Turn, Turn, Turn

Turn, Turn, Turn,

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13 and James 2: 8, 14-17

Written by Rev. Shane Montoya, Preached on June 25, 2017

A couple of months ago, Debbie and I started to plan the Palm Sunday Service, imagining it as a joyful protest parade of Jesus followers, carrying signs, blowing noisemakers, singing songs and proclaiming our love of Jesus Christ as something radical and revolutionary.

Bible scholars tell us that the Palm Sunday parade was actually something of a protest against the Roman military government, led by Pontius Pilate, based in Jerusalem.

Every good story needs a villain, so we had to recruit some villains for our story- 2 or three big and burly folks to play Modern day interpretations of Roman Soldiers, Bodyguards in Black, guarding a regal yet authoritarian figure. These would be our heels, in wrestling terminology, our folks to boo to better reinforce the clash of violent military power with the strong and gentle love of Jesus.

Of course, if you actually knew the people that we picked to be our villains that day, you would laugh. There was Dawn Sorenson, minister of the gospel, faithful deacon of the church, and unless you get her on the topic of inclusive language, one of the least scary people I know. There was, I believe, Matt Walker, dressed in black leather jacket and tie-dye t-shirt- I’m sorry Matt, but it’s impossible to be scared of someone in a tie-dye t-shirt.

But the most miscast person of all was the person who we got to play our Pontius Pilate, our scary dictator, the target of our scorn so that the gospel of Jesus might be lifted up that day.

Don Akin.

Don who, I found out on Thursday night, would spend hours practicing his speaking parts- the prayers, the passing of the peace, the readings whenever he was a liturgist. Don will not get to be a liturgist anymore, as he was just two weeks ago, at least not here on earth.

He will not get to passionately argue for making the chancel handicap accessible anymore, as he did last Tuesday at our council meeting. He will not attend Bible Study, as he was supposed to on Thursday evening, the day that he passed.

For Life comes at each of quick, and death can come even quicker. Which is why the bible readings for today are so appropriate, even though they were chosen before Don’s passing.

The book of Ecclesiastes is probably my favorite book in the Hebrew Bible. It reads as advice of an old man, a teacher to the young, giving the sort of advice that is often ignored, just as my advice will probably be ignored today.

The teacher reminds us that much of what we take as permanent is not. That what we think of as solid stone is often nothing more than a cloud of mist, of dust, a vanity. Unfortunately, this is advice is, I believe, misinterpreted to paint him as a cynic and a hedonist, someone who’s voice is only tangentially important to the larger story of how we should relate to God.

But I think it actually reveals fundamental truths about the nature of how we should be in relationship with the world. For I believe that this book reminds us of the shifting nature of life and death itself. That times change and seasons shift, that each of us has a time to be born and a time to die. That sometimes life is so so sweet we can barely imagine it, and other times life is so bitter we just can’t swallow it.

It teaches us that in the face of adversity, in the face of pain and strife and grief and never ceasing struggle, that the good we do matters.

That even when our cherished institutions, our governments, our schools, our churches seem to be imploding, that when all of the big solid things that we humans create that we put so much faith in are tottering on the edge, when solid stone is revealed to be no more than mere dust in the wind, that is when the good we do especially matters, that we have lived life abundantly and fully and done well counts.

So graduates, grievers, grandparents, I will give you three pieces of advice today. The first is to live life boldly. Do not live as, some would say, without apology or regrets, for all too often that means a life lived without regard to others. Scripture tells us that we are meant to live life together, in community, and that sometimes it would be hard and that we will have to apologize.

James reminds us that sometimes this is hard, to live our values in our communities. Faith can sometimes be easy when it’s just a matter of trusting in God or assent to creeds or confessions, but that it becomes hard, real hard, when we have to do it in the context of other people.

