"Forget Trying To Anticipate God"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 6/6/1999
Matthew 9:9-13; Genesis 12:1-9
For example, in a core sample of junior high school students only a small percentage have an informed idea about what they plan to do after high school. Many students this age believe they have plenty of time to think about such plans and have developed a "Let's wait and see" attitude.
When it comes to thinking about life-long relationships, only a small percentage of singles have a plan. Many of them admit that they do not know where or how to look for someone. As a result, many of today's young singles busy themselves with furthering their education, career opportunities, pets, and travel.
Many people rapidly approaching retirement have not thought about what they plan to do after they turn in their keys. When it comes to thinking about their pensions, 401(k) plans, or their large house now that the kids are gone, again only a small percentage of people have a plan.
Are we ill-advised when we do not know precisely where we are going? Should we feel foolish that we do not have a plan for what some people believe are critical areas of life? Who knows! No one will have an answer that suits everyone's situation. However, most of us are doing exactly what we want to do. If this were not so, we would change our minds. Thus far, many of our lives have unfolded without our having calculated for every contingency. Perhaps most of us have resigned ourselves to accepting this state-of-mind.
Jesus addressed this issue with these words, "Do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what God requires of you, and God will provide you with all the other things you need" (Matthew 6:33-34). Of course, such a life-strategy requires our trust that God will deliver what we need.
Our lesson today is the Genesis account of God's call of Abram. During the reading of this passage we heard God promising Abram many things. God promised to show Abram a new land. God promised that the 75-year-old Abram would be the father of many nations, even though currently he had no heirs. After Abram said "yes," the final verse in our lesson says, "Then Abram moved from place to place, going toward the southern part of Canaan."
Is our moving "from place to place" such a challenging experience when we have total trust, as did Abram, that God has equipped us with everything we need for the journey? The confidence factor, of course, rests with our trust that we are right on schedule with our lives. As most of us look back on our life experience, could we have anticipated where we are today?
As people have said for centuries, "Life happened to me when I was busy doing something else." Such a statement does not mean that we should forsake planning; it means that, though well-intentioned, what we plan will not adequately anticipate the future. As we examine our past, some of our best laid plans were given a detour because of the unexpected appearance of an opportunity or of some awakened desire to go in another direction.
One of my favorite stories is about a boy who appeared to have a learning disability. Of course, when Sparky was young, no one thought to brand a child with such a label. However, there were hints that he had difficulties. In the eighth grade, he failed every subject. During his years in high school, he flunked Algebra, English, Latin and Physics. He lacked confidence in his social skills as well. He never asked a girl for a date until well after high school because he knew no one would say, "yes." And he was probably right.
Sparky was a loser according to those who believe they can accurately evaluate people. The one thing he knew was that God had given him the ability to draw. He was a cartoonist. He was encouraged to send some of his creations to the Disney Studios. After spending an exhaustive number of hours preparing his cartoons, he sent them. Disney answered with a letter of rejection.
Like Abram, Sparky went from place to place while never losing his desire to express what he felt God had given him. One day Sparky decided to tell about his childhood experiences in cartoon form and a number of newspapers showed interest in publishing his work. The cartoon he created featured the misadventures of a little boy named Charlie Brown. Sparky's real name is Charles Schulz who created the comic strip Peanuts.
The moments of our highest frustration come when the vision of what we want does not match what we are experiencing. The pain we feel is like all emotional pain; it is a warning that we are still holding on to something.
Abram did not know what God had in mind for his life. He went from place to place confident that God's will would be done. All of us can have such confidence. After all, how can God's will not be done. Life gives us the opportunity to move toward the future, trusting that God is weaving a magnificent tapestry from the threads of our experiences. That tapestry may serve a purpose in a day we may not live to see. Why worry about what we cannot anticipate?
What we can do is preserve our confidence by never letting go of our knowledge that God's will is being done in our lives. When we remain open to God's leading, our function in life will appear. This understanding will not only remain the cornerstone of our relationship with God, but it will also supply us with the motivation that prevents discouragement from overtaking us. All of life is an opportunity to give expression to what we know. Since we cannot anticipate what God is doing, why not simply trust and let God lead the way?
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Merciful God, we thank you for remaining in the midst of creation just as you are. Your love teaches us how to open our eyes to the needs of others. Your love erodes the foundations upon which our fears are built. Your love forever seeks to reassure those of us who feel like a branch that has become detached from the vine. Your love inspires us to reach beyond our known limitations. Your love frees our spirits from attaching ourselves to what cannot enhance whom you created us to be. Your love invites us to experience eternity now by our sowing the seeds of your love in the gardens of others. Help us, O God, to go forth from this experience ready to face life, knowing that you may shape the history of the world by something we do. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
So often, O God, life is like a trust walk. We feel as though we have been blindfolded and are being led in directions that remain uncertain. How often, O God, has life not gone in a direction of our choosing. Our children have made choices that offered more risk than what we wanted for them. The unexpected has often forced us onto a stage where we were faced with drama that was not part of the storyline we would have preferred.
We confess, O God, to our struggles with faith. We do not know when to control and when to release. We do not know which fears point to reasonable caution and which fears point to our lack of trust. We frequently do not know how to decide when faced with two equally attractive choices.
Lead us to the recovery of our ability to be faithful, regardless of the circumstances. Encourage us not to judge the worth of any experience so that we can reflect in all of them the talents you have given us. Lead us to be instruments of your peace, the embodiment of your generosity, and the expression of your love so that our lives might serve to heal the world. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray. . .