Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: You, O Lord, are the author of life. Speak to our hearts and fill us with the breath of your Spirit, that we may live and move in your ways, all the days of our life. AMEN
There is a common question that I’m sure all of us remembering answering when we were young: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The same thing got asked when going off to college: “What do you want to study?” “What do you plan to do for a career?” And students feel a lot of pressure to come up with a plan that is going to make them happy for the rest of their lives.
Most students change majors at least once — and many adults — including myself — change jobs, too.
Sometimes I wonder why we bother making plans — because nothing seems to happen the way we expect. As a pastor I’ve met with people in times of crisis. In my work as the owner of a home care agency I dealt with people every day who faced challenges with their health — either their own or a loved-one’s — and I often heard them say: “I never thought this would happen to me.”
Of course, planning is not a bad thing — but perhaps the problem is that our plans often tend to be too narrow or too specific. There are some things that need a very specific plan — but sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off making some of our plans less specific: For example, one might say, “my plan is:
to forgive whenever I am wronged,
to love others and show kindness,
to make the most out of everyday — no matter what happens in it.
to make the world a better place.”
Our scripture texts today speak a great deal about plans. Specifically, they show us what happens when our plans are in conflict with God’s plan -- And we learn several things about God’s plan:
We see that our plans are no match for God’s plan. That should come as no surprise, but for some reason it DOES seem to catch us off guard.
We also see that God’s plan is just and it is good -- although it may not SEEM like good news when we are caught off guard by it.
And we see that when we EMBRACE God’s plan -- we find the peace, joy and abundance of life for which we long; the qualities of life that we have tried to get from our own plans but can never grasp in any lasting way.
The Word of God speaks to us today in our scripture readings. The Word comes to you to remind you and assure you that -- apart from whatever good or bad plans we come up with — or others come up with for us -- God has a plan that will not be undone -- and you are a part of that plan. God’s plan is that God’s plan becomes YOUR plan, so that in God’s plan you will live a full and meaningful life. It is a plan that is already at work in you.
Have you ever met someone without a plan? Maybe there is no such thing. But once I did meet someone with almost no plan.
(((Atlanta homeless shelter)))
I didn’t really know this young man. Maybe he had a disability that made him unable to grab hold of something more meaningful for his life. But regardless, I found myself getting angry with this man -- Our own lives are to do with as we choose. But taking a bed and food that someone else could have used, just because he didn’t want to make a plan for his own life -- it upset me.
Perhaps one problem with our own plans is that we make them with ourselves at the center. And that’s a place where we don’t belong.
The Bible: the story of God putting us together.
Adam & Eve — “It is not good...”
God never does anything for anyone just for that person’s sake. What God does is ALWAYS done with the aim of benefiting others. Understanding this provides us with a wonderful clue as to what our own successful plans should look like. When your plan — and my plan — is to bless others with what we do — then is when we will have a plan that we can both DO and ENJOY.
I wonder why we are so resistant to this kind of plan? Jesus often told parables as a way of getting people to face truths that they would otherwise not want to face. That’s what he did with the parable we heard today. He tells a story about some wicked tenants who have a plan to steal a vineyard from its owner. It was a stupid plan.
But as foolish as was the plan, it is a familiar plan to us. It is a plan at home in this world, and even in our own lives, because, as I said before, it begins with people putting themselves at the center — the tenants viewing themselves as individuals who want and deserve things for themselves.
They long to be separated from the owner,
for the owner to be separated from his vineyard--
and for each tenant to be separate from the others, although they’re willing to work together for a while in order to get there.
An important rule in our plans is that you can only take as much as those around you will tolerate. According to the people listening to this story, the owner of the vineyard ought to wreak a terrible vengeance upon the wicked tenants. They deserve to die! That’s the judgment or “plan” of the listeners.
But of course, in the end, all of Jesus’ stories are not about our plans but God’s plan. Here’s the amazingly good news of God’s plan: When everyone expected the owner of the vineyard to destroy his enemies -- Jesus proclaimed something else: God will rescue them with the very stone that they have rejected.
God will rescue you, also, when you abandon God’s plan for your own. That’s the good news.
In God’s plan, justice has an ingredient that doesn’t make sense in a world like ours: Grace. In God’s plan, love overcomes sin. It reaches beyond it, pushes it aside, wipes it away so that there is nothing left to separate the sinner from the God who loves them.
Nothing can stop this love. It is a rock-- unmovable-- unbreakable, upon which all of our individual plans are shattered.
Jesus Christ -- crucified and raised -- IS this rock. When John describes Jesus’ living out his plan, he says it like this: On the Passover night, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, and John writes, “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” He is the love of God in action. He is grace in the flesh. The mission of Jesus is to love.
In Indiana where I grew up, we’ve got beautiful, dark, rich soil that’s great for growing things. Do you know why we’ve got that soil up there and not down here? The glaciers. Ever-so-slowly, the glaciers pushed forward, grinding up the separate boulders, rocks and whatever else they came upon into this beautiful, rich soil. A boulder is a ball of separate and useless minerals and nutrients. But because of the glaciers, they are all gathered and mixed together into something wonderful.
That’s what happens when we meet the cross of Christ. The idea of us living separate lives gets all ground up.
Paul knew the joy of living God’s plan with his whole life. He celebrated how the love of God had converted him from a life defined by his own arrogant plans — with himself at the center — into a life fulfilling God’s plan.
He had been at the pinnacle of power — but now he wrote letters from prison. While those around him marveled at the train wreck they thought his life had become (“talk about poor planning,” they must have thought), Paul was filled with a joy he couldn’t hold back.
“Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom -- and God’s action in his death and resurrection -- give you and me a new way to see ourselves and the world, too -- and blesses us with a wonderful invitation to live God’s plan.
Instead of living for ourselves -- and instead of wallowing in guilt over our failures to be perfect, Jesus invites us to explore and marvel at how God’s grace is at work in us, knitting us into the lives of others.
Our lives change when we have faith in God’s grace. And it is amazing in our sight! We are becoming more like Jesus.
He invites us to believe that we will meet him in every person we meet.
He invites us to believe that his love that overcomes divisions can pour out of us for others -- even our enemies.
He invites us to believe that God’s plan is breaking down our separated hearts of stone.
The love of God that seems so naive and feeble in this world has become the cornerstone of God’s plan for you.
What is the world population today? 7.8 billion. We live in a world with more than 7.8 billion individual planners.
No matter what changes for good or bad in this world, remember that you are part of a plan to outshine all plans. A plan that is at work in you, unfolding in your heart as you share it with others.
Today, God’s plan for you is proclaimed in the scriptures, and meets you here at this altar.
He invites you to come -- all of us together, to be gathered around this one table, so that he may show us again how God’s love overcomes and crushes everything that would separate us from him and each other.
That is a simple plan. A perfect plan.