Facing the Future
a sermon based on
by Rev. Rick Thompson
Is there any reason to face the future with hope?
I think that’s an important question, don’t you?
And, when we look at the world around us, when we hear the news, it’s
pretty hard to make a case for living with hope!
Oh, yes, there are signs of improvement in the economy. But how
many people continue to be unemployed, or under-employed? And
who’s going to pay for the astronomical national debt we’ve assumed in
order to conduct war and cut taxes?
And then there’s the violence. Always, the violence. Every
day women and children are beaten—and sometimes killed—and weapons are
used against others. And October has been the deadliest month in
two years for United States troops in Iraq.
And that’s just in our own nation. Add to that the struggles of
the rest of the world. Look at how many millions of people in the
world live in lands where there is no work, no money, little food, and
no hope that tomorrow will be even a little bit better. Listen to
the reports of the latest famine in Africa, and AIDS on the rampage in
many lands. Take note of all those who live under brutal leaders.
How long has it been now that displacement of people and slaughter along
ethnic lines has been going on in the Darfur region of The Sudan?
How much longer will we have to hear of ongoing tension and violence in
the Middle East?
In the light of all that—is it possible to face the future with hope?
The disciples of Jesus were wondering the same thing. He had just
been talking with them about Jerusalem and the Temple. He had
predicted destruction, catastrophe, and chaos. The disciples,
understandably, were alarmed, and asked if this would be the sign of the
end of the world as they knew it.
“No,” Jesus replies. “The end of the Temple won’t mean the end of
the world. In fact, I can guarantee you this: it’s bad all over
now, and it’s going to get worse before the end comes!”
Well, thanks a lot, Jesus!
His response reminds me of a sign posted in my childhood chiropractor’s
“They told me, ‘Cheer up! It could be worse.’
So I cheered up and, sure enough, things got worse!”
Yes, we can relate to the language of Jesus about “fear and foreboding,”
and the current troubles being only a prelude to worse days yet to come.
We live as if we’ve got to grab all we can of life now, before
it’s too late, before someone or some turn of history takes it all away
from us. We know what Jesus means when he talks of “fear
So—is it at all possible to face the future with hope?
William Willimon refers in a sermon to the church’s long wait for
Jesus to return and finally bring in the promised age of peace and
well-being for all. It’s been a long time since Jesus was here and
made that promise! So Willimon, thinking of a child peeking over a
crowd to see a parade, or peeking over a window sill to watch for
Grandma & Grandpa’s arrival, comments, “It’s hard to stand on tiptoe for
Yes, it’s hard to live expectantly when it doesn’t seem very urgent.
It’s hard to live with expectation of what God will do someday when
we’ve got more pressing concerns—going to work and school, planning our
next trip, getting the kids to all of their events, spending time with
our family and friends, saving money for the future, taking care of our
health or the health of loved ones. It’s hard to live expectantly,
it’s hard to even imagine the future, when we have all those
things—and then some!—to worry about. Given all that, plus our
anxieties about the state of the world, we know why it’s been “hard for
the church to stand on tiptoe for 2,000 years”.
So is it really possible to face the future with hope?
Well, as is often the
case, we need to take a closer look at the words of Jesus.
Yes, he speaks in this gospel reading about hard times coming for the
people of God, about signs of the end, about “fear and foreboding,”
about cosmic chaos, about the coming end of the world as we know it.
But Jesus also encourages Christians to live in such times with HOPE,
not in fear and dread! Jesus instructs us to keep on living
expectantly, hopefully, with anticipation! After all, Jesus says,
chaos and evil and death do NOT have the last word. GOD has the
last word! So, Jesus teaches, when it seems as if there’s nothing
to do but run and hide in fear, I URGE you instead: “LOOK UP!—FOR YOUR
REDEMPTION IS DRAWING NEAR!”
Did you notice that?
We might expect Jesus to speak about destruction; instead, he
And, as he speaks
these words, Jesus is about to do just what he is promising.
Jesus is preparing to enter right into the jaws of evil and death, and
suffer and be killed on a cross. Jesus is about to do battle with
all the powers of sin and evil. Jesus is about to do this not out
of despair, not because he is a victim of fate, but out of hope
in the nearness of the kingdom of God. Jesus is about to
accomplish our redemption and the redemption of all creation—setting us
free from the power of sin and chaos and evil and death. Jesus is
about to challenge the powers that be, and let them have their way with
him, but then rise in triumph over death and the grave!
Jesus is about to have the last word. Jesus is
about to accomplish the redemption of all and usher in the kingdom of
God. And it is PRECISELY by going through things that would make
the rest of us shudder in fear and foreboding that Jesus does what he
says he will do!
is the one who
encourages us, “Look up! For your redemption is drawing near!”
is the one who announces, “The kingdom of God is near!”
Jesus isn’t just making bold but empty claims; no, he has the power and
might to do exactly what he says he will do—bring about our
redemption and bring in the kingdom of God!
So what would that
kingdom look like?
It would look like Jesus, dying and rising and ruling for eternity with
a love and mercy that just won’t quit—even in the face of horrible evil
and certain death.
It would look like Jesus, gathering disciples from among the forgotten
ones of this time, training and empowering them for a mission far beyond
their wildest imagination!
It would look like Jesus, pouring life into a world that seems to be
dying and giving hope to the hopeless!
And do you know what? I think that kingdom is near, right now!
I think God’s kingdom
is near when, once again, God comes to us as we gather around the Lord’s
I think God’s kingdom is near when God’s people act selflessly, rather
than selfishly, and feed the hungry, clothes the naked, and shelter the
I think God’s kingdom is near when God’s people say “no” to violence,
and act in ways that bring peace and reconciliation.
I think God’s kingdom is near when the poor are lifted up, and the
mighty are humbled, and rich and poor alike turn in faith and hope to
I think Jesus is absolutely right: the kingdom of God is near!
And if you agree,
will you join me in looking up to watch for the coming of Jesus?
Not looking down in fear, and not away, distracted from
what really matters, and not around, as if our hope is somewhere
else, but looking up—LOOK UP!—watching for the coming of Jesus!
Isn’t that what Jesus urges us today? “Be alert! Watch!
Jesus insists that we have reason to live with hope—not
hide our heads in fear!
Early in the life of our nation, the Connecticut legislature was in
session on a bright day in May, doing their work by natural light.
But then something happened—there was an unexpected eclipse of the sun,
and they were overcome by darkness. Some of the legislators
thought Christ was returning, and they clamored for adjournment.
They urged the body to turn to God in prayer. They wanted to
prepare for the coming of the Lord. The legislature was on the
verge of panic.
But the Speaker of the House claimed the floor. A devout
Christian, he acknowledged the darkness and the fear it stirred up in
them. But, he went on, “The Day of the Lord is either approaching,
or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment.
And if the Lord is returning, I, for one, choose to be found
doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought!”
brought, and the Connecticut legislature went back to its work.
That is how we, too, prepare for the coming of the Lord, living
expectantly, whether that coming is soon or delayed even longer.
We do our duty. We worship God, and we grow together in Christ,
and we serve God and others, and we reach out so that many can hear and
know the good news. And we do it all joyfully, hopefully, and
So the answer to our
question is “Yes.” Yes, in Christ it is possible—possible
to face the future with hope! Amen.