March 21, 2021 “Where There is No Faith in the Future, There is No Power in the Present”

“Where There is No Faith in the Future,  

There is No Power in the Present”

Jeremiah 31:31-34

John 12:20-33


Recently, the magazine, Ministry Matters, published the story of the little town of Flagstaff, Maine. In his book, Unfinished Business, the author Halford Luccuck tells how the town was to be flooded as part of a large lake for which a dam was being built. All improvements and repairs in the town had stopped. What was the use of painting a house if it was to be covered with water in six months? Why repair anything when the whole village was to be wiped out? So, week by week, the whole town became more bedraggled, more gone to seed, more woebegone. Then Luccock added by way of explanation, “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.”

“Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.” I’m really glad that I stumbled across the story of Flagstaff, Maine. Reading through the scripture passages for this, the 5th Sunday of Lent, I couldn’t help but pick up on a theme – a theme of promise and encouragement. When Jeremiah preached to the nation of Israel of a new covenant, Israel was in tough shape. After 60 some years of exile in Babylon, they returned to their homeland only to find it abandoned, neglected, or outright destroyed. The future looked bleak. Again, from Jer 31, For this is the covenant that I will make…. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Now for us, right here and right now, the whole idea of being cut loose from the law of Moses may not seem like such a big deal. Every time we gather for Holy Communion, we hear the words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” A new way of doing things; a better way – a law that will be written on our hearts. I’m guessing the folks of ancient Israel and Judah didn’t quite savvy what it was that Jeremiah was referring to at the time, but we do. Even so, he was giving them faith in the future and a reason to go forward. Jeremiah, in short, was prophesying the Messiah.

On the other hand, the writer of Hebrews spoke to a people who knew of the Christ, but because they were still locked into obedience to the law, they were having a hard time understanding his status as a priest. By placing Jesus “in the order of Melchizedek,” it is made known that his priesthood is above and beyond- it is a priesthood, literally, “of God.” Once again, we know that already. What gives us faith in the future is that the new covenant of both Jeremiah and now, Hebrews gives us a seat at the table: a priesthood of believers, is what we are called. We don’t need to rely on preachers or priests or gurus on a mountaintop to be a part of the body of Christ – we are the body of Christ.

The opening verse, and the one that is easily forgotten, in today’s gospel message from John is worth a second look. (vs. 20) Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Then John writes that Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus. I don’t know why this strikes me funny, but it does. Maybe Philip didn’t want to be the one to announce that a bunch of riff-raff was looking to see the Messiah, so he got Andrew to back him up. Maybe Philip needed a second opinion, maybe something, maybe nothing at all, but the fact remains that this entire dialog where the Son of God and the Son of Man speaks of his death as a grain of wheat that must fall in order  that it may rise up; when Jesus speaks that those who love their lives in this world will lose them. I mean, here stood the Christ soon before his death pronouncing that to serve him is to follow him and through that service will you find honor with God. All this – and it is heady stuff –  all this was spoken, not to the disciples and not to the Jewish nation, but to a group of outsiders; Greeks, no less. Here is the crux of the ministry of Christ: that he must willingly endure one of the most painful ways to die that we could invent, and for what? To settle the issue once and for all that God’s love knows no bounds. It has no end, and we who stand undeserving can at least rest assured that this will never change.

(vs 27) “Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? Should I say, ‘Father save me from this time?’ Should I ask the Father to pull me out before this whole thing gets out of control? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. Father, glorify your name! Father, glorify your name. And when a voice did indeed come from heaven saying, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again,” every man, woman, and child in that crowd, whether they knew it or not, were looking at God glorified, God in the flesh, Immanuel.

About this time next year, the daffodils will be up, the days will be getting warmer, and we will  be able to decorate the church, fill the church, color the eggs, and sing the hymns of Easter as loud as we possibly can. I won’t be surprised if many of us might even overdo things a bit. I’m counting on it. We have faith in that future; we will always have faith in that future. So this year as we contemplate the cross, let us lift up our hearts to the Son of God and the Son of Man who was lifted up, for therein lies the glory, therein lies the power, and therein lies the resurrection. I’ll close with words of Jeremiah who states, “No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Praise be  to God.

Amen & Shalom



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