Looking For the Future

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

November 17, 2019
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture readings – Isaiah 65:17-25, 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13, and Luke 21: 5-19

The topic of the future is a popular one in religious circles. It seems that throughout history, various figures have told us how to interpret the future, what will certainly happen in the future, and how to best prepare for the future. If only we would listen to these…experts.

The world has had some doozies when it comes to predicting the future. Consider these colorful folks:

· When the year 1000 A.D. arrived, several prominent theologians and church leaders predicted the return of Jesus and the end of the world. When it didn’t happen on schedule, virtually all the leaders corrected their predictions to end 1000 years after his death. About 33 years later, that didn’t happen either.

· In 1501, Christopher Columbus declared that the world would end that year. Why he said this is unknown.

· In the mid 1800’s, predicting the End of the World became a big business in several major religions. More than a few prominent ministers calculated and predicted specific dates when Jesus would appear. When those dates came and went, those same ministers would then re-calculate and proclaim their errors. Once again, when the Lord did not chose to follow those predictions, violence sometimes broke out – including at least one church leader being tarred and feathered and run out of town.

· During World War II, the American clairvoyant, Edgar Cayce, known as the “Sleeping Prophet,” would sometimes receive hundreds of requests from the families of American servicemen who were missing in action. The families wanted to know when – or if – they would see their missing loved

ones again. Cayce drove himself to exhaustion trying to help them all get answers. Many predictions turned out to be accurate.

· In the 1960’s, the astrologer Jeanne Dixon predicted that the Soviet Union would win the space race to the Moon.

· In 1909, Mark Twain’s biographer Albert Bigelow Paine quoted Twain saying, “I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t. The Almighty said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’” He died on April 21, 1910, the day after Halley’s comet returned.

Oh, if only we could predict the future! That would be great…but it would also cause all kinds of trouble.

Consider the three readings we have from Scripture today, all of which discuss issues with what will happen in the future.

The prophet Isaiah writes to the people of God that a new and wonderful future will occur for all believers. That future will be unusual and completely carefree. No more pain, no more want, no trouble or violence or war. Just peace, love, and happiness amid the presence of the Lord.

Isaiah’s audience included the Northern Kingdom of Israel, just before, during, and after it was conquered and destroyed by the invading Persian army. Those poor believers participated in pagan religious rituals and turned away from the proper and exclusive worship of God. When they did this, Isaiah warned them many times over many years what would happen. When it finally did happen – their country was destroyed and they were carried off into captivity – Isaiah reminded them that God had not forgotten them.

Unfortunately for the Northern Kingdom, their bright, peaceful, happy future would only be a vision of the afterlife; it would not come true for them on earth. So, for them, the prophecy took on two forms:

1. They could dream of it as an escape from their brutal reality under harsh conquerors in a foreign land.

2. They could see it as a defiant affirmation of God’s righteous purpose triumphing in the end – no matter what human kings, human armies, or

ordinary human beings did or believed. God would someday make everything right again.

That was a future that the survivors of the Northern Kingdom needed to hold onto…because their faith in the future had been severely tested. And many of them failed miserably.

Next, we have the people of God who lived in Thessalonica, one of the churches Paul visited and spent some time. In Paul’s second letter to those Thessalonians, Paul addressed some major problems with their belief in the future.

When Paul was with then, he taught the Thessalonians that Jesus would return to them. The problem was that Paul indicated Jesus’ return would happen during their lifetimes. Paul was obviously wrong about this, and he admitted his error in later correspondences. The bigger problem was that many of the original people that Paul taught refused to dismiss this errant teaching. This led to some interesting – yet predictable – problems.

The first problem was that many of the Thessalonians believed that because Jesus would return any day, they didn’t need to do any work. After all, Jesus was coming…why should they do anything except wait faithfully. The second problem was that this led to many using this errant belief to get out of work with the perfect excuse: “Paul told us Jesus was coming soon.” Many of the Thessalonians were literally sitting around and not lifting a finger to do anything at all. This led to the third problem: their laziness forced the other Thessalonians to do all the work AND to care for those who refused to do anything.

