I think one of the strangest phrases you hear from time to time is, “Back to the Bible.” We’ve got to get “back to the Bible.” I say it’s strange because there is probably no more forward looking book in the world than the Bible! From cover to cover, this ancient set of documents is always looking forward to what God is just about to do in the future.
Abraham looks forward to having children. Moses looks forward to freedom from slavery in Egypt and to leading his people into the Promised Land. Many of the prophets (like Jeremiah this morning) look forward to God leading them back from Exile in Babylon to once again claim that Holy Land. Jesus looks forward to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Paul looks forward to Jesus’s Second Coming. And the Book of Revelation looks forward to an end to persecution and struggle and the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth” in which God is king, and the empires of this world are not!
The biblical writers are not afraid of the future. They look forward to it! Listen to what one commentator has to say about our First Lesson today from Jeremiah, “Surely there is no more powerful or extravagant depiction of the Lord’s future provision for the good of his people than (this passage). It is an invitation to a party the likes of which this people have never known. It is a homecoming party, with all the good things parties are meant to have: the best food and wine, music and singing and dancing. It is intergenerational and full of fun and merriment. And it goes on forever.”
“The picture of a marvelous party, where all are gathered before the Lord to enjoy all the benefits of God’s goodness and celebrate in joy and singing and dancing, is a way of connecting the vision of the future with the reality of the present. There is not literal way of telling us about what God plans out there beyond our (knowledge). But the language by which Israel spoke of and entrusted its future is …(a kind of appropriate imagining)…of the way it will be. It’s going to be party time!” (The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Jeremiah 31:10-14, page 815)
Today’s Psalm picks up on the same theme. It was probably written a little later than Jeremiah and the future Jeremiah hoped for had been fulfilled. They HAD come home from Exile! “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream/ Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy/ Then they said among the nations/ The Lord has done great things for them/ The Lord HAS done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.” (Psalm 126:1-4)
Yet, things aren’t all hunky dory for Israel, even now that they have returned to their own land. They still have to rebuild the Temple. They still have to set up a government, and send for their scattered families once again. So they continue to look for God’s action in the immediate future:
“Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev/ Those who sowed with tears/ will reap with songs of joy/ Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed/ will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.” (Psalm 126:5-7)
The biblical writers are not afraid of the future. They look forward to it! What a contrast to the nay-sayers and doomsday predictors we hear so much from today. Oh, our moral values are under assault! Church attendance is in decline and all the denominations are struggling. The world is going to hell in a hand basket!
No, says Jeremiah: “See (the Lord says) I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company…I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble…”
No, says the author of Hebrews: Instead he proclaims that “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but (Jesus) holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God though him since he always lives to make intercession for them…” (Hebrews 7:23-24)
No, says Jesus to the blind man in today’s Gospel: “…your faith has made you well.” (Mark 10:28). The biblical writers are not afraid of the future. They look forward to it!
We are blessed here at Grace Church this morning to confirm and receive people into The Episcopal Church. That is a sign to us, if anything is, that God is not through with us yet! People are still seeking and finding a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and through the rich liturgical and sacramental life of The Episcopal Church. We are going through challenging times as Christian people in these United States today. It does no good to deny that. Pollyanna optimism is not what the Bible preaches. What the Bible preaches is hope!
God’s people have been through tough times before, and we will go through them again. But what these new confirmands and receiptees and all of us need to know is that the end of the story is not in doubt! The end of the story is that God is king and that the principalities and powers of this world are not! We may not know exactly what the final kingdom of God will look like or exactly what eternal life may entail.
But what we do know is this: God is in charge of the future and God’s future provision for us is going to be something like a party the likes of which we have never seen! The future – even if we have to experience suffering and tough times in the meantime – is not something to be afraid of. The ultimate future will be filled with joy, and all the benefits of God’s goodness.
In short…it’s going to be – party time!