On this day the Lord has acted. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
I’m gonna drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it,
But I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
A little of the glory of, well time slips away
And leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of…
Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days.
The heart may freeze or it can burn.
The pain will ease if I can learn.
There is no future.
There is no past.
I live each moment as my last.
There’s only us.
There’s only this.
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.
No other road.
No other way.
No day but today.
-From the musical Rent
What is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish…this also is vanity.
It’s come to this. I’m doing jigsaw puzzles. I’ve never been that interested. I didn’t get the point. But sheltering in place has brought change. I’ve been presented with challenging puzzles, lots of pieces looking exactly the same. And I’m hooked. I just have to find one more piece. Just one more. One reason I’ve never done these puzzles is that you spend all this time and end up with some beautiful picture and then you rip it up and put it back in the box. Done.
Reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, which we’ve been reading on a daily basis lately. The key word: vanity. You work hard all life and then it’s done and who knows what happens to the work you did. Some jerk follows who undoes it, does it a different way, doesn’t get what you’ve done, doesn’t care. If I was in charge of the final edit, I’m not sure I would have included Ecclesiastes in the Bible. But thanks be to God, no one appointed me editor. There it is and here we are, taking in its sometimes puzzling message, which actually may have a word for us this morning.
I grew up the child of an ad-guy, okay a mad man (as in Madison Avenue). My memories were that my father and colleagues were enviably fun and successful, witty and attractive, not to mention well-compensated. Glory days. As decades have passed, as my father has passed, many of those colleagues have ended their lives in isolation, often debilitated, sometimes broke in all kinds of ways that humans break, festive life an ancient memory. Maybe you know similar stories. As I visit nursing homes, I always want to know the stories of men and women who live there. Too often those stories are forgotten. They can’t remember. They can no longer speak of them. The stuff of Ecclesiastes.
When I’m leading worship, the blessing I often offer at the end begins: “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.” Many people use and love this blessing. It touches people unlike others. I think it’s because we all know that life is indeed short. Just blink. The prayer invites us to use the time we’ve been given for good. The advent of Covid and the tragic death of George Floyd sharpen our attention with pain and urgency. The times in which we live pose this stewardship question: What do we do with the gift of the time we’ve been given? This day?
Let me tell you about Neva, who came to our 7:30 service every Sunday. She was in her nineties. Nothing could get in the way of attendance. I believe if an earthquake was followed by a blizzard by a blackout by a tornado by a bomb scare by a pandemic, she would still be in church. On the few occasions she wasn’t there, I’d phone her. There aren’t many parishioners I could do that with in a culture where regular church attendance no longer means weekly. Every Sunday, as she left the church, she would remind me: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”
Thanks be to God, in the symphony of scripture, in the choir of biblical voices some of which are dissonant, Ecclesiastes is not the only message. A message of hope in God’s future is at the core of scripture, for sure. But let’s just listen this morning to Ecclesiastes and ask: What will we do with the gift of this day?
Start by giving thanks for the gift of today, the present. Then maybe ask how to be of service in this day, a day marked by health crisis, economic challenge, racial injustice. Ask how to love God and neighbor more deeply. How to live into values held dear just that one day. Maybe at the end of that day, check-in and see if you were able to live into those values. In our own lives, in our families, in our churches, in our denomination, in our nation, we can give thanks for good things in the past. But we need not focus on former glory days, but on what God asks of us now. As St. Paul said, now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation.
Okay, back to the puzzle.
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