A sermon preached by Dr Fiona Liddell on Sunday 18th October evening Service, in the context of the Voices Project for Black History Month
Genesis 41: 14 – 36
Matt 6 25 – 34
There is a film that just does my head in – its called Premonition.
A woman, whose life is pretty perfect, with a nice house, husband, daughters, has the tragic news one day that her husband has been killed. But next day she wakes to find him alive and well and she is confused. Was it a dream? It gradually becomes clear that instead of living life one day at a time, in the manner to which we are accustomed, she is living the days of this particular week in a random order. Some days, therefore, she is living with a knowledge of the future that others around her don’t have. Like when her husband sets off in the morning and she knows that he is destined have a car accident – because she has already lived through the news of it. She tries to avert the course of history by intervening. I won’t spoil the story for you.
Sometimes it is a good thing that we don’t know what is around the corner. We heard in last week’s sermon about the way anxiety is at the root of mental health problems for many people. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew is sensible ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t be anxious. Yes we can live one day at a time. The present is all we have.
And yet – that doesn’t have to mean ‘don’t even think about tomorrow’ and it doesn’t mean ‘Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’. There is no reason why living today can’t make room for listening to the voice of tomorrow and letting this speak to us.
Joseph saw the future, in interpreting Pharoah’s dreams. “God has told you what he is going to do” he said. It wasn’t good news: a time of plenty would be followed by a time of terrible famine.
Had he stopped there, he might have been dismissed (or worse) for scaremongering. Or he might have caused a cloud of anxiety and depression to descend on the palace, in the face of a future that has been declared , by God no less, to be ‘doomed’.
But, ever practical, he suggests what needs to be done. He allows the voice of tomorrow to inform today’s agenda in a positive way:
“Now you should choose some man with wisdom and insight and put him in charge of the country. 34 You must also appoint other officials and take a fifth of the crops during the seven years of plenty. 35 Order them to collect all the food during the good years that are coming, and give them authority to store up grain in the cities and guard it. 36 The food will be a reserve supply for the country during the seven years of famine which are going to come on Egypt. In this way the people will not starve.”
He is a man with a plan!
Joseph isn’t the only Old Testament voice that speaks of Tomorrow.
The Prophets spoke up too:
Micah spoke of a vision of peace: In days to come the mountain where the Temple stands will be the highest one of all ……. they will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will never again go to war (Micah 4)
They often spoke in a personal way, in terms of how God was going to act in the future.
Amos says “Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and try to destroy the poor of the country…… the Lord the God of Israel has sworn ‘ I will never forget their evil deeds. And so the earth will quake and everyone in the land will be in distress…” (Amos 8)
In the New Testament this prophetic voice of the future is expressed most obviously in terms of the coming of the Kingdom of God, or God’s New World. Jesus paints for us. through his stories, his actions and his teaching, a picture of how different things are in Gods coming Kingdom – where the first will be last, and those who mourn find comfort; where faith moves mountains and people forgive one another.
This is the future that as Christians we claim now, and we are called to live out today. It is the vision and the hope of this tomorrow that we proclaim in our singing and our praying and our preaching, week by week.
Churches speak up
As well as proclaiming God’s tomorrow in our worship, churches have sought to speak in the most practical terms through education campaigns and programmes.
Do you remember the WCC programme Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation? Hopes for this world’s future crystalised into three broad themes; three aspects of one reality; three entry points into a common struggle.
The addition of the term “integrity of creation” to “the biblical vision of peace with justice” was significant. As well as highlighting the damage done to the environment and the threat posed to the survival of life, the term also gave new prominence to the doctrine of creation and gave the opportunity to re-affirm a Trinitarian faith, beginning with God as Creator, as well as Liberator and Sustainer.
The WCC, at its Assembly in Vancouver in 1983, urged member churches to commit themselves to these priorities. The programme was taken up around the globe even by churches who were not in membership of WCC and by other Christian movements.
This was the rationale as expressed at that Assembly:
“Humanity is now living in the dark shadows of an arms race more intense and of systems of injustice more widespread than the world has ever known. Never before has the human race been as close as it is now to total self-destruction. Never before have so many lived in the grip of deprivation and oppression.”
It goes on to state what the Christian response to this situation should be:
“The churches today are called to confess anew their faith and to repent for the times when Christians have remained silent in the face of injustice or threats to peace. The biblical vision of peace with justice for all is not one of several options for the followers of Christ but is an imperative for our times.”
“The foundation of this emphasis should be confessing Christ as the life of the world and Christian resistance to the powers of death in racism, sexism, caste oppression, economic exploitation, militarism, violations of human rights, and the misuse of science and technology.”
Politicians speak up
Politicians, at their best, speak up for tomorrow by shaping policies and laws which they believe will lead to a better future in some way. (At their worst, they advocate policies which will increase the chances of re-election, regardless of any tomorrow beyond that time.)
Last week, we heard in this church from one of our visitors, involved in the Education Service how proud he was that Wales was really trying to operate an inclusive education policy, to ensure that education is available to all, including Roma, Gypsy and traveller communities.
Here is another bit of Welsh policy making to be proud of: the Well Being of Future Generations Act (2015) which became law in April. It will make the public bodies listed in the Act think more about the long-term, look to prevent problems and take a more ‘joined-up’ approach.
We all recognise that Wales faces challenges now and in the future, such as climate change, poverty, health inequalities and jobs and growth. If we are to give our children and grandchildren a good quality of life we need to think about how the decisions we make now will impact on them.
This law will make sure that our public sector does this. When making their decisions, public bodies now have to take into account the impact they could have on people living their lives in Wales in the future.
It enshrines in a unique way the principles of sustainability, early intervention and prevention, involving people in all their diversity, and collaborating to find common solutions. It talks in terms of well being, defining seven different areas of wellbeing to serve as goals for planners… and results will be expected in each of these areas.
A Future Generations Commissioner will be appointed in November to oversee the implementation of the Act and to encourage its principles to be applied more widely, by community organisations, and churches for example. It may be something that as a church we might look at in greater detail at some point.
‘Speak up for tomorrow’ – and what about us?
We aren’t all politicians, or prophets; we may not feel that our voice is a loud or an influential one.
Ray reminded us, earlier this month at the very start of our Voices project, that where we start is by listening.
During the month we have heard many different Voices. We do it so that we understand, and so that we can allow that understanding to affect our own words, priorities and actions. Then where opportunity arises we can be bolder to represent the interests of those who so often are not heard.
So with ‘Tomorrow’. Tomorrow has no voice. It is often forgotten in our short term, easy access, have-it-now-and-pay-later kind of world. We need to speak and act today with Tomorrow’s interests in our heart… in that way we can give tomorrow a voice.
The West German Theologian Dorothy Solle has said “to be human is to have an elemental relation to the future”. It is not possible to live only in the present any more than it is to live only in the past. We move from a past to a future. In the last analysis, she says, “remembrance and hope are the same thing”.
Certainly the richness of Christian faith and worship is that it is that it points us equally to the past and to the future. The Gospel Good News is about what God has done in the past and what God will do in the future.
And the power of our Voices project is not only in remembering the stories of Paul Robeson but that, being inspired by these, we might act differently, with hope for a better future
So we can’t not speak up for tomorrow. It is a part and parcel of Christian faith. Gods Good News is about the future. We are called to shape that future, as co-workers with God, active in the ongoing work of creation and recreation. We are makers of history and builders of the Kingdom.
So we end with prayer in the words of our next hymn:
For our growing in your likeness
Bring the life of Christ to mind
That by our response and service
Earth its destiny may find Amen
[Hymn: For the Healing of the nations]