November 5, 2017

Expecting the Future


Text: 1 John 3:2b: “.... what we will be has not yet been revealed.

This is a day the church calls us to remembrance. It is a day on which we remember with grateful hearts the lives and the examples of those remarkable people, those people often unknown and unheralded in the rolls of fame or accomplishment, who served as our own guides into the life of faith. They are listed in our leaflet, and thanks to the children they are the clouds of witness that surround us today, looking upon us favorably and lovingly. This is a day that the heart remembers those who helped us be sensible to our souls.

Remembrance is always at the center of what the church does. After all, when the movement of the Sunday morning service shifts from the pulpit and the lectern to the altar, we gather around the bread and the wine in an act of remembrance. We even remind ourselves that the instruction Jesus gave to his disciples was shaped by exactly that word: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

But there is a temptation here that we must be alert to, and that we must strenuously resist. It is the temptation to move forward as a church, as a community of faith, even as individual believers, with our eyes and our hearts locked on what is behind us. It is the temptation to steer our course into the future by the light of the rear-view mirror. It doesn’t work very well, and sooner or later we’ll end up in the ditch.

The good news is that this is a lesson that thinking about these saints of ours can teach us. Because by investing in us that is the example they gave us of what discipleship really means. They saw something in us, some spark, some interest, some need, some possibility. They invited us, they cajoled us, they dragged us, sometimes maybe they threatened us into Sunday morning worship.

It doesn’t matter how they did it. It matters that they did it. They did it for the sake of our eternal souls.

And it matters why they did it. They did it because they saw in us the possibility, not just of our own faith, but of the church’s future. The saints we name today, the saints we give thanks for, did not pray for us and plead with us because they hoped we would grow up into people who were spiritual but not religious. They guided us here because they knew that faith is found and followed in community, not in isolation. They knew the church needed us, and what is more, they knew that we would need the church.

Discipleship is not a gift of the past. It is a faithful movement into the future. It is the skill while balancing the treasures of our tradition and our inheritance in one hand, and God’s call to be the bearers of the Gospel message into the eyes and ears of the people around us every next day. We are meant to be forward-thinking, forward-moving, future embracing people. And more than anything else, that takes faith.

It takes faith that God is in this with us and is encouraging us to keep figuring out the way to do what Jesus did—bring the message and the presence of the holy right down onto the ground of this world. It takes faith that they only way we can disappoint God is to be too in love with the past to respond to God’s love for the world that is here in front of us with its present needs and future hopes. It takes faith to step toward all of those challenges without knowing what the outcome will be, willing to pick ourselves up if the first one or two or twenty things we try don’t work.

And it takes faith to know in the deepest part of our hearts that in all of this God is loving us into the courage and the pluck to set our eyes on the horizon ahead of us, and not on the memories behind.

By long tradition we hear the Beatitudes, those curiously paradoxical assurances, when we gather to remember all the saints who have helped and encouraged us. Part of the reason for that assuredly is to remind us that these good people have received blessing from God for the faith and devotion that was the mark of their lives.

But take note of this simple fact: When Jesus utters those blessings, the vast majority of them are cast in the future tense. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

And blessed are you—blessed are you—for your reward will be great in heaven. Greater than any rewards this world thinks it can offer you. Greater than we can even know.

That sounds a little bit like a bribe, like an offer for a transaction, like a great deal, today only, for salvation! But it’s not that. It’s a quiet, calm, careful, straightforward fact. Disciples are pointed toward the future because they are headed toward where God is calling them. And our God is the god of both the graceful past and the promised future.

We don’t know what we will become. We have no idea what God’s future holds for us, for our beloved community, for our work and ministry here. But when we celebrate the saints who made sure we would be here today, we rededicate ourselves to their example with this simple declaration: I mean to be one, too. I mean to be one, too. You had better mean to be one, too.

We give thanks for the past—but we mean to move, with faithful expectation, into the future. Because that is the only direction in which we can go if we want to take our part of God’s work in the world. God is moving forward. We mean to, too. Amen.