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Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy

By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon for May 8, 1997
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, USA

Summertime. We all have images associated with summertime: perhaps it's expressed best in George Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess":

Summertime, and the livin' is easy;
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high.
Your daddy's rich and your mama's good lookin'
So hush little baby now don't you cry

One of these mornin's you're gonna rise up singin'
You're gonna spread your wings and take to the sky
But til that mornin' ain't nothin' can harm you
With your daddy & your mammy standin' by

—DuBose Heyward (author of the libretto)

When summer comes we throw off the shackles that the cold of winter imposed on on us. Winter coats go to the basement; scarves, gloves and hats go into chests or drawers; snow boots are buried deep in the closet, and we don't even worry about where they are until, oh, maybe November (OK, sometimes October...). Summer is the time for light clothes, for comfortable clothes & comfortable living. The problems at the office may be still there but somehow they just don't seem to have the same significance or urgency they might have in February. And of course our attitude towards summer is strongly influenced by our youth; when we were an agrarian society, children had to be out of school during the summer to help on the farm, but as we left the farms behind, the custom lingered, making summertime for many of us as children a time of limitless freedom and breathless excitment. Even those of us who are allegedly adults still find it very hard to resist the impulse to kick our shoes off and wiggle our toes in the mud, delighting in the minnows that flee the giant at the side of the stream. We breath in the smells of nature triumphant, and delight in the fireflies winking in the long summer twilight. We barbecue our dinners and ooh and ah at fireworks, and make trips to the beach, and if we don't have a beach, doggone it, we build one smack dab in the middle of town. We travel and visit our families, or sometimes even our Uncle Walt's family in Anaheim or Orlando. It is, after all, summertime, and the livin' is easy.We feel a delicious freedom, a freedom that calls us to relax, to revel in the warmth.

And why is the summer so warm? Hey, any third grader knows that: it's because the earth is closer to the sun. Why is there warmth in our lives as Christians? Because we are closer to the Son! OK, I know it's a bad pun, but I just can't pass them up even in a sermon. Besides that, it's true! Our sin separated us from God, as surely as the axial tilt of the earth moves us further from the sun during the wintertime, but through Christ's death and resurrection that separation is healed and we are in the very presence of God. Just as the ancients celebrated the annual return of the sun, we celebrate Christ's resurrection and the assurance of our resurrection that it brings. But all too often we focus on single events: Easter, Pentecost, and loose sight of the impact of those events on our lives on an ongoing basis.

Just as spring symbolizes resurrection in the Christian faith, summer should be a symbol too! A symbol of life after the resurrection, for we were dead and now are resurrected again. In our scripture today Paul clearly tells us that we are living the resurrected life: we are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. This resurrected life we now live is a life of summertime. We have the freedom that only God's grace can give us, and that freedom should feel a lot like the kick-your-shoes-off-stick-your-toes-in-the-mud kind of freedom that summertime brings.

Now the one problem with summer is that it ends. The leaves fall, the wind howls, the snow comes and we are once again plunged into the icy grip of winter. But the summertime of the resurrected life is an endless summer. In Bruce Brown's 1964 movie, The Endless Summer, two surfers circle the globe in a quest for the perfect wave. As Robert and Mike, Brown's surfing duo, travel the globe they find great surfing, and they finally find the object of their quest in South Africa. But they are no more responsible for the perfect wave than we are for God's grace; just as we do with grace, they find the wave and accept it. They achieve their endless summer by following the sun from hemisphere to hemisphere. For us, it is the promise of eternal life and God's grace in our lives every day that ensures that our summertime, our resurrected life, is truly an "endless summer".

