Monday, August 31, 2009

God's Plans and Our Plans

Scripture Readings: James 4:13-17; Luke 12:22-34

There is an old spiritual joke. At least, I think it’s a spiritual joke.
Do you know how to make God laugh?
You tell him your plans.
I love that joke.

I used to think that only someone who loves God can love that joke. But that’s not right.

Only someone who knows that God loves them can love that joke. Only the person who trusts God’s love can really laugh at the thought of God laughing at them and their plans.

Our readings from Luke and James tell us some things about God’s plans and our plans.
What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear? Those questions are the start of one sort of plans. Jesus is talking about this sort of plans.

Then there is this. Let’s go to another town, start a business, and get rich: these ideas are the start of a different sort of plan. James is talking about this sort of plans.

They are really different sorts of plans, but we make these different sorts of plans because we are the creation of God the planner.

I don’t believe the, “What shall we eat, or drink, or wear?” questions are the sort you ask in front of an overflowing refrigerator, or a closet full of clothes. (Well, some people do, because they have so many things to choose from.)

I think that, originally, these were the sort of questions that you ask when the refrigerator and the closet are empty. Most ancient people lived from hand to mouth. They were people on the edge. And so I think these are survival questions. They go along with other survival questions like: can I plan to survive? Can I find a way to go on?

When I planted the lilies in front of my house, I remember the instructions required me to bury those bulbs pretty deep. I was surprised how deep. The flowers of the field send their roots deep down to drink their water and survive.

I watch the birds. They do play and enjoy themselves. But they also spend a lot of energy looking for food, or flying away for safety, in order to survive.

Can I plan to survive? Can I plan for a way to go on? I think Jesus is saying: “These are not bad questions. You are not the only one who asks these questions. The rest of the world asks these questions. The way that I want you to be different from the rest of the world, is that I don’t want you to be afraid when you have questions like this. I want you to remember that my Father and I love you.”
When Jesus points at the wildflowers, and the birds, he is pointing at God’s plan.

Creation shows us that God is a planner. God plans that there be life, and abundant life; and that that life fits into a plan. In spite of the mind boggling numbers that are needed to count the lilies of the field or birds of the air, or the stars in the sky, there are no unimportant pieces in that plan. There is nothing extra, nothing to spare, in all the abundance that surrounds us. The Bible teaches us this.

Most humans can’t tell one sparrow from another and, out of the billions of sparrows in the world, very few mean any thing to us. Yet these tiny lives, these brief and obscure lives, are all known to God. Jesus said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies, yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

In 1 John 4:18, the Apostle John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” It all has to do with what we believe about God. God is not looking for ways to get us. God does not laugh at our plans as if he is planning to sabotage them; as if he loves to joke when the joke is on us.

Fear has to do with thinking God is out to get us. But if we trust the love of God we will not be afraid. We will be able to make plans and we will be free to wing it when no plan is possible.

God’s greatest plans have been to create us in his image; and to become one of us, and to die for us on the cross to give us peace with him, even though our hearts are full of the things that divide us from him.

I think that if we could ever think of God really laughing at our plans, it would be the laughter of parents watching their baby learning to walk. When a child takes its first steps, and falls, it is better for the parents laugh and make a joke of it than that they do anything else. Of course I can say this because I have never been a parent. If I am wrong tell me later.

Even though a child cries when he or she falls, it is not good for a parent to cry when their child falls. I have seen a child fall and look to its parents, trying to decide whether to run to them crying, or to go on playing with the other children. If a parent cried when their child fell, it would give that child no strength, or courage, or joy in walking and running. It is much better to laugh. Please tell me if I am wrong.

We are the children of a God who makes great plans. God’s children make plans just like their Father does, just as human children learn to walk because they are raised and surrounded by people who walk. If we were raise among wolves, we might very well go around on all fours.

Walking is a serious business, but it is much better to laugh about walking than to react any other way. It is much better to be ready to laugh at our own plans than to react in any other way.

God is a planner. God is a lover of plans. God’s plans are the fruit of love and faithfulness. He doesn’t want our plans to be anything less. God wants our plans to be the fruit of love and faith: “Don’t be afraid. You are loved. Make plans. Keep going. Have faith.”

Then there is the other sort of planning in James. The planning Jesus talked about in the gospels was the planning of survival: doing it with faith in the love of God.
The planning James talks about is the planning of abundance. I would have said that this sort of planning is where you plan for your passions, as opposed to planning for mere survival, but I think we strangely underestimate the value and goodness of survival.

