Sunday, August 11, 2013

Big Plans: Sermon for a Baptism, on Job 1:6-12 and Ephesians 1:1-14

Scripture can be found here and here...

In the year 1785 the Scots poet Bobby Burns wrote a poem, “To a mouse, on turning up her nest with a plough.” It contains an often quoted—and misquoted—line:

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

I learned it, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Or, as others have re-interpreted it, “We plan, God laughs.” That last one is a phrase I have never liked much, because of the strong implication that God is just a little sadistic. The stand-up comedienne Tig Notaro performed a set at a comedy club in Los Angeles last August that has made stand-up history. It was recorded, and Louis CK, who said it was the most brilliant night of stand-up he’d ever seen, put it on his website for a while. In her set, Notaro shared with the audience that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer the day before. She had also been hospitalized just before that with a serious infection, and before that, had lost her mother in a freak accident, AND gone through a painful break-up—all in the space of a couple of months. In one section of her stand-up set, she had this to say.

“You know, what’s nice about all this, is that you can always rest assured that God never gives you more than you can handle. Never. Never. When you’ve had it, God goes, ‘Alright, that’s it.’  

“I just keep picturing God going, ‘You know what? I think she can take a little more.’ And then the angels are standing back, going ‘God, what are you doing? You’re out of your mind!’ And God was like, ‘No, no, no…. I really think she can handle this.’”

Which, if you think about it, feels just a little bit like our reading from Job this morning. Last week we heard about the life of joyful abundance Job was leading: Job the wealthy landholder; Job, the father of a large family, all of whom enjoyed feasting together, Job, the upright and religious man who wanted to keep his family on the right path in their relationship with God. And then, in today’s reading, one member of God’s heavenly court challenges God’s positive view of Job. And though our bibles call him “Satan” he is not really Satan as we normally think of him. This is and Old Testament context and a Hebrew word, “Ha-Satan”, which means, literally, the Opposer, or the Adversary. His job, in the heavenly court, is to challenge God, drawing God’s attention to the other side of the story. And that is exactly what he is doing here. Ha-Satan doesn’t believe Job would be all that righteous and God-fearing if all his wealth and family connections were taken from him. Ha-Satan has big plans for Job, plans that would make Tig Notaro nod her head in recognition.

For the record, I don’t believe in a God who behaves the way Notaro describes him. God is no sadist. But, wow, I can understand how someone might get that idea. All the pain. All the sorrow. All the hatred floating around our world. People want someone to take responsibility, and God seems to be a natural candidate. But in our passage from the letter to the Ephesians, we see the real character of God, and we read about God’s big plans for us. Plans that are, in fact, epic in scope, cosmic in their timelessness, and the basis for all hope and joy.

This letter describes a God who “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” and a God who has “chose[n] us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.”

Little Guy, this is about you. You! Who, at the ripe old age of approximately 6 months and a couple of weeks, can do amazing things like smile, and giggle, and grab onto fingers and squeeze them, and roll onto your tummy and onto your back again, most likely. You, Little Guy, have been blessed by God with every spiritual blessing! You are being held by one of them right now! You have been welcomed into God’s family—even before you were baptized. Even before you were born. Even before you were conceived. Even before your parents were conceived. You were welcomed into God’s family before God had created the world… ponder that the next time you’re kicking your legs because the applesauce tastes so good! Think about the beginning of the world the next time Daddy plays peekaboo with you!

OK, so Little Guy may not be so interested in all this. Not yet. But we should be. Because the same big plans God has for Little Guy are the plans God has for us. Not in the specifics…God has made us different, unique, with individual callings. Some are mathematicians, some are carpenters’ wives… some haven’t figured out just yet what they are doing with their lives. But whatever our roles and responsibilities, God has blessed us with every spiritual gift. Think of it. Every spiritual gift.

You know what that means, right? It means we have everything we need, right here, right now, to be the people God wants us to be. Now, I happen to believe this is part of a promise to us as a community, not as individuals. No one person is blessed with every spiritual gift. That is a fact. But between us? We have everything we need. And with each person who joins in this community our store of God’s blessings and gifts grows deeper and more rich.

And… we are not just some passing fancy of God’s. “Chosen before the foundation of the earth” trumps Ha-Satan’s “Let’s see how God’s beloved holds up under stress” any day. God’s love for us is eternal. God’s love for us is deliberate, planned out. For each of us, and every one of us. Including this big guy whom we are going to sprinkle with water in just a few minutes.

God has big plans for us. And… I wouldn’t presume to know what they all are, but I think I’m getting good at recognizing them when they crop up. And they come from all of us. So… in honor of the baptism of this child of God, I propose a renewal of spiritual discipline I know we already practice here UPC. I propose a renewed discipline of listening to one another. I propose a reinvigorated practice of assuming that people other than ourselves just might have God-breathed ideas on how we can be God’s people together.

So let’s listen up, at coffee hour. At the Christian Education meeting. In the parking lot as we’re walking to our cars, over lunch. Let’s listen to one another. We have been blessed with every spiritual gift. God is ready to share his big plans with us. Let’s listen. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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