Sermon: Christmas 1 RCL B – “New Beginning”

The podcast can be found here.


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The Top 10 New Years Resolutions that I should actually be able to keep:

  1. Stop exercising. Waste of time.
  2. I want to gain weight. Put on at least 30 pounds.
  3. Read less.
  4. Watch more TV. I’ve been missing some good stuff.
  5. Procrastinate more.
  6. I will no longer waste my time reliving the past, instead I will spend it worrying about the future.
  7. Stop buying worthless junk on Ebay, because QVC has better specials.
  8. Stop bringing lunch from home: I should eat out more.
  9. Take up a new habit: maybe smoking!
  10. I will do less laundry and use more deodorant.

As I’m sure you have, I have thought long and hard about my resolutions for the coming year. I have three: 1) Next year at this time, I will look like one of those shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novel. 2) Next year at this time, I will have doubled the size of this congregation. 3) Next year at this time, I will be like one of those great saints of God who were so focused in their prayers, that they had to be dragged away from the blessed sacrament and reminded to eat. Next year at this time, I will not be, nor will I have accomplished any of the above.

Here we are. One week after celebrating the birth of our Savior, and we’re already setting ourselves up for failure. Hoorah! What idiot came up with this disillusioning ritual? And why do we walk into it every year with our eyes wide open?

Asking someone what their New Year’s resolution is is akin to asking someone what they’re giving up for Lent. So often, both are only exercises in will power. Will I go to the gym enough times and eat right so that I come out in twelve months looking like Fabio? Will I be in prayer so much that I have callouses on my knees? If so many of these resolutions end in failure, then why do we persist?

Brother Isaac Augustine Morales, O.P. (Dominican) discussed this in an article. He writes, “At the root of the practice of New Year’s resolutions is a dissatisfaction with who we are. Though there are certainly unhealthy kinds of dissatisfaction, in and of itself dissatisfaction is not a bad thing. Only the most arrogant person lacking even an ounce of self-knowledge would actually believe that he has no room for improvement. Making resolutions reminds us that we are not finished products—and breaking them makes this even more obvious.”

The resolution reminds us that we are a work in progress, however, Morales goes on to ask, “But what’s the point of resolutions if we’re fairly certain we’re not going to keep them? Is there anything to be gained by them?” (source) For me, I am very well aware of the fact that I need improvement, so why go through the exercise?

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin writes about a particular project: “I conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any Fault at any time; I would conquer all that either Natural Inclination, Custom, or Company might lead me into.” The project included thirteen virtues that he intended to focus on, such as: temperance, moderation, and frugality. (Originally it had only twelve, but a Quaker friend pointed out to him that he seemed prideful to many, so Franklin added “Humility,” the description of which was, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”) He made a book with a grid system, setup in thirteen weeks. Each week he would focus solely on one of the virtues and for every time he failed at keeping the virtue, he would make a small dot on the page. He noted in his autobiography, “I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of Faults than I had imagined, but I had the Satisfaction of seeing them diminish.” He did see improvements, but there were still failures, so much so, that he had intended to reuse the little book, but over time, the pages had holes in them from the number of dots he had to erase.

What’s the point of resolutions? What is to be gained? Brother Morales writes, “Perhaps the most important thing about resolutions is not following through with them perfectly, but rather the determination to start over every time we fail.”

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back: Luke Skywalker has been training with Yoda. Yoda gives Luke what appears to be an impossible task. Luke does not believe he can do it, but eventually concedes and says, “All right, I’ll give it a try.” Yoda responds: “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Another great movie—Elizabeth: the Golden Age: the Spanish Armada is on the way. Elizabeth and her troops gathered at Tilbury. Elizabeth rallies the troops by saying to them, “My loving people. We see the sails of the enemy approaching. We hear the Spanish guns over the water. Soon now, we will meet them face-to-face. I am resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all. While we stand together no invader shall pass. Let them come with the armies of Hell; they will not pass! And when this day of battle is ended, we meet again in heaven or on the field of victory.” Do… or do not. There is no try.

If, along the way, you should fail, then remember that no one can take away your birthday and then recall the words from Proverbs: “Though [the righteous] fall seven times, they will rise again.” (Proverbs 24:16) On the day that you fail, make another firm resolution to get up, erase the marks from the page, and begin again.

This same principle holds true in our walk with Christ. The fact that we say “The Confession” each week should be a clear indicator of that one. We get down on our knees and we confess our sins and repent of any wrong doing. We hear the words of absolution and receive the forgiveness and grace that comes from God. We go to one another, extending the hand of peace to those we love and those we have injured or offended and to those who have injured or offended us. And then we go out into the world, fully intending, fully resolving to live in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives, but no sooner have we driven out the parking lot—if we even make it that far—and we find ourselves once again stumbling. Falling. The light of God shines into the darkness of our lives, exposing every blemish. And it is then that we have two options: remain face down in the dust or get to our knees and begin again. Do… or do not. There is no try.

With that in mind, what are my resolutions for 2018?

Next year at this time, I really would like to look like one of those shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novel – at least have a little of their hair – but the truth is, unless I can take a pill for it, its not going to happen, because I’m not really all that interested in looking like one of the shirtless fellas on the cover of a romance novels. That said, I am interested in my collars not being so tight. I resolve to work on that one.

Next year at this time, I would like for our church to have doubled in attendance so that we have to start figuring out where to put everybody, but the truth is, we can add numbers, but not depth. We can be a church that is a mile wide and an inch deep. That said, instead of chasing some number, I resolve to chase souls. To reach as many as the Lord places before me with the Good News of His Son, Jesus. I resolve to work on that one.

Next year at this time, I would like to be like one of those great saints of prayer, who spent so much time praying before the blessed sacrament, that they had to be pulled away and reminded that they needed to eat, but the truth is, I’m not that obedient and I’m great at finding other things to keep me “busy.” That said, I resolve to spend some time each day in sincere prayer, seeking my God, and hoping to draw at least one step closer to Him. I resolve to work on that one, too.

To this list, I will add one more resolution. A resolution for me as your priest. Saint Paul said it in his first letter to the Corinthians: I resolve to know nothing while among you except Christ Jesus, and him crucified. (cf. 1 Cor. 2:2)

Whatever your resolutions may be, resolve to love God more and to love your neighbor more. When you fail at either, get to your knees and begin again.

The following is a prayer by Francis Brienen, a minister in the Reformed Church. Let us pray:

God of all time,
who makes all things new,
we bring before you the year now ending.
For life full and good,
for opportunities recognized and taken,
for love known and shared,
we thank you.

Where we have fallen short,
forgive us.
When we worry over what is past,
free us.

As we begin again
and take our first steps into the future,
where nothing is safe and certain,
except you,
we ask for the courage of the wise men
who simply went and followed a star.
We ask for their wisdom,
in choosing to pursue the deepest truth,
not knowing where they would be led.
In the year to come, God of all time,
be our help and company.
Hold our hands as we journey onwards
and may your dream of shalom,
where all will be at peace,
be our guiding star. (source)

Amen.

 

 

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