This Was Not Part of the Plan

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to be here. This wasn’t part of the plan… if there was even any plan at all.

When I was a kid, I was an acolyte, just like all of the other kids in my church. We would wear albs that were a lot like the one I’m wearing this morning. At the beginning of worship, we would walk in with the light of Christ and light the candles on the altar. And at the end of worship, we would take the light of Christ, snuff out the candles, and walk out into the world.

And I’m sure that the pastor who instituted this practice thought, “Here’s a good way to get kids of a certain age involved in leading worship.” And I’m sure that a few of us really didn’t understand what we were doing.

One Sunday, when I was the acolyte, we had a guest speaker from, I think, somewhere in Africa.

And I was standing there… in my alb… with my candle-lighter-and-snuffer-outer thing. And this guest speaker say me and said, “Ah, you’re going to be a preacher someday.”

And I was a shy kid, so I did not say, “Not a chance.” But I’m pretty sure I thought it. I was going to be a doctor, or a fireman, or an astronaut, or something.

In today’s reading from the book of Genesis, we meet Abraham, the patriarch of Israel and the father of Judaism and Christianity and Islam. When Abraham was younger, he was named Abram, and he lived in the city of Ur in the country of Chaldea. And God said to him, “Leave your homeland and go to the land that I will show you, and I will make you and your offspring into a great nation.”

So when Abram was 75 years old, he and his wife, Sarai, and his nephew and their household headed off to Canaan. And they had some adventures. And God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. And God reiterated the promise.

And in our first passage this morning, there’s a problem with the promise that God has made. Abraham and Sarah are old, and Sarah was barren in the first place, and now she’e post-menopausal. And that’s going to make it hard for the offspring of Abraham and Sarah to be a great nation… because there aren’t going to be any offspring.

So, Abraham is sitting outside of his tent when God and God’s entourage come by. And Abraham is a hospitable person, so he has his people prepare a meal for these three visitors. And they sit and eat and chat for a bit.

And God says to Abraham, “The time is coming when I’ll start fulfilling my promise to you. I will return to you in due season, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son.”

And Sarah overhears that. And she is old, and she was barren in the first place, and now she’s post-menopausal. So she laughs to herself and says, “Yeah. Right. Not a chance.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to be here. This wasn’t part of the plan… if there was even any plan at all.

After I graduated from college, I lived with a couple of friends for a few months. And one of those friends’ dads was an Orthodox priest. I had an academic interest in religion in college, so I had a lot of books on Judaism and early Christianity and church history and theology and those kinds of things.

And my friend’s dad saw my shelf and said, “Ah. He’s going to be a pastor.”

And I didn’t hear it at the time. And if even if I had heard it, I wouldn’t have been rude. So I wouldn’t have said, “Not a chance.” But I would have thought it. I was going to be a musician, or a professor, or an astronaut, or something.

I don’t know what Sarah’s plan was. I don’t know if she even had a plan. Sometimes, we don’t so much have plans as we have things-that-are-definitely-certainly-absolutely-not-part-of-the-plans. When I was younger, I didn’t know what I was going to be or what I was going to do, but I definitely was not going to be a pastor.

And maybe Sarah didn’t have any firm plans, but I’m pretty sure that her plans did not include having a child… because she was old, and she was barren in the first place, and then she was post-menopausal. I’m sure that even she wanted a child very much—more than anything in the world—she knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Plus, raising a child is hard enough when you’re young, and Sarah was looking her 90s in the face.

Having a child was almost definitely, certainly, absolutely not part of the plan.

But God made a promise. God had a plan. So, after God and his entourage visited Abraham and Sarah… Sarah got pregnant. And about nine months later, Abraham and Sarah had a son, and they named him Isaac. And Isaac married Rebecca, and they had two sons: Jacob and Esau. And Jacob married Rachel and Bilhah and Zilpah and Leah, and, altogether, they had twelve sons, who were the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Having a child was almost definitely, certainly, absolutely not part of Sarah’s plan. But it was part of God’s plan. And when Sarah had a son, she laughed, and said, “God has brought laughter to me. And everyone who hears this story will laugh with me.”

So it looks like Isaac ruined everything… in the nicest way.

But I’m pretty sure that there were also times when Sarah did not laugh, and when she said, “This is too much and I can’t handle it and it was definitely, certainly, absolutely not part of the plan.”

And let’s face it: from where we stand, God’s plans are like that. Sometimes, God’s plans are nice and clean wonderful. Sometimes we laugh. And, sometimes, God’s plans are messy and dangerous and downright terrifying. Sometimes we cry.

And I know that because… I’m a pastor. And that wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to be here. This wasn’t part of the plan… if there was even any plan at all.

And sometimes that’s wonderful. And sometimes that’s terrifying. And sometimes that’s both at once.

Now, I want to be clear. I believe that God has plans. Sometimes, I even believe that God has some great big divine and ineffable plan. 

But I don’t believe that God micromanages. I don’t think that God has laid everything out in advance. I don’t believe that we’re just play-acting at free will while we’re really just running through courses that were laid out at the foundation of the cosmos.

And I believe that sometimes we meander towards our calling. And I believe that sometimes God makes adjustments, so that no matter what we do the world continues along on the right course. And I believe that sometimes we get swept up in God’s plans whether we want to be or not.

And I know, for a fact, that we can’t always tell the difference. I don’t know if I’m here because I changed, and what wasn’t part of the plan became part of the plan. Or if I’m here because God kept pushing me here. I don’t know if God could have used me anywhere, or if God needed me here.

I don’t know about the world that isn’t.

But I have faith in this: that no matter where I am now, or where I end up in the future, I can trust that God will see me through. Whether I’m at this church for twenty years, or another church in five years, or even if, someday, I’m not a pastor at all. Even if I end up… for example… as an astronaut.

I can trust God on the good days when I am laughing. And I can trust God when I am saying, “This is too much and I can’t handle it and it was definitely, certainly, absolutely not part of the plan.”

I can have confidence that God is working towards something bigger and greater and more wonderful than I can imagine. And I can have joy—even when life is messy and dangerous and downright terrifying—that I get to be part of that.

And that’s true for all of us. That’s true for all of us as individuals. That’s true for all of us as a church. There are going to be days when we laugh with joy. There are going to be days when we say, “This was definitely, certainly, absolutely not part of the plan.”

There are even going to be days when we argue over what the plan was in the first place.

But we can put our faith in God. We can have confidence that God is working towards something big and wonderful, dangerous and terrifying, wild and full of grace. And we get to be part of that.

Hallelujah. Amen.

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

Pin It on Pinterest