Ever New

Lamentations 3:18-24, II Peter 3:8-13, September 6, 2015

I used to sit next to a very diligent student in seminary. I never saw this man in any other class, but he would get to Religious Thought in Modernity very early and sit in the front row. When class was over he would take a photograph of the chalkboard. This was a lot more of an ordeal in 1988 than it would be today. Presumably he took the film and got it developed and looked at what Dr. Tracy had written. My classmate would put a microphone on the lectern and record each lecture on cassette tape.

One day I was sitting next to him and I noticed that the tape counter on his cassette recorder was stuck. Every second the machine made a small “click” and every click was recorded on the tape of the lecture that my classmate would listen to. I reached over and hit the reset button, and the clicking stopped….for a while…then it started again…I tried to tell him to hit “reset” again, but it was just easier to hit the button again myself. This happened a few more times before the lecture ended. When it was done he asked what I had done, and I explained what the problem and that by hitting “reset” the ticking would go away, until the counter got to the number where it would stick again. I watched his face and he it slowed dawned on him—the source of the clicking that had been driving him crazy, and the solution to this problem. I felt like I’d removed a thorn from his paw. I showed him where the button was and explained that whenever the counter got to the number where it was stuck, he could return the counter to zero and the noise would go away. For a while. He pushed the button himself. Then he asked how he would know when to reset the counter. “Well, when you start hearing the clicking noise…but you really don’t have to wait until then, you can hit the reset button any time you want.”

You can hit the reset button any time you want.

You can hit the reset button any time you want.

In the cover story of this month’s newsletter I mentioned how Bill Veeck, when he owned the Cleveland Indians decided to have another Opening Day for his team late in May, about 7 weeks after the baseball season has started. There’s a lot of pageantry on Opening Day, every player on the roster is introduced and stands with his teammates on one of the baselines. There is decorative bunting on the grandstand’s walls. And speaking as Cub fan, often Opening Day is as good as the season gets. No runs, no hits, no errors. Yet. Bill Veeck hit the reset button on the baseball season. His team won that day, but they didn’t make a decisive new start, they didn’t turn over a new leaf. They wound up the year exactly where they had been on the Second Opening Day, 7th place out of eight teams. Still, I like the idea of giving onself another chance to make a good start.

As I was walking to work last week I got to thinking about all the different years we have. There’s the calendar year, that is 2015 until December 31; there’s the school year which started for some students last Tuesday, but will start for the students and teachers in our preschool this Tuesday; there’s the fiscal year, which for the State of Wisconsin starts July 1, or whenever the state legislature adopts a budget; there’s the church year, which starts four Sundays before Christmas; there’s the church program year, which starts when Sunday school—no! Kids’ Power Hour starts, that is next Sunday—that’s also when we’ll start having the choir up here leading worship regularly. Everyone has a birthday, which marks the start of a new year. And there are season, which function kind of like years—football season, fishing season, the holiday season, hunting season, baseball season…all kinds of activities and groups of people keep track of time in a lot of different ways.

And God tracks time in different ways too. That’s what the reading from II Peter says. In English we have one word “time” but it has two different senses. In Greek, the distinction is clearer, their two words are “chronos” and “chairos.” The former is the root of our word “chronological” it means sequential time, like the time of day or the time of the year. It can be measured very precisely. The latter gets at a feeling, a sense, a moment. “Is it time to take the cake out of the oven?” “Is it time to make a new beginning?” as opposed to “Is it five minutes after 10?” Let me suggest that God is the Lord and master of both kinds of time…the time of history and the moments of each of our lives. II Peter points us to God’s supremacy over time and history, by reminding us that we are waiting for heavens and a new earth. This will come in God’s own time. God is outside history and God promises to break into time and end history…some day.

In Sunday school one day the lesson was this reading from II Peter and the teacher said, “To God a million dollars is like a penny, and a second is like a thousand years.” A third grader grasped this concept and immediately asked, “Teacher, may I have a penny?”

“In a second,” his teacher answered.

I really feel like it’s the start of a new year here at church. Like the congregation’s reset button has been hit. We’ve got a new Director of Christian Education, a new custodian, a new clerical assistant, but we’ve also got other new things emerging—I think of the Community Breakfasts we host each month and also the renovation of Magnolia Hall. But newness is always available to those who believe in God. That’s the message of Jeremiah, who wrote Lamentations, and in the middle his monologue to God about his afflictions and bitterness, he affirms that God’s mercies are new every morning. Every morning God hits our reset buttons and offers us a new, fresh slate! Every day God invites us to embrace hope, and to trust God’s goodness and mercy. Every day is a new beginning!

Many of us make New Year’s Resolutions. We imagine that the turn of a calendar page will be the moment when we’ll finally make the changes that are our ideals. We’ll exercise more, or lose weight or attend to a spiritual discipline. We’ve resolved ourselves…the health clubs are filled in January and back to business as usual before February begins. Here’s our problem: we put too much pressure on ourselves, we want the change to be dramatic and permanent—and when it’s not, we feel like failures, and we agree with those voices in our heads, or sadly in our families, that tell us we can never change. And because we didn’t make the change in a permanent, lasting way, we stop trying. And we are even discouraged from trying again. We give up because we are too hard on ourselves.

We give up because we are harder on ourselves than God is.

You can hit the reset button any time you want.

God’s mercies are new every day.

You don’t have to wait until the counter on your tape recorder is stuck and clicking to hit reset. You can hit reset right now. And again. And again.

People who work with recovering alcoholics and addicts of other kinds know this is true. They tell us that relapses are part of the journey to recovery. Very, very few people can quit any kind of addiction cold turkey. Lapses. Relapses. Falls off the wagon, though serious should be seen as expected steps on the journey. The goal is ultimately sobriety, but the journey to that goal is rarely a straight line. Addicts need to welcome and embrace the invitation to try again. To make another new beginning. To keep hitting their personal reset buttons, or perhaps I should say to accept the invitation from their higher power to try again. And again. And again.

Think about the skills you use that you are proudest of. Or the skills whose use bring you the most joy and satisfaction. Did you master those skills on the first try?

You hit the reset button. You learned. You grew. You understood that you’d make mistakes, and you kept at it.

That’s the invitation God offers us with each new day. The invitation Christ uses to summon us to the table. Not that we’ve worked hard enough to deserve to be his guest, but that his love is so vast and powerful, that he’s offering us renewal by being here, around this table, with other people who also need the hope of God’s ever new mercies. Today. And every day. Amen.