Sermon by Rev. Deborah Sunoo
I don’t need to tell you how bad the news has been outside our relatively safe little Zoom church bubble this year. In a way it’s a really strange time to hold a big celebration, isn’t it? How do we walk that fine line between acknowledging the tremendous toll that’s being taken by the coronavirus and by racial violence and by natural disasters and other crises around the world, and not being pulled under by the weight of it all? How should we approach events like big anniversary milestones and birthday celebrations and holidays at such a time as this? At least these are the kinds of questions I found myself pondering as we planned our MPC calendar for this month.
Part of the answer, I guess, is that we’re in the middle of a marathon, not a sprint. Even with effective vaccines starting to be administered, we are a long way yet from putting COVID-19 in our rearview mirrors. Even with all of the protests and progress we have seen this year in the cause of racial justice, heaven knows there is a long road ahead there too. Even with a new president taking office in January, our nation remains deeply divided and deeply broken. Again, we’re in the midst of a marathon, not a sprint, and on this long-distance journey we’ll need to take care of ourselves in order to keep going. Taking care of ourselves requires balance. And balance requires seizing opportunities for joy where we can.
Which brings us to today’s passage from Ecclesiastes. There’s a time for everything, the wise sage reminds us. In this year when we’ve seen far too much killing and dying and mourning, far too much hating and losing and weeping, we want to make sure we also notice where there has been planting and healing and building up, dancing and laughter, love and peace. The author of Ecclesiastes is known for his unflinching candor about life’s injustices. He calls it like he sees it and what he sees, sadly, is a whole lot of disappointment and and heartache in the world. Yet it’s this very same wisdom teacher who urges his readers in chapter 9 to “go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart” and to “enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9) which we could adapt to say something like enjoy life with the friends, the family, the congregation whom you love. In other words, where you find moments of calm and peace, lean into them. When you stumble upon joy, claim it. Never underestimate the gift of laughter with people you love; enjoy every minute of it. Life is fleeting, and the author of Ecclesiastes would be the first to tell you it really stinks some of the time. But other times, it’s deeply, deeply wonderful. Milk those moments for all they’re worth. Give thanks for the gifts from God they are.
Taking his advice, we’re pulling out all the stops and giving ourselves permission to savor some beautiful moments together this month. As kids and adults alike took us on tours of their home nativity sets last Sunday. As we enjoy what promises to be a memorably fun online children’s Christmas pageant next Sunday. As we embrace the potential for other unexpectedly lovely Christmas memories this year, in spite of our physical distance from one another, with a chance to peek into each other’s holiday traditions and enjoy one another’s decorations and the trees and candlelight in our homes.
And, of course, today as we consider the wonderful people and ministries that have made up Magnolia Presbyterian Church over these past 75 years, and as we look ahead to our next chapter together.
Sure, it’s a strange time to celebrate, but God knows we can also use a goodly dose of light as we wrap up this challenging year.
So let’s prepare ourselves up for the flip of the calendar page and the next leg of the marathon by taking a break today, taking a beat, and enjoying life with this church family we love.