Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
I’ve just spent a couple weeks with my Broadway fanatic college girl, so I guess it was bound to happen. Look out, here come some more borrowed Broadway lyrics in a sermon. The musical this time is “Groundhog Day,” of all things –they have turned the old Bill Murray / Andie McDowell movie (about reliving the same day over and over again) into a musical. And while I can’t quite picture the whole movie in that format, one of the gems to come out of this effort is a song called “If I Had My Time Again.”
Admittedly there are some cringe-worthy lines in the song too, not all of them G-rated, as the male lead sings about all of the idiotic things he’s done with his time, as the same day repeats itself over and over and over again. The beauty of the song comes from the female lead, who sings wistfully about how amazing it would be to be given that same gift of extra time he’s currently squandering. She begins by expressing her frustration at time-related challenges that may sound familiar to you:
"Sometimes, it’s like I’m stumbling forward,
Jostled from behind by time.
Sometimes, it’s like I’m being dragged
Yet always lagging,
Trying to keep in time with time.
But if I could stop the clock for just one day,
If I could freeze a moment for a moment,
Rest before the measure’s over,
Hold the beat for just one day.
If I could wind it back and start afresh,
Just a day to catch my breath,
To make mistakes and set them right,
Delay the coming of the night…"
She then uses the rest of the song to tell us the kinds of things she’d do, if she were given the opportunity to repeat her days:
"If I had my time again,
I would do it all the same, they say, but that’s insane.
Wouldn’t you want to make a couple of changes?
Regrets, I’d not even have a few
If I could do this thing that you
Say you can do…
I’d sample all the samples,
Look at things from different angles,
I would not do it all the same,
If I had my time again…
The things I’d handle better,
I’d send my unsent letters…
If I had my time again
I’d open all the doors I’ve never looked behind,
And oh, the things I’d taste, the things I’d try,
And the misery I could prevent,
And I would make a lot of friends…
And I would be a lot more zen…
If I had my time again."
Meanwhile, right in the middle of the song is a line that’s almost biblical:
"It’s so exciting
A new beginning… every morning…
To have the chance to strive for more…"
“A new beginning every morning.” That should sound a little familiar by now, if you’ve been paying attention as we’ve moved through our worship service today. In our call to worship and in our reading from Lamentations just now, we heard that promise that God’s mercies are new every morning. The prophet Isaiah urged us not to dwell on the former things, for God is about to do a new thing. We sang about newness and renewal too, in the classic hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”: “morning by morning, new mercies I see.” While the Broadway lyrics are based on the premise of having the very same day repeat itself over and over, the songwriters know there are ample life lessons here for the rest of us whose 24-hour cycles are realistic rather than magical. Because, to a certain extent, we do get to hit that reset button every morning, don’t we?
The lifespan for any one of us is uncertain, that much is certain. We seem to get far too many reminders of this fact. We have no idea how many days we’ll be given on this earth. But any day we are able to wake up and start afresh is a gift, is it not? At this time of year, as we pull out whole new 12-month calendars, we’re perhaps even more aware of the potential to refresh or reset various aspects of our lives. We do, in a sense, “have [our] time again,” as the song puts it. We have a whole new year lying ahead of us now, ripe with possibilities.
To be fair, we may also have some regrets, as we look back over our shoulders at 2017. But that’s the beauty of God’s mercies being new every morning. That’s the beauty, too, of a weekly prayer of confession here in worship. It’s ok if we “would not do it all the same,” if we’d rather “make a couple of changes.” God welcomes us to do so, and what’s more, God stands ready to lend us a hand in those efforts, wiping the slate clean every time we honestly seek his forgiveness, giving us a chance to start again.
There’s an old prayer that goes something like this:
So far today, I've done all right.
I haven't gossiped,
haven't lost my temper,
haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
I'm really glad about that...
But in a few minutes, God,
I'm going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I'm going to need a lot more help.
(Thank God, his mercies are new every morning, right?)
It’s also not necessary for life to be as smooth or carefree as we might wish it to be, to recognize the gift of each new morning. It’s important to remember that some of those encouraging biblical lines we’ve heard and sung this morning come from a book called Lamentations! Lament being an expression of grief or sorrow, and the biblical book of Lamentations being a collection of sad poems expressing grief over the destruction of Jerusalem. Perhaps not where we might expect to find such hopeful words? Yet that’s precisely where we find these reminders that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,” that “his mercies are new every morning,” and that his faithfulness is great. What a relief that we do find these words here, for what good would God’s faithfulness be to us if it only applied when everything was going right? Do you know a lot of people whose lives are perfect, who never face hardship or pain of any kind? For that matter can you think of an age of human history unmarred by violence or tragedy? But God’s faithfulness hangs in there with us right smack in the middle of the awful. Whatever that awful may look like for you, or for me, or for our world, on any particular morning. God’s faithfulness is promised in the midst of tears and pain and confusion and heartache, just as it is promised on all of life’s good days too. God’s mercies are new every morning, not just on the easy ones.
I’ve come across some lovely prayers in the Jewish prayer books I’ve been reading recently that seemed particularly fitting for this new morning, so I recruited a few readers to help me share them with you. I’ll ask them to do that now.
In my half-sleep, O God,
In my yawning confusion,
I thank you with a croaking voice.
How strange and spectacular
This body you have granted me
And fill with awareness each morning.
For tongue, tendon, teeth and skin,
For all the chemicals and connections
that make this collection of cells
into a being who can stand and sing,
who can seek Your love
and offer love in turn,
for the mechanisms and mysteries
you have implanted within me
I will thank You
And set about the task of being human
As the sun rises
And my eyes begin to clear.
“There is grace that every dawn renews, a loveliness making every morning fresh.”
In the morning, before this day’s journey begins,
I offer thanks before you, God,
That just as you found me worthy
To gaze upon the sun in the east,
So I will merit seeing it in the west.
And when darkness descends,
May it be your will to grace me
With another dawning of light.
In the musical “Groundhog Day,” the female lead may sing it wistfully, but we know there’s a sense in which she, and we, actually get her wish. “If I had my time again?” Oh, but we do. Not only with every new 12-month calendar, but every single time our alarm clock wakes us up to begin another day.
Show us, Lord, where are the changes you’re inviting us to make in each new 24-hour cycle this year. Show us how to look at things from different angles. Show us the doors we might open, the things we might try, the misery we might prevent. Show us the grace that every dawn renews, the loveliness making every morning fresh. When we might be tempted to dwell on the former things, particularly those that haven’t gone the way we wanted them to, remind us you are about to do a new thing. Help us enter each day humbly, gratefully, and courageously. Remind us that you go before us, that you walk alongside us, and that you’ve got our backs.
“If I had my time again?” Oh, but we do! What will we do with that precious gift today?
1 Mishkan T’filah: A Reformed Siddur, Weekdays and Festivals, p. 37
2 Mishkan T’filah: A Reformed Siddur, Weekdays and Festivals, p. 25
3 Mishkan T’filah: A Reformed Siddur, Weekdays and Festivals, p. 23