4th Sunday of Easter, 2016
Pastor Sarah Stadler
I’m almost embarrassed to admit: when I think about the future, I forget that God is going to be a part of it.
This would be helpful to remember, that God will be part of the future, because the future is uncertain, uncontrollable, and unpredictable, much as we like to think we can control and predict it. And if you are like most people I know, the future because of its uncertainty, uncontrollability, and unpredictability is scary. In nearly every hospital room, in nearly every home, in nearly every meeting in which I have discussed the future, people have said: What is scariest are the unknowns.
Whether we’re raising our family or living alone, we might not know if our employment is secure, and that’s scary.
If we’re a student, we don’t know for certain where we’ll be going to college or what we’ll be doing with our lives 5 years from now, and that’s scary.
We might be saving money for retirement wondering if it will be enough, and that’s scary.
We don’t know if our good health will last or if a particular ache or pain is actually something serious, and that’s scary.
Or for some of us, we don’t know how our chronic medical condition or addiction will shape the rest of our lives. We don’t know what kind of quality of life we will have, and that’s scary.
We don’t know, we can’t control or predict if we’ll be in a life-altering accident, and that’s scary.
We can’t always predict how people or relationships will change, and that’s scary.
We may be near the end of our lives, not knowing what life beyond this life will be like, and that’s scary.
What we cannot control or predict or know with certainty about the future is, for most of us, a scary thing. And there’s not some magic knowledge out there. There’s not a detailed description of the future written anywhere, even in the Bible. Some Christians view the book of Revelation as a description of what will happen in the future. Some Christians view the book of Revelation as proof of an impending apocalypse: death, destruction, and the salvation of the faithful. In fact, the book of Revelation is a description of the time period in which the book of Revelation was written. The early Christians were persecuted, crucified, thrown to the lions by the Roman Empire. The violence depicted in Revelation was violence done to Christians by Romans 1900 years ago. And in the face of that violence, the writer of Revelation, John of Patmos—a different John than the one who wrote the gospel of John—John of Patmos was incredibly hopeful. The book of Revelation is a vision of hope. John sees the death and destruction around him, the secrecy of the early Christians, the fear of early Christians, and in that very real, very gritty historical situation, John also sees a vision of new life, restoration, an end to hunger and pain, the wiping away of tears and sadness. In essence, John sees in his vision that God, who has always been and who was with them then and who is with us now, John sees in his vision that God will always be with us and for us. God is part of our future, so despite our inability to control it or predict it or to even know it in its entirety, the future need not be scary. God is part of our future.
When you think about your future, what do you think about it including? Perhaps you have plans for a job, a loving relationship, a home, traveling, retirement. Perhaps you worry that you will lose what you have or that the difficult way things are in your life right now are the way your life will always be. Now remember that God is part of your future. Imagine what that means for you and for your life.
When you think about the future of Grace Lutheran Church, what do you think about it including? Perhaps you imagine a full church every Sunday morning or Grace building affordable housing or Grace being a space where artists and poets and musicians can come and share their work with the community. Perhaps you worry that Grace will have to close its doors due to low attendance and lacking funds. Now remember that God is part of Grace’s future. Imagine what that means for us as a congregation.
When you think about the future of the world, what do you think about it including? Perhaps you picture a world where there is complete disarmament, a world where there is finally peace in the Middle East. Perhaps you envision a world without refugees or homelessness or racism. On the other hand, perhaps you worry about our world becoming even more violent, more hateful. Perhaps you wonder how much longer humans will be able to live on this planet due to the destructive nature of our lifestyle and thus of global climate change. Now remember that God is part of our future. Imagine what that means for us as a world.
I am not suggesting that God will tend to the future solely by Herself without any help from us. I am not suggesting that we kick back, sigh, and wait for God to get to work. I am not even suggesting that God’s hopes and dreams for your and my and Grace’s and the world’s future are the same as ours are. Quite to the contrary. But it is through us, through the body of Christ on earth that God tends to my, your, our future. The Holy Spirit is at work in YOU, in me, in the whole body of Christ. The future is a co-creation, a co-creation of God through the Holy Spirit and humanity.
Now, you may already be convinced that God isn’t at work in the present, so believing that God is tending to the future is out of reach. But here’s something to consider: the early Christians who endured persecution, crucifixion, being thrown to the lions, these were the people of faith who laid the foundation for the faith we now share. Despite the real and gritty challenges of being Christian in the first three centuries of the common era, these courageous and faithful people not only proclaimed but revealed a God who never leaves us. If anyone would have thought that God had packed up and left, it would have been the early Christians. But by the growth of the church in the midst of persecution, we know that, indeed, God is part of our future, just as God is part of our present.
And because God is part of my, your, our future, we have hope. John of Patmos shares the vision: There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
God leads us into our future like a good shepherd, not to a parched land but to the springs of the water of life. And even if everything else is uncertain and uncontrollable and unpredictable, here is the One thing we know: our good shepherd will not lead us astray.