Saturday, November 9, 2019

Leaning into the future. Year C, Pentecost 22, Job 19.23-27a, Luke 20.27-38

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, Amen.
When we were young, the span of a human life seemed like an eternity.
As we age, it’s more like the blinking of an eye.
We are growing older.  It seems time passes quicker as each year goes by.
I heard an explanation as to why that is the case many years ago.  That person suggested that we measure time by the span of years we have already lived.
That is, if we are five, waiting a whole year seems like forever because it’s twenty percent of the total span of years we had lived up to that point.
However, if we are 100, a year is only 1% of the total life span that had passed before, and so it seems like a relatively short period of time.
At any rate, whether we are five or fifty, aging happens.
Another thing that happens with age is that the focal point for our hope shifts.
The younger we are, the more our hope is focused on the future that we are growing into in our lives.  It’s a hope for the here and now, for the world in which we live, and for the days and years ahead.
And then as we grow older, we begin to recognize that our days on this earth and the time we have left is drawing to a close.  We look beyond the horizon to the promise of salvation and eternal life.
Two futures.
And we lean into those futures with hope and expectation.
For Job, whose life fell apart in a most devastating way, it was the future that sustained him in hope.  God’s future, that eternal hope.
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, .  .  .
As my father approached his 100th birthday, he longed for the fulfillment of this promise.  Actually he had misgivings about the length of his life.  On the one hand he felt quite blessed to have lived well into his nineties with relatively good health.  One the other hand, he somewhat envied those who had died, for they were already with Christ, surrounding the throne of God, and living in paradise.
There is another side, though, to our future hope and that is the future that will be on this earth.
That future will continue to unfold without respect to how many years are left in our lives.
It’s a future that will be lived by our children and our children’s children.
Our future in heaven is a gift we receive directly from God.
And the other, the future in this world, is a gift we give to our children.
To live our lives faithfully and in hope means that we lean into those two futures, not neglecting one for the sake of the other, but rather recognizing the importance of each.
To live in hope for the future of this world, is to care for the environment, seeking to pass it on to future generations in better shape that when we first received it.
Our time on this earth may be getting more and more limited, but the future generations that will follow us still need this earth, even if we don’t.
To live in hope for the future of this world, is to care for things such as our government, our schools, and such things as the local businesses upon which our lives depend.  And we do so, even when our own personal, immediate and pressing need has passed. 
For example, even though I am long since past my school years, and my children as well, I am thrilled that in Sandpoint this last week we passed a permanent levee so as to provide stable and sustained funding for the years ahead.  That will benefit my grandchildren, and the others that come behind me.  It’s for their future, not mine.
And also, to live in hope for the future of this world is to nurture the relationships that are so crucial to making our lives meaningful and rich.
One example for me of this came to me when I lived in the rural areas of eastern Montana and elsewhere.
What I noticed was that there was reluctance for most of the farmers and ranchers there to enter into any significant conflict with their neighbors.  The reason was that the quality of their future and the future of their children for generations to come was tied up with those neighbors on the other side of the fence.  They stood by each other because they knew that they, and subsequently their children, would still be standing side by side for generations to come.
To live into the future with hope is to care for the quality of life of future generations without regard to how many years that we ourselves have left.
Yet at the same time we invest in the future in this world, we also look beyond to the fulfillment of God’s promise of eternal life.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

"1 In heav'n above, in heav'n above,
where God our Father dwells:
how boundless there the blessedness!
No tongue its greatness tells.
There face to face, and full and free,
the everliving God we see,
our God, the Lord of hosts!
2 In heav'n above, in heav'n above,
what glory deep and bright!
The splendor of the noonday sun
grows pale before its light.
The mighty sun that goes not down,
before whose face clouds never frown,
is God, the Lord of hosts!
3 In heav'n above, in heav'n above,
no tears of pain are shed,
for nothing there can fade or die;
life’s fullness round is spread,
and like an ocean, joy o’erflows,
and with immortal mercy glows
our God, the Lord of hosts!
4 In heav'n above, in heav'n above,
God has a joy prepared,
which mortal ear has never heard,
nor mortal vision shared,
which never entered mortal thought,
in mortal dreams was never sought,
O God, the Lord of hosts!"

This hymn by Laurentius Laurentii Laurinus speaks to this hope.
Of heaven, and of this hope, it is easier to sing than it is to speak.
We wonder what it will be like.  We question.  We imagine.
Today’s Gospel lesson is an example of the type of questions we raise.
If a woman has seven husbands in this life, whose wife will she be in the resurrection???
This brought back a memory from my confirmation class.
Candance Jorgenson was one of my classmates, and during one of my dad’s lessons on heaven, Candace blurted out “I don’t know if I want to go to heaven!”
And then she talked about sitting in the clouds playing a harp, as not sounding like very much fun at all.  Nor did my dad’s suggestion that we would be constantly worshipping God and singing his praise. 
It’s like enough already.  A worship service without end seems a bit much.
What will we do, what will it be like, who will be there, and such? Questions.
On a more serious note, one woman who I spoke with as she was dying was deeply concerned about this Gospel reading.
A big part of her hope was that she would be with her husband in heaven.
She was deeply concerned that Jesus said: “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
To be honest, I didn’t know how to answer that question.
Some of us hope that even death will not part us, do we not????
And what will we do, what kind of relationships will we have?
We will not find hope, though, in the questions, but in the promise:
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

We cling to this promise, ready to be surprised, but trusting in the one who called us to faith, Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Savior.

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