I know that I have been in very similar situations to the one that James describes. In Downtown Boston, at the Park Street T Station, in the shadow of two churches- The Episcopal Cathedral and Park Street Church, I know that I have thought to myself similar things about people experiencing homelessness. “Why don’t they just get some help?” For that I have regret, a desire to change, to make the future different from the past.

This desire for change is one of the key pieces of our relationship to God. The Psalmist asks God in Psalm 51 to “create in me a clean heart.” Sometimes we are able to do this well. Sometimes we can change our behavior easily and permanently. We can learn someone’s new pronouns, we can recycle better, we can stop using certain words that have hurt people.

Other times it’s a goal and aspiration, and something we try for, something that makes us thankful that our God is always willing to forgive us, not just one time, not just seven times, but all the time. Living a bold life also means trying enough that failure is an option.

Which leads me to my second piece of advice, which is to lead a life that is good, not a life that is nice. This means living a little bit on the edge of the comfort zone, interacting with people in ways that allow for the possibility of failure. It is the difference between living a life that is “nice”, that offends no one and ultimately stands for nothing, and a life that is good, that is lived in defense and support of the values of Jesus and the fruits of the spirit.

A life that reinforces our common humanity and understands that divinity is something that is not distant, only accessible to some, but something that abides with us, with all of us. A life that says that although I love myself, and we must all, if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, love ourselves, it does not mean that I am “in love” with myself.

A life that guards, nurtures, protects, and provides for others because friends, we’ve got one chance here on God’s Green Earth, and, no one is making it out of this life alive. A life that recognizes that we are all sheep in need of a little shepherding from above, and from each other.

That is a good life.

One more Don Akin story before I finish with the third piece of advice. We had a Church Council meeting just a week and a half ago that I had the honor of leading a small worship for, and I asked folks where and when they felt God.

For me it was when I was listening or singing a song that unlocks my heart, a heart that I admit, sometimes seems like solid stone. Sometimes it’s through a beloved hymn of the church, like “For All The Saints”, or a song that touches my soul, like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Heck, I know I feel God when Outkast’s “Hey Ya” comes on, which just makes me want to get up and dance like no one is watching.

Other folks spoke their truths about where they found God: for some, in the faces of those around them. For others, in a beautiful sunset or in their environmental justice work, or in a bible study. But then Don answered, and I think this will be an answer that will stick with me. Don said that he felt God in moments of regret. When in his words, “he screwed up big.”

He related the story of him feeling like he had accidentally insulted Rick Seaholm, our beloved choir director, and a man that I know that Don cared for, when he was liturgist a few weeks ago.

Something that I know I didn’t notice, and I suspect many of us didn’t either. But Don cared and lived boldly and lived good. He put himself out there enough to be a liturgist and practice those words for hours, and when he screwed up, he allowed himself to feel regret.

He allowed himself to care, and it is so so easy for men in particular to not allow themselves to care in the interest of being seen as strong, and then Don allowed God to come into his life and help pick up the broken pieces of his heart, to create in him something new.

And this is the third piece of advice I give to you today, graduates, grievers, and grandparents: Allow yourself to care so much that sometimes life breaks you, and in those moments of brokenness, allow God to come in and help pick up the broken pieces.

It means to heed the words of the psalmist in allowing God to show up for us in our dark days, whether they be a bad time or when we suffer from depression, or anxiety, or one of the other real and invisible mental and physical illnesses that move about us unseen.

What would that be like for me?

For us?

Let’s think about that for a minute.

Let us imagine the Gospel message lived out in a world full of folks who recognized that although we are not all hurting in the same way or at the same time, one of the baselines of our common humanity is a shared brokenness and wholeness.

Imagine that.

Imagine a world where the gospel message was one not of political or cultural domination but shared commitment to guarding, nurturing, and protecting others just as our God guards, nurtures, and protects us.

Imagine us doing this work together, this faith made into the fleshy and messy work of mission and justice.

Imagine a faith where Jesus is fully present in the communion table, our hearts, and with us on the front lines of the work of justice.

I don’t think we have to imagine that hard. I think we can do it.