In our sermon for today I want to touch on a number of reasons why it makes sense to take a vacation. Actually, this is a sermon I've been waiting to preach all summer. Perhaps you can guess why.
First of all a vacation gives you time away, a change of pace from your normal activities. It varies your routine and moves you out of the rut we get into so easily in life. We're out of the house, out of the workplace, and away from the normal activities that make up our days.
Vacations allow us to see new places and do new things. When we look back on life, most of our days seem to run together; yet, our vacations almost always stand out. We remember those special times all the rest of our lives.
I can clearly recall the boiling springs at Yellowstone , the majestic mountains of Grand Teton Park , the red sandstone formations in Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs . I can also remember the many good times my mother, father, grandmother, and I had on that particular vacation. It was the only real trip the three of us ever made together. That was 46 years ago, but I'll never forget it. I suspect that you can also recollect such times.
Vacations are times of rest and relaxation, at least in part. They're opportunities to sit in the sun with a good book and a tall drink by your hand. They're occasions to stare into space, to watch a tree blowing in the breeze or a bird making lazy circles overhead. Holidays allow you to recharge your personal battery so that you're a little stronger when you come back to face the challenges at home or work.
Vacations are, importantly, also a time to gain some perspective. One of the things I'm always struck with when we go to the beach, where I'm headed in the next few days, is how far I can see from the back deck of our house. It seems like you can look out forever. That may not be literally true, but you can see as far as the horizon, as far as the curvature of the earth will allow.
We stay on a coastal island in North Carolina which runs due east and west. When I look out to sea it isn't Europe or Africa out there in the far distance, but it is Cuba and the Caribbean . Sometimes, when the air is especially clear, I can swear that I get a faint glimpse of palm trees swaying in the breeze and hear the sounds of a steel band.
Perspective, though, isn't limited to just what the eyes can see. We tend to get so caught up in life with the immediate, the things at hand, that we often can't understand what's going on in the bigger picture. One poster says it accurately: "When you're up to your rear in alligators, it's hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp."
When we're so engaged with just the ordinary tasks of living, it may be hard to know where we are in life. That's a universal experience and one thing the Biblical writers of old and we today have in common. It's difficult to step back long enough to see what's happening with any perspective.
In filmmaking the director has three basic choices about camera placement when shooting a scene. He can chose a close-up, a medium shot, or a longshot. The longshot conveys the general setting and puts the actors in a context. So you see a couple holding hands as they stroll along the edge of a tranquil lake, with a backdrop of maples in autumn reds and golds, a deep blue sky overhead.
The medium shot places you in an intimate relationship to the players on the screen. You feel as if you're in the same room with them, on the same sofa with them, around the same breakfast table. The environment is still apparent, but now more limited.
The close-up takes the intimacy a step further and places you face to face with the character. Her eyes meet yours, her nose twitches, the corner of her mouth curls up as if to convey a thought about to be expressed. Close-ups are revealing, but they may also be so emotion-laden that the director has to resist using them too much.
A movie shot too distant from the actors doesn't pull the audience into sufficient contact to develop a sense of caring about what is happening on the screen. Photography too close fails to convey the situation and surroundings in which the characters live and move.
The three basic camera positions are symbolic of how life can be viewed. And that holds true as well for how the Scriptures are presented. Psalm 22 certainly confronts us with the intimacy of close-up when it opens with the plaintive words: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Jesus at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane , the dozing of his disciples, his arrest by the temple guards is surely the mid-shot. We are there with him on that last night in the darkness of the Jerusalem countryside and witness the forces closing in around him as he prays for strength to carry out his mission.
Both our scriptures for today are longshots. The Old Testament reading from Psalm 104 steps back from the smaller details of life to give us a broader look at creation.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord, my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariots, you ride on the wings of the wind.... O Lord, how manifold are your works... you have made them all..."
It's as if the writer may have started with a single leaf, then backed up to see a limb, and then the tree, the forest, and then the entire countryside, back and back until the world can be seen as a single object of creation. It's like those pictures that came back from the first space explorations, haunting views of a blue and white and green earth floating in the blackness of space.
It reminds me too of the letter received by one of the characters in Thorton Wilder's play, Our Town. It is addressed to "June Crofut, Crofut Farm, Grover's Corners, Sultan County , New Hampshire , United States of America , Western Hemisphere , the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the Mind of God."
The writer of Psalm 104 surely sees all of creation in those expansive terms. His perspective is the broadest possible view of life. It puts us in the position of backing up just as far as we, in our imaginations, are able to go. And then it asserts: "O Lord, how manifold are your works! I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being." God is Creator. Rejoice!
Our New Testament reading from Paul is part of a very familiar passage from I Corinthians 13. It speaks to our human limitations. What we know of the greater mysteries of life is only partial. We can gain only a bit of insight into these ultimate matters no matter how much we try. But there will come a time for us, later, when we will understand in completeness.
It's like trying to use a clear pane of glass as a mirror. You can make out your image if you're at the right angle, but the details are elusive. A day will come, however, when what is perceived so vaguely now will then be seen directly. On that day everything will become obvious. In the meantime, though, how do we make sense out of this life? How do we get some perspective?
During WWII a soldier addressed a letter to his father from Guadalcanal , "Write and tell me who's winning," he said. He was so involved with the immediacy of the conflict, wasn't getting much information from his commanders, that he had to turn to family half a world away to provide him with some kind of perspective.
Life presents us with many situations which make us feel like we're thrust into a perpetual close-up. We're so caught up with what's immediately at hand that we can't see beyond where we are. Problems of one kind or another often make us feel this way. Perspective is the thing we need most when we have to make important decisions.
When the alligators are snapping at your rear end, what you need to do is climb one of those nearby trees. Maybe that's the time for a vacation, or just a drive into the country. Getting some of our perspective back may come as the result of a long walk or just taking one of those days where you don't go out and don't see anybody. Sometimes going to a movie or reading a book will help to bring about the same results.
True friends also help provide perspective to one another. They assist us in seeing what we're missing and encourage us along the way. That's what a good counselor does as well. Finally and importantly, it's what God can do for us if we but ask and then open ourselves to what the answer reveals. Our prayers are often for God to intervene on our behalf, but we should learn to say instead, "God, show me the way that I might act."
We must have the long view of life to realize where we are and where we need to go. Successful living is most often the result of having the right perspective and then doing what is obvious. It's a simple lesson, but one most of us still need to work on as we try to make sense of our lives.
I'll tell you what: you work on it here and I'll work on it at the beach. Then three Sundays from today we can compare notes.