What you believe about the future, how things are going to turn out for the world and for yourself, has a great deal to do with how you live your life in the present.   As Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, unfolds, the future looks dire for Willie Loman. He is the quintessential salesman, but he is not going to realize his dreams of financial success, security and prestige. His life is a game of self-deception. He can’t pay his bills, finally loses his job, and begins to invest what hope he has left in his own death. He imagines all the people who will come to his funeral: “The funeral will be massive. They’ll come from Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. And all the old-timers with the strange license plates.” When it happens, only his family is there. Miller’s prose is the question of theologians: “Is there any hope for the world and me?”   Again, how you view the future, the world’s and your own, has a lot to do with how you live your life. I think the way we view the future has a lot to do with our souls, our spirituality, that interior place inside each of us where we have to decide our life’s purpose and then commit to it. Christianity has always paid close attention to the basic question about the future. We have named it eschatology, the study of last things. The term has gotten a bad rap because of lazy preachers who spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decipher the time table of God.   There is a danger in talking about end-times: We forget to live in the present. Walter Brueggemann warns that “all this talk about the end time is intellectually difficult and pastorally problematic…End-time talk…is deeply incongruous with our intellectual world. Besides it makes us sound crazy.” There are countless preachers who espouse the end is near. All the signs, they say, point to the end of the world. They speak of it as if it were good news. I, on the other hand, have more things I want to do, places to see. Like theologian Lewis Smedes, who when told that Jesus was coming again to take the faithful to heaven, prayed that Jesus would hold off until the Chicago Cubs won a World Series.   Our texts this morning are examples of biblical eschatology, the end of things. Isaiah’s prophecy was addressed to a community of people who had lived for a generation as exiles. In fact, the people who read this poem were born in Babylon. They had never seen Jerusalem, the holy city. All they knew was what they heard about Mt. Zion and its stunning temple and city. When they returned from exile, it was nothing like what they had been told. It was all rubble, even the temple. That was the situation to which the prophet wrote: For I am about to create a new heaven and new earth…no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it. No more shall there be an infant who lives a few days or an old person who does not live out a life time. They shall build houses and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.   In spite of the enormous gap between their expectations and the reality, a few visionary people, people of hope and courage, raised their heads and saw God’s powerful hand at work creating something new—a new future, a new hope, and they rolled up their sleeves and went to work to build that new future.   What does it mean to live like that when your world is falling down around you? What does it mean to have hope when things look hopeless? Nothing in history has ever challenged the conviction that there is a good and powerful God who is somehow in control of the universe than the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel, who survived Auschwitz, has written extensively about his doubts about God’s goodness and mercy, about God’s compassion. But this past year, at Rosh Hashanah, he wrote, “A Prayer for the Days of Awe.” Let me share part of the prayer for you. “Master of the Universe, let us make up. It is time. How long can we go on being angry? More than sixty years have passed since the nightmare was lifted. Many things good and less good have happened to those who survived. They learned to build on ruins. Family life was re-created. Children were born, friendships struck…Gratitude has replaced bitterness in their hearts.” Wiesel goes on to remind us that, even in the death camps, prayers were said, hymns were sung, faith in God affirmed. Even there, even in the darkest valley of the shadow of death, hope lived.   The basic thrust of scripture is that no matter what is happening, no matter how bad things look, when towers tumble, when you are surrounded by your enemies, God the Creator is still God. God is on the side of life and justice and goodness and because of that there is a better day coming. Jerusalem will be rebuilt. There will be a new heaven and new earth.   The message of scripture is that God is not hell bent on destroying the world in one final, fiery holocaust, but that God loves the world and has a purpose for the world and for each of us. God is at work in history and in our personal lives to bring about that purpose of peace and justice and kindness and compassion. Regardless of how bad things look in our world, and sometimes it looks bleak, God’s sovereign will is never ultimately destroyed. Do you believe that?   People who believe that become people of hope and courage; people who do not give up; people who persist in working for peace when there seems to be no reason; people who will not stop hoping and working for a safer world for our children, for fewer guns, for better schools, for better health care, for an economic system which extends its bounty and incredible opportunity to everyone.   People of hope will be discouraged on occasion, but not paralyzed by depression. In her book, Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris writes that what we Christians believe about the end causes us to live lives of strong hope now. She illustrates by telling about a friend, a brilliant scholar, stricken with cancer, who underwent radiation and chemotherapy, and who almost died three times. The cancer went into remission. Her future was still uncertain, but she returned to teaching and, incredibly, she said, “Kathleen, I’d never want to go back because I know what each morning means and I’m so grateful to be alive. We’ve been through so much together. And hasn’t it been a blessing!” Norris writes, “That’s eschatology.” It’s living in God’s future. It’s not about “end times,” it’s about the presence of God when we think it’s the end.   A man suffered a stroke during brain surgery. He was confined to bed and a wheel chair; unable to take care of himself, and without much prospect of improvement, he stopped trying and began making plans to end it all. The man’s grandson visited one day and said impatiently, “Grandpa, are you ever going to get up out of that wheel chair?” The man said that, somehow from someplace deep inside, he was able to say, “Yes, Mike, by God, I am going to get out of this wheel chair.” And he did. That’s eschatology.   What we believe about the future, the world’s and our own, has a lot to do with how we live our lives in the present. As we remember those who have passed from us, who now reside in the ultimate community of faith, it is so easy to think that death and destruction are winning the day. We can recoil in fear, afraid for our future. Or, in the words of Karl Barth, we can remember that “hope takes place in the act of taking the next step.” Amen.