Let us pray: O Lord Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life: Do not let us stray from you, the Way, nor to distrust you, the Truth, nor to rest in anything other than you, the Life. Amen. (Desiderius Erasmus)
Letting Go of Plans
I try to start every day out by planning the day. What needs to get done? How long should I take to do it? What would I like to get done? How can I make space for some of that, too? I divide the day into time blocks and spell out what I’ll do. Then I know what I’d like to do that day and how I’d like to spend my time.
The trick with plans, of course, is not to view them as the most important thing of the day. What if I get stuck in traffic? What if I get absorbed in work, or something takes longer than I think it will? It’s OK to change the plans. I like to try to think of my schedule like the pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean think of their own code of conduct: “They’re more guidelines than actual rules.”
Every plan has to change when it meets real life.
Abram had plans for his life. He would have a son, an heir of his own flesh and blood, with his wife Sarai. By the time of our story for this morning, his plan still hadn’t come together. He and Sarai have left Ur at God’s command, they have traveled to Egypt and across the Middle East, they rescued their nephew Lot from capture. They have worshipped God and followed God’s call and heard God’s promises to them.
But they still do not have a son.
And so now, when God speaks to Abram and renews these promises of nearness and protection and great reward, Abram says, “I’ve seen no evidence of that! What are going to give me as a reward, huh? I still don’t have a son!”
Abram’s plan and God’s are butting heads here. Abram wants his son to come now (or better, yesterday). He wants an heir; he wants to see what God has promised him. And God is saying, “I will give you what I promised you,” with no mention of when that will happen.
Sometimes our plans and God’s plans align: we want the same thing, we know what’s good for us and what’s been promised us and we long for it. Like here with Abram: God and Abram both want Abram to have a son and heir.
But God is saying, “Not yet.” God is saying, “Not yet,” and eventually, past this story, Abram gets so impatient that he takes the whole situation into his own hands and has a son with his wife’s slave. Sometimes we and God want the same thing, but we try to make it happen, we say this is such a good thing that it doesn’t matter how we achieve it, and we do something horrific to make it happen.
And sometimes… sometimes our plans and God’s plans are wildly out of whack, operating on completely different wavelengths. In our story about Jesus, we have the Pharisees and Jesus squaring off, again. The Pharisees have ever-so-helpfully pointed out that Herod wants to kill Jesus. It’s unclear from the text if the Pharisees were trying to be actually helpful–some Pharisees did believe in Jesus, and followed Him–or if this was a veiled threat that they were using to scare Jesus away from Jerusalem, where there was a gathering of Jews and powerful, influential people and those who’d come to worship at the Temple. If they really were trying to be helpful, then they were trying to keep Jesus safe with the best of intentions, but that is not what God intended for Jesus. If they were trying to threaten or scare Him, then the Pharisees have let their own plans and ideas get in the way of seeing God’s plan for Jesus. They believe that their own plan is better.
Plans can be comforting things, can’t they? They can make us feel in control, whether of ourselves or the world around us. They make us feel like we understand: how the world works, what needs to happen, how to manage this whole life thing.
And plans can be helpful. They help us give voice to what needs to be done, to not be overwhelmed, to give structures to our to do list and to set aside time for what’s important.
But still they’re meant to be held loosely, for our plans come from our own incomplete view of the world. They come from our fears or our arrogance or our mistakes. We cannot see as much as God sees. And God does have a plan.
And so, instead, as we plan, let us turn to trust. Abram trusts God, trusts God with his questions and doubts and demands but also with his faith, for he followed God from Ur into the unknown, worshipped God in the midst of hardships, and welcomes strangers with full hospitality. Abram’s trust is incomplete–he becomes impatient, and has a son with his wife’s slave; he lies to protect himself and Sarai–but he trusts God.
And Jesus trusts God’s plan. He knows that He must go to Jerusalem, that He must die there, and so He goes. He knows that Herod is planning to kill Him, that this journey will not be easy for Him, and still Jesus travels to Jerusalem.
I’m not trying to say that trusting God is easy. I’m not trying to say that God’s plans for us lead to easy lives. I’m definitely not trying to say that most of us will hear the voice of God, telling us what God’s plan is. I am saying only that God’s plans for us are good, and worth following. I am saying that as we struggle and stumble in our quest for the still small voice that tells us where God is sending us next, what God has to say to us next, that we can trust God. God will be with us. God will guide us, and bring us back when we head off in the completely wrong direction. I am saying that God’s grace will bring us along even when we have no idea what’s happening.
And so let us go, and let us trust in the Lord our God.