Seize The Day

Sermon on John 15:12-17

by Arthur Mampel

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my father I made know to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.

In the motion picture, The Dead Poets Society, a young professor at a boy's preparatory school takes his students outside the classroom to look at the school's trophy case. There under glass the students see trophies dating back to the earliest years of the school. There are also pictures of former athletes who played for the school long ago. The teacher tells the boys to look deeply into those faces. He says to them, "Do you see, lads, how they have all of the promise and energy and hope that is in your faces?" And then the professor began to chant. "Carpe, carpe — carpe diem, carpe diem — seize the day, seize the day — 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.' "

Robin Williams, who plays the role of their professor, then says to them: "All or most all of these students are dead now! They lived, and now they are dead! They lie cold in the ground. 'Carpe diem, carpe diem, seize the day, seize the day, Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.' "

And as the movie progresses, the students are so inspired by their teacher, they come to recognize the unique privilege of "being young." They know that they are in a special zone where their energy level is high and their idealism is pure. They band together and meet secretly in a cave away from the campus. Night after night they come together when the dormitory is asleep. And, then as they read poetry by candlelight and share their deepest secrets, a friendship — a bond — strong and enduring welds them together. Even when they loudly disagree with one another, they stay together. They are loyal!

People, if we are going to truly understand this Gospel text for today, we will need to use our imaginations. Jesus is young in this text. He is not 2000 years old. He is barely thirty. And the twelve men who are about him are young! Many of them are still in their teens. Their faces are full of hope and promise and energy. And they, too, are so inspired by their teacher that they have left father and mother to follow him. They have left their occupations and homes to follow him. They wander around from campfire to campfire, telling stories and listening to the wisdom of their teacher. The bond between them grows stronger and stronger. The intimacy and friendship of this little gathering is so close and tight, it has set them free to share everything. Their most embarrassing moment. Their worst failure. Their secret fear and most humiliating defeat. They know, that in spite of their differences and preferences and failures, they will be friends for life. They will never forget or betray one another. They know how important it is to "seize the day." To "gather ye rosebuds while ye may." To make the most of this human experience.

It was perhaps on such an evening of high resolve that Jesus talked to his young followers about friendship. He said to them, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends." And I can believe that Jesus said this to them, knowing full well that, before the year was over, many of them would betray and deny him and run off when that hard and difficult hour struck. But he knew also that their hearts were right and their resolves were pure. No, Jesus did not question their intentions, but he was urging them to trust that the power of God's spirit would be there for them when their victories were turned into failures, when the green wood of their life was turned to ash! He was urging them to remember, and to be true to those moments when their faces were full of hope and promise. He was pressing them to believe in the resolves of their youth.

And, oh people, don't you see we must do that too! We must be true to our youth! The child in us must not die. Because truth always demands from us the best that we are. And the child in us is the best that we are. When the child in us is dead, then nothing matters. And when that happens, we may as well be in the cold ground. Look folks, when we get older and our energy level is low, we must never say, "It doesn't matter." In the movie, Flatliners, one medical student returned from a death experience with this adamant conviction, "Everything matters! Everything matters!"

Brothers and sisters, it is becoming so clear to me as the years move on that our best moments come to us when we are forty and fifty and sixty and older. Before that time we are amateurs. We are inexperienced. We operate on adrenalin. We have energy for everything. But when we are forty and fifty and sixty and beyond, we need more than energy to drive us because our energy level is very low! We need a tenacity; a spirit that is resilient, a courage that is stubborn. The test of personal valor does not come when you are young and foolish. It comes when you are old and proven.

"Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
The last for which the first was made."

There is something so admirable, so commendable when an old person will stand up in the face of adversity, in the face of all odds, and shake his or her fist at the easy seductions of this materialistic society and say, "I will never surrender to your sleezy and pompous ways." Oh, I like it that Senator Claude Pepper was approaching ninety and still fighting for the rights of the elderly.

The saddest thing that can ever happen to our human experience is to grow old. It is okay to grow older, but we must never allow ourselves to grow old! We must never allow ourselves to betray the ideal and resolves of our youth.

When Jesus said to his disciples that they "should go and bear fruit and that their fruit should abide," he meant that they should take the best of their character with them, all through their life. That their "fruit should abide." It should go beyond youth into old age. It is not enough to be idealistic and spiritist when we are young. But even when age has weakened our bodies and dimmed our perceptions, let our eyes shine and let our tongues speak the truth.

The poet, W. B. Yeats, said it in a poem:

When you are old and gray
And full of sleep
And nodding by the fire
Take down this book and slowly read
And dream of the soft look your eyes once had
And of their shadows deep.

We must never forget the child we once were! Our spirits and our souls must always stay brave and young! Again, the poet Yeats so admired the wild swans who would return year after year to a place near his home. He wrote:

Their hearts have not grown old
Passion or conquest wander where they will
Attend upon them still.

And so may it be true for us — that "our hearts will not grow old." May it be true for us that we will remain plucky and alive and tenacious, unyielding in the face of worldly seductions. May we continue to pass our days with hearts that are honed, uncompromising to anything false or superficial or cheap. Indeed, with God's help you can "seize the day." Even before you draw your last breath you can "gather ye rosebuds while ye may."

And let me tell you why you will be able to do this. You will be able to stay brave and young and true in you heart because you live in a community where God's love is present! You live in a community of friends who will surround you when the hour is weary and long and difficult.

But even more than this, you can, and you will be able to face all of life's uncertainties because your best Iriend is Jesus.

When the renowned theologian Carl Barth was asked to sum up his profound biblical teachings in a brief paragraph, he said: "Jesus loves me, this I know/For the Bible tells me so."

And, oh people, I say to you, this is what makes the fellowship of the Christian community so radical and unusual. This is what makes this particular community unlike any other community in the history of humankind. The spirit and force and power behind our fellowship is as simple as the song we used to sing in Sunday School. "Jesus loves me, this I know/For the Bible tells me so."

But, finally, let me say, the extreme of this friendship was demonstrated in the death of a singular man. The friendship Jesus talked about reached a new and daring height when he said to his followers, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

And this is why we must always be loyal to one another and to our Christian baptism. This is why we must love one another. This is why we will obey the teachings of the Gospel. Because our best friend laid down his life for us, and this is why we must "Carpe diem." This is why we must "seize the day." This is why we must "gather ye rosebuds while ye may."

Arthur Mampel is a poet who lives in Seattle, Washington.

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