November 17, 2019

What is our Future?

Passage: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 and Luke 21:5-19

Whether or not we express it openly, all of us have questions about the future. Depending on where we are in this journey of life, the questions will be different. They may be more questions filled with hope or more questions filled with anxiety. Yet as much as we try to predict or anticipate what our future will look like, we can never be sure until it comes. Some of us will be ever optimistic about our future while others of us will ever be pessimistic. Then there are those of us who will find our thoughts and feelings vacillating like a fan. And because we can never truly know the future the way we might like to, we may never come to a place where we feel fully assured of what awaits us.

But as people of faith, we do have a promise from God that in the end of all time, the plan and purpose of God will be fulfilled, and we will be in a place where all suffering will be past, and all tears wiped away. And that’s fine as a destination but we still need to take the journey and it is the unknown between here and there that remains uppermost in our hearts and minds.

Remember Y2K? Remember the predictions about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world? I spent Y2K on the roof of the extended care centre where my wife worked. She was the manager on call in case everything shut down. Nothing happened that night and we watched the fireworks from downtown light up the sky. Eventually I got rid of the camp fuel, water and other supplies that I had stockpiled just in case the worst happened. Sort of feel foolish now but that is the nature of humans. We can’t see the future and that can be scary. We don’t exactly know what to expect and all we can do is try to read the signs of our times and make the most logical or illogical preparations that we can in case our worst fears are realized.

The disciples who lived with Jesus during his physical life on this earth had the same concerns about the future. They were beginning to understand that a day would come when the world as they knew it would end and they wanted to know what signs to expect and how they could prepare for it. What they really wanted was a blueprint from Jesus, an exact timetable of what to expect in the future. They were also hoping to hear that that blueprint, that timetable would mean that their future would be lived in perfect safety.

Instead of hearing words of calm reassurance from Jesus, they were told of trials and tribulations that awaited them. But before he shared any of these things with them, he encouraged them to not be led astray by prophets claiming to be him. As much as they wanted to be warned, to be given advance notice of what to expect in terms of the ultimate moment, Jesus knew that such a thing would not help them to live in this moment.

The signs that Jesus does share with them give the disciples no specific dates or times. Rather he shares with them the reality of what they can expect might happen to them. Their willingness to embrace the truth of God as revealed to them by Jesus would bring them into a place of conflict with the authorities of the day. They would find family members who did not share their beliefs turning them over to the authorities. And while he does not specifically mention that they may die for their steadfast faith, it can certainly be understood that their lives will not be peaceful. Their very declaration of faith would be a mark on their lives. And yet Jesus promises that not a hair of their head will perish. Such is the promise of resurrection. For what is born of the spirit cannot be extinguished. And so, the ultimate restoration of every believer will reveal that not a hair of their heads has perished.

It has ever been true and will continue to be so that people will act in the cruellest of ways when it comes to matters of faith. The hatred that grows in the hearts of people when they encounter those who do not share their beliefs is real and something that we cannot escape. As long as humans live and continue to exercise the freedom to make decisions regarding faith and life, there will be people who will use all manner of persuasion to turn someone to their way of truth. And life is far more complicated today as we face diversity of language, culture and faith; the threats – real or imagined – that people feel will lead to conflicts of words and in many cases to conflicts in arms. Attempts to correct others and turn them to what is believed to be the right way will lead to oppression; and none of us are ultimately free from this.

The world we live in is smaller than we might ever have imagined. The chances that we will come into conflict with a neighbour are greater than they have ever been. We are no longer as isolated as we may have been. It is harder today to remain ignorant of what is happening in the world around us. The very fact that we identify as Christians will make us the target of others in this world who have chosen a different path. And while we will find moderate voices in every culture, nation and faith, we will inevitably encounter the radicals who believe the only path to truth and life lies with them.

As much as we may long to live in peace with those around us, we may be challenged and even face persecution for our faith. Jesus could have made the future look like a return to the Garden of Eden – a place of tranquility and harmony – but he knew the reality and did not want those who had made the decision to live their lives as people of this new way with God to go into the future unaware of the risks they would encounter.

Is our future to be filled with doom and gloom? There will always be events that will cloud the vision of God in this world for the foreseeable future and there will be disasters and conflicts until the end of time, but the message of Jesus is clear. Hold fast to what you have been taught and as much as it lies within you through the guidance of the Holy Spirit live your life as a disciple of God in Christ; know the One to whom you have entrusted your life and do not give up hope. It is not within the power of any one of us to change the whole world, but it is given to each of us to make a difference where we are. What will this decision mean for our future? In the short term it may mean many things but ultimately it will mean one thing – to find ourselves in a place of perfect peace held in the arms of our God whose love will never let us go.