Imagine the frustration!

In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gently but very firmly corrected his mistake; in fact, I can almost imagine the church leaders writing to Paul and begging him for help. Anyone reading Paul’s second letter will NOT find any place where Paul tells them Jesus is not coming soon; instead, Paul tells them that they must work and live and prepare for the Second Coming of Christ as any good servant would wait for the return of his master. In fact, this led Paul telling them all that those who do not work will not eat. Captain John Smith repeated this same order to the colony of Jamestown in 1607, when the wealthy fortune-

seekers refused to do any work except search Virginia for gold and silver.

So it would seem that knowing the future might cause some unexpected problems – one of them being laziness!

Finally, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells his Apostles what can happen to established and firmly-held beliefs like the everlasting presence of the human-constructed Temple in Jerusalem. It seems incredible to me that the Apostles of Jesus’ day could not imagine the destruction of the Temple. After all, the first Temple that was build by David’s son, Solomon, was completely destroyed. Not one stone was left standing upon another. And so, when the Apostles said, “Hey Teacher, look at this wonderful, magnificent Temple. Isn’t it cool?” Jesus set them straight:

· First, Jesus told them that it would be destroyed. Not one stone will remain upon another. This is exactly what happened in 70 A.D. when the Roman Army destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem and ran all the people out of the city.

· Next, because Jesus had shaken their faith in earthly things to their very core, they asked him for signs so that they would know when it was going to happen. Instead, Jesus gave them information, not about when the physical Temple would be destroyed, but rather when their faith would be greatly tested, when the end of their lives would occur, and what believers everywhere needed to know then, now, and forward into the future – no matter how long it would last.

In doing and saying these things, Jesus was giving them and us incredibly valuable information: we must always trust in God and in the words of Jesus.

Jesus also said an interesting phrase: “Not one head on your head will perish.” Actually, all of the Apostles except for John died horrible, tortured deaths. So the hairs on their heads were harmed…but their eternal lives were saved. That was all Jesus needed to tell them. Everything else was just human curiosity and the search for control of our own lives no matter what the future brings.

And that is why the title of today’s sermon is “Looking FOR the Future” and not “Looking Into the Future.” Nothing in today’s message tells the listener anything about trying to tell the future. Those church leaders who attempt to do so are going against the foundations of faith. After all, if you already know what’s going to happen in the future, why do you need faith? You just need a good plan.

The reason that I wrote “Looking FOR the Future” is that I want all of us to consider what kind of future we could have as the church known as Heritage Presbyterian Church. We could look to be the kind of church that makes a true difference in our surrounding community. We could look to be the kind of people who are truly open, welcoming, and generous. We could look to be the kind of church that does more than set up a quality worship service on Sunday morning; by the way, if we only do that, ask yourself who were are truly serving: ourselves or others?

I can’t tell the future, dear friends, and neither can you. But I can make predictions that will probably prove accurate if we don’t live in our faith. Such as:

· If we fail to make others welcome, we will never have anyone new join our family of faith.

· If we look within instead of considering what we could do outside of this beautiful room, soon we won’t even have the option of looking outside.

· If we quarrel and fuss and disagree, we run the risk of letting others know this isn’t really a church of Jesus Christ at all.

· And finally, if we only anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ and just sit around waiting for Him instead of doing all we can to prepare for the wonderful day, he will be disappointed in us all. And I know I don’t want to see that look on his holy face.

So, let’s recap:

1. Even if we had a “way-back” machine and could go back in time and fix things, we would miss learning some valuable lessons.

2. Those who ignored obvious signs had the future surprise them when it finally showed up.

3. Looking at our world, throwing our hands up in despair and saying, “I give up. Only Jesus can fix this mess” is the modern-day equivalent of acting like the Thessalonians who were just sitting around and waiting for Jesus to return.

4. When Jesus finally returns, what he said will be exactly true: not one stone will be left upon another. Everything will be torn down and made new.

5. Jesus will take care of his believers. Say that to yourself again if necessary: Jesus will take care of his believers.