November 24, 2019

                                                                              Rev. John Watts

                                                                              Nampa First UMC

 

 

THIS IS THE DAY

Psalm 118:1-9, 19-24

 

On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, we’re going to take a closer look at the verse we just had so much fun singing:  “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!”

Here’s what I think.  See if you agree.  Whether it’s a good day or a bad day is largely up to us to decide.  I wanted to leave out that word “largely.”  I wanted to just say that it’s up to us whether it’s a good day or a bad day.  But we all know things can happen to us that are totally out of our control that can pretty much ruin an otherwise great day.  So we don’t have complete control over this, but I really think we have more control than most of us think we do.

For example, maybe you are familiar with Eeyore, the gray donkey in Winnie the Pooh.  Everywhere he goes, there is a dark cloud that travels with him.  He is always gloomy, always negative, always pessimistic.

You may know someone just like Eeyore.  You don’t dare ask how they are feeling, because they will tell you about every operation they’ve ever had or need to have and how horrible they feel today.  And if you don’t ask they will ask you, “Why didn’t you ask how I am feeling today?”  They are always in misery.  They have kind of a low grade malaise all the time.  And you wonder – is their bad luck the reason for their bad attitude, or is their bad attitude the reason for their bad luck?

There was a barber who had a bad attitude about everything.  A man came to him for a haircut.  The man said he was going to Europe.

The barber asked him where in Europe.  He said, “Well, first we are going to London.”  The barber said, “I don’t know why you would want to go there.  It’s dirty, it’s noisy, it’s expensive, it always rains.  You won’t like London.  Where else are you going?”

“Well, we’re going to Paris next.”  “Well, Paris is worse.  You will find the people there terribly rude.  Where else are you going.”

“We’re flying from Paris to Rome.”  “Not Rome!  Rome is the worst.  The food is terrible.  The streets are crowded.  And whatever you do, don’t go to the Vatican.  The lines are always long.  Don’t think you will see the Pope.  He’s way too busy .  And if you do see him, you won’t understand anything he says.  He doesn’t speak a word of English.  You would think he would learn.”

The man went on his trip.  By the time he got back, he was due for another haircut.  The barber asked him about his trip.

The man said, “London was great.  It was really the most exciting city.  Prices were reasonable.  The sun was out.  Paris is a beautiful city.  Everyone was so kind and polite.  And Rome was best of all.  Everything was wonderful.  We went to the Vatican and we even had a private audience with the Pope.  He spoke to us in perfect English.  He had me kneel, he put his hand on my head, and he gave me a papal blessing.  Then he leaned forward and whispered in my ear.  In perfect English he said, “This really is a lousy haircut.”

We all know people who are always complaining.  They have a negative attitude about everything.  Everything is going to be bad, nothing is going to turn out right.  And you wonder.  Is their bad luck the reason for their bad attitude, or is their bad attitude the reason for their bad luck?

This is actually an old philosophical argument.  Do we see the world as it really is or do we have a distorted view based upon our life experiences, our biases, and our attitudes?  We do know our vision is limited.  Many animals can see better than we can.  We don’t see as well as a hawk, we don’t hear as well as a dog.  So we wonder, if we had sharper eyesight and keener hearing, would we see the world differently?

Philosophers tell us that our sense organs do determine the way we see the world.  So we don’t see “the thing itself”.  That’s how the philosophers put it.  “The thing itself.”  We only see what our sense organs allow us to see.

And of course it’s not just our senses that shape the way we see things.  Our thoughts shape the way we see things as well.  Our opinions.  Our preconceptions.  Our fears.  Our prejudices.  Even our appetite.  As illustrated here.

 

The cat and the baby are looking with great interest at the same goldfish, but they are not seeing that goldfish in quite the same way!

We meet a person for the first time.  What do we see?  Maybe we jump to a conclusion about what that person is like, which is almost sure to be wrong.  We see through the distorted lens of our life experiences.  We judge.  We might make a negative judgment, and for no good reason.  Then we get to know that person, and we find out how wrong we were.  I’m sure we could all tell stories about people we had all wrong until we really got to know them.

So the way we see the world outside of us depends on what is going on inside of us.  Jesus knew that.  He said, “Let those with eyes to see, see; and let those with ears to hear, hear.”  He knew very well there were people who heard every word he said who didn’t hear a single word.  They heard but they did not hear, because they were so immersed in their own expectations and concerns and fears and prejudices that they had may as well have been deaf.

All of which confirms what I said at the very beginning.  Whether it’s a good day or a bad day is largely up to us to decide.  So if you really mean it when you say, “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it,” it will affect your day.  In a big way.  It will make it a better day.  So for the rest of our time, we’re going to talk about what it means to believe, “This is the day the Lord has made.”

First, if this is the day the Lord has made, it means you don’t have to.  That’s not your job.  God is God.  You are not.  So even though your attitude has a lot to do with how you will experience this day, you are not the one who is ultimately in charge.

It’s well established that when people try to do too much, they get burned out.  These are usually the people who say, “It’s all up to me.”  It used to have a poster that said, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”  That’s not a bad pep talk to give yourself now and then.  But the truth is, it’s not all up to me.   Because I’m not God.

Which is a really good thing.  If I am God and things don’t go the way I planned, that’s it.  Nothing more can be done.  If I’m God and I’m not able to get the job done, the job won’t get done.  If I’m God and I fail, that failure is final.  That’s why failure is so devastating for so many people.  They’ve bought into the lie on my poster:  “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”  No it isn’t!!

