May 18, 2014, Easter 5 – We Only Have Today
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Carroll has been writing a garden journal on his facebook page – if you are on facebook you’ve probably seen it. Every day, or almost every day he writes down the tasks of that day and he makes note of how everything is doing right now. Whatever “today” it is that he is writing about at the time, that might be the day for planting out the rhubarb crowns or for sowing the lettuce seeds or for weeding the bajillion maple sprouts out of the perennial bed. Every day has jobs that need to be done – the jobs for that particular day. He can’t go back and plant the lettuce seeds differently when they have already begun to pop up in their bright green rows. And unfortunately he can’t see ahead to tomorrow’s tasks very clearly. He might think that tomorrow will be the day to thin out the beets and mulch the strawberries, only to discover in the morning that there is a frost threatening, so that he’ll end up spending all his gardening time that day trying to cover all the tenderest plants against the frost and carrying the houseplants back inside. He can never do anything about yesterday, and he can never see tomorrow. In the garden, there is only today, and today there is plenty of life and beauty and work and frustrations, whether there is rain or frost or perfect sunshine and cool breezes.
One of the big problems with being a human being is that we have a very hard time living in the present. How much of our lives do we waste worrying about the future or trying to re-live the past – regretting the things we have lost, feeling bitter about the things we have suffered, grieving for the things we can never change? We have no power to make even the slightest change over what has already happened, but so often those feelings of regret and bitterness, or dread and anxiety, consume us, they sap our energies, they cast their shadows over anything joyful or productive or healthful we might meet today.
When my son Gabe was much younger he built a time machine, out of a wide and strange variety of castoff household objects – he strung together an old window fan and a card table and who knows what else. It was a little scary, actually, all bits and pieces and wires, and we were probably lucky it didn’t burn down the house when he tried to plug it in, but who hasn’t wished for a time machine, so we could go back and get a do-over or get a look into what is about to happen so we can be prepared. But there is no time machine, we can’t go back, we can’t see into the future. We can only live now, today.
Jesus was speaking to his friends at a time of great anxiety for them. He was preparing them for the days ahead, when their lives would be torn apart and turned upside down in ways they had no way of understanding yet. How could they possibly be ready for the crucifixion? How could they be ready to face the fact of their own betrayal of their Lord and Teacher and friend? How could they be ready to be the ones to carry on Jesus’s ministry to the whole world? If they could really have seen ahead to the days that were coming, I don’t think they would have had the courage to go on.
Do you ever let yourself get into a real panic imagining all the very worst things that might happen tomorrow, or the next day, or in the coming years? I do, sometimes – I imagine losing people I love or failing spectacularly at something I need to accomplish or facing a terrible illness – all things that do happen to people every day and that will very likely come to pass at some time in my life – and I think, “I can’t make it through that; I don’t have the courage, or the strength, or the wisdom that I would need to deal with those things.” And of course I’m right – I don’t have the courage or the strength or the wisdom to deal with the future, because I’m not there yet. I can only be ready for today.
And that’s why Jesus told them that night, “Don’t panic; don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust God. Trust me. ” I am going ahead to prepare the way for you. I am going to prepare a place for you with the Father. But you know everything you need to know already. And of course, just like us, as soon as Jesus said don’t panic, they began to panic. Wait, what are you talking about? We don’t anything yet! We don’t know where you are going, so we can’t possibly know the way to the Father. We don’t even know the Father. We’re not ready for any of this.
And Jesus stood before them and said, “You do know the way. You do know the Father. Look at me. You know me. You think you don’t know the way forward? You think you don’t know enough? You are afraid of losing everything, losing me, losing your own lives? You’re afraid of not being ready, of not being strong enough, of not being good enough or wise enough? Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You know me. I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.”
Jesus said, “I am the way.” Just like disciples, facing the terrible days of Jesus’s passion and death, when we can’t see the future, and maybe especially when we can see into the future but can’t do anything about it, it is terrifying. It is scary to feel that we don’t have control over where we’re going and what’s going to happen. But the truth is we never do have control; we really can’t see the future; we only make a pretense to feel we are being prudent and responsible, and to keep our fears at bay. We lay in all kinds of contingency plans for our lives like insurance policies and saving accounts and we worry about diet and exercise and then we just spend a lot of time worrying about what might happen anyway. But Jesus tells us, “I am the way, and you know me.” We can’t know tomorrow, and we can’t control it, but we can know the one who is with us today, and who will be with us tomorrow, and who will never leave us or forsake us. Insurance policies and healthy lifestyles will eventually be irrelevant. But Jesus is the way no matter what our today brings us.
Jesus said, “I am the truth.” The truth was that the disciples were just about to become their very worst selves, betraying their Teacher and Lord and friend in his hour of greatest need. They were going to have to face the disappointment of who they were before they could become the men that God was calling them to become. Have you ever looked in the mirror and realized that you have spaghetti sauce or jam on your face? If you hadn’t looked in the mirror you’d feel less foolish, maybe. But if you hadn’t looked, you’d still have jam on your face. Truth can be embarrassing, and sometimes it can very painful, but without truth there’s no way forward. The truth for some of us is that we are not at all the people we imagined or hoped ourselves to be. For others of us, the truth is that we are not at all the failures and losers that unkindness and harsh words have made us believe ourselves to be. Facing the truth about ourselves – not the harsh truth like the glaring light of a cross-examination by the police, but the gracious and loving truth that comes from the one who loves us – the only one who knows the glory of who we were created to become – is the only way to live fully today.
Jesus said, “I am the life.” He is the life that fills this day – today – with purpose. For the disciples, that meant that Jesus was calling them to act today, to obey today, to fulfill the purposes the Father had for them day by day. And as weak and foolish – as human – as they certainly were, God was calling them to an incredibly important life. They were called to participate in the breaking in on the kingdom of God into this world. For us – well, for us it’s exactly the same, really. Just like the disciples, we are called, in Christ, to live out each day the work of the kingdom that he sets before us. And who knows how important those things we are called to do today might be – we have no way of knowing. The kindness we show today, the help we offer, will bear fruit in its time, and we might never know what comes of it. We can only live today, keeping our eyes on Jesus, living abundantly as we trust that he is the Lord of our every day.
I love the verse in Psalm 31 that we read today. Verse 15 says, “My times are in your hand.” When my mother died, I read an article at her memorial service that she had written about all the various “days” she had lived – her days as a small girl, her days as a young wife, her days as a mother, her days as a grieving widow – all those todays that made up her life. And I always think of that verse in Psalm 31 when I think of my Mom, because she, more than anyone else I know, helped me to see that way of living each day in faith, looking to Jesus instead of regretting the past or fearing the shadow of the future. Her times, the joyful times and the hard times and the terrible times, were all in the hand of the Father. And so it is with every one of us.
Carroll’s garden journal is both truthful and joyful because it looks each day at the truth and the life and the work that is there today. And our lives are very like the garden – Jesus told his disciples once, “I am the vine, and you are the branches on that vine, and my Father is the vinedresser that tends the vine.” As disciples of Christ, we are the work of the Father’s hands today; we bear the fruits of his labor today. We can’t re-live our past and we can’t control our future. There is only today, and today our hearts do not need to be troubled because in Jesus Christ we find the way, and we see the truth, and we drink in the life. Our times – all our times – are in his loving hands.