Living is for Today
June 25th, 2017
I’d like to begin with a little humor, but I want to caution that it is not my intention to display any insensitivity toward those who struggle with any kind of addiction. The story goes as follows: the clergy of a particular locality gathered for their annual summer celebration. There every religious tradition in the city was represented by the local leader. As usual, they congregated in one of the hotel meeting rooms. However, this year the events co-ordinator had scheduled a meeting of the local brewery association in the meeting room next door to the clergy gathering. Both groups had chosen to have large slices of fresh watermelon served as part of the cuisine, yet, there was to be a difference. The brewery folks had specified that something alcoholic be added to the watermelon. Sure enough, the caterer got the locations mixed up and the groups got each others’ watermelon slices, so the reverends got something a little extra with their fresh fruit. Somehow the caterer realized what had happened soon after the food had been put on the tables, so he went to the manager and asked what to do. The manager advised, Well, the best thing at this point is to monitor the situation and let me know what’s happening.
A few minutes later the caterer came back and said, Sir, it’s too late. They’ve already eaten the watermelons. So, what are they doing now?
The caterer replied, Well, the Catholic priest has collected little chunks of watermelon and he’s squeezing them through a handkerchief into a glass and sipping the juice slowly. The Jewish rabbi is trying to buy an extra watermelon to take home. The Presbyterian parson is gnawing on a rind. The Methodist pastor is demanding seconds, and the Southern Baptist preacher is going from plate to plate collecting the seeds!
Now the Southern Baptist preacher had the right idea didn’t he? Let’s just get a seed that will produce a happiness-producing appetizer. Our psalmist, in today’s scripture, seems to be longing for something similar - for gladness, joy, and the beauty of the Lord. But this same poet, as you heard, has been for the most part in a minor key. We recall that early on in the poem he has already written the following:
[God], You turn mortals back to dust ... We are brought to an end by your anger, terrified by your wrath. You set our out iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass under your wrath; our years die away like a murmur. Seventy years is the span of our life, eighty if our strength holds; at their best they are but toil and sorrow, for they pass quickly and we vanish. Psalm 90:3, 7-10
We’re not exactly in the middle of O Happy Day here! The writer isn’t composing an ancient version of There is Sunshine in My Soul, and he’s certainly not Annie belting out The sun’ll come out tomorrow! There is recognition here that life deals some lousy hands, and that death, disease, disappointment, and despair do their part to mark our lives and stress us out.
And believe me, the psalmist is saying, seventy or eighty years of that is enough - more than enough. Yet, somewhere down deep he believes that God isn’t really the source of misery. God isn’t the sadistic sender of wretchedness and depression who says to his creatures, Take this you pitiful earthlings! Here - see what you can do with AIDS. Give cancer a try. Let me wipe out your best friend, or manipulate it so your retirement lasts only a week before you die. Here you go - I’ll just throw in a war or two. Then we’ll see if you’re made out of The Right Stuff.
The poet knows better than that, and his prayer is right on the mark: So make us to know how few are our days, that our minds may learn of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
Of course. Help us, Lord, to get in touch with at least a few of these trillions of brain cells so we can wise up. These 70 or 80 years - or 30 or 40 or 100 - aren’t a whole lot in your big picture, so help us use some wisdom to make life ring with more hope and sing with more joy.
In the South of yesteryear a young girl had just made her profession of faith and been baptized at a Wednesday night prayer meeting and was so very excited about what had happened in her life. In fact, she was so affected that on the next Sunday morning before heading for church she was running through the house singing and dancing. Her cranky grandfather rebuked her. You oughta be ashamed of yourself, just joined the church and here you are singing and dancing on the Lord’s Day. Well, the new Christian was just crushed. She went out to the barnyard, climbed up on the corral fence, and saw the old mule standing there with a sad face and bleary eyes. She reached over and patted the mule sympathetically and said, Don’t cry, ole mule. I guess you’ve got the same kind of religion Grandpa has.
The psalmist’s prayer reminds us not only what we may pray for, but also what our lives may really be. Turn and show compassion to your servants. Satisfy us at daybreak with your love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Grant us days of gladness for the days you have humbled us, for the years when we have known misfortune. Psalm 90:13-15
The poet is after, at least, some kind of balance, as the Revised Version has it: Make us glad as many days as thou has afflicted us ... There is some truth to be had from Elizabeth O’Conner’s reminder that we do come to adulthood wounded, our lives drenched in many different varieties of pain. We are wounded by what has happened to us in our growing up years. Whether that was in our relationships with parents or siblings, as a result of prejudices we could not understand, or for a host of other reasons, we came out of puberty affected to some degree by unexpected losses, diseases, and difficulties. But, hopefully and mercifully, we also came to realize that pain can be an avenue to sensitivity and wisdom, and enable us to adopt a very different way of looking at life.
Gladness in life, that’s what the poet searches for, and so do we, don’t we? So much so, in fact, that we’re impatient, praying, Lord, give me patience - right now! A young man was pushing a grocery cart through the supermarket with a small child in the backward-facing basket. The child was howling at the top of his lungs and throwing on the floor whatever he could reach in the basket behind him. The young parent kept repeating in a quiet voice, Take it easy, Tommy. Don’t cry. Cool it. Tommy, everything will be alright. A woman passing by looked at the situation with admiration and could not help saying, Young man, you are to be commended for the way you are handling this difficult situation with Tommy. And the young father looked at her and sighed, Lady, I am Tommy!
The psalmist wants to start each day in the affirmative. Not, Good God, another morning of another day. Instead, good morning God, thank you for this new day! or as the psalmist writes, In the morning, at daybreak, remind us, O Lord, of your fantastic love! Then we will sing. Psalm 90:14
Indeed, the choice is ours to make. It is up to us to decide whether we will be open to God’s love and life and spend our time celebrating that fact. I once had a dear friend and counselor who like to say, Every day you can take hold of life by the handle of faith or the handle of fear.Of course, he meant that you and I have the power to choose. On the one hand we can say to ourselves that life is a dirty joke, a despicable trick, a sentence imposed for the crime of being born, and the only way to get through it is to despise everything and everyone. And guess what, it works! It becomes a self-fulfilling experience: expect life to be lousy and it will be.
On the other hand, we can choose to say, and believe, and if you do your life will show it, a stance that says, life is a gift, vast and miraculous and beautiful. Of course, there will be pain and hardship and finally death. This is not some holy theme park and it is certainly not God’s DisneyWorld. But you and I can choose to embrace life filled with the good and the bad, and live it all with a spirit of hope. Living that way brings healing and hope, and remember, living is always for today, one day at a time.
Do you remember what Jesus said centuries after the poet of the psalter, Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. Matthew 6:34
Or in the familiar words of the King James Version: Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof which must mean, even more deeply, sufficient unto the day is the joy thereof, the love thereof, the hope thereof. These are the things you don’t save for the future, they can neither be pickled or embalmed. Today, you see, they are for today; tomorrow will take care of itself.
An ancient text written in Sanskrit may be translated: Look to this day! For it is life, the very life of life! In that quality of life lived day by day by day, somebody may actually think that the beauty of the Lord our God is upon you and me. Now, wouldn’t that be a miracle?
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