When Days Are Bad (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

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Every summer, I feel like I’ve got a great opportunity to make the most of the days ahead.  Even though it’s hot and humid, the days are long.  I’ve got extra daylight to take walks with Blake and cook out on the deck.  The days are good, and I try to make the most of them.

I feel the same way about vacations.  I’m one of those people who likes to plan, in detail, all the places I’ll visit and all the things I want to do.  After all, I want to make the most of the days I have on vacation, and I want to do as many special things as possible.  Vacation days are good, and I try to make the most of them.

And in August, even when I’m not on vacation, lots of other people are.  So, it’s relatively quiet around church.  I can get a lot of planning done, and catch up on stuff that will be harder to do once we’re back in the fall schedule. (At least, this is the theory if I can get my act together!)  Some of these middle weeks of August are relatively light for me, and that’s a good thing.  So I try to make the most of them.

Almost always, when the days are good, I try to make the most of them.  It’s sort of my natural inclination.  Maybe this is the way it is for you, too.

And perhaps that’s what creates such cognitive dissonance for me in the first line of today’s reading from Ephesians: “make the most of the time, because the days are evil.”  That is, take advantage of these days, because they’re bad.

And that’s not usually the way things work in my life.

When things are bad, I’m often too distracted to focus on anything other than the problems in my life.  A few months ago, when Blake got diagnosed with his spinal disease, I was often so overwhelmed that a lot of things I was trying to do around the house just got dropped.  It’s hard to make the most of the days when the days are bad.

When things are stressful, I’m often too exhausted to do more than I absolutely have to in order to get through the day.  I’ve watched a number of my friends going through some particularly traumatic events in their lives lately.  I try to help and walk with them through it.  But often, just getting through the trauma of the moment is all any of us can do.  It’s just hard to make the most of the days when the days are so stressful.

And when things are chaotic around me, it’s really hard for me to be efficient and take advantage of any opportunities, even if I see them.  In the early days of the pandemic, it was all we could do just to keep up with the daily changes of rules and trying to figure out how to livestream with what we had.  It took until we got more into a routine, and things were less chaotic, before we could really step back and think about how we could make things better.  And that’s because it’s often hard to make the most of the days, when the days are chaotic.

Maybe you feel the same way.  It’s just seems easier to make the most of the days when the days are good.  But it’s hard to make the most of the days when the days are bad – even evil.

And maybe that’s why the letter to the Ephesians makes this point. It’s often tempting to say, “you know, the days are bad, stressful or chaotic right now.  I’ll wait for better days to look for God’s opportunities and to make the most of them.”  After all, it’s certainly easier to do those things when the days aren’t evil.

But for most of us, the days aren’t always good.  Life is filled with bad events, stress and chaos not only for us personally, but for the community and the world around us.  And so Ephesians encourages us not to wait for a better a day, especially when the day we have right now seems evil.  Instead, we’re reminded that our call as Christians is to see Jesus’ presence in our lives at all times, even when the days are bad, and to be people who engage in the struggle to, as the writer says, “give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything.”

In my life, and probably in yours, that’s not always an easy thing.  But we’re reminded in this letter that “making the most of the days” is never so necessary for the life of the world around us than when things are bad – even evil.   

It’s in those bad days full of problems into which Jesus calls us to be his physical presence of help.  It’s in those bad day of stress that Jesus calls us to be signs of hope.  And it’s in those bad days of chaos that Jesus calls us to be light in the midst of darkness.

As many of you may recall from our Annual Meeting, we made it financially in 2020 in spite of the pandemic and its effect on our income.  Partially, this was due to the fact that we were able to access the Payroll Protection Program, which supplemented our ability to pay salaries and utilities.  We didn’t know how bad giving might be, but giving – while worse than usual – wasn’t as bad as we at first feared it might be.  And at the end of the year, our actual income slightly exceeded our actual expenses.

Because of this, Council realized that we should make a difference in the lives of those in our community who weren’t so fortunate.  And so last month, we sent an extra donation of $15K to the Upper Montgomery Assistance Network, an organization in our County that we regularly support which assists people with rent and utilities.  We knew this was bad time for a lot of folks in our community as eviction moratoriums are ending.  And so now is the time when it’s most important for Christians to make the most of the bad days by doing something that makes a visible difference in the lives of our neighbors.

This past week, I’ve been watching a series of video seminars put together by several ELCA Synods in the western US.  They’re intended to help all of us think through some of the ways that we can grow ministry in hybrid ways – that is, neither going back to the way things were before the pandemic (which often weren’t working), nor simply doing stuff online.

One of the Pastors leading these seminars reminded us that we all got into this Covid situation right before Easter, 2020.  Even churches resistant to technology suddenly had to find new ways to connect to people during Easter.  It was hard, and the days were bad.  But this Pastor told us that the data now shows that because so many people tuned in to church services on Easter of 2020 to see how we would all handle it, online Easter worship reached more people than had EVER shown up live on any previous Easter in the United States.  That is, he said, more people heard the story of Jesus’ Resurrection than ever before because churches acted in the midst of bad days.  Precisely because the days were bad, people needed hope.  And the willingness to do something (even imperfectly) in bad days helped people experience hope in Jesus.

And now, we have to find new ways of doing things – things that were neither the way we did them in 2019 nor the ways we did them in 2020 when we had to be all online.  And yet, with the Delta variant causing new chaos in our country, it would be so much easier if we could just wait until things were more settled.

But, there’s always going to be some kind of chaos going on.  And it’s precisely in the midst of the chaos that Jesus most needs us NOT to duck and cover.  We need to try things.  We need to experiment.  We even need to be willing to fail so that we can figure out what will work and what won’t.  It’s precisely because these days are bad and stressful that we need to step and try.

We’re not really sure why the days were “evil” for the Ephesians.  But it really doesn’t matter.  The Ephesians were reminded that their faithfulness and willingness to act were never so important as when the days were evil.

I’m not sure I’d characterize the days we’re living through right now as “evil”, but they’re at very least less than ideal.  Even so, the letter to the Ephesians reminds us, both as individuals and as a community, that days like these are the very days God most needs us to act in faithfulness.

We’re called to make the most of THESE days, because it’s in these problematic days when Jesus most needs us to be his helping hands in the lives of others.  It’s in these days of stress and confusion that Jesus most needs us to be signs of hope.  And it’s in these days of chaos that Jesus is calling us to be his light in the midst of the darkness.