This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, 28 October 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Joel 2: 23 – 32; 2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8, 16 – 18; and Luke 18: 9 – 14.
Before John Kennedy went before the United States Congress in May of 1961 and present his plan for the greatest scientific challenge of my generation’s lifetime, he spoke at Rice University in Houston about the reasons for going to the moon. I have always wanted to find a copy of that particular speech, in part to see if he quoted George Mallory and to find out if what I have in mind about that speech is correct. In giving reasons why we should go to the moon, we are reminded of what George Mallory said about climbing Mt. Everest.
When asked why he wanted to and continued to attempt climbing Mt. Everest, Mallory gave a very simple answer, “Because it is there.” And when we think about going to the moon, we wanted to go because it was there. But President Kennedy also asked, in regards to wanting to go to the moon, “Why does Rice play Texas in football?”
One reason why Rice played Texas in football back then is that they were both members of the Southwest Athletic Conference and it was a requirement that they play each year in order to determine the champion of the league. Of course, back then Texas was a regular powerhouse and the game with Rice, be it in Austin or Houston, was generally a victory for Texas. But Rice continued playing each year because it knew that sometime in the future it would beat Texas.
Having a vision of the future, knowing that there is hope is what life is about. Life in and of itself means nothing if we have no vision of the future. Was it not Isaiah who wrote that a people without a vision of the future have no future?
That is why we are holding our Charge Conference next week. One reason is to see the future as the United Methodist Church sees it. Another is set the future for this church through the election of the Administrative Council officers and members of the various committees.
The work of the Trustees over the past two years has done a lot towards insuring that there will be a Walker Valley Church building. We are still looking for two or three people to serve for the next three-year term. Those who serve on the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee will be charged with meeting with the District Superintendent over the next few months to decide on who will replace me as the pastoral leader. This committee will be looking to you for input on this most critical decision. Again we are looking for two or three people to serve on this committee for the next three years. Finally the Committee on Lay Leadership will continue to ask, as they have done these past few years, for people to serve in the areas of the church.
We need to understand that a vision of the future is not a mission statement. A vision of the future is about where we are going and how we intend to get there. A vision statement is more about where we want to be rather and how we intend to get there than anything else. It is a statement about what one thinks the future will be.
When I first read the passage from Joel for today, I didn’t know what I would do with it. While it speaks of the future, it also speaks of death and destruction and it makes it seem like God will vent his wrath on his people. But I believe that God will not do that and I struggled with what Joel was trying to say.
But as I read the passage again and studied some commentary, I came to understand that what Joel was speaking about was how faith comes to help us view the future. The time in which Joel wrote his prophecy was a time of fading glory for Israel. It was one of those times when the people of Israel had forgotten who God was and what their relationship with him was.
When we hold onto our faith, there is a bright and promising future. But if we let our faith slide, if we let other things distract us, then things are not so promising. That is what Paul was saying to Timothy.
When you read the words Paul wrote in this passage of the second letter, you can almost feel the pain that Paul must have been suffering, especially when he was first arrested and all those whom he had encouraged and supported neglected him. But Paul had kept his eye towards the future, towards the vision he had received on the road to Damascus. Paul knew where his future lie and he knew that as long as he kept his focus on that vision, he would reach that future.
Paul’s vision of the future was based on faith. Joel knew that a future of hope and promise came from a faithful life. But we have to be careful that we don’t get so burdened by our faithful life that we forget what faith is about. That is why Jesus made such a point about the Pharisee in the Gospel reading today.
The Pharisee was more concerned about his faith than he was his relationship with God. It isn’t one’s acts that determine one’s faith but rather how one’s faith determines one’s acts. The Pharisee was quite content to list what he had done as evidence of his faith but those things that he had done showed that he had no concern for anyone else. The tax collector was aware that he was not worthy of God’s mercy; he was aware of who he was and that it was necessary for him to have God in his life. Jesus pointed out that it was the tax collector’s prayer that was answered because he made sure that God was first in his life.
The vision that we have for the future must come from our faith. And it is from that faith that our actions will come. Next week, as we meet for Annual Conference, we will begin taking steps towards establishing a vision of the future, the vision of our future. It is a vision based on faith, a vision that comes from our heart.