Sunday, July 22, 2018

Year B Proper 11 Plan A & Plan Be [Open]

Year B Proper 11, 22 July 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Plan A & Plan Be [Open]” 
Collect: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for everAmen. 

2 Samuel 7:1-14a Ephesians 2:11-22 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.  When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. 

None of us, no not one of us knows what tomorrow may bring. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus promises us this, along with the repeated admonition to not worry. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” [Matthew 6:34] 

We make plans, to give our lives a semblance of control. And plans are good, do not hear me saying otherwise. But God has a way of showing us alternate paths, and it is up to us to be in a position to a) hear it, and b) a willingness to respond. 

When I was in college, I was different in a lot of ways. Much more conservative, much more controlling, and boy, did I have plans. Lots and lots of plans. In college, I was part of a state-wide college organization, and in my sophomore year I applied to be the state-wide president. In years past this had always gone to a Senior (I was applying to do it as a Junior). When I came before the Vetting Committee, I was asked if I was aware of the precedent. I said yes, and that I had little expectation of getting the presidency this year. I was just being honest in my goals and desired trajectory and wanted them to consider me for the best position to prepare me for the next year. Shockingly, that worked, and they gave me a very visible and well-situated position for the potential future role. I was pleased. God had other ideas. 

About a month after this, a job description came out for a summer missionary position in Hamburg, West Germany, when there was a West Germany. This was 1988, for the service from May-December of 1989. As I went down the list of the requirements for the position I noticed a repeated pattern. Former Camp Counselor, check. Former Youth Minister, check. Conversational in German, check. Ability to live on the economy on their own in Germany, check. [I had been an exchange student.] Willingness and ability to take a semester off, check. Over and over again, what it came down to was that this was me. Truly. I did not know of anyone else who could fill the job, much less do the varied things expected and required.  

And that is when I had a choice. Do I follow my plans I had and had worked hard to accomplish? My ego was saying yes. Or do I follow the nudging of the Spirit, and see if I were the one God was calling to this role in Germany. I wrestled with it for about a week. But I decided to see where this would take me. I applied. In fact, I was the only person who applied. The job description was so singular I think it would not have been filled if I had not done it. So I was called to be the Youth and Singles Minister at Hamburg International Baptist Church from May to December of 1989. There was no experience more transformative and life-changing than those 8 months in my life. I think of how different my life would have been if I stayed home, and followed my “plan.” I thank God that my plans were ruined. 

In fact, if you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans, or so an old joke goes. It is true, for us, as it was true for Jesus that day. He saw how tired his staff was. He felt, I am sure, the exhaustion, too. But Life got in the way, as Life tends to do. 

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with some folks who were asking what it was like to be a priest, and I said that it was a calling, and if I got half of what I had planned done every day I was pretty successful. They looked at me surprised, but I am in the “people business” and people show up when they show up and have different needs and necessary responses. In talking with Robert this week he observed how active and busy the office is every day. I love it that way. 

Jesus and his disciples could not even get away to eat, or so the Scripture tells us. And yet, even though they were planning a good day off, his heart went out, and Jesus “had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” 

That is where the Holy Spirit comes in, I believe. That little prompter that tells us, “Go for it! Let go of the plan, that fiction of control, and trust the invitation to something higher and better…” 

Jesus heard that call. That day, his compassion led him to respond to that call, guiding others along that way.  There is, I believe, a movement of the Holy Spirit in our Church, and there are some promptings that excite me, and I am glad to follow their lead. 

There are some new priorities in our Church, the Episcopal Church that is. I think they have always been there, but Presiding Bishop Curry is leading us to claim it and live out our being the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement. 

He broke it out in three priorities recently at the General Convention in Austin. He calls us all to be a part of the Jesus Movement by Loving with God, by Liberating with Each Other, and by Life-Giving with Creation. Loving with God we would call Evangelism. Liberating with Each Other we would call Reconciliation. Life-Giving with Creation we would call Care of Creation. That is the what, so easy to name. But like with much of life, how? HOW do we do that, making these our priorities and marching orders? This is where the Way of Love was brought out at the General Convention. [Video link:] 

The Way of Love is broken down into a Seven Step process. They all make sense, and goes with so much I have said in the 10 months I have been with you. 

The first step is a turn, a conversion, a repent, a change of direction. 
1. TURN: Pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus 

With that first step, discipleship is a must. We must learn from our master and Lord.  
2. LEARN: Reflect on Scripture each day, especially on Jesus’ life and teachings. 

We have Turned, and Learned, but how do we stay connected with the One who calls us?  
3. PRAY: Dwell intentionally with God each day 

But there is more to connecting with God alone, we must do so with others. We are not meant to walk this path alone.  
4. WORSHIP: Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God 

We do not get fed to get full or fat, we have been blessed so that we can give. 
5. BLESS: Share faith and unselfishly give and serve  

As we grow, and become accustomed and accomplished at Blessing, then we are called to go further and invite more in. 
6. GO: Cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus 

And like all good lists of Seven, we end on a Sabbath. We are not meant to work ourselves to death. We are expected, just like Jesus did and called his disciples to do, to take a break and rest fully in the knowledge that God is in Control. 
7. REST: Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration 

We are called to walk the way of Love, just as Jesus modeled and taught. Sometimes life breaks in, and we are needed to respond. We do this out of the promptings and urgings of God, and in God’s power and to God’s glory. 

As we intentionally walk the Way of Love, we will see the Holy Spirit showing up in our lives more and more. Being open and attentive has a way of doing that. And if you follow the model spelled out here, we will “attempt great things for God and we can expect great things from God.” [See William Carey if you are unfamiliar with that quote.] 

If you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans. This sounds so harsh. But God is not, I believe, laughing at us in a derisive way. God is laughing because we sell ourselves, and God and God's intentions, so short. God’s plans are bigger, bolder, and better than anything we could come up with. But were we to know what God has in store, many of us would run and hide. Like Jonah. Like me.  

I did not want my life changed, I did not want my worldview adjusted. Had I known the pain and discomfort of being clay in God’s hands I doubt I would have stepped out in faith, but I am here with you today because of the Good Work that God was faithful to complete in me 30 years ago. Thanks be to God. 
Plan and work like God is giving us 100 years to accomplish God’s work, and live in such a way that if God calls you home tomorrow you would be ready to go. That constant tension of Now and Later has been a struggle in the Church since Christ was here with us. But God is not done with any of us yet, and the future, our future is bright as we walk the Way of Love together.  
So, have your Plan A. That is good. But also be willing to follow Plan B, which should really be Plan Be [Open]. You never know where the road will take you when you walk the Way of Love. Amen. 

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Blessings, Rock