01/05/14 Sermon (January 5, 2014) "I Love it When a Plan Comes Together"

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:32 AM by David Hawkins

01/05/14 Sermon (January 5, 2014)

"I Love it When a Plan Comes Together"

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14  (Liturgist)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

Sermon: "I Love it When a Plan Comes Together" Rev. Hawkins

One of my favorite TV shows when I was growing up was the ‘A-Team’. I don’t know if you remember it, but my family and I would never miss an episode featuring this collection of misfits fighting the bad guys. For my sister, there was Dirk Benedict who came to the show right from his role as Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica. For my brother, there was Mr. T, who gave us mohawks, gold chains and the phrase, “I pity the fool.”

But for me, the boss was the unforgettable George Peppard, with his unflappable outlook on life, and his never ending supply of cigars. It was Peppard, in his Hannibal Smith character, who really personified the style of the show, especially when things began to fall apart, as they inevitably did. While whatever catastrophe of the week began to unravel all around him, as the members of his team found themselves in increasingly dire straits, when it looked as if things couldn’t possibly get any worse, George Peppard would calmly light his cigar, lift one eyebrow, and say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

As I was reading today’s scripture, I found myself thinking about this ridiculous TV show from my childhood. Not that I imagine the Apostle Paul as Mr. T, or think of God smoking a cigar and rubbing his hands together as he contemplates his plan.

On the other hand, there is something sublimely optimistic about this letter to the Ephesians, this letter about God’s plan for the world, especially when we read it just a couple of weeks after we celebrated  Jesus’ birth at Christmas. There is something gleefully confident about God setting this audacious plan in motion, to bring all of creation back into relationship, with the birth of a baby boy in the feeding trough of a cattle stall. Such a vulnerable way to reconcile the universe. Such a strange and unexpected way to redeem humanity.

And make no mistake about it, this is God’s plan. These opening words of the letter to the Ephesians reveal in glorious detail every bit of what God has in mind for his creation: to gather all things in heaven and earth back to himself; to adopt us, each of us, as his children; to call us to his mission and ministry; to forgive us when our efforts fall short; and to promise us an everlasting inheritance with Jesus Christ.

In fact, I would say that this short bit of scripture contains nearly every major theme of Christian theology - predestination, election, grace, salvation in Jesus Christ, and all sealed in us by the power Holy Spirit.

It’s all there in this short bit of scripture, every part of God’s desire for us, everything we believe to be true about God’s goodness and love for his creation. This is what it’s all about.

Over this next year, we’re going to unpack this thick scripture. We’re going to spend some time in Ephesians, and learn together a little bit more about what this plan means for us us and for our lives. I’ve been inspired by a book I’ve been reading by Eugene Peterson, who is the pastor who translated the popular Bible paraphrase called “The Message.” Peterson considers the letter to the Ephesians to be a model for what it looks like to grow up in Christian discipleship.

The book I’m reading is called, “Practice Resurrection,” and it focuses on our response to God’s amazing love. My hope is to gently encourage all of us to view our Christian faith through this lens of discipleship, to think about the ways our lives reflect our belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In fact, today we’re beginning a small part of that. After the sermon, we’ll remember and honor part of our Presbyterian Heritage by reciting one of the questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism is the oldest confession of the Reformed church and was written shortly after the Protestant Reformation began. Each week, we will include a question and answer from this document as part of our confession of faith.

But discipleship is more than just theology. Discipleship is more than just believing the right things, or saying the right things. Discipleship is a matter of thinking about everything we do in the light of God’s gift of Jesus Christ. While our works do nothing to earn the love of God, they are the expression of our faith, and without them, our words are empty and our faith is dead.

And so, this year we will explore different ways to grow in our faith, through worship, fellowship, evangelism, and ministry. We will encourage each other to consider our understanding of discipleship and think about what it means to increase in Christian maturity.

Because the reality is, none of us have made it yet. None of us is fully grown in Christ. None of us have figured it all out. None of us are perfect. We can all find new habits, new patterns of thought and action that better reflect what we believe to be true about God’s love for us. Christian Discipleship is a never-ending journey.

