May 3, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
ONE DAY AT A TIME
“Doyle Masters was a 47-year-old United Methodist pastor, which is exactly what I am.” That was the first sentence of a sermon I preached in 2003. So that sentence is no longer true. In 2003 I was 47 years old. You can do the math.
As I read that sermon I preached 17 years ago, I thought it might not be a bad idea to preach it again.
I do not remember how I heard about Doyle Masters. I’m pretty sure we never met. Somehow I came across a letter he wrote to his congregation. It must have been a hard letter for him to write and a harder letter for them to hear:
The options open to me medically are minimal and do not promise renewed energy or longevity. The other option is to turn this over to God in faith for his healing and ultimate will. This we have been directed to do by God after much prayer and spiritual surrender. What the future holds we do not know, but we know God holds it. These past few days have rolled over us like an avalanche, leaving in their wake some central certainties. I am thankful for God who is real and personal, for Christ who is present in power, and for the Holy Spirit who is by our side in every struggle. My gratitude overflows for a faith that is unwavering in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and for the personal practice of prayer that brings all God’s promises to bear in any situation.
The last sermon Doyle Masters preached to his congregation followed this outline:
1) Today is all you have.
2) Today is all you need.
3) Today is all you can handle.
That’s all I have of his sermon. Just these three points. I do not know what else he said. I do not know the scripture he used. But I have a pretty good idea.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow
will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of
its own. (Matthew 6:34).
Today is all you have. Today is all you need. Today is all you can handle.
The verse of scripture comes from the Sermon on the Mount. This is our second week tapping into this wonderful three-chapter treasure trove of the teachings of Jesus. Last week we talked about building a life on one of two very different foundations – rock or sand. Today are talking about living the life that we are building – one day at a time.
How else can we live? It’s in the same category as putting our socks on, one sock at a time. I’ve never figured out any other way. I also put my pants on one leg at a time. And I almost fall down when I do so. Although some people have true talent.
(YouTube: “Putting Pants on Two Legs at a Time”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byC7r9g-TJo
But no matter how talented you are, you can’t live two days at once. Why then does Jesus take time for this in his Sermon on the Mount? Because he understands us. He understands how our minds work. Even though today is all we have, we have a hard time staying in the present moment. We have a tendency to drift in time, either into the past or into the future.
It can be a fun trip. I have a lot of pleasant memories in my past and that occasional trip down memory lane can be enjoyable. And I have things I’m looking forward to that haven’t happened yet. Anticipation can make life sweeter.
The real problem comes when our mental time travel is not so sweet. It’s torture. Guilt and regret over the past. You are stuck there. Those mental tapes keep looping. You can’t let it go. Or fear and worry over the future. Something that is coming, real or imagined. Sometimes just a general feeling of anxiety or dread. There’s nothing really to attach it to, but it’s there. It’s always there. It’s your constant companion.
Jesus understood this. He understood how our minds work. It’s how his mind worked, too, I’m pretty sure. We preachers are often preaching to ourselves, and this Sermon on the Mount may be an example of this. Jesus was human, so he experienced what we experience. But Jesus was also God, so he can help us when we get stuck. And a lot of people get stuck in the past or in the future – in regrets or in worries.
I saw a sign that said, “Free Lunch Tomorrow.” I was getting all excited. Then I realized there is no such thing. There is no free lunch. And there is no tomorrow. Because when tomorrow comes it is today.
There is of course another way to look at this. All of us will live a day one day that will be our last day on earth. So in that sense we can never be sure there will be a tomorrow. James wrote about this:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain,” whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that” (4:13-15).
Today is all you have. So live today.
The second point of Doyle Masters’ sermon: Today is all you need. Our wants are many, but our needs are few, and God can be counted on to meet these needs on a daily basis. Paul writes to the Philippians, “My God will richly fill your every need in a glorious way through Christ Jesus” (4:19).
As I mentioned, this is a sermon I preached 17 years ago. But it’s not exactly the same. I’m cutting and I’m adding, as I think of better ways to illustrate these same three points.
For example, I had no sooner typed that verse from Philippians – about how “God will richly fill your every need in a glorious way” – than somebody stopped by the church to see me. We talked about how this COVID-19 quarantine is hitting some people harder than others. Some people are really hurting and other people are doing just fine. The person asked if I knew of a family in our church that could use some help. I mentioned the first family that came to mind. And I was given a generous sum of money and asked if I could deliver it.
Put yourself in the position of that family. Maybe some bill is overdue. Maybe food is running low. Maybe fear and panic is setting in. Maybe a prayer of desperation has just been prayed. And then this totally unexpected gift. “My God will richly fill your every need in a glorious way through Christ Jesus”.
There is an Old Testament story about God’s provision for our daily needs. The Israelites were traveling through the barren wilderness on their 40-year journey to the Promised Land. There wasn’t much food or water to sustain them. But God provided for their needs.
