help come?

I think of so many suffering from the coronavirus and I think about  hospitals running out of beds – from where will our help come?

We see the devastating images from fires and hurricanes and flooding and earthquakes.  We see and experience the effects of a warming planet.  We see the awful images of war.  We worry about those serving in Afghanistan and so many trying to get out of that country.  We lift our eyes to the hills.  From where will our help come?

This is not just an ancient song voiced by those going to Jerusalem.  It is a question we all ask.

On a long and difficult journey, the Psalmist chooses to be hopeful, to sing of trust in God and remember God’s goodness and care.  

Now here’s the thing: as a song, this is not supposed to be a solo effort.  This Psalm was sung by the community as they traveled together.  Our help comes to all of us together from God, and sometimes the way that God offers help is through the strength and compassion and guidance and acceptance of the community of faith.  So think of this as a great choir of many voices singing together.   

The Psalmist gives us a song for the journey of life.  “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”  Amen.

“Almost Living” - August 22, 2021

Text: Psalm 90

We have read some much-loved Psalms in recent weeks.  Psalm 1 – “Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord… they are like trees planted by water.”  Psalm 139 – “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Psalm 148, which sees all of creation, from the stars and the heavens to the trees to cattle to even seas monsters praising the Creator.  Last week, we looked at the 23rd Psalm - “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  There are many treasured Psalms, but Psalm 90 is probably not going to make a lot of favorite Psalms lists.  It is one of the more sobering, if not downright depressing of the Psalms.

Speaking of the years, the Psalmist writes, “You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning…in the evening it fades and withers.”  Psalm 90 is the only Psalm attributed to Moses.  You may remember that Moses, the great leader and prophet, did not himself live to enter the Promised Land.  Like everybody else, his days were numbered.

One of the realities of living in a university community is that while those of us who stick around keep getting older, the students stay young.  We are so glad to have new and returning students with us here this morning.  And we need the energy and creativity and gifts and enthusiasm that students bring.  But if you look around the sanctuary – or look around your screen on gallery view – you will see folks who came here as students – 10 or 20 or 30 or 50 years ago - and basically never left.  We all get older.

We had our men’s breakfast this past Tuesday at Perkins.  Several years ago, I would tell people that the Men’s Breakfast was basically me and a bunch of old guys.  Now, it is just a bunch of old guys.

Psalm 90 looks at life through a very realistic lens.  Just as the leaves fall from the trees, just as the grass withers, our days too are numbered.  “All our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.”  This Psalm our finitude very seriously.

Which is more than can be said for most of us.  And certainly more that can be said for our culture.  Death is something we do not want to face, do not want to talk about, and even now I know there is a certain amount of discomfort with this sermon.  We don’t enjoy thinking about death.

Former Indy race car driver Scott Goodyear talked about fatal crashes at the Indianapolis 500.  “You don’t go look at where it happened,” he said.  “You don’t watch the films of it on television.  You don’t deal with it.  You pretend it never happened.”  The Speedway itself encourages this approach.  As soon as the track closes the day of an accident, a crew heads out to paint over the spot where the car hit the wall.  Through the years, a driver has never been pronounced dead at the racetrack.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Racing Museum, located inside the 2.5-mile oval, has no memorial to the 40 drivers who have lost their lives here.  Nowhere is there even a mention.

Many of us take this same approach in our personal lives.  Death is something that we just don’t want to think about.

But we come to scripture and find that the Bible has no such qualms about dealing with death.  It is approached as a part of life, and Psalm 90 is one of the best examples.  It was set to music by Isaac Watts in that great old hymn, “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”  “Time like an ever-flowing stream bears all of us away,” we sing.

This Psalm would have us know that time is indeed fleeting.  Nothing will last forever.  Like sock hops and pet rocks and beanie babies, all of us will come and go.  The Psalm says that we may live 70 years, or maybe 80 if we are lucky.  That was far beyond the average life expectancy when the Psalm was written.  Today, we have a number of members of our congregation in their 90’s and it is not uncommon for people to live past 100.  But no matter how short or how long our life may be, none of us live forever.

Psalm 90 begins: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or you formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”  While we exist “from generation to generation,” God is “from everlasting to everlasting.”  While God is eternal, our lives are fleeting.  

Now, if that is where we leave things, this would be pretty depressing.  This would be a terrible way to start a new school year.  “Welcome back students, and by the way, we are all going to die.”

But you know, there is a real freedom in facing our mortality, in knowing our limits.  Facing death can allow us to truly live.

Sharon Salzberg (in A Heart as Wide as the World: Stories on the Path of Lovingkindness) tells of a friend, normally a fairly healthy person, who came down with a terrible case of pneumonia and was very close to dying.  While he was recovering from his illness, she came home and found a message from him on her answering machine.  Just as she was about to call him back, the phone rang.  The caller happened to be a mutual friend, and when Sharon told her that she had to get off the phone to call this friend, she said in response, “Do you know that he almost died?”  Sharon told her that she knew that, and they ended the conversation so she could give him a call.  But just as she hung up, the phone rang again, and it was another mutual friend.   And the same exact thing happened.  Once more, she told the caller she needed to get off the phone to speak to this friend who was sick, and she immediately said, “Well, do you know he almost died?”

