It has been a wonderful decade. Many are the innovative technologies that has made our lives a little more comfortable. My one fascination is the Tesla - to experience that car drive itself is close to heaven. Life is looking up, and we celebrate the amazing blessings of our lives. We have had challenges, no doubt, but within those challenges have been opportunities of new blessings and self-discovery.
More than anything else, we often feel the toll of difficult medical issues that afflict us and our loved ones, and which sap the energy and zest out of our lives. Although we have made significant progress towards solving some of these medical problems, lots more need to be done, and I am hopeful that this new decade will open new avenues of cure.
For me, one of the low points of the past decade has been the surge in mass shootings at schools, malls, churches, synagogues, mosques and many other places. It often feels that is our new normal. The most disturbing trend has been that every time I watch the local news on TV, it is as if life is about death and destruction. "There’s more to life," I would assure myself.
As tragic as these shootings have been, the one that quickly jumps to mind is the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I remember that it did hit me so hard, and it did so mainly because my two older daughters were in elementary school at that time. I remember that my first question was, "What if…?" I am sure your sentiment upon hearing about this tragedy was as close as mine.
Like each of us, you may not remember when you asked your first question, or the type of question it was. We, on the other hand, know of God’s first question to Adam and Eve. When they heard of God’s footsteps in the Garden, they hid themselves. And when God found them, His first question to them is the first question we read in scripture: "Where are you?" This marked the broken friendship between God, Adam and Eve.
A by-product of this broken friendship is reflected in the relationship between Cain and Abel. With them, we learn that the first human question was about responsibility. "Am I my brother’s keeper?" Cain asked. That was the first human question recorded in scripture. And in a real and powerful way, it is the crucial first question we grapple with on a daily basis. Do I have responsibility for others? Are you your brother or sister’s keeper?
As I do every Sunday at Christ Church, I used to stand at the back of the last pew at a previous parish. There was an old lady, Mrs. Hughes, who would always come up the line for a little chat and to shake hands. My first question to Mrs. Hughes when she came up the line was, "Hello Mrs. Hughes, how are you doing?" She had a standard response: "One foot in front of the other." Over the years I came to realize that she took great delight with her response. Hers was an effort to assure me that all was well. She knew I cared about her, not only as a pastoral responsibility, but something much deeper than that. I came to learn that in so far as she had one foot in front of the other, she was good, and all was well - a response to my first question.
One foot in front of the other. The line reminds me, especially at this time as we welcome a New Year, of a quote by an unknown author whose desire was to capture the human story. He or she writes: 'You fall, you rise, you make mistakes, you live, you learn. You’re human, not perfect. You’ve been hurt, but you’re alive. Think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy and to chase the things you love. Sometimes there is sadness in our journey, but there is also lots of beauty. We must keep putting one foot in front of the other even when we hurt, for we will never know what is waiting fir us just around the bend.’
This New Year holds a lot of promise. There will - no doubt - be challenges, too. But nothing so outweighs the power of God which is made manifest in His love for us - the love which comes to us in the form of a baby. As you go through the year, in whatever circumstances that you may find yourself, always remember the importance of your first question. That question will determine your response - whether you will master the situation through the power of the cross, or whether the situation will master you. More to the point, your first question may even lead you to re-frame your narrative, for each circumstance affords you the privilege to bring blessings and joy to friends, family and all those around you, and to make a difference in the lives of as many people as possible.
This New Year will be a great year, and one that holds many questions. But what would your first question be?
I’d like to conclude with a poem by Frances Ridley Havergal:
Another Year Is Dawning
Another year is dawning! Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting, Another year with Thee.
Another year of leaning upon thy loving breast,
Another year of trusting, Of quiet, happy rest.
Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness In the shining of Thy face.
Another year of progress, another year of praise;
Another year of proving thy presence all the days.
Another year of service, of witness for Thy love;
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be,
On earth, or else in heaven, another year for Thee.
May your first question lead you to a different you... one that embraces service, faith, and is generous in giving.
I wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.