The Second Sunday in Lent Year C
The Lord said to Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Promises, promises. God promises Abraham will have as many descendents as there are stars in the sky. God promises Abraham that these descendents will own all the land from Egypt to the Euphhrates. Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory. Jesus says “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” All three of our readings today invite us to look to the future.
The future is a difficult place to live. Most major spiritual traditions advise living in the present instead. Jesus says to take no thought for tomorrow. We are to open ourselves to all the richness of the present moment and perceive all the gifts showered upon us by God. Brother Lawrence teaches us that we can experience the presence of God while we are doing the dishes. Most of my anxieties come from looking into the future, and the antidote is to focus on the present. The future is mere an array of possibilities; only the present is real.
On the other hand, when the present is difficult or hard, hope is valuable tool. Indeed, hope is one of the theological virtues along with faith and love. About twenty per cent of the Church’s liturgical year is give to seasons of preparation: Advent and Lent. In these seasons we look ahead to the arrival of the Messiah and the completion of his work of reconciliation. Even my experience of pain in the present is affected by how long I think the pain will last. I can put up with a lot if I think it’s only going to last a minute. If I don’t know how long it will last, it rapidly becomes unbearable. Dental procedures come to mind as an example.
It is hope in the future that allows people to become heroes. Abraham and Sarah are old and childless, and yet Abraham believes God when God says that Abraham will be the ancestor of a multitude and this progeny will inhabit the land. It is this promise that allows Abraham to deal with the conflicts with his neighbors, with famine, to defeat the winners of the war of five kings against four. It is the hop of glory that sustains Paul and all of us in our trials. It is knowing that the end is near that gives Jesus the courage to face his opponents in Jerusalem. It is the promise of glory that enabled American slaves to survive and overcome.
So is hope in God and the promise of glory, just pie in the sky religion to keep the oppressed in their place? Or is it a valuable tool in living our lives in love and the building of the Kingdom of Heaven? Should we live in the present or hope in the future? Is our picture of the future one that inspires dread or hope?
When I look ahead, I see retirement as a time to do many things that I have put off. I am excited and hopeful. I also fear what Putin may do next or what the next turn of the COVID may be. And moving from Litchfield is a an unhappy prospect. What are we to do. What does faithful living look like? Living in the present or living for the future? Is living in the present merely burying my head in the sand? Is hoping in the future merely away to avoid dealing with the difficulties of today?
Maybe this might be a way to think about this. Living or making choices out of fear is generally not optimal. If I live in either the present to avoid anxiety, or if I live in the future to escape the present, I will find little joy. If I can live in the present and experience God here and now, and also hope in the future that God has glory and fulfillment and completion in store for us, then my capacity for handling challenges is increased mightily. Consider this from the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas:
THE BRIGHT FIELD – R. S. THOMAS
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Let us live fully in the presence having that present flooded with the sunshine of hope.