But we are not alone on this journey. We are inspired by those who have found ways to live their lives in ways that honor their calling as leaders in the church and in the community. We are prodded by teachers who are unwilling to let easy answers satisfy complicated questions, and who challenge us to consider more deeply our faith. And we are blessed by those around us who have experienced God’s love in ways that we can’t imagine, and who can offer special insights into the mysteries of God’s grace.

This is the gift of church. Church is more than just a pit stop to fuel up, check in, and start the week. It’s not a museum where we cherish our traditions and put our best behaviour on a pedestal for all to admire. Church is the place where God’s plan is first put into place, a laboratory where we take these radical words of scripture and try to figure out how they work.

And so for the next year, we’re going to explore together, as a church, just a little bit more about what it means to be a disciple.

But, it’s important to remember that a life of discipleship begins, not with us, not with our own decisions, or our own works, but with God. As the Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians, we were called to this life, we did not choose it. We were chosen to be involved in God’s mission before the world began, not because of what we have done, or said, or thought or believed, but purely because it was God’s own pleasure to do so.

And that is a humbling thought. And it’s not a particularly popular one these days.

We want to think that it’s up to us, for good or bad. That we decide our own fate, that we are in charge of our own destiny. It appeals to our own pride, our own sense of independence. We alone are responsible for what happens to our souls.

This desire to be master of our own salvation lies at the root of the popularity of the prosperity Gospel. The idea that if we live our lives right, that if we pray the right prayers, believe the right doctrine, posses the right faith, our prayers will be answered, whether they be for health, or wealth or influence.

And the flip side of this kind of thinking is the fear that we can never be good enough to be loved by God. That our best efforts will fall short, and consequently, we will be cursed, rather than blessed, by a vengeful and vindictive God.

Our scripture today steers us clear of both of these destructive ways of thinking. God alone makes the choice. God alone calls the shots. God alone has called us to this life, and God alone forgives, redeems, and restores us to him. Nothing we do, or think, or say can make God do anything other than what God, for his own mysterious reasons, has decided to do.

And I don’t know about you, but this is so very comforting to me. The idea that I have to be good enough to earn God’s love is so stressful that I get anxious just thinking about it. My soul needs to know that my relationship with God is not dependant on my own fragile faith, because I know that I will never possess the kind of faith that can overcome my own sin. Maybe your faith is different, but I know myself too well to think that I can decide my way into heaven.

But today’s scripture says that we don’t have to. That’s not our job. In fact, that work is, and always will be, entirely above our pay grade. It’s not up to us to pray our way into God’s good graces. It’s not our job to convince God of our worth. We don’t increase our value by being good Christians. These decisions regarding our ultimate destiny have already been made.  

And, so, if our salvation is not up to us, what part do we play in all this? If we are not in charge of our election, then what are we supposed to do?

It’s a good question. And it’s a life-long question.

And the answer is, I suppose, kind of naive, and kind of simple.

We respond. That’s the long and short of it. We respond to God’s love. We respond to God’s grace. We respond to God’s forgiveness. We respond to God’s promise of eternal life. This is all we can do.

And the way we respond reflects the measure to which we understand and appreciate what God has done for us. And this is what a life of discipleship is all about.

God’s plan for us is that we might truly know that we are loved, forgiven, and adopted as his children, in order that we might live together in the kind of community that takes seriously the ideas of grace, welcome, and compassion.

And God begins this plan with the unlikely birth of a small child to an unmarried couple in a tiny backwater town on the margins of the Roman Empire. It seems crazy, this plan. So many things can go wrong. So much depends on this baby. Kings try to kill him. Emperors will succeed. His followers will be fishermen, tax collectors, thieves and prostitutes. They will all desert him when he needs them most.

Yet this is God’s plan. And we celebrate God’s plan today at this table. That in the unlikely life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are bound to him by the power of the Holy Spirit. At this table, we are forgiven by his life, and we are sustained by his body. At this table we see God’s mysterious plan to gather all of heaven and earth spread out before us, an eternal banquet for all people at all times, that we can share right now, at this moment, in this place.

I just love it when a plan comes together.

Thanks be to God. Amen.