Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
October 8, 2017
” … forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Let me begin by way of a story.
“A student from Maine attending Yale told in a class of the town of Flagstaff which was taken over as part of a hydroelectric development. The town in Maine would be submerged as a result of the dam that was being built. In the months before this was accomplished, all improvements and repairs to homes and other buildings came to a dead stop. What is the sense of painting a house if it is going to be covered with water in six months? Why fix anything? So week by week the little town became more and more bedraggled, forlorn, and shabby. It had gone to seed long before the deluge came. One man explained it in these words: ‘Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.”
“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Faith must have a future.
Let me say that again, faith must have a future.
It means nothing to have a faith that lives in the past. It simply is of little or no use. A faith that lives in the past is little more than a form of pious idolatry. It worships what has been rather that pressing forward to what lies ahead. What “was” becomes what God intends for the present and my friends, if that is the case, than there is no need of Jesus and thus no need of the church. We can simply read history and long for yesteryear because God is done. Am I right?
God was done when Adam and Eve first walked the garden. God was done when Moses led his people to freedom. God was done when David slough Goliath. God was done when Babylon took Israel’s best and brightest into captivity. God was done when Jesus was born. God was done when Jesus proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount. God was done when Jesus hung from the gibbet at Golgotha. God was done when Jesus rose. God was done when Jesus ascended. And God was done when Saul was blinded on the road to Damascus and became Paul. Not once, in all of what has been, has God been done. So, my friends, unless there is faith in all our tomorrows there is not faith at all.
The story is told of a long ago solar eclipse that passed over New England. One of the state legislatures was in session when the world went black. Many argued that this was the end of the world that finally Christ had come again and they should all rush home to their families. One of their number then stood to speak: “Whether this is the end of the world, I do not know. But should Christ come again I, for one, want to be found doing my duty. Let our lamps be lit and word on.” He knew about the demands of faith in the present moment because his future held fast to the purpose of God. Unless there is faith in all our tomorrows there is no faith at all.
Oh, we can look back and see where God’s hand was leading us. But we cannot long for a past thinking that God has no hand in our tomorrows. Looking backward got Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. Unless there is faith in all our tomorrows there is no faith at all.
If it means nothing to have faith in a past that has been, it is also true that without hope we die. Victor Frankel survived the death camps of Nazi Germany. His is a story of tenacity and courage. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he said that he knew a person was going to die. How? It was not lack of food, exhaustion from heavy labor, or poor health. They were about to die when they lost hope. He states that men and women can live with almost any “how” but they die without a “why.” The King James translation or Proverbs 29:18 says as much: “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” And the vision that is being cast before us by those in power is of a bigger wall, a fear of those who are not Christian, a bias towards the rich and advantaged, an abandonment of liberty in the name of a false security. “Where there is no vision, the people parish. I know of no time more vital than the one confronting the church today. God’s vision must be reaffirmed and it is the church that God has called to be courageous enough to proclaim it.
You need a “why” to live by? Turn to the text Jesus read in His hometown. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” No small task, and it begins now. Without hope we die. Oh, how the people need the hope only God can give.
Faith must have a future or it is not faith and the people must have hope that sees beyond the present. Finally, faith not only demands a future but a people who will help shape it. We are not alone in its shaping. It is God who formed the Pleiades and set the world spinning, who breathed life into lifeless dust and who brings us to new life in Christ. This God is not done and this God will prevail – without or without the church. Should we shy away from our calling, God will call forth those more loyal to God’s vision. So God does not expect us to do the impossible, but God demands we do what we can. I must let go of my indifference. I must lift my vision to the heavens and see a Kingdom coming. This we can do; for we have glimpsed its character and seen it contours. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is as near as our care for those gathered here. As near as the need of our neighbor.
May we, together, cling to God’s vision and carry our faith into an unknown tomorrow assured that we go not alone. Let us pray…
“ … even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”