“A Vision of the Future”

This is the message that I gave at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, 5 August 2001.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Hosea 11: 1 – 11, Colossians 3: 1 – 11, and Luke 12: 13 – 21.


It is always interesting to see how the future has been viewed by people of the past. And while there have been visionaries such as Jules Verne whose vision of the future through his novels have been remarkably accurate, the majority have not been so prophetic. Consider the following statements:

  1. "Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction." — Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
  2. "The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." — Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873
  3. "This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." — Western Union internal memo, 1876
  4. "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." — Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
  5. "Everything that can be invented has been invented." — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899 (see a note at the end of the post concerning this particular quote)
  6. "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." –Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre
  7. "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" — David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s
  8. "Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." — 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work
  9. "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" — H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927
  10. "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." — Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929
  11. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper." — Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With The Wind"
  12. "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  13. "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." — Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
  14. "I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year." — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
  15. "We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." — Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
  16. "But what … is it good for?" — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip
  17. "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. in 1977
  18. "640K ought to be enough for anybody." — Bill Gates, 1981

The probably with seeing the future is that it is seen with eyes centered on the present and based on values and methods set in the present.

  1. "Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy." — Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
  2. "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible." — A Yale Univ. management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
  3. "A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make." — Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies
  4. "If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this." — Spencer Silver on work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It" Notepads
  5. "So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.’" — Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.
  6. "You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training." — Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by inventing Nautilus

The point to be made is that the future can never be thought of in terms of what is present now but rather with an open eye to what might be. During the 1968 presidential primary campaign, Robert Kennedy repeatedly quoted George Bernard Shaw, "You see things; and say ‘why?’ But I dream of things that never were and say ‘why not?’" (George Bernard Shaw) Because the future is and will always be about what we can do, not what we can’t do.

If we want to know what the future holds, we must see beyond what the present offers. And that is a most difficult task. We are comfortable with the present and we want the future to be something we can be comfortable with as well.

Our culture is a "see it to believe" society. We want the tangible; we want to hold things, measure them, and examine them. We have little room in our lives for transcendental things, such as heaven or faith. Transcendence cannot be measured or examined; we cannot put heaven under a microscope. It makes us uneasy to talk about faith because we cannot hold it in our hands. The brother who came to Jesus asking (actually demanding) that He command his brother to share the inheritance was that way. The rich man in the parable that Jesus told was also.

Both wanted things that they could hold as a means of defining the future. But the future must be defined in terms of another plane, another way of seeing things. When we view the world as Paul suggests in his letter to the Colossians, then we are able to have that view.

When we speak of heaven and faith in terms such as Paul has written about, we talk about a hope that transcends material possessions. We speak of a joy that moves beyond shallow happiness. We speak of a faith that enables us to claim that which we cannot see. And we receive a grace that loves us unconditionally. The only problem is that none of that can be accomplished when we are fixed with our eyes on earth and our ways set in the present and based on society’s demands.

Some might have said that Paul was being a Pollyanna, offering an escapist theology when he wrote these words. But he definitely had an ethical motive in mind. Paul presumed that the behavior of the Colossians, and of all Christians, would be based on a behavior. Paul noted that in order to see the world with a new vision, the Colossians must get rid of their old ways. They must leave the life style they had and choose a new life style, motivated by the Love of Christ, not by earthly materials.

When our minds are set on things above us, our view of the world changes radically. Relationships are seen differently and we no longer treat people in the way we once did. Because our view of the world is different, our actions are different.

My vision for the future, at least as it pertains to Walker Valley United Methodist Church, is a simple one. It is that this church be here prepared to help those who seek Christ find Him, now, tomorrow, and for the next five years and beyond.

Admittedly, it is not much of a vision. There are no grandiose plans, no mission statement. It is a vision not designed by the most modern of church building techniques. All it assumes is that over the next five years, people will come to this area in ever increasing numbers. They will come because it is cheaper to live here while still working in the city and they will come because they seek to find a security and a peace that they have not been able to find at the present time.

You have heard me question the plans for evangelism that many churches today have developed. I don’t think you can build a church on an idea that there must be programs for everyone and every group. Yes, there must be programs but it is not programs that will build a church. If programs offered peace and security, then the Israelites might have found their peace with the gods of Baal and the gods of their neighbors so many years ago.

But the Israelites were driven to seek other gods because they had forgotten, as Hosea reminded them, Who it was that brought them out of Egypt, Who it was that gave them peace and security in the first place.