Our freedom from sin through God's grace places us on the path of a quest as well: an ongoing effort to, in Paul's words, present ourselves "to God as instruments of rightousness". We aren't doing it to earn God's favor; for we still sin, and the wages of sin are death; we are doing it in a celebration of our resurrection, and since we are now free from the bonds of sin, we are free to seek rightousness. We don't have to travel the world in our quest; the goal of our trip and our travel guide are right here [hold up Bible]. We "surf the wave" of grace by striving for rightousness, not in a "I gotta do this being good thing" posture, but in the freedom from the effects of sin that allows us to to embark on a quest to live an upright life because it is the right thing to do, and it is God's will for us. We have a strong element in in our social consciousness in America that says "if you live a good life you will go to heaven", but in fact, "the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord". Our seeking after rightousness is a response to God's grace, not a means of earning that grace. That grace comes to us as freely as the the summer comes after the spring, bringing the joy of freedom from the cold world, asking us to come outside into the light.

And of course not everyting in the summertime is just fun. I don't know about you, but I have to mow my lawn a whole lot more often in the summertime. Some folks think Naperville is maybe a little obsessed with lawns. The Naperville Men's Glee Club sang the National Anthem at a White Sox game recently, and one of our members later observed that the whole group looked down as we walked onto the field, as if we were all thinking in unison, "hmmm, nice grass!". So just as summertime brings us freedom, it brings responsibility as well. We have to mow that lawn, and wipe out those dandelions, and put up the screens, and trim the hedges, and all kinds of summer-related tasks. One of the keys of freedom is that it is accompanied by responsibilities. Building the Kingdom of God and being "enslaved to God" is a lot of work, and one that every one of us is charged with. Of course we aren't doing this alone; God has sent us a "comforter". This is the true warmth of our summertime; the Spirit that appeared as "tounges of flame" on the heads of the apostles, a fire that brings heat as well as light into our lives. Just as the sun makes the grass grow inspires us to feel the need to cut it and shape it into someting we find beautiful, the fire of the Spirit inspires us to work to further His kingdom.

As DuBose Heyward wrote in "Summertime",

One of these mornin's you're gonna rise up singin'
You're gonna spread your wings and take to the sky
But til that mornin' ain't nothin' can harm you
With your daddy & your mammy standin' by

Certainly one morning we will "spread our wings" and "take to the sky". This is the real promise of the resurrection. "For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his." But until then, just as the baby who's the subject of this lullaby is reassured that mom and dad will keep him from harm, our heavenly Father is standing by to protect us. The warmth of our summertime that wraps us and enfolds us is the love of God, just as the baby's folks enfold him with their love. Just like this baby's, God is there for us, standin' by. If we only trust Him and go to Him in prayer, He will disinfect and bandage the cuts and bruises on on our souls, just like your Mom did for your knees when you were a kid. After all, what would summer be without a parent to be there when you scrape your knee?

As we look at the words of Paul, he makes it very clear that freedom is not license--you can't do anything you want. This seems to be a problem with a lot of folk's conception of freedom, especially today ; they have not learned that there is a difference between freedom and license. They figure because it's a "free country", they can do anything they wish. They're wrong. "Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" Paul explains to us that a Christian's attitude toward sin is no longer based on the law, which was established by God to tell man how to live, but rather by obedience to God springing from the heart, since "having once been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of rightousness."

So even though the freedom of our resurrected life brings us responsibility, and an expectation of obediance, I still think it is that run-through-the-sprinklers kind of summertime freedom. What truly makes the livin' easy is joy. We should look for joy like the joy of the summers of our youth. We should always be "suprised by joy" as C. S. Lewis was, titling his autobiography to express that feeling. Our release from the bondage of sin should be occasion for a lifetime of celebration, a summertime picnic that goes on and on. In the depths of the Februaries of our lives, we should look to the brilliant light of our salvation, experience the freedom, and be...surprised by joy.

Dear Lord, may we experience the Joy of our salvation every day, remembering what your freely given gift of grace has done for us, and may we carry the summertime freedom of the resurrected life into the depths of the wintertimes of our lives, drawing on the brilliant light and enfolding warmth of your presence. Be with us and fill our hearts with true joy this morning and every morning of our endless summer, and make the livin' easy. Amen.

Copyright 1997 Raymond E. Trygstad; all rights reserved. May be copied and distributed freely in its entirety if accompanied by this statement.
Copyright 1999 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois
Email: trygstad@trygstad.org
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