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Living Presently in the Future Tense - By Pastor Thomas Engel


Not to do a grammar review here that is about at the second grade level, but I hope you will see I’m going to try to take this short grammar lesson into how we look at life.

In language, we have three tenses, past, present, and future.

When we are telling a story, we use the past tense because the story took place in the past, so using the past tense makes obvious sense.

See, I told you this would be a basic lesson.

From the novel, A Tale of Two Cities, we know Dicken’s opening lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...”

We could do a long analysis of these lines, but, for now, let’s just notice Dickens is telling his story in the past tense, “It was...”

Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs. Dalloway, has one of the most famous opening lines, Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

In a quick analysis that won’t do justice to why the line is a literary masterpiece, we can see first that the line is in the past tense, “Mrs. Dalloway said...”

Here’s a short summary that won’t do the novel justice, either: The novel takes place all in one day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway as she plans a party.

What makes the novel so interesting is that Virginia Woolf gets in the minds of her characters as they are in their present situations, but they are also thinking about the past and future.

Here, we could move into an advanced creative writing class.

Virginia Woolf was a master at showing what her characters were thinking. With her characters internal dialogue, or when they are talking to themselves, she takes us through smooth shifts from their thoughts of their present situations to flashbacks.

Let’s take a look at your internal dialogue or self-talk. You know that talk when you are driving and thinking about things that have been happening in your life.

How much time do you spend thinking about the past and the future?

Meeting a friend for coffee and chit-chatting about your what’s going on in your life, would your friend after listening to you say, “Oh my, you are spending a lot of time dwelling on the past. How about living in the present?”

Or your friend might say, “All you are doing is worrying about what might happen. I’m all about anticipating what is coming next, but you are missing all that is in front of you now with all of your self-created stress?”

I agree with your friend about living in the present. Your friend used the word “dwell” to describe where you are at.

When I think of the word “dwell,” I think about how we are occupying a certain place. If anything, we are to be occupied in the present moment.

If you are driving with me, and I’m talking, you are hoping that I’m thinking more about my driving than I’m with what I’m saying.

We have heard how we are to take “One day at a time.” That saying is used often to help people who are battling an addiction of some kind.

I think it helps all of us when our troubles are deep.

I’m not sure if that saying comes from where Jesus is talking about how God provides for a little bird, so we can expect that God will care for us, his children.

Jesus says something about how one day has enough trouble in it. I think we would agree with that. All we have to do is look at our to-do-list for one day and see that one day at a time is enough to handle.

So, we are all for living one day at time, thinking about what is in front of us, and feeling the feelings of the present moment.

That’s all enough, isn’t it?

But, if you were to be writing your life story, how are you doing at shifting from the past to the present and how do you look at the future?

Are you as good as shifting from the past to the present as Virginia Woolf is as she tells about her characters.

Are you stuck in the past? Or, are you so worried about the future?

“What tense, past, present, or future, characterizes how you go about your life?”

I think that we have established that we are to live in the present, especially if we are doing something like driving a car.

But, we do have to see that everything about our present moment is a culmination of the past, so we have our memories, and we like to think about them.

We can get stuck in the good old days, so we don’t want to deal with changes. Or, in much an opposite way, we think about the “bad” times so much that we are just old grumps.

For are futures, we have to be all for dreams. Having dreams can be a great motivator to keep moving forward in life.

Although, we can be such dreamers that we don’t get anything done in our present days.

So, what is it? How do we work with all the tenses in our lives?

In seminary, we did a lot of work with tenses as we learned to interpret Scripture.

For the sake of time, here’s a simple example:

We say, “God forgave you.” We understand that we sinned in the past, and God forgave that sin. It’s all done as far as that sin goes.

And we could say, “God is forgiving.” This is the present progressive tense that shows how giving forgiveness is God’s nature because God is all about grace.

I could go on with other examples, but I think you get the point that the a use of a particular tense is all about what you are trying to emphasize at the time.

Looking at the Old Testament Reading for this week, I was reminded of my seminary lessons about tenses.

Looking at my title for this sermon, “Living Presently in the Future Tense,” I’m not sure it works.

I think a good title should not need too much explaining.

But, I decided to keep it and try to explain it.

I was trying to go for the idea that we obviously have to live in the present because that is what we got, but we can have the idea in our heads that God has made us to be forward moving people.

In talking about God’s relationship with his people, Isaiah uses the verb, “will” several times.

The last sentence of the reading ends with this, “so will the Lord your God be glad over you.”

Isaiah is talking to the people in their current situation, but he is telling them about what God will do for them.

It seems that knowing what God will do is to be having an affect on us now.

To clarify what I mean by my title, I will add that we are to be living in our present situations with a good sense in our hearts and minds that God will be for us in a most beautiful way in the future.

Another sermon could be about all the beautiful things that God has waiting for us in heaven.

The reading describes it all will be like the shining of the sun, a burning light, a crown, and God’s glory.

And don’t we pray, “On earth as it is in heaven?” A lot of heaven’s glories are here for us now if we look for these glories by faith.

A lot of what we are talking about here about getting all the tenses of life working together can only be done by faith.

Faith lets us look back at the history of our salvation, so we can know how we are saved from sin, Satan, and eternal death.

The church year is very helpful as in takes us through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior.

Sunday morning for us in worship is a good amount of a history lesson about our faith.

It’s also here how we are presently forgiven of all of our sins, so we can see how we are free from the guilt and shame of our sins to move forward to do better.

As we leave here and are looking at the week ahead, we know that we are ready to meet whatever is ahead of us because we know God will be with us.

Jesus is in us with all he has when we ate the bread and drank the wine, which is his true body and blood.

How was it put in the Old Testament Reading? “So will the Lord your God be glad over you.”

I like that thought of how God’s gladness is over me as I go out into my days with all that I have to do.

To review our lesson on tenses:

The past can be a little tricky. Here are some examples. Lot’s wife was told not to look back, but she did and turned to salt.

While wandering in the wilderness, which to say it was a difficult journey, but why would those difficulties prompt fond memories living in Egypt? How did they forget how harsh life was as slaves?

We can have a whole psychology lesson on false memories.

And we have the present, and we can talk for awhile about out world’s current times.

Aren’t these times so confusing? We want so much to go on with our regular old lives.

How about if I told you that all was going to more than okay? If I told you soon and very soon? How about if I told you all was okay right now?

In these difficult times, only faith can say it is all okay.

Faith brings in all the tenses: our salvation history, God’s present grace in Christ that forgives our sins, and our certain future in heaven forever.

If I was to hand out a second grade worksheet on tenses, I’m sure you would do great.

But, in life, past, present, and future can seem like a trick to get it all working together.

If it makes sense, and I think it does if we understand by faith. We can live in this present time knowing we are okay because God has and will always be glad over us with His grace and power in Christ.

By faith, we can always know the past, present, and future can only come together in one beautiful way: we having all the glories of heaven now and forever.


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