If I believe in God, if I believe that God is the Creator and not me, that means it’s OK for me to stumble and mess up and fail, and the world won’t come to an end, because this is the day the Lord has made, not me.

Here is another philosophical question:  Is the creation fixed, immovable, and unchanging?  Or is it moving, evolving, and changing?

In the Middle Ages they were pretty sure the world was fixed, immovable, and unchanging.  I think they saw it that way because they had a stake in seeing it that way.  It fit into the way they thought things ought to be. They loved hierarchy.  God was on top, then kings, then patricians, then landowners, and then everybody else.

And practically everybody was “everybody else.”  That’s the way God made things.  That’s the way God intends thing to be.

Then Copernicus and Galileo came along with some very upsetting news.  The earth moves!  It was a whole new way of seeing things.  It was rejected and resisted as long as it could be, but when it was finally accepted people started seeing the world differently.  The world changes and moves and evolves.

And you probably know the story.  The people who fought the hardest against Copernicus and Galileo were the religious people.  They should have known better.  The creation story says God rested on the seventh day of creation.  It doesn’t say that God stopped creating.  On the eighth day, God picked right up where he left off!

In the early church, Sunday was called “the eighth day.”  The seventh day is Saturday.  That’s when God rested.  But one day of rest was plenty.  And so the eighth day, Sunday, is resurrection day.  It’s the day of God’s new creation.  “If anyone is in Christ, he or she

is a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17).

God is always creating.  That’s why good can come out of evil.  That’s why new life can come from tragic events.  That’s why spring follows winter.   Every winter we wonder, don’t we?  But it hasn’t failed yet!   That’s why you can’t say, “This is going to be a terrible day!”  You don’t know enough to say that!  You can’t say, “This terrible thing that happened to me has ruined my life.”  You can’t say, “Things are never going to get better.”  You can’t say, “My life will never change.”  Not if you believe in God.  Because God is always creating which means there are always possibilities for you.

I mentioned earlier that certain people you don’t dare ask, “How are you ?” They will tell you, and it’s always a very sad story.  But we also know people who have had truly awful things happen to them.  They have a genuinely sad story to tell us, but they don’t.  They make light of what they are facing.  They amaze us with their positive attitude.  They make it really hard for us to feel sorry for ourselves, because what we’re facing is nothing compared to what they are facing.  And yet they are as positive as can be.  We hoped maybe to be able to cheer them up, but they are the ones who cheer us up.  They give us hope for the human race.

“This is the day the Lord has made.”  So someone greater than you is in charge of this.  Which means you don’t have to be.

Second, today is all there is.  When we say “this is the day the Lord has made” it means exactly that.  This is the day the Lord has made.  God has not yet made tomorrow.  God hasn’t even worried about tomorrow yet.  So why should you?

Tomorrow is our son Collin’s birthday.  He’ll be 23.  Which means Helen and I are considerably older than that.  Especially since he’s our baby.  He’d the child we had in our old age.  Kind of like Sarah and Abraham.

Do you remember when you were 23?  The sad truth in this church is that almost all of us can.  We are an older crowd.  Time passed slower back then.  Time moves faster the older we get.  Still, we never seem to get over the idea that the meaning of life is to be found in the future, not the present.   Tomorrow gives us hope.  Tomorrow gives us dread.  It works both ways.  Either way, tomorrow keeps from living fully today.

Today is all we have.  Yesterday is gone.  Tomorrow isn’t here yet.  So live today without regret about the past or fear about the future.  There is only this day, this moment, which the Lord has made.

There was an American on vacation in Mexico.  He was sitting on a beautiful beach when he saw a fisherman walking along carrying one single fish.  The American asked him how long it took him to catch that fish.  He said it didn’t take long at all.  The American asked why he didn’t catch more fish.  The fisherman said, “This is sufficient for my family today.”

The American asked him what he does with the rest of his day.  He said, “Well, I sleep late, I fish a little, I play with my children,

I take a siesta with my wife, then in the evening we all walk to the village. I drink some beer, and talk to my friends, and I play the guitar.  I have a very full and happy life.”

The American said, “I think I can help you.  I have an MBA from Harvard.  What you need to do is spend more time fishing.  Catch as many as you can and then sell them.  Make as much money as you can.  Pretty soon you’ll have enough to buy a bigger boat.  It won’t be long and you will own a fleet of boats.  Then maybe you can build a cannery so you can process your own fish.  By then you will be a very wealthy man.  You will want to move to a big American city like Los Angeles.  You’ll be able to afford a beautiful house ”

The Mexican asked, “How long will this take?”

The American said, “If you work hard, maybe 15 or 20 years.”

The Mexican asked, “Then what will I do?”

The American said, “That’s the best part.  Then you can retire, move to some beautiful place, sleep late, fish a little, play with your grandchildren, walk to the village with your wife, play your guitar,

and be with your friends.”

This is the day.

“This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be

glad in it.”

 

May we rejoice and be glad this day and every day, O God.  May we be filled with gratitude, not just at Thanksgiving, but all through the year.  May we be the kind of people who make it easier for other people to see how great and glorious, how good and generous you are.  And right now we simply want to say in our own way, Thank you.  Thank you, God.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen.