New Years Day 2012 Rev. Laurie Furr-Vancini
Luke 13:6-9 Palms Presbyterian Church
A New Day
Once every seven years – give or take a year because of Leap Year—
New Years Day falls on a Sunday.
Welcome to that day.
Let’s put some things on our New Years Table (not be confused with our communion table)…
Most of you are the ones who don’t make a big party of New Year’s Eve.
Some of you do, but not most of you.
Most of you really want to be here today or you would not have made the effort.
(After all, this is a sort of “free pass Sunday”)
One service, no Sunday School,
I don’t even know if we have snacks in Patten Hall…
Look, no choir….no special music….
Pinch Hitter Preacher….
(I traded Christmas Day off for preaching on New Years Day…)
Aside from all that, we are here….
And we will make the best of it.
Please pray with me: God of this New Year, God of our every year. Thank you for dwelling among mortals, among us. Make our time together a holy time.Fill each person here with your Holy Spirit. Make us a holy people. Amen.
From earlier this week:
I’m in Atlanta, or rather, Decatur, with my family.
We are staying with college friends who live at the edge of Columbia Seminary.
The New Years sermon must be written.
We will leave for Nashville for the Wake Forest Bowl Game in three hours.
More college friends, the kids, hotel, tailgate,
Sermon writing needs to take place now or in a car of chaos.
The seminary library is my destination. I
love the quiet, the closed off-ness.
I love the smell of old books and the feeling of retreat for the purposes of serious study.
It is freezing.
And I have no coat. It will be warm in the library.
I break away from the warm house, get in my van and make my pilgrimage to my alma mater.
I walk up the steps to the brick building on the quad.
The library is locked tight.
And so are all the other buildings.
Doesn’t anyone work here the week between Christmas and New Year?
Isn’t this a holy week, too?
Don’t they know traveling preachers have sermons to write?
I stand on the campus alone in the cold and I am resentful and sad.
It isn’t about the library anymore.
It’s about me not getting what I want.
It is about locked, cold doors and cold wind blowing.
And suddenly, it also about what ifs and jealousy of others for whom doors always seem open.
As I simmer in the middle of the quad, I wonder why I have these feelings because the good folks of Columbia have a day off to spend with their families.
Resentment, sadness, jealousy, what ifs….
Isn’t this the way we could spend much of our lives if we are not careful?
I’ll make the best of it.
I go back to my car, pondering those feelings in my heart.
Surprised that I had such a strong, visceral reaction.
I begin driving.
I get on Missionary Drive and head towards downtown Decatur.
A squirrel sitting in the middle of the road darts away from the car.
It has been standing over the body of a second squirrel. A dead squirrel.
Mate? Brother? Sister? Mother? Friend?
I didn’t know squirrels mourn,
But there is no doubt that this squirrel is mourning.
Our scripture from Revelation is already in my mind—
“God will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more”
It is a promise, but does it already exist, as well?
At least in some form?
And could it be true for mourning squirrels, for all of creation, as well?”
I wait for a train to go by and then cross the tracks.
I see several bundled up homeless people and I think about how cold it was last night.
I find an open parking meter and park.
Two hour limit.
Do I have change?
Yes, lots of nickels.
A nickel gets two minutes.
I scrounge around in the bottom of my purse.
2 mintues, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes….
I get up to an hour and 17 minutes.
That is how much time I have in the coffee shop to write a sermon for
New Years Day 2012.
I’ll make the best of it. God expects no less.
I order a cup of coffee.
I have already had breakfast, but I also get a banana and a piece of
Pumpkin bread to give to the next person I see who looks homeless and hungry.
I scan the coffee shop.
No one here looks physically hungry, so I sit down.
An acoustic version of “Honey Let Me Be Your Salty Dog” comes on.
A memory from Macclenny flits by. But I don’t grab it and think about it.
I let it pass. Time is ticking.
I reread the Revelation verse and parable of the fig tree.
O God, please don’t cut me down, give me one more year.
I take out a clear piece of paper and colored markers.
I write in different colors:
New Heaven and New Earth
“Water as a gift from the spring of life!”
Fig tree, fruit, Manure, Digging Around
My task? To link these up.
And time is ticking.
The title of the sermon at my ordination was called
Connecting the Dots.
The pastor, who was a good family friend said, “Follow where the Lord leads you, but don’t erase the dots behind you…connect them, not just on paper, but in reality…. Connect them for yourself and your family and connect the dots for others…..”
Baptism, Communion, New Year, Fig Tree, New Heaven….
Come on. Make the Best of It.
And it occurs to me, as if a revelation, that for God “make the best of it” is actually a cop out.
Because God expects more than the best of it.
God expect the best of us.
God came and dwelled among us and within us not so we could slog by in this world and in our life, making the best of it,
But so that we can be God filled creatures ourselves. Created in the image of God.
Lived out in the life of Jesus, as our pioneer and role model for God-like living.
From our first cry, God claimed us.
At our last breath, God will claim us.
At baptism, God’s grace showered over us.
Not with the promise of a walk in the park, lovely, perfect life where all the doors are open.
There is no promise that we will not stand over the body of one we love and mourn,
There is no promise of no hungry and homeless people,
There is no promise that we won’t be filled with sorrow, regret and jealousy for the what ifs in our lives.
The promise IS that God is with us and in us.
And that God will be with us.
And that the day of those promises will come.
A time of a new heaven and new earth to hope for and pray for
And we see just enough glimpses of that time to come,
We are participants in enough holy moments,
We dig around enough and feel the dirt in our hands enough to know that the promises of baptism,
the promises made when we gather at the table….
That they are true.
We gather at the font to baptize,
Because we believe in the promises of God’s grace.
Because we believe in the power of God in Christ Jesus over the evil in the world.
Because as a body of believers, we claim God’s promises not only for ourselves but for brothers and sisters of all ages, stages, races, backgrounds. And we are in this together.
We love, because God first loved us.
And we gather at the table together renewing our bonds with God and with community…
Strengthening who we are and who we are called to be.
Empowered to “go forth” as disciples and as a community of disciples.
This what we do here….
Reading the bible,
thinking on the word,
baptizing, gathering at the table,
connecting the dots,
rooting around in the dirt and manure of life…..and proclaiming “Jesus is Lord”….
Isn’t this more than just “making the best of it?”
And we are linked with those who come before us
And those who come after us.
But still, it is a New Day for us.
A New Year to decide who we will be.
As individuals, As a community, as a country, as a world.
I leave the coffee shop.
The sun is shining now and I don’t miss not having a coat.
I see a young mother kiss her child as she puts him in a stroller.
Two Muslim women in head scarves walk by.
Teenagers are laughing in the adjacent park.
I look around for someone to whom I can give the banana and the pumpkin bread. It is later and the homeless have crept into the shadows.
I know that just because I do not see them, they are not there.
And I will not forget them, I vow.
I think WHAT A BLESSING IT HAS BEEN THAT THE LIBRARY DOORS WERE LOCKED.
I arrive at my car and I have two minutes left on the meter.
The bells on the courthouse chime.
Today is a new day.