Salzburg wrote,

When I finally managed to reach my friend, I said, “I think I may now expressly refer to you as ‘He who almost died.’”  My friend replied, ‘Well, it’s better than being known as ‘He who almost lived.’”  

“How do you mean that?” I asked.  “Do you mean it like, ‘He who almost escaped with his life but at the last moment didn’t?’?”  “No,” he said, “More in the sense of how we can spend a lifetime almost living, rather than being truly alive.”

I was listening to 70’s on 7 in my car this week and a one hit wonder from 1979 came on.  The song was “Born to Be Alive.”  Anybody remember that?  It was a disco song and that phrase, “Born to Be Alive,” was 75% of the song, but both the music and the meaning stick in your head.  We were born to be alive.  Psalm 90 is not actually disco, but that theme is there.

It is possible to go through life never quite living.  To be known as “the one who almost died” is one thing, but how much worse to be someone who “almost lived.”  Facing the reality that we only have one life and that it will not last forever can give us the freedom to fully live and the motivation to pursue those things that really matter. 

Senator Theodore F. Green from Rhode Island had the distinction of being at the time the oldest senator to serve in the U.S. Congress.  If you fly in to Providence, you will land at the TF Green Airport.

Sen. Green was once at a dinner party when his hostess caught him looking at his date book.  “Now Senator Green,” she said.  “Are you already looking to see where you’re going next?”  “No,” he replied, “I’m trying to find out where I am now.”

Like Senator Green, We would do well to find out where we are now.  We can spend so much of our lives either looking ahead to the future, or back to the past, that we miss the present moment.  Gunther Bornkamm, the Bible scholar, noted that it was that way in Jesus’ time.  There were those like the Pharisees who tried so hard to live by the law inherited from past generations that they failed to get into the now.  Then there were those who looked so forward to the apocalypse, when God would bring an end to the present order and separate the righteous from the unrighteous, that they likewise failed to live in the now.  Bornkamm says that Jesus made it possible to live fully in the present without denying the reality or importance of either the past or the future.

Facing the fact that our days have a limit helps us to live in the present moment.  As the Psalm puts it, “Teach us to count our days that we may have a wise heart.”  

John Robert McFarland is a retired Methodist minister.  Years ago, when I was in Illinois, he pastored a church in a neighboring town.  He is a cancer survivor and wrote a book with the wonderful title, Now That I Have Cancer, I Am Whole.    He writes, “I think God has used my cancer to free me from fretting the future (worrying about what I’m supposed to do next) and regretting the past (worrying about things I left undone) so that I can live right now.  I get more “right now” time in a day than I used to get in a year.”

John Robert went on to say, “I think that surely this is what is meant by eternal life, not just life that goes on forever and ever, but that quality in which all the future and all the past come together in the present, when all life is right here, in the “eternal now.”

Think of the present with both meanings of the word in mind.  The present is a gift, and it is now.  Each day is a gift to be lived fully.  “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”

Sometimes you will hear somebody say, “Life is too short.”  It’s true.  Life is too short to be petty.  It is too short to hold grudges.  It is too short to wait to do the right thing.  Life is too short to waste our time on things that are hurtful or destructive or take away joy.

At the end of their lives, people do not regret time spent with family.  They do not regret efforts to make the world a better place.  They do not regret the time they took to be with friends or care for others or enjoy the world God has created.  They don’t regret that they danced or went hiking or played the piano.  They don’t regret that they took time to worship, that they were part of a community of faith.  They don’t regret their efforts to serve others.

The point is not to keep busy.  There is a bumper sticker that says, “Look busy, Jesus is coming.”  This is about knowing what matters in life.  Jesus put it this way: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

Today is Johnie Hammond’s birthday, and it is great to have so many family members wiht us today.  Johnie and her family love to have parades.  A birthday, some kind of achievement by a family member – which could be anything from a new job to doing well with potty training, good news of any sort – it doesn’t really matter, at the drop of a hat they will bang pots and pans, march around and have a parade to celebrate.  You do not regret that kind of celebration.

What people tend to regret is years wasted in a pointless argument with a loved one.  What they regret is working 24/7 with no time for the things that really matter.  What they regret is getting so wrapped up in small things that they could not see the big picture.  What they regret is pursuing power or money or fame or what they think is security rather than pursuing joy and goodness and community and following the way of Jesus.  

“Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”

The Psalmist knew that life would not last forever.  When we acknowledge our mortality, our limitations, it frees us to live fully, right now and give attention to those things that matter the most.  It can save us from being “the one who almost lived.”  

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations – from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”  Isaac Watts’ hymn captures the essence of this Psalm – there is a sobering recognition of the fleetingness of life.  But there is also a freedom, and a great hope that God gives both for now and for all eternity.  “O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.”  Amen.