By Your Endurance

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | November 13, 2022

Luke 21:5-19

There’s an old Twilight Zone episode in which a group of thieves steal a truckload of gold bars. They take it to a cave in the desert. They have the technology to put themselves into a state of suspended animation. The plan being that when they emerge in the future, with this hoard of gold, they will be kings.

Of course, it doesn’t turn out as expected. It never does in the Twilight Zone. When they awaken in the future, they fight over the gold, kill each other and the one guy whose left dies of thirst in the desert. But not before encountering a man and his wife driving along in their futuristic car.

The woman asks her husband what the dying man was mumbling about before he passed away and his response was, something about gold. The twist being, that between the time of the heist and the thieves’ emergence in the future, a process is discovered for manufacturing gold, and it is no longer a valuable commodity. The moral of the story being, you just never know.

It may seem at times as though we are living in some new version of the Twilight Zone. We may wonder how we got to where we are now and think, this is not what we expected.

There have always been predictions about the future. There was a time we thought we might all be driving flying cars by now. But instead of running into deer in the road, we might run into flocks of birds in the air. “They just came out of nowhere.” Just like Nostradamus didn’t really predict any of this, Abraham Lincoln and Morgan Freeman never said many of the quotes attributed to them.

The prophet Isaiah painted the vision of a hopeful future. A future of peace and prosperity. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together. The lion will eat straw like the ox. Jesus though, warned his followers to be on watch for what might come. His message about the future was that hard times are on the way.

We live in times, whether they be the end times or not, when predicting the future is big business. If you know what will happen, then you can be ready for it; if you are properly prepared. There is money to be made in future telling. There is a comfort in certainty.

Think back to your life, say a mere thirty years ago. If you were alive thirty years ago, your life was different than it is today. The fact that you were thirty years younger being one. Your relationships, circumstances, outlook even, different than now. Could you have predicted then, your life as it is now?

Were your hopes met and your dreams fulfilled? What sorrows came into your life unexpectedly? How might you have prepared then, for where you are now?

Thirty years ago, I was the pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church in St. Louis Park. They designated my position as “Head of Staff.” There was an associate pastor, choir director, musicians, secretary, youth director, custodian and Christian education director.

Thirty years later, as with many churches, the future did not follow the patterns of the past. Today, while still thriving in their way, there are not as many people around. Whereas they once boasted of a thirty-member choir, their average worship attendance now is less than forty people.

Thirty years ago, as part of my subscription to Time Magazine, I received a “special issue” entitled, “Beyond the Year 2000: what to expect in the new millennium.” I read it, I saved it and now that we are well into the 21st century, it’s an interesting take on our ability to predict the future.

There are a number of predictions I call, “A Miss Is As Good As A Mile”

“Since it is a truism that democratic states do not make war on one another, warfare should become essentially irrelevant for these nations, most of which will reduce their armed forces to the minimum necessary for individual or collective defense. ‘We’re not going to see nation states bullying one another as they have in the past,’ predicts senior analyst Carl Builder of the Rand Corp.”

“Another major plus for the emergent democracies will be the eagerness of governments in the West to do everything necessary to build prosperity in the East in order to keep waves of economic migrants from rolling over Germany, Italy, France and their neighbors.”

“Communism will collapse in China, clearing the way for the powerhouse of Taiwan to join Hong Kong as a special economic zone of the Chinese motherland. Even with their help, however, China cannot grow into an industrial giant in the 21st century.”

There are some predictions I call, “It Seems Possible”  

“If picture phones become widely accepted, people will begin to make network friends whom they may never meet in person.

“The trend in entertainment will be toward that which is customized to the needs of the individual. People will order what they want rather than settling for what’s there. Society will pay a price for that. As the mass audience disperses, there will be fewer cultural reference points, less common ground. Couch potatoes of the future, whose every entertainment wish will be granted with the touch of a button, may have trouble interacting with one another in the real world.”

“In robotics, there will be tiny insect like vacuum cleaners that will hang out in dusty corners, scooping dust into their bellies.”

“In warfare, the weapons of the future will look like they came straight out of Star Wars or Robocop and the biggest problem will be proliferation. Computers will emulate the brain, but not replace it.”

“Genetic Technology will give humankind an almost godlike power to improve its condition. It will be one of society’s major tasks in the 21st century to develop a moral and ethical code to match and help control this awesome ability.”

“If population keeps building at the current rate, the most ominous effect is that millions of life-forms will become extinct.”

Some basic points from Jesus –

What seems permanent can be destroyed. Like the Temple some folks were talking about. It was big and made out of huge stones. The Romans knocked it down in the year 70. Since the Gospel of Luke was written after that happened, it was the author’s way of saying, “Jesus said this would happen.”

And Jesus goes on to say that there were always be people who claim to be God’s chosen messenger, the one who claims to know just what God has in mind. His warning? “Don’t bother with them.”

And of course, wars, natural disasters and human suffering. Pretty much the record of human history since records have been kept.

So, what is a Christian to do? Basically, to live the life God makes possible, as much as possible under whatever the circumstances may be. It means tuning into the whole story and following its lead to love your neighbor, pray for your enemies, practice good stewardship of your resources, turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Those sorts of things.

For its special edition, Time Magazine invited public figures from different walks of life to respond to the question: What should humankind aim to accomplish in the coming decades?

Barbara Jordan: “We need to restore a sense of the common good in America.”

Francis Fukuyama: “The central project of humanity had got to be something like the restoration of a sense of community.”

Luke Perry: If we’re going to engage in armed conflicts and send men off to war, we’ve got to be prepared to deal with the problems these veterans have when they come back.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The only new idea could save humanity in the 21st century is for women to take over management of the world.”

August Wilson: “We should make greed the sin of all sins.”

Sharon Stone: Peace of mind, peace of heart and generosity of spirit.”

There is comfort in being certain; knowing the facts and having the answers. Two plus two always adds up to four. It’s not a matter of opinion. But so much of life is the uncertainty of it. And that’s okay, because faith is about living with hope and the only way certainty plays into it is that we can be certain of what we hope for.

So in the meantime, which is always here and now, we endure in hope. Maybe that’s why Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Amen.

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