happier new year (homily 1/4/09)
Ellen Bass wrote in our first reading that our most basic impulse is to ensure the survival of our children, the next generation—-and “there’s never been a moment when we could count on it.”
That is an eloquent restatement of the twin poles of human existence: we are somehow born, and we must all die. And between birth and death, we try to make sense of those facts; and we fall in love, and get sick, and celebrate various milestones and grieve multiple losses and generally do the best we can.
“This is just living, not a trauma nor dying, but a lingering pain reminding us that we are alive” wrote Larry Smith, in our second reading. That may sound like a pessimistic analysis, but I find it to be quite hopeful. Our pains remind us that we are alive. If I were dead, I would not feel these pains. (Of course we cannot know that for sure: we do not know what happens after we die. To me, of all the possibilities, it seems most likely that we will no longer feel *these* particular pains.)
I am not dead; I do feel pain. My back hurts a little, this morning. I wish it were not going to be so cold tonight. I wish my grandmother were still alive, so I could talk to her, share my triumphs and tragedies with her, and receive her support and love.
I feel those things, so I know that I am alive, and, ultimately, I am grateful. I am glad to be alive, and I celebrate all my relationships with other people whom I love. I give thanks that I am able to experience the good days and bad days that are our lives.
I am even grateful to experience the financial ups and downs of our times. Now, don’t get me wrong, here: I am not pleased about the fiscal hardships that so many of us are facing. The trip that Becky and I have been planning, for over a year, to celebrate our tenth anniversary, has been cancelled. We cannot afford it. My mother lost her job. Some of my friends are working longer hours, for less money, in less-humane working conditions because they *need* to keep working. I know that many of us in this room face similar difficulties. Several have already reported that they will not be able to pay their full pledge this year. Virtually all of us are examining our financial priorities, and making difficult decisions about what to do with our resources.
From bankers to automakers, small business owners to migrant workers…almost all of us are facing tough decisions. Even our state court systems are affected: New Hampshire is halting civil and criminal jury trials for a month, to save on expenses. Civil trials in Florida may come to a standstill, and 17 other states have slashed court budgets. Undeniably, times are tough.
And, this is just living. It isn’t trauma, nor dying; the lingering pain reminds us we are alive—these financial pains remind us that we *are* still alive, and still creative, and still committed to leading full, passionate lives which are rich with friendships and outreach, even if they are not necessarily rich with checking accounts and IRAs.
This is a chance to re-imagine who we are as a congregation, and who we are in our larger community.
Maybe, instead of spending $50 to take our family to the movies, we’ll invite over another family or two from church, and bake some cookies together, and watch a DVD from the library. Maybe somebody here will start a supper group, and instead of visiting restaurants, we’ll visit each others’ homes, and still eat well, and get to know each other better, in the process. Maybe we’ll form a frugal-living email list, and share tips about living better with less.
And maybe we’ll provide similar opportunities for others in our area. Maybe, once a week, we’ll cook a big soup dinner—-big enough for us and big enough to share with some working families and single-parent families and people on fixed incomes…
Maybe, as we help ourselves live full, inexpensive lives, we can help others to do the same, and that will not only make many lives better, it might also generate some good publicity about us, and we might even grow in healthy ways as we live out our creative, compassionate vision of who we are in this troubled and beautiful world.
So may we be.