New Beginnings 2017
For a short period of history, I worked for a short stint as a substitute teacher. My bff and I figured out while in seminary we needed a side gig where the earnings were decent and the days we worked were flexible. And so after putting our heads together we discovered what we thought was a rather painless brilliant idea to become substitute teachers. We paid our nominal fee and completed our paperwork and we were ready or so we thought. We were in for a rude awakening. Maybe a little bit of karma and maybe a little bit of the low regard given to substitute teachers we were worn out. I remember this one class of 1st graders. I had given out the assignment. I noticed reams of individual paper flying in the trashcan like a basketball team at practice shooting shots. I observed a pattern; if a kid made one mistake they would ball the paper up and toss it. This assaulted my environmental sense of good stewardship. I intervened encouraging them to use the erasers on their pencils. I’m not sure what followed, but I shifted positions. What I realized when I let go of my own moral high ground was that a blank sheet of paper presented a chance to start fresh. They did not want to erase. They did not want to see any reminder of their mistake. They wanted a new blank sheet of paper to begin again. I’d like to talk about blank sheets of paper today…new beginnings …starting over …fresh starts.
Fresh starts can be good things. It’s a new year. It’s still a new year – we re in the first month of that New Year. Some are glad to put 2016 behind them. And many are ready for the blank sheet that 2017 offers them. Gym clubs see an increase in membership and attendance in January. And why is that? Because at the beginning of every year thousands and thousands and thousands of individuals with a blank sheet decide to write on it lofty goals of getting into shape, eating healthy, losing pounds and staying in shape. The new years provides them with a sense of beginning, an empty sheet of paper.
Each academic year kids and teachers and administration get a blank sheet of paper, a new start. Teachers get to say goodbye to students they love and especially students that challenged them. They say goodbye to parents who were great and parents that were thorns. Students that had teachers they swore were against them get to start all over again. Administration sometimes weeds out ineffective teachers and is able to get new ones. The first day of school you can feel a sense of newness in the air. Kids have on new school uniforms, new supplies, and fresh haircuts and look of eagerness. Even parents feel a sense of excitement with the new year. Fresh starts and blank sheets of paper are good things.
In February we start with a new slate of church officers. Ideally how this works is one group ends its term and we change and start with another set of leaders. Some continue on for another term but there are some changes as well because new starts and change are good can be good. And you have a new pastor. And we are now in the search for a new musician. And we are able to embrace new beginnings and blank sheets and what they bring and offer to us because of the potential it offers. And yet just a change of leaders is not always enough because a blank sheet is not just the installing of new people in existing structures but this new sheet means we have to be open to all of us operating differently. Well this is how we do it over here and this is how we’ve done it….blank sheets suggest we are open to new beginnings.
A young family stresses every year at Christmas as the father tries to live up the standard of his family. One Christmas with a family of his own he loses his job and is unable to transport his own family to the Christmas family gathering a couple of states away. His Dad and Mom let him know how disappointed they are in him. With low funds and a family he scales back. He improvises. They do not have a big Christmas Dinner but instead they have pancakes with lots of syrup. And they old movies left over in their DVD case. The Dad feels so bad because he has not been able to give his family the Christmas he thinks they should have…but late into the evening when it’s time to put the kids to bed they confess to their Dad that it was the best Christmas ever. They had hated going to his parent’s home. They had hated having to get dressed up and stay clean. And most they had hated how irritable and uptight it had made their parents. The Dad realizes in that moment what is essential to Christmas. Before him he sees a new blank page and he gets ideas of how he might do Christmas differently and establish some of his new traditions. From that year forward his family always had a lively and untypical Christmas Day but it was always fun. After his death his kids would continue the tradition and pass it on. Blank pages can be seen as scary but they also can be a welcome to doing things differently …we can find our way and we might attract a few people along the way to join us.
