Based on 2Kings 2:4-14, Galatians 5:13-25, Luke 9:51-62
The movie, “Dead Poets Society” is one of my favorite Robin Williams flicks. He plays “Mr. Keating” a prep-school English teacher at a very exclusive school for young men. Mr. Keating is an alum and now has returned to mold young minds and expose them to the wonders of poetry. His introductory lesson to the class is to have them follow him to the awards hallway. There he asks the class to identify the author of a poem that begins, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying….” (Robert Herrick) No one can answer, but one Latin scholar in the group correctly translates the words “Carpe Diem” as “seize the day”. Which, of course, is the message which the poem is trying to communicate. Each day we are all one day closer to our deaths and so it is important not to waste them on frivolous endeavors or things which do not bring ourselves or others joy and love.
Carpe Diem…we have all heard it at one time or another. Like most things in the Western world, its original meaning has been mutated so that now it has lost its impact. The origin of the phrase is from the Roman poet Horace to express the idea that one should enjoy life while one can. Carpe diem is part of Horace’s injunction “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” which appears in his Odes, published in 23 BCE. It can be translated literally as “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” Thus, the more literal translation of “pluck” instead of “seize” makes more sense for the poetry of Robert Herrick some 1800 years later. The sentiment, however, is one that is written into our Bibles as well and in the teachings of Jesus, who was born just a few years after this poem was penned.
Our scriptures for today offer us some encouragement to live each day to the fullest in the service of God and all of creation. Whether it is Jesus speaking to would-be disciples to leave behind their current worldly pursuits and issues to follow him; the Apostle Paul encouraging the Galatian believers to put away their worldly distractions and activities to focus on the more important aspects of life in the Spirit, or Elisha taking on a double portion of Elijah’s Spirit as he assumes his mentor’s mantle – we are encouraged to seize the opportunities to live fully into our giftedness. Before we go farther, let’s go to God in prayer…
The Apostle Paul is trying to undo the damage that has been done to the Galatian believers. All sorts of things have cropped up since he planted that faith community – and in this letter he has pointedly reminded them of how they were supposed to be living in community. Paul begins by reminding them that the freedom we receive in the Christ is to be used to love others well – not to seize the day for our own self-interests or to marginalize or abuse others. Paul reminds them that they are to live daily in the Spirit rather than live in the world. They will be known as disciples of the Christ when others see the fruit of the Spirit in them.
Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem in our Gospel reading for today. Along the way, some people who think they want to follow Jesus get some interesting feedback on how they need to go about it. Jesus tells each of them that they need to forget about worldly cares and carpe diem – seize the opportunity to follow him instead of being distracted by worldly cares – including worldly death.
The greatest prophet of the first testament, Elijah, is coming to the end of his service. His mentee, Elisha, is by his side. Elijah tries to get Elisha to let him be taken up in isolation, but Elisha will have none of it saying, “…as the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you….” This happens three times, until the prophet and apprentice cross the Jordan River. On the far bank of the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha what Elijah might do for the soon-to-be prophet of Israel. Elisha seizes the day and asks Elijah for a double portion of his spirit – for a double portion of the power which flows from the LORD. Elijah knows how difficult this request is – but says that if God grants it, then it will come to pass.
Carpe Diem…seize or pluck the day – trusting as little as possible in tomorrow. Jesus tells us often to not let the worries of the world, the worries of tomorrow, get in the way of living abundantly today. Jesus reminds us that our worries about tomorrow will not lengthen our lives one minute – but those worries will often remove all the joy of today. That is what Robin Williams’ character, Mr. Keating, is trying to relate to the entitled teenagers that he is teaching. Keating says, in so many words, that there is great beauty in the world and there is much life to be lived, before settling into the lives of their fathers as captains of business. Poets and artists constantly try to remind us of all that we are missing in our hurried and worried lives. It is their main contribution to living abundantly in right relationship with each other and with the created world.
Carpe Diem…seize the day dear ones! This is one of the strongest themes across the whole of the Bible. God is calling to us through the Holy Spirit to put away our striving, our othering, our need to dominate and subdue each other and the world. The Bible teaches us, over and over again, that such energy is wasted as we cannot take any of what we accumulate with us. We will leave the world as we entered it – and we will all one day leave this world. The last 2.5 years have shown us time and again the fragility of our lives – the lack of control that we assumed we had over worldly and even local events; activities of daily life that we had always taken for granted. A microscopic particle, simple yet elegantly created, brought the whole world to a stop; but it did not bring us to our senses.
Friends, over the last five years I have done my very best to try to lead you in your discipleship. We have loved each other, shared our lives, got cross-wise now and again, forgiven each other, and carried on the best we knew how. Some people have left our communities, searching for a different message – one that resonated better with their worldviews. Others have come and found a place that fits them and their spiritual journey. We have attended numerous funerals, six baptisms, a few weddings, we have had a few babies born into our extended family and have brought eight young people through the confirmation process to vow to try to seize each day to live closer to God through Jesus. We have also made vows to each of the folks who have joined the Body of Christ, to support them along the way – to mentor them as Elijah mentored Elisha.
Today you are releasing me to move on the spiritual journey without you – as I am releasing you to do the same. Next week a new spiritual leader, Pastor Liz, will pick up the mantle that I have laid down today. This is as it should be, and it continues the legacy of uninterrupted spiritual leaders since both of these churches began. I wish for all of you that the Holy Spirit will cover you over and give you strength and peace for the next part of your journey. I know that God’s grace will continue to be available to you as it has been during our time together. I will pray for you all that you will seize upon the opportunities that God presents to you to grow in your discipleship and into the mind and heart of Jesus. This is the place toward which you journey and if you are diligent and intentional, you will move ever deeper in your relationship with God and with each other. God will continue to nudge you to look outside of these walls to the needs of the children of God who surround you – and will place within you the desire to meet those needs as you have been gifted and called as a community of faith.
I thank you for all that you have given me, for the ways you have helped me grow in my faith, in my call as a pastor, and in my abilities to order the lives of your churches! You have blessed me by allowing me into your lives and have trusted me with your deepest desires and struggles, with your hopes and dreams. I thank God that I practiced carpe diem and followed God to this part of the kingdom! I wish for each of you that you might find the courage to trust God enough to practice carpe diem and to ask each day like Elisha, “..where is the LORD, the God of Israel?…” When you daily ask this question, God will show up and lead you. May God bless and keep you, may God’s face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, may God lift up God’s countenance upon you all and give you peace! Amen and amen!