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3 Pentecost, Year A

3 Pentecost, Year A

Ps 33:1-12; Gen 12:1-9; Matt 9:9-13

Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“God’s Plan”

 

Have you ever felt that you were really in control of your life? Have you ever felt a lot of satisfaction because your life was or is going just as you planned it? Have you ever set personal short-term or long-term plans for yourself? Have you ever set short-term or long-term plans for or with your congregation? Have you ever been involved with other organizations, institutions, and even governments in their planning process? Have these various plans of yours and others worked out as you had thought or hoped they would? What about the opposite scenario; have you ever felt that your life was or is really out of control? Have you ever felt a lot of dissatisfaction because your life was or is not going just as you planned it? Have your personal short-term or long-term plans been thwarted, have you failed to reach them? Have the plans of your congregation been thwarted, have you and the members failed to reach them? Have the plans of other organizations, institutions, and governments been thwarted and failed to come into fruition?

  

If you’re at all like me, I would answer “Yes” to all of the above questions. Most likely all of us have, on occasion—even though such occasions are blue moons or frosty Fridays!—felt and maybe even believed that we were or are in control of our lives and destiny. It is up to us to order our lives and make things happen in our lives. No one else will do what needs to be done for us. After all, “God helps those who help themselves,” so the old adage goes. Therefore, we reason that planning is absolutely necessary for us if our lives are going to have any meaning and purpose to them. This applies, so we think, to us as individuals and as a congregation, and other organizations, institutions and governments.            

 

However, I don’t think it is as black and white as this. Most likely all of us have, on occasion—perhaps more often than we’d like to admit too!—felt and maybe even believed that our lives were or are out our of control and destiny. We have all from time-to-time felt dehumanised, living as ponds on the chessboard, unable to do much to change significantly the direction in which our lives and the lives of others are going. Talk to people who are presently hooked by their addictions and many will state this is the case for them. Listen to, watch or read the daily news and ask yourself if you can do anything significantly to solve all of the world’s problems. A lot of people cite a daily creed that goes something like this: “There is nothing I can do personally about wars, poverty, child slavery, homelessness, pollution, corruption of governments and large corporations.” Many, it seems, battle with, and often lose the battle with, cynicism and apathy every day.

  

So it seems that for most of us, we have this inner conflict and dissonance, these contradictions and paradoxes that we live with every day. On the one hand, our personal lives and the lives of everyone in society as a whole have never been in such control as they are today. Technology, science and computers have the capacity to analyze and place our lives into tidy systems of an ordered universe to the nth degree. Yet, they are not flawless either. They cannot always compensate for the messiness and unpredictability of our human condition—thank God for that! In our attempt to play god and control our own destiny and the destiny of our society and world as a whole; we worry about careers for children as soon as they begin their education, if not earlier; we become obsessed with worry about our pension plans; at the extreme end of the spectrum, we project in as much detail as possible where our congregation will be in our one-year, five-year, and ten-year plans. We live by the creed: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” On the other hand, precisely because we are so much into control, planning and order; precisely because we set for ourselves and others goals, expectations, plans that are so complicated and idealistic, we feel overwhelmed and oppressed by such plans, and sometimes such plans drive us into addictive, out of control behaviours to escape from the stress of living up to our plans.

  

In Psalm 33 today, we are given a stark reminder of just who precisely is in control of our personal and collective lives. The psalmist reminds us that the LORD is our God; the LORD is in control of our lives; the LORD thwarts, frustrates and brings to nothing the plans of people; while, on the other hand, the LORD’s plans, the LORD’s counsel stands forever, his thoughts to all generations. In the course of this psalm, the writer encourages us to praise, to sing and play instruments as an act of worshipping the LORD because our God created the universe and everything in it; our God has given it all an order and has control over it and plans for it.

  

Does this mean because the LORD is in control of everything and everyone and has plans for everything and everyone, then it follows does it not, that we should stop and cease all of our planning? What is God’s plan for us personally and collectively anyways? How do we know what God’s plan is for us? Is it clear or concrete enough for us that we are capable of implementing it? These and similar questions, I believe, are addressed in our first lesson from Genesis and in today’s gospel.

  

In our first lesson, God speaks to Abram—already old, and presumably set in his ways!—and reveals a plan for him, Sarai and his nephew Lot. They are called out of their cozy, safe, comfortable land of origin with all of its familiarity to a new place. God tells Abram that his plan involves travelling to and settling in the land of Canaan; God promises Abram a great nation, personal blessing, a great name, and blessings to those who bless Abram and curses to those who curse him; and then the all-inclusive plan is revealed: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And a few verses later, another out of the ordinary plan—Abram and Sarai, in their old age, are promised offspring: “To your offspring I will give this land.” WOW! What an incredible plan! The amazing thing about it all though is recorded quite simply in only a few small words: “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…” Abram trusted in God’s plan; he believed it and put his trust and beliefs into practice by acting on the plan. No doubt there were questions and protests, excuses and other strategies working within the heart, soul, mind and life of Abram when he first learned of God’s plan. And yet, and yet he trusted and believed that it was true. Indeed, maybe the inner turmoil of doubt, questions, protests and other strategies helped Abram to come to trust and believe and act on God’s plan.

  

Then there was tax collector Matthew in today’s gospel. Most likely he too was quite cozy, comfortable, and secure with his livelihood as a tax collector—even though his fellow citizens would be inclined to ostracize him and feel betrayed by him for collecting taxes to support the oppressive Roman Empire. Suddenly, this Jesus fellow comes along and, in two words, tells him God’s plan: “Follow me.” Now granted, Jesus may very well have known and visited with Matthew before; and yet, and yet, Matthew, like Abram, Sarai and Lot, act on God’s plan. Once again Matthew’s response, like Abram’s is described quite simply, with a few small words: “And he got up and followed him.” Although we cannot know the inner being and motives of Matthew; perhaps he, like Abram, was able to act on God’s plan only after he had time to wrestle it out within his heart, soul, mind, and life. Nonetheless, he like Abram, trusted in God’s plan, believed it and acted by following Jesus.

  

In the case of God’s plan for Abram, for Matthew, as well as the description of it in our psalm; we are not given a step-by-step detailed plan for every single moment of every single day. Rather, God’s plan seems to be more broad and general; hence leaving room for human beings to exercise some degree of creative freedom in the actual carrying out of God’s plan. This paradox of God’s predestination, God’s providence and human free will is an ever-present one throughout our lives. In this sense, God’s plan for us today is very similar to God’s plan for Abram, Sarai and Lot, the psalmist, and Matthew. We, like they, are given the broad and general plan of God—namely, to trust and love and follow God above all else and to love our neighbours as ourselves. The details of this, God’s plan for all peoples is often an exercise in our creatively free, but limited and imperfect human will. That’s why when our human planning fails—as it more often than not does!—we need to keep learning from our mistakes and going back to the larger picture of God’s plan, to try and try again. The “trial and error” nature of our plans, the constant need to revise our plans, serve to keep us in a grace relationship with our LORD and call us back to his plan for us over and over again. It is as we become ever more attentive to the power and influence of God’s grace at work in and through us that our plans fit into the LORD’s plan; and his will is done in our lives personally, as a congregation, and throughout the whole world.

 

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