What is needed today are not programs but opportunities. Opportunities provide the chances for people to find Christ, not get lost in a maze of tasks. A couple of weeks ago I suggested that we open the sanctuary one or two nights a week. During this time, people will be given the opportunity to come into the sanctuary and sit quietly and pray or mediate. This time of discernment is to allow moments that block out the noise and distraction of the world so that you can hear to hear God calling to you. There will be no music playing in the background, there will be no one there to offer prayers or read the Bible with you or to you. It is simply a chance to sit and be with God.

That is not to say that people will not be in the church. While the sanctuary is open, so too will the education wing and we can have things going on in there at the same time. There are a number of people who like Bible study and they can meet at that time if they so desire. And I am certain that there are other things that can on while the sanctuary is open. This time of discernment must be a quiet time, not disturbed by everyday voices.

I also think that we need to bring the youth of the church back. At least one night a month (and may be more as it develops), we should have a youth night. This would be time for the youth to gather in a place of safety and security. It is not clear to me what the format for these gatherings will be, for I don’t know which youth will come. But it will be an opportunity for the youth to come knowing that the pressures of the everyday world will be lifted for a few moments.

This does present another problem. It has been privately pointed out that the meetings that we have already scheduled for the next few months along with such activities such as the youth gathering will require that we clean up the kitchen and the fellowship hall downstairs.

The first gathering of people to occur this fall should occur in the next few weeks and it should be for the express purpose of cleaning the kitchen and fellowship hall. Now the one thing that I have found out about Walker Valley is that such things can occur without much prodding. It has amazed me that when we have had church lunches, how easily things are planned and accomplished. I am hoping that this one task, necessary for future activities, will occur that way as well.

Lastly, there is a need to think about the leadership for the future. We need to think about whom will serve as the leaders of this church. This is not meant to be derogatory or insulting to the present leaders; for without their efforts we could not begin to even think about the future. But there is a need to bring others into the leadership and there are certainly opportunities for others to help with the leadership. You, whether you are a member of the Committee on Lay Leadership or not, are challenged to think about what you can do and you are challenged to help the Committee find individuals willing and able to serve.

A vision for the future defined by the present times is one that will lead to failure. It is a vision rooted in the everyday aspect of life and thus unable to go beyond today. Hosea came to the Israelites to remind them that their hope for the future was not in the present but in God. Paul told the Colossians that a life based on earthly standards could never reach the heights of heaven. And Jesus reminded his disciples that preparing for the future in terms of today’s standards would always end up as a failure.

Through Christ we are offered a vision of the future. We see what we can have. To achieve this vision of the future, we must look beyond the things of today, we must seek a higher plane with which to view life. This can be accomplished when we let Christ into our hearts and into our lives.

Concerning the quote attributed to Charles Duell about everything had been invented and that the US Patent Office could be shut down

From a note to the CHMINF list on 29 July 1999 by Grace Baysinger <graceb@STANFORD.EDU>

Hello, I have a patron who is interested in seeing the original text that contains the following quote:

Quote: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Charles H. Duell who was the Commissioner of the US Patent Office in 1899 made this quote.

I searched the Quotations file on Dialog and in Academic Universe. Also searched SSCI to see if Duell had been cited (he had not).

Any suggestions on where to look next would be appreciated. Thanks!

Grace Baysinger

Stanford University


Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:14:42 -0400

From: Nancy Adams <Nancy_Adams@UMIT.MAINE.EDU>

Subject: Re: Reference Question – Help Needed


The book, “The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office “, written by Kenneth W. Dobyns, contains information about this quote. It was attributed to the first Commissioner of Patents, Henry Ellsworth. The actual sentence that he wrote in the 1843 Annual Report of the Patent Office was, “The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity, and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.” This has evolved through the years to, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”, although he never actually said that. Dobyns also states that Richard Nixon, in his 1988 book, “Victory without War”, attributed the erroneous statement to Commissioner Charles H. Duell, who also never said it.


Nancy Adams

Nancy E. Adams, M.L.I.S.

Science and Engineering Center, Fogler Library

University of Maine

Orono, ME 04469

207-581-1678 FAX 207-581-1653 e-mail:



Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 11:18:33 -0400

From: Nancy Adams <Nancy_Adams@UMIT.MAINE.EDU>

Subject: Re: Reference Question – Help Needed

Grace: In my last message I forgot to add that the actual text of the correct quote is found on page 5 of the 1843 “Annual Report of Commissioner of Patents”. The report is House of Representatives Document No. 177, from the 28th Congress of the U.S., 1st Session.

· Nancy Adams

Nancy E. Adams, M.L.I.S.

Science and Engineering Center, Fogler Library

University of Maine

Orono, ME 04469

207-581-1678 FAX 207-581-1653 e-mail:



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