"Is God’s Master Plan Evolving?"

Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler – July 17, 2011

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Genesis 28:10-19a

    One of the remarkable aspects of having the Scriptures in our possession is that we have an historic record of the unfolding of a plan for human history that has escaped detection by most historians.  There can be little doubt that the Old Testament scriptures are very primitive in their understanding. These authors were confined by the boundaries created by their culture and religious heritage.  They understood their history from a very limited frame of reference. 

     For example, the Jews understood that everything that happened to them was the result of the quality of their relationship with God.  They looked upon themselves as God’s chosen people.  Jesus expanded on this understanding by saying to his followers, “Go into the world and make disciples of all nations.” 

    The Hebrew writers, as short sighted as they were, nevertheless set the stage for future authors who would also understand the unfolding of human history as part of a divine plan, a blueprint that was in place long before there was any recorded history.  This morning, I want us to explore this theme.

    The text in our lesson today that may tease our imaginations is in our Genesis passage:

I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and Isaac.  I will give to you and your descendants this land on which you are lying.  They will be as numerous as the specks of dust on the earth.  They will extend their territory in all directions, and through you and your descendants, I will bless all the nations.  Remember, I will be with you and protect you wherever you go.  I will not leave you until I have done all that I have promised.  (Genesis 28:13)   

    According to the author, these were God’s recorded words that came to Jacob in a dream. The words are not addressing the Jews; they are describing a process that would be unfolding for thousands of years into the future.  Listen again to the words, “Through your descendants, I will bless all nations.”  The words go on to say, “I will not leave you until I have done all that I have promised.”  Did God accomplish everything during Jacob’s life time? No! From our understanding of historic leaps in civilization, we see that very little happened during Jacob’s time. 

    As a matter of fact, very little was accomplished during the time of Jesus.  The entire population of the world would die over and over again for thousands of years before the life and teachings of Jesus would reach and influence cultures in many nations.

    The plan for humankind appears to be connected to a constantly expanding consciousness that has been slowly accelerating since the days of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We might envision a freight train slowly leaving a train station.

    Because we are so close to current events, we may miss the larger drama that has been taking place for thousands of years.  There are countless students of human history who would never conclude that this blue print had anything to do with God’s plan, but any interpretation of historical events will not influence its unfolding.

    Right now human civilization is collectively experiencing a critical phase of its evolution.  We have the good fortune of having a ring-side seat to a highly energized drama that has never before occurred in human history.  

    Yes, there are still wars.  Yes, there is still anger and bickering taking place between politicians whose values differ.  Yes, there are secret discussions taking place behind closed doors.  Nations are discovering, however, that they can no longer rely on their military strength to conduct business or to make defiant citizens conform to a single value system.   Today we are witnessing more nations working together for a common good that were once mortal enemies.

    For example, the European Union has integrated their economies to the extent that it requires the international cooperation of the world’s banking system to stabilize one economy after another.  Every nation is imposing austerity measures on itself that will enable it to live within its means.  But there are countless other hints suggesting that the world is slowly becoming a community.

    We could not have imagined that astronauts from the United States would be using Russian vehicles launched from Russian soil so they could service the International Space Station.   No one can deny that a new spirit of cooperation is accelerating.

    When Bermudian companies that import citrus containers from Florida run into a destructive freeze, within hours the shipper brings citrus from Brazil.  Such a network has only been in place during recent history.       

    Never in human history have we had access to what is happening to our brothers and sisters in another part of the world.  Saturday morning we learned of a category six earthquake in Chile.  

    Just as a certain number of individuals have turned the Scriptures into a breeding ground for dire predictions that the end of the world is near, there are others who are seeing the results of Jesus directing his followers to be the leaven for the loaf.  We are witnessing the birth of a world community during its earliest, primitive stages of development. 

    A long time ago, it was predicted that a day would come when our spears would be remanufactured into plows. (Isaiah 2:4)  There was a time when the prophet Jeremiah channeled the words of God:

A day will come when I will write my laws for living creatively on the hearts of humankind.  None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know my creativity because everyone will understand what I am doing from the least to the greatest.  All of them will understand the nature of my love and they will realize that the remembrance of their mistakes will no longer exist in my consciousness. (Jeremiah 31:33f)

    These are very powerful and insightful words. When we stand back and look at the distance we have come, we see central patterns gathering momentum as humankind’s consciousness continues to expand.

