Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

    Nov 10th  |  The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming |  Haggai 1:15-2:9

    Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that conjures up memories. For
    those of us who grew up in more northern climes, we remember the chill
    of Thanksgiving mornings: the crisp air, the crunch of frost beneath our
    feet, the smells coming from the kitchen. We were awakened to the
    combination of cinnamon and clove hanging in the air from the day before
    when the pies were baked and the emerging smell of the turkey roasting in
    the oven. The dining room table was stretched to capacity and covered
    with the Thanksgiving table cloth and the good china – not the cracked
    and ding-ed everyday plates – where perfectly positioned and the good
    silver, not the everyday stainless, was set according to whoever made up
    the laws that the forks go on the left and the knives and spoons go on the
    right. The extra tables were set up – tucked into corners, or the kitchen, or
    maybe even the living room.
    There was the mid-morning rush for the bathrooms, for showers and
    spiffing up, ahead of the arrival of the relatives. We didn’t wear our best
    bib-and-tucker, but we weren’t in our everyday clothes either.
    Thanksgiving seemed to require a little more effort than what we put in all
    the other days of the year.
    Before noon, the guests began to arrive. The guests were the
    members of my mother’s extended family. Her sisters and brother, their
    spouses, and children, my grandparents, all came to our house. The
    practical reason for that is that my mother was the best cook in the family.
    The additional reason for this was that going to our house was a bit like
    putting yourself into a Currier and Ives print – “over the river and through
    the woods.” They came bearing their contributions to the meal:
    strawberry pretzel salad, rolls, cole slaw, whatever the specialty of my
    aunts happened to be, considering their limited abilities.

    About 12:30 p.m., the call went out for everyone to gather at the table. Everyone found their place, the grace was said, and the chaos of passing everything around the table began. “Which way are we going?” they would always ask, even though it was the kind of crowd that only went one way – clockwise. Hours and hours of preparation were consumed in 35 minutes. There was a brief time for conversation before the main course plates were cleared and the pie was served. There was a choice of pumpkin or mince meat. We didn’t go in for the exotic pies – pecan or fruit pies. Thanksgiving was pumpkin and mince meat – plain old pumpkin and weird old mince meat, with a big dollop of Cool-Whip plopped unceremoniously on top. We weren’t a whipped cream family. Whipped, chilled, non-dairy topping in a container in which you could store left-overs – what could be better than that?
    After the pie disappeared, my father and uncles would go in and plop down in front of a football game and fall asleep with the belts undone and the top button of their pants unbuttoned to allow for expansion. My mother and aunts would fill up our tiny kitchen and wash the dishes and gab. Then they would retire to the living room to talk some more and about 4:30 p.m., begin to think about putting the leftovers back on the table for anyone who might be getting a little hungry.
    It was a day filled with food and laughter and fun. It was a day when you could believe the image of heaven as being a great banquet and you might even consider being a part of it. It was a day, unlike any other day of the year, when dining was an event and your family was all there was in the world. It was a day – a special day – a holiday.
    Except it was never really like that. It was never really that perfect. The gift of memory is that it quickly and quietly turns from memory to nostalgia. Nostalgia glosses over all the imperfections that are implicit in memory. Nostalgia polishes memory so as to remove any flaws and shines memory to the point where nothing bad ever happened.
    There was the time when my mother read somewhere that if you put the rolls in a wet paper bag and warmed them in the oven, they would be perfectly warmed and moist. The science of the approach sounded dubious, but it does work – providing you remember that you put the rolls in the oven in a wet paper bag and take them out of the oven before the bag dries out and catches on fire. But, you don’t remember that part of the Thanksgiving story, because memory becomes nostalgia and we only remember that the rolls were always perfect. Nostalgia has done its job.
    Or there was the year when my mother was preparing the meal and said, “I don’t know why we’re doing all of this. No one is coming this year.” Wendy asked me, “Who’s not coming?” I told her, “My Dad, Uncle Jim, Uncle Bill, Grammy and Pap.” “But, they’re all dead,” Wendy said. “Yes,” I said, “and they have a heck of a nerve to ruin Thanksgiving because of that.”
    Nostalgia messes with us – takes us to places bathed in fiction – because nostalgia’s major function is to comfort us with something permanent in the face of unexpected and unwelcomed change.
    Haggai’s people were a nostalgic lot. They had been in exile for more years than they could remember and had come home to Jerusalem to find the city in ruin and the Temple destroyed. As they stood among the stones and rubble there were few who could even remember what had been there before. Only those who were well up in years could even begin to remember what had been and all those who were younger could see was the equivalent of an over-grown empty lot.
    “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now?” It could have sounded like a cruel question – a taunting question. Here was the holiest place they had ever known – completely wiped off the face of the earth. “How does it look to you now?”
    There were probably some nostalgic minds that went to the perfection of the past. Remember when the light shined on the altar in just the right way and it hurt your eyes to see it? Remember when the lambs were placed on the fire and the smell filled the courtyard? Remember when the priests would come out in their finery? You just know that there were those standing in front of the empty lot that day who were swept away by a wave of nostalgia. But now, there was nothing and the nothingness of the moment took them to the precipice of despair.
    Still, in that very dangerous moment, God had a word for the people. In the midst of that strange combination of grief, anger, and frustration – with nostalgic thoughts thick and heavy – the word of the Lord came to the people.
    …take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts.
    That greatest of all reminders, that greatest of all God’s words to us, is heard again: “take courage…for I am with you.” Not only is God with them, but God will be at work on their behalf, shaking the heavens and earth to bring forth something new, something more wonderful than they can begin to imagine.
    The even better news that we can draw from that is this: in the midst of change, God is with us. When life is going in directions we can’t begin to imagine, God is with us. When nothing is as we would have it be, God is with us. When turmoil and turbulence seem to fill our everyday round of things, God is with us.
    God is not frightened off by change and changing times. God is not scared off by a world of Sunday soccer and open stores. God is not intimidated by the distractible life available to the people of 2013.

    God is found doing what God has always done – changing the world that
    is into the world that God had in mind when it was created. God’s purpose and
    intention for the earth and its people hasn’t changed, even though the earth
    seems to shake and nothing is as it once was. God is there – constant and
    continuous – and God’s future will be accomplished, in spite of how things
    may look now.
    It’s not enough to look back and say, “Remember when we used to have to
    set up chairs?” Remember when we had more children and young people than
    we had places to put them? Remember when there was more money than we
    really knew what to do with? Remember when Pastor So-And-So was here?
    As I told you in my very first sermon in this sanctuary many years ago, “I
    don’t know much, but I know that when the water goes around the bend in the
    Ohio River at Evansville, it does not come back again.” Long and loving looks
    back won’t get us to the future God has in store for us.
    I don’t think Jimmy Buffet is a great theologian. He’s a pretty good songwriter,
    singer, and entertainer. But in his song, the title of which is our sermon
    title, he sings:
    It’s these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
    Nothing remains quite the same,
    With all of our running and all of our cunning,
    If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.
    Nothing remains the same. Change is the only constant. And God is at work
    changing the world into what God had in mind in the first place.
    And the more we can live in this moment – instead of all the moments that
    have gone by – the more we will see God at work.
    Oh, and a little laughter never hurts. In fact, it helps. “If we couldn’t
    laugh we would all go insane.”
    So, stay present. Stay in the here-and-now. And give thanks not only for
    what God has done, but for what God is doing now, and what God will do for
    evermore. Amen.