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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Predicting the Future is Hard

Luke 20:27-38

Predicting the Future is Hard

Remember the movie, "Back to the Future II"? In this sequel to the original movie, Marty McFly travels from the 1980's to the distant future of 2015. Cars fly. Landline phones have been replaced by fax machines. Predicting the future is hard.

But the movie came SO close on one thing. Marty steps out of the time-traveling DeLorean and sees headlines and billboards proclaiming the outrageous news that – finally – the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. Missed it by just one year. So maybe next year we'll get the flying cars.

I also remember the original "Back to the Future," when Marty went back in time to 1955. He explains to Doc Brown that in his own time, Ronald Reagan is President. Doc says, "Ronald Reagan? The actor? Who's Vice President? Jerry Lewis?"

It makes me wonder, "What's Jerry doing these days? Would he like to be President?"

Predicting the future is hard. Things you never dreamed would happen, do. And things you were absolutely certain would never happen in a million years, surprise you. Sometimes it's a happy surprise. "Wow! I won the lottery!" Sometimes it's not. Caroline Owen reminded me last week that Thursday was the ten-year anniversary of her car wreck. Ten years and three days ago, there was no way she could have predicted her life in 2016.

We use tools to build our predictions of the future. Primitive tools. We remember how the past was. That's our hammer. We see how things are now. That's our nail. We put hammer to nail to cobble together our dreams. It's like, imaginary shop class. Sometimes what we build resembles what we intended. We get close. Like that prediction about the Cubs. And sometimes, we think we're building a flying car, but it turns out more like a Ford Pinto. (If you're too young to remember the Ford Pinto, think of the Samsung Note 7 – as a car.)

Four years ago, who would have imagined how things would be this Election Day? Wonder how things are going to be four years from Tuesday. Predicting the future is hard, even if you're only taking four years at a time. Years? Things are gonna happen in a couple days – maybe nationally, maybe personally – that you could never guess. Your tools just aren't that sharp.

Stretch this out. Imagine, now, how things are going to be in eternity. How fluffy will the clouds be in heaven? What's the thermostat setting in hell? If we can't build good predictions four years ahead, or four days ahead, or sometimes even four hours ahead – how in the world do we think our primitive minds can craft an accurate vision there? That doesn't stop us from trying. Because we have great confidence – in our own abilities.

Predicting the future is hard, if not impossible. Doesn't stop us from trying. Sometimes we can fool ourselves into believing we're going to be right.

But you can't fool Jesus. The hammer and nails of his past and present build a future we can't see. We can't see it. But we have faith. We have faith in what little he's told us about that future. That there will indeed be a future. And that we will have a part in his future, with him.


The Sadducees. They were sort of like the Pharisees. With Ph.D. degrees. The Sadducees were the elite and conservative party. They didn't go in for liberal hippie ideas, like, resurrection. Yes, there was a time when belief in resurrection was the hot-button religious topic. It separated the conservatives from the liberals, divided families, and made Thanksgiving conversation very awkward. Just like hot-button religious (and political) topics still do today. There's one thing we can safely predict that won't change.

So when the Sadducees ask Jesus about how things are going to be after the resurrection, you know they're just messing with him, this poor, uneducated country boy from Nazareth. They'll laugh about him over scotch and cigars.

The Sadducees concoct this bizarre TCAP question about one bride for seven brothers. Whose wife will she be at the resurrection? Bless her heart. Nobody asks her. After seven earthly husbands, maybe heaven would be some serious girltime.

Jesus gives a pretty complicated answer about how there will be no marriage in heaven. Interpret that how you will.

Jesus's answer could also be read as Luke's attempt to explain why early Christians believe like they do. It's not so much a prediction of the future, but a justification of Christian thought, in Luke's present day. Like he's saying, "We're not as weird as you think we are. We have the same tools you do; we're just building something different. We imagine, we have faith, we have hope in a different future. We don't know exactly how that future will be, but it won't include silly riddles and hypothetical nonsense."

Jesus looks to the future, and Jesus sees life. He says, "He [God] is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."

Jesus looks to the future, and Jesus sees life. Jesus looks to his own future and even though he sees hammers, even though he sees nails, even though he sees a cross, even though he sees the worst in human darkness – he sees beyond it all – to life. Jesus sees resurrection. Jesus sees hope – hope beyond human imagination, hope beyond human graves, hope beyond the primitive tools of the past and the present. Jesus sees God is building a house not made with human hands – a forever home, for life, a home of life abundant, life for all.


"[God] is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."

There are a lot of movies and shows about the future. It doesn't look good. Marty and Doc have been replaced with Katniss and zombies and killer robots. There's a lot of talk on TV news about the future, too. If the wrong person gets into power, nuclear apocalypse come Wednesday. Tensions are high. Racism, classism, sexism – pretty much every topic is a hot-button topic.

I wonder what Jesus would say about all this, if he time-travelled here, to this time, from his own. Who would Jesus vote for? Would he be a Cubs fan? Would he get involved in our hot-button issues, and if so, which ones, and on whose side would he stand?

Maybe he would say what he said when he was asked about the future over a hot-button issue of his own day. Maybe he'd say again: "[God] is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him, all are alive."

Maybe he'd say that, God is not the God of deadly dreams, but of life.

Maybe he'd say that, God is not the God of pointless prediction, but of hope.

Maybe he'd say that, God is not going to solve your ridiculous riddles, but God will resurrect your faith when all around you is darkness.

Maybe he'd say, look around you – see where there is death. See where there is hopelessness. See where there is darkness. Don't wait for the future. Be life now. Be life to those who wait for death. Be hope to those who have no future. Be light to those who live in darkness. Be the good news of the living God to those who are living – now.

It's hard to predict the future. Maybe you'll be right. Maybe you'll be wrong. You won't know until you get there.

The resurrected Christ promises us new life. Glorious life. That's his promise. Our promise to him is to build that new life right now. Let us be about his work, building what future we can with what we've got. And let us walk boldly toward his resurrection life.