The day in whose clear-shining light
all wrong shall stand revealed,
when justice shall be throned in might,
and every hurt be healed;
When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,
shall walk the earth abroad:
the day of perfect righteousness,
the promised day of God.
Thirty years ago, in 1989, author and leadership expert, Stephen Covey, published his best-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That single book has sold over 25 million copies and been translated into over 40 languages. Now the first habit is to be proactive, to be resourceful, to take initiative in our lives. But the second habit of highly effective, successful people is to begin with the end in mind. According to Stephen Covey, “to begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always moving in the right direction.”
If you think about it, this habit or principle applies to almost every facet of our lives. If you’re a student and you’re deciding which university to attend, you are hopefully going to start by identifying what degree you might want to earn or what profession you aspire to enter into. If you’re going to build a new house, you start with the architectural design and you know exactly what that building is going to look like before a shovel ever touches the ground. Or if you’re trying to get in shape or lose some weight, you start by a setting a goal, so you know precisely how far you have to go and how much effort will be required. There are so many examples from almost every facet of our daily lives of times when we automatically begin with the end in mind, so why would our spiritual lives be any different?
The challenge is that when it comes to our spiritual lives, the end or the goal is not something that we can accomplish in a few weeks, or a few months, or even a few years. The end or goal of the spiritual life is not even “to go to heaven when we die.” The end or goal of the spiritual life is the fulfillment of God’s ultimate vision and dream for all of creation. In other words, my life and your life (and your life and your life), everything we do, everything we say, everything we represent, is meant to be a foretaste and a sign of God’s ultimate vision and dream for all of creation.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Fr. Doug, have you seen my calendar? Most of the time I am just trying to make it through the day. I am trying to pay the bills. I am trying to check things off of my ‘to-do’ list. I am consumed with what is right in front of me. I’m not sure I have the time or the energy or the emotional resources to focus on God’s ultimate vision and dream for all of creation!” And you’re right! The fact of the matter is that most of us live our day to day lives focused on what is right in front of us. And over the past decade, this mindset has become embodied in our actual physical posture as people spend an average of 5.4 hours every day staring at the screen of their cell phone. We’re not thinking about the end. We’re not thinking about God’s ultimate vision and dream. We are held captive by what has been called the tyranny of the urgent.
But, Jesus came to show us something different. Jesus came to pull back the veil of this present moment to give us a glimpse of God’s vision and dream. Jesus came to give us a glimpse of God’s new creation. Jesus says to his disciples, “Look around you – What you see right in front of you is sickness and division and brokenness and pain and injustice, but if you pull back the veil that enshrouds this present moment, you will see God’s ultimate vision. You will see God’s dream for all of creation. And I am calling you, says Jesus, to live your life now with God’s end in mind.
Now this vision and dream was not something that was new with the ministry of Jesus. It was a dream that was envisioned centuries before by the prophets of old – people like Isaiah, who speaks of a new heaven and new earth. Isaiah points forward to a time when there will be no more weeping, no more destruction, no more pain. Isaiah envisions a day when the wolf and lamb, the predator and prey, will actually hang out with one another. Isaiah describes a vision of God’s shalom. God’s wholeness. God’s peace.
I think if Isaiah were writing today, he might say that God’s future is one in which children will go to schoolwithout fear of violence. God’s future is one in which families will be reconciled and relationships healed. God’s future is one in which no child will go to bed hungry. God’s future is one in which walls of hatred and division, walls of prejudice and fear, walls injustice and inequality will be torn down. And all of God’s children will gather togetherfrom every nation, tribe, people, and language to worship and give praise to God!
That’s the end. That’s the goal toward which we are striving. That’s the vision. That’s the dream. We spend so much of our lives stuck right here, consumed with what is right in front of us, captivated by the tyranny of the urgent. But, my friends, what we see right in front of is not the end of the story! There is a new world coming! Alleluia!
Now in our gospel reading this morning, Jesus made it clear that the emergence of that new world will not be without struggle. There will be those who will reject the vision of God’s future. There will be persecution. There will be suffering. There will be things that we think are strong and stable and permanent that will come crashing down. For the first century followers of Jesus, nobody could have imagined the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – something so strong, so stable, seemingly so indestructible, and yet it came crashing down. Now in our gospel reading, as Jesus describe the challenges we might face, I, for one am relieved to know that in the midst of these struggles not a single hair on my head will perish!
All joking aside, I believe we have been lulled into a false sense of security, because we are fortunate to live in a nation in which we are free to express our faith and to worship as we choose. But that has not always been the case and it is not the case right now in many parts of the world. Living with God’s end in mind is not and will not be easy!
And yet, that is our calling.
To not be stuck in the challenges of this present moment.
To not be held capture by the tyranny of the urgent.
To not be deceived into thinking that what is right in front of us is all there is.
But to place our trust and confidence in Jesus. To allow God’s Spirit to pull back the veil that we might catch a glimpse of God’s future. It might take a while for our eyes to adjust. It might take some time for things to come into focus. But once we see the vision, once we see the dream, our lives will never be the same. Because, it is only when we know the end that we truly know where to begin.