Monday, September 11, 2017

Future Thinking and Living Honorably

St. Paul writes: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is near.”

I suppose like many of you I spent this last week keeping a sharp eye on the weather forecast, wondering if our area was going to be in the path of Hurricane Irma.  As far as we know, we human beings are the only creatures with the capacity for what is called “future thinking.”  When I put my dog in the car she gets very excited because she knows we are going to drive somewhere to go for a walk, but this is not future thinking.  She is drawing on her memory of how this event typically has unfolded in the past.  I, on the other hand, will dress appropriately for the weather, take water for me and my dog, fill up the car with gas before leaving, and do any number of other things to insure the simple act of a walk in the park goes smoothly.  This is future thinking.

It involves anticipation, planning, and the ability to delay of gratification.  Lawrence Schiller, a highly acclaimed sports photographer, says the ability to anticipate is the most important aspect of his work.  He says it is not where the action is taking place, but where it’s going to take place that matters.  It is not where the subject is now, but where he or she is going to be that is the key to capturing an important moment.  This may be a new way for you to think about photography, but it is not a new way for you to think about life.  It comes very naturally to most of us and we do it all the time.

What you anticipate you plan for.  Had you anticipated it was going to rain later this morning you would have worn a raincoat and brought an umbrella.  This is planning.  Delaying gratification.  There is any number of things I would love to do this afternoon, laundry is not one of them.  But I know if I don’t get a load or two of wash done I will not have clean clothes to wear tomorrow. 

No matter how keenly we anticipate, no matter how much we plan, and no matter how prudent we are in delaying gratification, we do not control every aspect of the future.  There may be roadwork on the drive to the park and I will have to take a detour.  It is a nuisance, but something I can overcome.  I may get a flat tire; which is something that might ruin day.  Or, I may be involved is a serious accident, something which could change my life forever.

Our ability to ponder a future we cannot control, a future that may have terrible things is store, makes us anxious.  What if this happens?  What if that happens?  What if…?  What if…?  What if…?  There is an entire genre of literature in the bible rooted in the fear of what if.  We call it apocalyptic writing.  We find it in parts of the Old Testament and in the Book of Revelation and even in Jesus’ teaching about the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem.  These sacred texts fuel our anxiety about the future.

No matter what you think about St. Paul’s writings – many of us find him difficult to understand much of the time – here is something to like: Paul never draws on the apocalyptic genre, even when he is imprisoned for preaching the gospel and knows he is going to be executed.  In this morning’s readings we find him engaged in future thinking.  He anticipates salvation is near, and by salvation he means the return of Christ.  But unlike John’s vision in the Book of Revelation, Paul does not anticipate it to be surrounded by cataclysmic events.  Rather, he sees it as a transition from nighttime to daylight; an image filled with hope. 

Wake up, Paul writes, and get ready for a new day.  Anticipating this future, he encourages his readers to make changes in their lives – the planning part of future thinking.  “Lay aside the works of darkness,” he writes, “and put on the armor of light.”  “Let us live honorably.”

Honorable living is not something people talk about much anymore, but this week I came across a website called “REAL Man”, which describes itself as being “an online resource for young men, offering information, insights, and advice on how to be a Real Man.”  It states:

There are a lot of myths in our society about what it means to be a real man.  Contrary to popular belief, being a man is not about how strong and muscular you are; it’s not about what kind of car you drive; it’s not about how much money you have, or about how many women you can use.

Life is not about money, cars, fame, physical appearance, and women.  It’s about who you are as a person; it’s about the way you live your life; and it’s about how you treat other people.

When it comes right down to it, being a REAL Man [is about]…

Respect all people,
Especially women.
Always do the right thing.
Live a life that matters.

It offers the counsel of famed basketball coach John Wooden who said, “Make your life a masterpiece” by being willing to “sign your name to everything you do.”  It quotes a Dakota saying, “You will be known forever by the tracks you leave.”  

There is a strong link between future thinking and living honorably.  If you want to be well thought of down the road, what are the things you need to do today? 

Ladies, in case you are wondering, there is a magazine called “Real Women.”  Here is how it describes itself:

There are dozens of consumer magazines on the shelves of every newsstand and bookstore filled with supermodels and Hollywood beauties trying to capture women readers.  That’s not what Real Woman is about.  Instead, Real Woman… is written, by, for, and about actual women, covering issues that matter most to them.  Women who are juggling family, work, health, and finances.  Women who, in many cases, are the CEOs of their households and make the health, travel, nutrition, and purchasing decisions for themselves and their families.  With advice from the foremost experts in health, nutrition, and fitness, the magazine will provide tools for women to improve their lives and share inspirational stories of local women overcoming major challenges to achieve their goals.

The future is always on our minds, and for this reason St. Paul tells us to wake up today; to make the changes now that will help us in the future we anticipate and desire.  He stresses that self-gratification is neither a means nor a goal.  Rather, he points to living honorably as the only way to move forward into tomorrow and the day after that.  The way forward into the future, he writes, involves loving your neighbor as yourself.  He counsels us to ponder the tracks we are making because they will be what people know and think of us down the road. 

And one day, at the last, we anticipate God will look at the tracks we have made.  On that day, we hope God will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  If this is what you want to hear, then you need to live honorably today.