The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
1 I was glad when they said to me, *
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;
4 To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the LORD.
5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.
8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God, *
I will seek to do you good.”
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Often in life, we find that we are creatures of our past. That is true, not only of individuals, but also of organizations, including churches.
Early this fall, I took part in a meeting to which the bishop had invited several people in the Dayton area. He wanted to talk with us about the future of one of our diocesan ministries and also about the relationship of our parishes to the bishop and diocesan staff. In the course of our discussion, I recalled and shared with the group a line from William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We then talked a bit about how the past still affects all of us, and we recalled a number of incidents and decisions that took place in past years that still affect the level of trust within our diocese today.
A few weeks later, Jennifer had a similar discussion in her Field Education class at Bexley Hall. As part of the follow-up assignment, she spoke with me about the history of St. Mark’s Church and how things that took place many years ago can still have a significant effect on the life of a church today. To a greater extent than we tend to realize or admit, we find that we are creatures of our past.
But our scripture readings today, on this First Sunday of Advent, turn that reflection around 180⁰ — and, one hopes, turn us around as well. In his commentary on today’s second reading, the great New Testament scholar, Paul Achtemeier (who died earlier this year) observed: “Christians…, in Paul’s view, are creatures of the future, not the past. To it they are to look, and by it they are to act.” The future defines who we are, and the future must determine how we live.
All three of today’s readings lay out for us, in various ways, visions of the future: visions of the world as God intends it to be. Jesus did this time and time again in his ministry. Over and over again, throughout the course of this new Church Year, we will be hearing him telling us, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”; and then he will go on to offer yet another description of that future toward which God calls us – and the rest of creation as well.
But neither Jesus nor the other speakers in the pages of the Bible intended those portraits to serve merely as nice, comforting pictures of some future Promised Land: our “pie in the sky when we die” without any real connection to and implications for the present. Instead, as St. Paul does in our second reading today, they consistently follow their descriptions of the future with a “therefore”: since this is kind of world toward which God is calling us, therefore this is how we need to be living today, therefore this is what we need to be doing today. It is the future that must determine what we do here and now.
That is essentially what we pray for when we join together in the prayer that Jesus taught us. We focus first on the future, praying that God’s kingdom might come and that God’s will might be done throughout this earth. Then, within the context of that future kingdom, we pray that God will give us today “our daily bread”: those things that we need so that we might be able to live in that kingdom and into that kingdom here and now.
So what does this orientation toward the future mean for our life as a church? And what does it mean for our lives as individual Christians within that church?
Churches are great places for doing things the way we have always done them; and that’s not all so bad. We are in fact the inheritors of a great tradition, a priceless heritage. We are part of something greater than ourselves and greater than the sum of the people who happen to be living today and of the ways of thinking that happen to be current today. We are part of the people of God, not only throughout the world but also throughout the ages as well.
But with all the respect that we have – and certainly should have – for those who have gone before us, our primary orientation must always be toward the future. We need to keep before ourselves at all times God’s future, the goal toward we are traveling, and to base our actions on how effectively they lead us and the world toward that goal.
That necessarily raises questions for us: questions that we need to ask in order to move toward that future. What does it mean for our work as a church, for example, to affirm God’s intention, in God’s ultimate future, of bringing about a world in which all people share fairly and justly in the material gifts that God has given for the good of all? Does it mean that we can continue to allow the increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor? Or does it mean that we need to be working for and supporting those changes to our society that will enable all people to share more equitably in the things that God has given for the good of all?
What does it mean to assert that, In God’s ultimate future, God wants all people to live together in unity, caring for one another as members of one family? Does that mean that we can go through life focusing primarily on ourselves and on those whom we already know, on those who think and believe and live pretty much the same way that we do? Or does it mean actively going out to those who seem to be different from us, coming to know them and, through them, coming to know the all-encompassing love of our one God and Father?
What does it mean to assert, as our reading from the prophet Joel did just a few weeks ago, that, in God’s ultimate future, the Spirit of God will be poured out upon all people and will be working to transform the world in and through all people? Does it mean that we can limit our work in changing the world to participating in official church-sponsored groups alone, as many churches do? Or does it mean that we need to be working together with all sorts and conditions of people, whoever they are, to accomplish the work that must be done, recognizing that the Spirit of God just might be working through them just as that Spirit is working through us?
If our lives, as a church and as individuals within the church, are to be guided, not just by the past, but primarily by the future, then we, as the people of God in this time and place, must keep always before us the image of the ultimate destination of all things: the eternal reign of God. But, as St. Paul reminded the early believers in Rome, that vision cannot remain just a dream for some imagined future. Instead that image must be the goal toward which all our efforts are directed here and now: the guiding blueprint for our lives.