Neither Young, Nor Old -- Sermon 3/18/2012

Rev. Tom Schade
There is a joke going around:  
“The Past, the Present and the Future walked into a bar.  It was tense.”
Wendell Berry writes:  “Time is neither young, nor old, but simply new, always counting.”  Each moment is its own, newly created, here for a moment and then gone, replaced by another.
The late Nobel Prize Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, in her last book of poems included a poem called the “three oddest words” “When I pronounce the word Future, the first syllable already belongs to the past.”
Annie Dillard, in an essay called “The Present” talks about time as a creek, and we, as rocks in that creek, as time washes over us .  We stand facing upstream, into the future, and time flows down toward us, washing up against us and flows around us, and passes behind us in a rapidly vanishing past.  
I am in love with such insights.  There is something in them that pulls me back. Much of the spiritual life is bringing our attention back to the present moment; we call that making ourselves present.
This moment is all we have.  It is neither determined by the past; nor committed to a future.  And we definitely not required to pass the past through this moment into the future without alteration or improvement.  
But if this moment is all we have, then we need to make it count.  
I love re-invention and change.  I love the fact that in this moment, this very moment, any one of us could made a decision to change our lives forever. someday we tell the story this way, “I was sitting in church, on the day after St. Patricks Day in 2012, and I decided right then and there, that I was stop goofing around and dedicate the rest of my life to being an artist, or a vegetarian, or a Lutheran.”  The present moment is the when the cement is wet and pliable and we can write our name into it.

