Sermon: Our elders have some advice...
Listen to your elders. It might be a pretty good idea.
You know, our eldest generation lived through the Great Depression and a world war. They know a thing or two about hard times. So what's the advice of America's elders to people going through family isolation right now?
Notice small joys. Be generous. Prepare more, worry less.
A professor of gerontology at Cornell University named Karl Pillemer began interviewing America's elders for a project in 2003. National Geographic online had an article about his work. This professor values what he's learned from our elders. He advises this, based on his learning from them:
A morning cup of coffee. A warm bed on a cold night. A brightly colored bird feeding on the lawn. An unexpected note from a friend. Even a favorite song on the radio. Paying attention to these 'microlevel' events forms a fabric of happiness that lifts these elders up daily. And they believe the same can be true for younger people as well.
So listen to your elders. And remember that the little things in life are the big things.
I believe that. And I also believe it fits well with the stories of the risen Jesus.
After the rising of Jesus from the dead in the Gospels, he seems like a quieter, more humble man, if that's possible. No big healings, no big pronouncements about the end of the world, no big words or deeds. The things he says in his resurrection appearances are quiet and low: love one another, forgive each other, feed each other.
Take today's Gospel story. On the second Sunday of Easter, we have a story from John's Gospel about Jesus quietly appearing to his friends on Sunday night. It was late, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities.
Yet Jesus appears and stands among them. He says, "Peace be with you." He shows them who he is by showing them his wounds. And then of course his friends are filled with joy. Next, he just breathes on them -- such a gentle action -- and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Such a quiet story, such a gentle image, such a little thing. But the little things in life are the big things.
In my sermons for you during this lockdown, I've been doing something I consider very important. I don't want to waste your time. I want to give you something helpful. So I have been describing the simple but powerful practices I have been using because I know they work.
Week one was about conscious, intentional breathing. Week two I talked about connecting with nature in a focused way. Week three was about the importance of kindness in action. Week four, last week, was about intentionally remembering good things.
Today I want to suggest that you savor the ordinary, sweet pleasures of life. The little things in life are the big things. As our elders will tell us, savoring the simple, available good things in our days will weave a fabric of contentment, even in hard times. Or maybe especially in hard times.
At the end of 2012, my wife Paula was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer. She had surgery. And then for the first four months of 2013, she went through rigorous chemotherapy.
Now, she's the treasure of my life, and I was scared. It was a very rough time. But she taught me something. As she began the process of the surgery and the chemo, she developed a slogan for herself. No matter what would come, no matter how hard it might get, she looked at what was going on in the moment, and it was okay. She said, "Now is nice."
Now is nice. She was not afraid. And she toughed it out through a harsh cancer treatment. She did it with grace and courage. And she stuck to her slogan: Now is nice. I've adopted it for myself as well.
This is a hard time for everyone in the world. There is no denying that. But we can look at our moment-to-moment experiences and realize that, for right now, we're okay. Now is nice. The little things in life are the big things. Pay attention to the small joys of your day.
Our elders give us that advice. My wife gives me that advice. And the story of Jesus quietly talking with his friends after his death affirms this idea.
Don't look for the big giant miracles. Look for the small ones.
The little things in life are the big things. Pay attention to them, savor them, and enjoy them. And we'll get through.
Christ is risen. And the story isn't over.