“Living in the Not Yet”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
November 18, 2018
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.” – Mark 13:7i
Do you know people who hoped for a better life and thought they were headed in the right direction only to discover they missed the mark? In Arthur Miller’s haunting play, Death of a Salesman, the 60 year-old Willie Loman is a tragic figure who has missed his mark. He is in the midst of a personal crisis. He is slowly losing his grip on reality. He daydreams while driving. He runs the car off the road. He hallucinates and talks to people who are not there. His two sons seem adrift and Willie’s wife is frightened of what the future might hold. She is convinced that if Willie keeps traveling to makes sales, he will end up dead. They all seem to be living lives of quiet desperation. So it is for those who long for a glorious ending but are faced with having to live in the “not yet.”
The truth is that we all live in the “not yet.” In my lifetime advances in human knowledge, technology, and acts of courage have liberated millions from want and disease. Nonetheless, all of these strides are partial. They have not brought an end to oppression. Racism still raises its ugly head. Homophobia is not expunged from the human experience. Sexism still stifles men and women alike. I was born in 1951. Much has changed, but I wait still for the final completion when justice will have its day and peace will be lasting. And I, like you, have eyes that gaze out on a world that groans under the weight of sin, that preaches violence as a solution to violence, that believes that “me and mine” are loved more fully by God than “them and theirs.” All of our strides forward will fail to bring us to the perfect justice and perfect love of God.
This is why some have sought the culmination of history, the climax of God’s fulfillment, and preached the end was near. But with each new prediction a former prediction is proven wrong. God is not served by Christians waiting for the end to come, but by Christians striving to make the here and now more humane.
On May 19, 1780, ,,,an unusual darkening of the day sky was observed over the New England states and parts of Canada. The primary cause of the event is believed to have been a combination of smoke from forest fires, a thick fog, and cloud cover. The darkness was so complete that candles were required from noon on. It did not disperse until the middle of the next night.
In Connecticut, a member of the Governor’s council (renamed Connecticut State Senate in 1818), Abraham Davenport, became most famous for his response to his colleagues’ desire to adjourn fearing it was the Day of Judgment:
“I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.
Davenport had it right. In the “not yet” of our lives we must not adjourn but call for candles that our duty might be done.
What is needed is a hope beyond hope. Paul puts it this way:
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom. 8:24b-25)
So we are called upon to wait in faith, to trust that God’s promise will be fulfilled, to know that evil still battles on but has lost the war, that there is a power at work that will not fail us.
The director of a medical clinic told of a terminally ill young man who came in for his usual treatment. A new doctor who was on duty said to him casually and cruelly, “You know, don’t you, that you won’t live out the year?”
As the young man left, he stopped by the director’s desk and wept. “That man took away my hope,” he blurted out.
“I guess he did,” replied the director. “Maybe it’s time to find a new one.”
Commenting on this incident, Lewis Smedes wrote, “Is there a hope when hope is taken away? Is there hope when the situation is hopeless? That question leads us to Christian hope, for in the Bible, hope is no longer a passion for the possible. It becomes a passion for the promise.”
Our hope is not always anchored in what we see, but in what is left unseen – in a promise that waits its final culmination. If we were to hope for utopia in the here and now, we would be deserving of pity. Nothing we do, either individually or collectively is pure enough to meet the standards of God. We wait, not for our perfection, but for the final fulfillment of a promise – in a tomb found empty, in a stone rolled away, in love and justice made perfect. In the end, our hope is in God alone.
SONG: Even If https://youtu.be/nyLrl0SWe7s
So when my life seems hopeless, when I cannot see beyond the darkness of the moment, my hope is placed in God alone. Then I may sing: “It is well with my soul.” Let us pray…
i Mark 13:1-8
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.