I am sure many of you have heard this aphorism: “It doesn’t matter how you start, what matters is how you finish.” There are different variations, like “The end justifies the means.” “It doesn’t matter how you begin; it matters how you end.” “It doesn’t matter where you start, only that you begin.” “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, as long as you don’t stop,” Confucius said. Ecclesiastes 7:8 notes “The end of a matter is better than its beginning.” All of these sayings point to the assumption that the beginning of anything - a journey, an endeavor, or a situation may not necessarily matter. It is the end that matters.
I hold a contrary view, although not entirely.
I have been in different situations and experiences where the beginning of an endeavor matters even more than the end. I have experienced failures because of a haphazard start and so I cannot emphasize enough the value of starting right. Take, for instance, our recent decision to host a refugee family from Afghanistan. This wasn’t part of our plan at the beginning of this year - we were actually trying to survive the year because of the pandemic. However, as we can all attest, life’s circumstances are such that we make adjustments and embrace new challenges to which God may be calling us.
Resettling a refugee family is a huge undertaking, and so it was imperative that we start this right. For that reason, we engaged each other in a series of meetings to discern what God might be calling us to do. Those meetings prepared us for the eventual decision to sponsor a family. The excitement, for me, is that because we committed ourselves to a right start, not only did we cover all the basics, but we can also now count on a couple of churches who have joined in partnering with us. On Tuesday, we welcomed our family.
As humbling as this whole process has been, my heart was filled with gratitude; it was exciting driving the family of four with Deacon Denise from Glen Arden to Ellicott City. It was a great delight to see Patricia and Paula welcome the family to their new home. I am comforted by the fact that not only were we doing the right thing, but we also had that right start.
We are now a couple of days away from the beginning of a new year. Each new year opens up with the blessing of a new you. We challenge ourselves with some resolutions - perhaps take on a new hobby, or maybe lose weight, plan to exercise more often, take on some additional volunteer opportunities, give generously and cheerfully, spend more time with family and loved ones, and many more than I can ever list. The point in all of these resolutions is for us to make the right start, not necessarily without a goal in mind, but with the assurance that even if we don’t reach the goals we have set for ourselves, we can at least get credit for starting right.
If you recall the creation story, God did start right. At the end of each day, God looked over what He had accomplished in that day and pronounced that it was good. The beginning of each day was as important as the end. In that same way, the beginning of a relationship with God, and with anyone, is as important as the enduring life of that relationship. Granted, we more often go on a detour, where our actions and inactions can cause great pain and disappointment to God and those we love. But the good news is that God in no way abandons His relationship with us, and so should we not abandon our relationship with those who have hurt us deeply?
In spite of all our sins, God continually brings meaning and depth to His relationship with us. And even when God reconciles us to Himself in death, that relationship lives us on. Remember what Paul said: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As we cast our minds back to the beginning of this year, you will agree with me that many are the moments of joy, sadness, loss, grace, faithfulness, sickness, doubt, disappointment, tragedy, with triumphant high moments and lonely low moments that many, including you, have known. A few days ago, I learned about a devastating fire at the home of our beloved parishioners. We can only imagine the sense of loss that they feel and the task of reorganizing their lives. My heart goes out to Steve and Linda. Within the devastation of this great loss is our joy in welcoming in our midst a refugee family of a mother and her three sons. The good news in all of our high moments and low moments is that we’re still here, and at every single turn of our lives, God manifests His goodness towards us, and so we are never left comfortless. For that reason, the radical invitation has always been to give thanks, in all things, and in all situations.
I read elsewhere that “Life is like a book, some chapters and pages are sad, some happy and yet, some exciting, but if you never turn the page, you will never know what the next chapter has in store for you.” And so whichever way you began this year, remember that you cannot pray the past away. What you can do is to turn the page, and start right in this new year.
With that, I wish you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year. I pray that you will be filled with the spirit and goodness of God. I pray that God’s love and grace will continue to fall upon you like the morning dew. Above all else, I pray that you will start right.
Happy New Year!