    It is interesting that Jesus said, “Love one another.  Serve one another.”  No other business plan for human civilization will work toward the understanding that we are one. It is difficult for us to visualize that one time the United States and Great Britain were mortal enemies.  It is difficult to imagine that allied aircraft bombed German and Italian cities into oblivion or that the U.S. dropped nuclear devices on two population centers in Japan.  Among these international illustrations are numerous domestic issues like the absence of signs that once read, “Whites Only.”

    Today people fly on Korean Airlines.  People tour Viet Nam with its teaming metropolitan areas.  Kate and William were greeted by adoring crowds as they toured Los Angeles.  Do we see an accelerating pattern here?

    The Chinese are absolute masters at reverse-engineering.  They can buy a sophisticated electronic product, take it apart and then figure out how to build it in their culture, thus by-passing the costs associated with research and development.  The Chinese did this when Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 ending its 150-year rule.  As the Chinese studied intensely the business culture of their acquisition, they uncovered the secrets of Hong Kong’s wealth and prosperity.   These insights changed the 4,000 year old Chinese culture almost over night.

    The government of China, in a dramatic about face, now wants to support Buddhism that it vigorously tried to destroy during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.  Today the government is supporting a bold project that will represent a re-birth of Buddhism in Lumbini, Nepal. 

    In cooperation with the government, the community of Lumbini will raise 3 billion dollars to rebuild ancient temples, create hotels, an airport and provide the infrastructure of communications, water and electricity. 

    Lumbini was the birth place of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the enlightened one, the founder of Buddhism.  This city will become a great religious gathering place like Mecca is for people of the Islamic faith.  Not surprisingly, Siddhartha’s message is very similar to the instruction Jesus would offer his followers 600 years later in a land 3,000 miles from Lumbini.

    What conclusions might we draw from the vast and dramatic transformation in values we have witnessed in our lives?  We can become pessimistic that the attendance at Centenary’s worship experiences is not what it could be.  We can look at many of the threatening changes that are taking place in Bermuda. Two guns were used in a recent robbery.  We can believe that our lives are only going to get worse. The reality is that we are like a biologist looking at a drop of water under a microscope and defining the ocean that surrounds us by what we see.

    With all the drama in our lives we can so easily forget that God is in charge. We easily forget that Jesus began his ministry with 12.   As he was dying on the cross, Jesus looked down and saw only one of his faithful disciples standing with his mother.  All the others had fled in fear.  Since he wrote nothing that might be preserved, Jesus might have imagined that his message had fallen on deaf ears and had been lost to the ages unless, of course, he knew that God was in charge.

    One of the metaphors that the Apostle Paul used in describing the followers of Jesus was the image of the Body of Christ.  What if Paul had the right concept, but was thinking too small? Suppose this same body could be used to describe all humankind which is what Jesus had in mind.  These are Paul’s words:

If the foot were to say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body.  If the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” that would not keep it from being a part of the body.  If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear?  If it were only an ear, how could it smell?  God put every different part of the body just where he wanted it to be.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”  Nor can the head say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, if one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it.” (I Corinthians 12:14f)

    This is exactly what is taking place among all of the industrialized nations. Yes, we would prefer that everyone become a disciple of Jesus Christ, but we have to remember that the portrait of humankind is not yet finished.  What draws us together during these primitive stages in the development of a world community is fiscal responsibility, not theology. The collective need of humanity that draws us together is the desire to empower our people, not provide them with more entitlements.   

    Today an enormous number of international cultures are experiencing freedom, being able to purchase a vast array of products and services that had not been available to them, traveling to other countries, having more accurate information concerning world affairs and enjoying the use of cell phones.  Because of the Internet, governments can no longer control what their people know.

    This is how we were wired by our creator.  We are creators and in spite of our struggles with each other, we all want the same thing – to raise our standard of living, our education, our productivity and the increase of our freedoms and more jobs that come along with such growth. A very intriguing blue print is slowly becoming more visible.  

    There is no greater time to be alive than right now.  The more we love and serve our neighbors the more the lesser developed nations will discover that no other business plan for life works.  This recognition that transformed China’s ancient culture will happen for others.  In five years, it is estimated that China will generate one hundred million tourists.

    Eventually a portrait of humanity will become visible just like a completed jigsaw puzzle with six billion pieces. How can we be so sure?  Nothing can prevent our Creator’s Will from coming together.  Nothing can exhaust the patience of the one that imbedded that quality into each one of us.  Let us base our optimism, hope and peace on this understanding – God is in charge.