In social media, people have avatars and social identities that wander the info-landscape -- you can be anything you want them to be: swashbuckling adventurers, witty commentators, fun and attractive people, anybody you want to be.  The spiritual life is bringing your avatars and profiles back home and being present -- you the person in the chair, with your fingers flying across the keyboard -- the one that is a little hungry and who is ignoring the show on the TV in the other room.  You are present in the moment in your body.  Time and space as one experience.
So much of the lyric poetry will find inspiring are variations on the poem from which our common prayer this morning has been taken.  A single moment of grace, and thus, of 
glory -- a moment when the sunshine is especially clear.  Let me stay right here, the poet writes: Now I know why people worship. 
Let’s be here now.  Let us sit with open eyes with each other for a moment in silence -- not the silence of a meditation chamber, or the silent heart of prayer, but in the comfortable silence of old friends.  It’s OK to look around and nod at those you know and to smile at those you would like to know someday.  Just sit and breathe and be with each other.  No expectations and no demands, just open eyes and open hearts.  
Come Come Whoever you Are
I wish I knew How it would feel to be free.
How has this week been for you?  I have been feeling pressured by responsibilities -- too many task that I have been unable to get done.  Too much time spent doing things that were not productive to achieving the goals that I have set for myself.  For example, I spent 2 and half hours on Friday buying new tires at what seemed to be a particularly slow tire store.  It was one of those places where they have big glass windows so you can watch the guys work on other people's car.  And when you can’t stand the TV in the waiting room any more, you can go over to the window and see your car sitting there up on the rack while everybody works on other cars.  After a while, you want to scream -- “it’s mounting tires, not baking bread” -- you don’t have to let them rise; you don’t have to let them rest in between every step.  
Not one of those moments felt young, nor new, but only old, and not old in the way of rich tradition, or sacred memory, but just old in an old, worn-out, boring, been here too many times way.  They had a waiting room with a TV; and it was tuned to a station I could stand to watch. I had the TV, I had Words WIth Friends, I Had my phone with Facebook and all the blogs I read, and I even had my distraction of last resort: bejeweled two -- a particular mindless game I can play on my phone, and I was still ready to scream with boredom.  I was ready to lay waste to the Dunkin Donuts in the gas station next door and get some sugar and caffeine, as though that could make me patient.   
It was an ugly moment.  It was an expensive moment, but mostly it was an ugly moment.  I was so far from William Staffords’s moment of grace and glory.  I was so far from the wonder and astonishment of Wendell Berry.  
And here surrounded by your kindness, your non-obtrusive kindness, and by the beauty of this room, and the memories held in this place, I can let that moment go, I hope.
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free of my distractions and my many irritations. 
THough I may speak with bravest fire, and have the words to all inspire, if I have not love within, my words sound strangely thin.
By now, you have heard me list over and over again, some of the virtues that I think this path of liberal religion calls us to:  honesty and humility, open-heartedness, self-possession, solidarity and passion for justice, generosity and gratitude and reverence, especially reverence.   It’s never the same list twice. 
Reverence is in the present moment.  Reverence is in how you relate to what you are looking at in the present moment -- it is seeing the people around you in the present moment -- it is hearing the music of the moment whether it bird calls, or the church bells, or the thumping bass of hip hop pouring out of the car at the stoplight  next to you -- reverence is in the eyes, the ears, the nose, the hands, reverence is in the spiritual taste buds, whether you are stuffing life down your throat, or savoring the flavors of each bite, each present moment. 
Here we are, surrounded by the goodwill we feel toward each other, in this house of hope and aspiration, and each of us knows that as much as we would like to, we live lives that are filled with precious little reverence.  We spend our life as though we have been sentenced to the waiting room of a tire-repair shop and we cannot wait to get through whole chunks  of this, the one wild and precious life we have been given.  
I would like to promise you one moment of reverence every week if you come to church here on Sunday morning.  
I would like to promise you moment of insight so breath-taking that it calls you back to the present and opens your eyes, cracks you open.  Aided by beautiful music, one moment of grace and glory and one moment in which you say, “let me stay here” and “Now I know why people worship.” 
I cannot do it, because the reverence has to be in you, and I can’t put it into you.
You know that I say so many times that the spirit is a muscle and the work of the spirit is choosing.  
You develop a strong spirit of religious liberalism by choosing to be reverent in moments when you are not.  Fighting past the distractions and irritations to relax and find the grace, not only when you least expect, but when you most need it. The more often you make that choice, the stronger your spirit  becomes.  The greater the weight you lift, the stronger your spirit becomes. 
William Stafford says, “I know why people worship.”  It is not simply to be in that moment of transcendent lyrical moment -- when time is neither young, nor old, but just new and the glories of this world and the Lord who made it, are upon us.  It is to gather the strength to make that decision to exercise the spirit. 
The present moment is the one in which the cement is wet and we can write our name in it.  
We are here this morning to make a decision.  
we are here to decide, this morning, that we shall open ourselves to reverence and gratitude.  If not for a life-time, then maybe for a week, until we gather again next week. Maybe only til Wednesday.  Maybe, even only to sundown tonight.   
we are here to forgive ourselves if we were unable to meet the challenges of last week with reverence and gratitude -- if we found ourselves in a tire repair shop in Hell and at our wits ends and in a self-induced panic.   
we are here to forgive each other and to bear witness to each other’s struggles and moments of clarity and moments of weakness.  We are here to feel fellow-feeling with each other as we make our decisions.  
The scope of our decision will most likely be small and weak -- somebody here may decide to change the direction of their whole life, but each of us can decide, to try again next week.  To get from this Sunday to next Sunday. 
Time is neither old, nor young, but simply new.  And in each new moment, we have to decide again what kind of people we intend to be.  In each moment, we have to exercise the muscle of our spirit and choose again, and choose again, and choose again.  
We are here to witness as each one of us says to the world, to the ones we love, to the communities that hold us and to Universe that sustains us and to God, that great good intention at the heart of the universe, that power not made by human hands, that great mystery to which we all bow -- You, who are as old as I am, I love you as I loved you young, except that old, I am astonished at the possibility, and duly grateful.


  1. Great sermon:
    Take life: One Day at a time, yesterday is history;
    tomorrow is mystery.


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