“Looking Back, Moving Forward”
October 16, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:27-34 Luke 18:1-8 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
There is a moment in time that comes before and after every natural disaster, war for independence, revolution, civil war, victory, defeat, battle, business plan, annual report, board meeting, and most Monday mornings. That moment is the moment when we recognize that we are not trapped in the past and must now do what is necessary to move into the future. It seems obvious, but many of us have met people, churches, government officials, and others who were so paralyzed by the fear of change that they were unable to move forward or participate in the present. At the same time, moving forward does not require that we forget our past, regardless of how marvelous or how painful that our past might have been.
Each one of us as individuals, as well as all of us as a people and as a culture, has a history, and that history is what has formed us and shaped us into the people that we have become. In order for us to be healthy, we need to be able to look behind us to see, understand, and learn from our past, to look ahead to the future, to make plans and steer around potential obstacles in our path, but we also need to act. Planning for the future is of no use if we remain so stuck in the past or in the present that we cannot move our feet and begin taking steps to reach our objectives, goals, and dreams.
With all of this in mind, we begin this morning by reading Jeremiah 31:27-34, where, in the midst of the horror and depression brought about by the realization that Jerusalem was about to be conquered and her people taken away into captivity, God comes to his people once again, with a message of hope.
27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals.28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,
‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.
31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
As the people begin to understand that Jeremiah is right and their king is wrong, that God really intends to bring about the fall of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem, they understandably become afraid. And as they do, God points to better days. A day is coming, God says, when I will make a new covenant with my people. As good as I have been to the people of Israel under the covenant that I made with Moses, I intend to make an even better one. Instead of writing the law on tablets, I will write it in their hearts. God’s clear intention was to plant his people on Earth in the same way that human beings plant gardens, orchards, and farms. God intended for Israel, Judah, and all of his people to grow in faith and in numbers so that their presence would fundamentally transform the entire world.
But how can God’s people, how can we, transform the world?
Scripturally, there are several ways that are discussed. First of all, we are called to be agents of light in a dark world by sharing the Good News of the coming of Jesus Christ. We are to be hope to the hopeless, to love the unlovable, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, show compassion, and to be agents of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.
But scripture also tells us that we can’t do any of these things alone.
We can, however, do all of these things through the power of the Spirit of God that has lives within us.
In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus explains how we are to break through the injustice of human systems of selfishness, law, and government.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
While we alone are quite powerless, together, with God, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. Where we most often fail, however, is in trying to do everything through our own strength, wit, and intelligence instead of regularly asking God for his help.
But assuming that we remember to do things in the right order, and we remember to ask God for his help, encouragement, empowerment, and guidance, then what?
Once we have assessed our past, made plans for the future, and have enlisted God’s guidance and help, then we can begin to move forward. In 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Paul gives his protégé these instructions:
3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Paul says that reading and studying the scriptures makes us wise and, because God is the author, it is also the tool that we need to teach, rebuke, correct, and train others, and one another, as we follow the path toward righteousness. God’s word to us in the scriptures is what equips us to do the work of the Kingdom of God.
And so, what does Paul say that we need to do in order to move forward?
Do the things that we have learned.
Preach the word.
Carefully, and with great patience, correct, rebuke and encourage.
Keep your head.
And do all the things required by your ministry.
We are all a part of the body of Christ.
Each one of us has a part to play in building God’s kingdom and growing his church. And as we attempt to understand what God is calling us to do, we can still be moving forward.
We must recognize that we are not trapped in the past and must now do what is necessary to move into the future. We cannot be so paralyzed by the fear of change that they were unable to move forward or participate in the present. But that doesn’t mean that we should forget our past. We all have a culture and a history that has made us who we are. But while we must learn from our past, we look ahead, make plans, and steer around obstacles, but we also need to act.
A writer begins a book by writing.
A runner trains for a race by running.
And likewise, we must do the things that we have learned.
And just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Its okay to look back, but we keep moving forward.
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