As for the food, God provided them with “manna.” No one is quite sure what this manna was. Maybe something like bread. Each day there was a fresh supply, just enough to fill their stomachs for that day. But rather than trust God for their “daily bread,” they started stockpiling the manna. Just in case God would forget to take care of them one day, they had this emergency supply of food. Which actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. But in this case, God was teaching them a lesson. Whatever manna they did not eat one day would be rotten and worm-infested the next day. The lesson: Accept what God provides for today, and trust that God will provide tomorrow.
“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). That’s also in the Sermon on the Mount. God did provide yesterday. God will provide tomorrow. That’s true. But it’s no longer yesterday and it’s not yet tomorrow. Trust God to provide today. Today is all you need.
And finally, today is all you can handle. As Jesus said:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow
will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of
Not the cheeriest thought! “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” But it’s true. Not every day has trouble. Many days are a pure joy. But when trouble comes, and it does, it’s a good thing it comes one day at a time. Because today is all we can handle.
On the first day of second grade, I have a crystal clear memory. Our teacher, Mrs. Snapp had her class gather around a closet in the back of the room. She opened the door and we saw that the closet was filled with books. She explained that we were going to read every one of those books before we were done with second grade. Our eyes got real big. We barely knew how to read. How could we possibly get through all those big books? But we did. Not all on the first day. Today was all we could handle.
Of course you’ve heard the riddle about the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
And then the story of the grandfather clock that stopped ticking. There was nothing wrong with it mechanically. The problem was that it got to thinking about all the times it was going to have to tick for all the years people were going to expected it to tell time. It was just too much. The thought was overwhelming. So the grandfather clock gave up.
Life by the inch is a cinch. Life by the yard is hard.
There is a line from literature that fits here.
“Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” (Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock).
That’s a good description of me sometimes. I’m thinking of what needs to be done next instead of focusing on what needs to be done now. Whatever it is I am doing, I am always thinking of something else I really should be doing instead. And of course if I were doing the thing I really should have been doing instead, I would be thinking that I should be doing the other thing. Am I the only one? Going “madly off in all directions.”
I will call him Joe. He was very talented, very motivated. There wasn’t a lazy bone in his body. His problem was focus. He was frustrated in his chosen career, so he started a second career. Except he didn’t leave one job to take the other. He was working both. And Joe had a family at home that needed him. A wife and two children. They hardly ever saw him. Joe’s wife was getting tired of living this way and she told him so. She could not stay in this marriage unless there were some big changes.
We’ll get back to Joe, but first another story. I will call her Allison. A few years back her husband took their two boys fishing. She would have gone with them except that she was 8 months pregnant. They fished in a rowboat and when they were done they pulled up to the dock. One of the boys misjudged his step as he got out of the boat. He fell into the water. The dad and other son jumped in after him. They all drowned. No one knows how. They were ten feet from safety.
The shock sent Allison into labor. Her little girl was born the very day the rest of her family died. Which meant that every year the birthday of daughter would also be the anniversary of the death of her husband and two sons. It was on that awful and wonderful day, after the birthday party was over, that a friend sat down with her for a cup of coffee. They laughed. They cried. The friend told her she was an inspiration and asked her how she kept going. Here’s what she said: “I take it one day at a time, with God’s help, and on this particular day, I take it one minute at a time. Sometimes one second at a time.”
Joe was not able to save his marriage. He tried to do it all and he lost it all. Allison had already lost it all, but now she and her daughter are making their comeback. The secret? One day, one minute, one second at a time.
Doyle Masters was 47 when he read that letter to his church. He was 48 when he died. His service was more joyous than sad. He had a part in planning it. One thing that was important to him was that the hymn “Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know” be sung.
The story was told about his first Sunday in that church. He was nervous. Very nervous. He was having all kinds of self-doubts. Was he good enough for this church? Would he have anything to say that they would care to hear? He was not exactly bursting with confidence. He had this feeling of impending doom. Then they sang the hymn:
Ask ye what great thing I know,
That delights and stirs me so?
What the high reward I win?
Whose the name I glory it?
Jesus Christ, the crucified.
And he knew it would be all right. Not because of him, and what he could or couldn’t do. But because of Jesus, the crucified, and what he did.
His first sermon in that church wasn’t bad. It wasn’t his best, but it brought people back the following week. And they came back for the right reason – not to hear him, but to hear about Jesus. That was the first of many powerful, Christ-centered, life-changing sermons that he preached in that church. Including the one in which he told his people: Today is all you have. Today is all you need. Today is all you can handle.
Thank you God for today. This is your day. You made it. You gave it to us. And what a gift it is! Some day we will live our last day, which will also be our first day. But we are in no hurry to get there. So help us, O God to learn from your Son, that you gave us life one day at a time for a very good reason. Help us to let go of yesterday. Help us not to worry about tomorrow. Help us to live fully and faithfully on this only day there is – today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.