This is where we enter the biblical passage. There were some disciples minding their own business when Jesus interrupted their lives. That’s how it happened; life is rarely ideal or perfect, but more a series of blunders and interruptions that we can learn to deal with gracefully. There are curve balls and rainy day and unforeseen. They were fishermen…they earned their living through fishing. They were working in other words. They were employed. They had jobs. And Jesus walks up to them and says hey you and you….I want you to work for me. Jesus calls two brothers to new beginnings. Jesus is calling folks to drop what they are doing so that they can fish for souls. Drop what you are doing or what you have been doing and follow me (pause). So instead of fishing to support myself you want me to fish for souls to support you. Yeah!
This week I attended a funeral. And one speaker noted the dash…the dash between the date one is born and the date one dies. The speaker also noted that what occurs between those two dates is the fullness of one’s life. For some they do a lot with the dash. Jesus in his 31/2 years of ministry did a lot with the dash. He wrote a lot on his blank sheet of paper. Enough that once the oral tradition became written there were at least five gospels – Mark, Matthew, John, Luke, and Q source. – of his words and his acts. He asked no less than he’ swilling to give and there was a lot written on his once blank sheet of paper. And the dash exist for us too…we can continue to write.
There’s been a blank sheet of paper given to us this year. What will you do with it? How will you act? How will you follow Christ? What does that even mean? What will you write on the pages of history? What will you walk away from to follow? What will you walk towards to follow? What will you do with your blank sheet of paper? What will you do with the dash? What will you do with this New Year?
This past Monday was MLK Jr Day. If we had a media projector and screen I would put up a beautiful picture taking by the Hyde Park Herald Photographer of 52 teens who came out for a job right here at our church. You see one person that was on our doorsteps for Halloween 2016 saw how minority youth were singled out by police right here on our streets. And so she decided to write on her sheet jobs for youth. Instead of complaining about them loitering occupy them. Give youth something to do with their time. And in less than one week with very little advertising she had 52 teenagers to show up at United Church of Hyde Park. I recalled one male child saying he had graduated from high school but he wanted a job. Another told his mom she had to rearrange his Monday barber appointment because he had to turn in his resume. Our fellowship hall was filled with young people who want to work. That alone touches me. The overwhelming number of kids meant that others, including Maxine and me got recruited to go over some resumes …review and highlight important things to put in their resumes. Some had too much for their little to no work experience while others had nothing….blank sheets. All of them needed prodding at understanding what their gifts and skills were that they brought to the employment game. But they all came out because of one person who decided to write on her blank sheet…who is walking towards teens as a follower of Christ.
So it’s time for us to begin writing in this New Year…if we are to gain anything from the holy passage today perhaps it is to follow Jesus. He touched people’s lives by not only feeding them literally and spiritually but by healings and listening and traveling and hospitality. We can write something on the pages of history. We can write something on the pages of our community. We can write on the pages of human history. We can write on the pages of someone’s life. In fact we are invited as follower of Christ to do just that. He has no hands but our hands to do his work today he has no feet but our feet to lead others in his way; he has no voice but our voice to tell others how he died; and he has no help but our help to lead them to his side.
There once was a boy who was a fan of the White Sox. He loved baseball and he loved when he was able to go watch their game in the stadium. He became sick very ill. And well new of his sickness traveled to the team. And at the next game he attended his name was mentioned. At the end of the game the team called him over and they presented him with a ball. This wasn’t just any ball…it was a ball with the team members’ signatures on it. Each of them had a different style of writing. That ball and that child remind me of the power of each person and invaluable imprint we all make as a community of faith when we fill the blank page together. It takes all of us. We need the thrifty to slow us down but we need the spender to speed us up. We need the cautious to cause us to think but we need the heart folks to cause us to act. We need to old to share their wisdom and history but we need the young to share their energy and make new history. United Church of Hyde Park needs all of us striking a wonderful balance recognizing our place in God’s kingdom, struggling together to be relevant in our world.
While I don’t prescribe to throwing sheets of paper away, when I am able to put my own moral imperative aside, I think this act is wonderfully liberating. Sometimes a clean sheet of paper is exactly what a person or community needs. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve fought. We’ve loss. We’ve won. We are here not without scars. There is wear and tear. Yet with new beginnings we hope to be that church on the corner – a place of respite, hope, and love. And for that…for all we’ve been through…for what we’ve not accomplished and for what we hope to achieve…we deserve a clean sheet of paper…a new beginning…Amen!