Today at the Feast of Tabernacles here in Jamaica we had a father and son duo I happen to know from previous feasts we have spent together (including last year in St. Vincent), and I was admittedly a bit puzzled by their approach to the messages. As a listener, I tend to have a certain sort of expectations when it comes to messages at the Feast of Tabernacles, and while both of the messages would have been perfectly decent messages as far as the ordinary Sabbath experience would work, the first one in particular being a very well-organized and delivered message from the son on God’s orchard and some lessons the speaker had learned from his experiences as a first-time orchard grower dealing with young trees with shallow roots and the depredations of predators and the struggles with fertilizing and feeding and taking care of his trees, but when it comes to the particular expectations of having a vision of the millennium, it just seemed as if something was missing.
This was especially obvious in the second message. The message, given by the father, was an exhortation to wake up and start taking matters of faith seriously. The speaker alluded to his own struggle with various issues and was a bit rambling and disorganized in his delivery as he went through familiar passage after familiar passage about the high ethical demands of God and the frequent calls to wake up and repent and trust in God and live a godly life that can be found, mostly in the New Testament. It was by no means a bad message, but it was the sort of message that one could hear comfortably at any time of year in any congregation anywhere in the world. It is somewhat self-evident that a great many speakers, including many ministers I happen to know, consider our congregations as a whole to be sleepy and complacent with a need to wake up. It is a regular source of conversation that I have with some people about how people may be encouraged to wake up. I don’t think that storming on stage and going to scriptures that just about everyone has heard spoken of hundreds of times is going to do the trick, but that is the approach that was taken, however little it was appealing to me as a listener.
It would not have been hard for either of these messages to be directed in such a fashion so as to keep the focus of the audience on the world to come and not on the world that is. In Suriname a couple of years ago, for example, I gave a split sermon about vines and fig trees and pointed out that the millennial blessings involving trees were very common language in the Bible, even having been mentioned by an Assyrian seeking to convince Judah to surrender as a picture of life in Assyrian captivity. The focus on the issues that trees face could lead someone to contrast the situation now with various threats and problems with our expectations of the kingdom, and how differently trees will be like then. But the picture was on the now, not the hereafter, and that was at least somewhat disappointing for me. This is the time for a vision of the kingdom, not for gloomy and downcast musings on the world that is. We all know that the world today is full of problems and struggles. The feast is not to dwell on those matters, but to turn our eyes and our vision towards the kingdom. Let us be inspired by what will be. What is is certainly not often very enjoyable for many of us.
And that is a failure on the part of the speakers. It is the job of people at the Feast of Tabernacles to help people catch and maintain a vision of the Kingdom of God. At times, it may be useful to make this vision come alive by contrasting the world that will be with the world that is. A comparison between past, present, and future, or between present and future, or between our physical lives and growing efforts here and the glory to come is certainly welcome. But it is easy enough to wallow in the mire of our present lives and to try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, as impossible as that is to any meaningful spiritual growth. Let us keep our attention focused on the Kingdom, and celebrate those who are able to capture that vision and to convincingly convey it to an audience of people who has heard many hundreds of Feast messages before.