There are a lot of people who talk down about what they call a survival mentality, but I would say that there are two kinds of survival mentalities. One kind of survival mentality is grim, and bleak, and defeatist. It does not accept change, and it is not willing to change tactics, and it is not willing to take risks. But, sometimes, not taking a risk, in order to survive, is far more dangerous than taking many, many risks.

Playing it safe is not always the wisest way to survive. The survival mentality that plays it safe, at all costs, may be the least likely to survive.

The other survival mentality is to love your survival boldly and passionately. There is an ability, in surviving, to enjoy the basics: to be happy even if you only have food to eat, and clothes to wear, and something to drink, and a roof over your head. These are blessings and they should make us happy.

Most people in the world would laugh, and sing, and dance if they had the basics. And most people in the world would be ready to have adventures if they had the basics They would be willing to split what they had and share half of it with anyone who was needier than they are, even when they know they are living in a survival mode.

We have more than the basics in so many. And as Christians, and as a church, we enjoy the best basics. We know the love of God in Jesus Christ. We experience the good news of his love and power every day. We sing. We pray. We worship. We learn. God is blessing us, and I think we have plenty to share.

So then, the thought of worrying, knowing the sort of God we have, never even occurs to us, right? Because knowing Jesus gives us passion, even when we are surviving. The words of Jesus we have read this morning tell us this.

But there is also the planning of abundance, and abundance is another kind of passion. Some of the planning of abundance sounds like the people James had in mind: “Let go to another town, start a business, and get rich.” There are things you can do when you are not just surviving. You can take a trip. You can learn a new language. You can go back to school. You can look for a new kind of work. You can start a business. You can fly a plane. You can paint. You can make something. You can take up a hobby.

Some people who seem, to others, to be just barely surviving are able to do such things. Our idea of surviving is far too spiritless and fearful.

The words of Jesus apply here, too. Consider the flowers. Consider the birds. God’s creation shows us the abundance and passion of the plans of God. With God and his children, is survival really the issue at all?

James isn’t critical of the planners he has in mind just because they are planning to make money, and be financially successful. He sees nothing wrong with that.
But it is true, if you read the whole letter, that James is concerned, a lot, about the kind of things people might do in order to get their hands on that wealth, and what they might do to hold onto what they’ve got. James is concerned that some people, in their pursuit of abundance, will make decisions that will change them for the worse, to say nothing of they harm they do to others.

But that is not what we are concerned with here. James is writing caution to people who forget that life is about intlocking relationships, especially their relationship with God.

Even on a human level, you don’t just, only, link up with people who share your plans. You grow from sharing life with people who have other plans, and who might laugh at your plans.

You can’t avoid this without considerable selfishness. You can never find a spouse who shares all you plans. You have to give and take. And you can never have children who will share all your plans. Part of the decline of the birthrates in western countries may be that people don’t want to bring into the world other people who will interfere with their plans for their own abundant lives.

Selfish people don’t understand that their very lives depend on their ability to interlock with the different and conflicting plans of others. And most of all they forget that we all belong to God, who is the ultimate planner. And they forget that all our human plans are like the first, shaky steps of toddlers.

Even at their best, sometimes our plans are things worth laughing at.

When James says that our lives are like a mist, he is not saying that we are unimportant, or that God considers our plans to be unimportant. James is only saying that our time in this world is precious.

Time is not money, but time is precious. Time flies. Some plans for the use of our time must give way to other plans.

If a man is lucky enough to have a woman who loves him, he will not make plans without her. When I talk on the phone to married guys about doing things, they always say “Wait a minute,” and I hear muffled consultations on the other end of the line.

This is wise. And we are also lucky if we know how much God loves us, and that God is able to know what we need; that God knows best what our whole life is really about, and God is the planner we ought to listen to.

There are plans, and there are plans. When you say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that,” you are recognizing that you are part of a relationship; a relationship with God.

When you realize that you have been given the gift of life in order to live in this world in relationship to God, you realize that there are plans, and there are plans. You recognize that some plans can fail and some plans can be interrupted; but there are other plans that cannot fail and cannot be interrupted.

There are plans that you can always safely plan. You can plan to live as a child of the God, who has a plan for you, who gave his Son for you on the cross to give you life. You can plan to care for those whom God has entrusted to your care. You can love them, and build them up. You can seek to serve the kingdom of God in your community, and in the wider world.

You can do this, relying on the will of the God, who loves you and holds you in his plan. God’s plan is secure, and you will find no failure or interruption that plan; no matter what it may look like from your point of view. Even death will not interrupt God’s plan for you.

There are plans, and there are plans. Plan to trust God’s plan, and don’t worry about what can go wrong, or whether you can even see the goal. Martin Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

This is what the Lord wants from all of us; because all of God’s creating and saving plans tell us to live in hope and not in fear.

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