Faith's gift of thinking past the immediate
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 21st: Psalm 146; Isaiah 42:14-21; and Colossians 1:9-14. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
One of the hopes of Lent is that it broadens our perspective, that it helps us to realize that we are not bound by the temporal, that we are bound for the eternal. However, it’s not easy to plan for eternity when we seem reluctant to plan for tomorrow.
It’s not easy to look beyond immediate needs if a lot of individuals and families barely survive paycheck to paycheck, and many others can’t even manage that. They don’t have the luxury of thinking beyond the immediate.
Or I watch the unnecessary banking crisis start to rear its head again. These corporations want to make a profit, the bigger the better, and the sooner the better. Something as predictable as rising interest rates being used to tamp down inflation has threatened not only their immediate goals of profit, but their very long-term survival, not to mention the world economy. They had the luxury of thinking beyond the immediate, but they chose not to do so, which is a management scandal if not a crime.
Yesterday the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report that found the world is likely to miss its most ambitious climate target and that humans have caused irreversible damage to communities and ecosystems. The report synthesizes years of studies on the causes and consequences of rising temperatures, leading the U.N. secretary general to demand that developed countries eliminate carbon emissions by 2040 — a decade earlier than the rest of the world. The facts reveal that we have caused “irreversible” damage and yet we can’t seem to put ourselves into the shoes of our older selves, our children and grandchildren, not to mention the flora and fauna we are threatening or eliminating. In this case we simply refuse to think beyond the immediate.
Faith tries to push back against this myopia that is forced upon us, chosen or denied. In today’s Psalm, we read, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. … Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.” These are words from the liturgy of the Jerusalem Temple some 3,000 years ago, and they remain meaningful today. They call upon us to look beyond the immediate and think about the forever.
This forever does not begin when we enter into the eternal; it begins when we realize we are already part of, preparing for, the eternal. The Psalmist writes that “our hope is in the Lord.” Faith extends our worldview and our personal view while we are still firmly within the here and now. Faith is our hope for the future that acts in the present. And in this way, it not only makes us aware that what we do now plays a part in our eternity, it also helps us to think beyond the immediate in how we lead our lives. Faith broadens our scope so that we can think beyond immediate satisfaction and concentrate instead on long-term goals, which protect us from the dangers of forgetting that what we do today bears on the world we inherit or pass on to our descendants tomorrow.
Faith’s long-term outlook is not only a vision of eternity. It is a vision of tomorrow and that we have a responsibility today to think about those who come after us. May Lent’s emphasis upon selflessness help us to better appreciate the long-term blessings of thinking beyond all that we can grab for ourselves in the present at the expense of what we or others will have to pay in the future.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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