Looking back is very easy for us. When we want to see the influence of God in our lives, looking back is the best direction. From our perspective of the present we can easily see the weaving road of our lives, its turns and curves and, see the sometimes gentle, sometimes powerful tugs and pulls that redirected us. We remember decisions along with the memories of just how difficult or easy they were for us at the time. Sometimes we remember why we went this way and not another but, sometimes it's not that clear. The believing soul will chalk those times up to the influence of the Divine.
Looking into the future, however, is quite a different story. Sometimes it's almost impossible to have the assurance that God will be present in the days to come in the same way as the days past. The future is completely unknown. Although we can have hopes, dreams and intentions, the final script has not yet been written. Our decisions now will without a doubt have an influence on where and how we will go there, but it's impossible to know all of the obstacles and helps we will encounter along the way. I know a fellow who buys a lottery ticket each week and claims it to be his best plan for his future. On the other hand, I never buy a lottery ticket and he promptly reminds me whenever possible about my lack of faith.
The Church also has this ability to comfortably look backward, seeing that God was indeed part of the journey and provided care, especially in the face of turmoil or adversity. For the Church as for us, looking ahead is quite a different matter and more of a struggle. We all have this sense that our context is changing rapidly. We readily see much with which we are so familiar being threatened, especially in the area of church life. Where a Sunday worship service and a long history of taken-for-granted ministry in our local community was considered a given, we suddenly find a lack of resources available for it to continue. People in church pews who have given seven dollars per week, every week for fifty-plus years, just as their parents had done before them, are shocked to learn that their beloved church just down the road is in danger of being closed. “One service a week is all I want,” said one life-long church member. It must be the fault of the Bishop? It must be the fault of expensive clergy? Something is not right! Indeed. Some skillfully divert the argument, shaming those who attempt to address the grassroots issues and blaming it on the fact that “all you talk about is money.” And things continue to keep changing all around us.
... Looking ahead is no easier than it has ever been
Looking ahead is no easier than it has ever been. Do we really look into the future with the kind of unwavering commitment of our ancestors? Is there really an expectation of the necessary place of sacrifice present in our commitments that comes close to that of those who went before us? I look at some of our beloved little rural church buildings and wonder how the people there over a century ago found the resources, let alone the wherewithal, to erect them from nothing when it is beyond us now to keep the roof on. Our beloved Cathedral, perhaps a similar example times 10! As we find it easy to look at younger generations and how differently they view the world, do we remember our own hand in passing on the values they have come to hold? What we value most is in fact what we pass on. Can we continue to look ahead and be willing to make the changes now in our own patterns of behaviour to see something of that which we say we value most live on?
All of those questions have answers I expect, even though it may take years for them to become evident. In any case, my suspicion is that being the church may be no more difficult now than it has ever been. What has changed is how well we take our view of the past and project it forward to shape the future with an assurance – that the God who has guided history will do the same for us when we earnestly pray for it to be so.