Sermon: The Passing Season

Just before Christmas, the Wall Street Journal printed a review of the new movie, “Wonder Woman 1984,” which just came out.  

I loved the first one; sadly, the new one doesn’t sound all that great. 

The plot apparently centers around some kind of stone that makes all your wishes come true – sort of 80’s materialism in a nutshell. 

On the offhand chance you missed that symbol, though, a lot of the story takes place in a shopping mall, that place where wishes all converge and bounce off one another and do whatever damage it is they do. 

Apparently, that damage is serious enough that undoing it requires a superhero.  

Anyway, the Journal found it pretty thin, and seems to have captured the plot well with its headline for the review. 


“Wishfulness Run Riot,” was their title. 

I bet they’re right about that.  

Even so, I probably wouldn’t have kept it in mind for long, except that, oddly enough, a few days later, the Journalhappened to review a new book by the sociologist Nicholas Christakis. 

He’s a guy who studies social responses to epidemics, and he is predicting that if historical patterns in Europe and America hold, on the other side of the pandemic, we may well see an atmosphere like the Roaring 20’s. 

I thought to myself “wishfulness run riot.”  

I guess we’ll see.

II.

For what it’s worth, as a new year begins, I do think that people are starting to wish again.  

For so long, planning for the future, at least the near future, seemed sort of pointless.  

There were too many unknowns.  It was all so murky.  

It seemed like the world was stuck in an angry present rather than a hopeful future.  

This past summer, someone in town wrote an irate letter to the Greenwich Sentinel about wearing masks, dismissively telling each of us, “Get that diaper off your face and live.”

I didn’t recognize the name of the person who wrote it, but wherever I went, I found myself sort of keeping an eye out for him.  

I felt like I would know him right away.  

On line at the pharmacy at CVS. there he would be, glaring and muttering, mad about the plexiglass and mad that the phone that kept ringing.   

Maybe he’d be at the barbershop, complaining about they’d been closed for too long to suit him, and now they were open again but with all kinds of new rules that anyone could see were totally stupid.  

I’d go to the grocery store, and every time there was someone ignoring those arrows made out of masking tape they have on the floor, I wondered if it was that guy.  

I imagined him everywhere.  

There’s no question that learning to manage Corona has been full of frustrations for us all.  

But isn’t it true that some of us came into this new world frustrated to begin with? 

Sometimes, I have wondered if some people aren’t weirdly gratified—even glad.   

Corona has offered them so many opportunities to declare themselves angrily against all kinds of things—especially fools and laziness and shakedowns and incompetence and excuses and chaos.  

I’m not saying those things are good.  

I’m not saying those things don’t get on our nerves. 

But some people have elevated their response into an art form. 

They seem to thrive on that kind of energy, don’t they? 

In that sense, when Corona changed everything, they hardly had to change at all.  

In point of fact, they knew just where to put all that. 

And in that same spirit, if it turns out that in a post-pandemic world, wishfulness does, indeed, run riot, they’ll know just where to put that, too. 

III.

 At first glance, the world-weariness of Ecclesiastes has some of that same tone. 

“Vanity of vanities.  All is vanity, saith the preacher.” 

“There is nothing new under the sun,” it says. 

People never change, it seems to suggest. 

Life is just an enormous cruise to nowhere.  

The words of Ecclesiastes used to be attributed to King Solomon, who was renowned throughout the ancient world for his wisdom.  

The nineteenth century poet Edward FitzGerald built on that reputation, imagining an Eastern king who came before King Solomon in search of wisdom. 

The king asked Solomon for even a single sentence that would always be true, and which would offer perspective both in good times and in bad. 

Solomon paused for a moment, and then said, ‘This too shall pass.” 

You can read his magnum opus, “Ecclesiastes” in that spirit. 

Don’t fret too much – this too shall pass. 

Don’t get too excited – this too shall pass.  

Don’t waste time trying to change things – this too shall pass. 

As for the changes you worked so hard to make – they too shall pass.  

You can make Ecclesiastes out to be the world’s greatest poem on the futility of change, as if it’s a hymn to accepting the angry present rather than a vision of a redeemed future.  

But I don’t read it that way.  

I love it for its invitation to a much richer faith.  

For if, as it remembers, so many things must eventually pass, then what endures? 

What matters in the eye of eternity?  

Faith affirms that, actually, there is a lot that does.  

What we choose to be a part of.  

How we respond when change is thrust upon us.  

Years ago, MTV had an early reality TV show called “The Real World,” in which strangers with very different everything had to live together – to find a way to make it work.  

At the start of each episode it would ask the question “…What happens when people stop being polite and start getting real?” 

I think as we look back on 2020, we will find we have some answers to that question.

And not all of them are bad.  

It seems clear to me that with so many of the familiar supports kicked out from under us, we have seen that what endures is our love for one another. 

Or we have learned that some of our deepest relationships are on shakier ground than we realized, and we have had to ponder what that asks of us. 

In so many ways, we have a clearer sense of work that needs doing. 

We have had to choose our commitments rather than just shoehorning them in and walking through them.  

We have had to get real.  

The great bet of faith is that God’s truth will skewer our illusions, not our hopes.  

For all the world weariness of “Ecclesiastes,” and there is some, that is its deepest message. 

IV.

At some point this fall, I stopped keeping an eye out for the diaper guy.  

Now especially, we’ve come into a new year, and glory be, some of the darkest of the doom and the glummest of the gloom seem to be passing at last. 

When I think about him now, mostly I find myself just hoping he made it, that the Universe was merciful in the face of his initial bravado, even if that meant he has come through with many of his illusions intact, and much of God’s truth still yet for him to discover.  

The same might well be said of any of us.  

But as light returns to the world, may we pray that the glimmer of a deeper illumination will guide us all.  

As far as the next season goes, now we are so close

Just 100 days from today, it will already be the week after Easter.  

The crocuses on the hill will have come and gone.  

Sunrise this morning was at 7:19; sunset tonight will come at 4:38. 

100 days from now, with a little help from Daylight Savings Time, sunrise will be at 6:18 a.m., and sunset at a far more civilized 7:32 p.m.

Of course, no matter what, those things would still be true. 

But they remind us that things march along even as the days themselves can seem as if they’re standing still.  

Faith teaches us that we must not stand still.  

It says: “Let’s not just indulge our old illusions, or look to the permanence of superficial things, no matter how comforting it may seem to do just that.”  

To everything, there is a season. 

God is trying to tell us something there.

As we begin to look ahead again, however tentatively, will our wishfulness run riot? 

Will a new roaring 20’s begin? 

Or will it be something far more meaningful? 

May these days teach us as much as we are ready for and prove to be a blessing through all the seasons of our lives.

Amen. 

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