Sunday, March 16, 2003

Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

In the book "Of Mice and Men," John Steinbeck wrote, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray." We end up in some of the most unusual circumstances, often finding a great deal of truth to this statement. This past weekend was no different. I have a meeting to attend in Tulsa, a four and a half hour drive. I really did not want to make such a lengthy journey alone, so I convinced my family to go along, to make a weekend of it. Bruce and the kids were going to enjoy the zoo while I sat through a board meeting, then we were going to spend the rest of the time together. The main purpose was to get away from the stress of work and school while spending much needed time together. Unfortunately, Vicki ended up with an ear infection, aggravated by the long drive in the car. She was miserable by the time they came to pick me up, after having spent the afternoon watching TV in the hotel. We decided to take Vicki to an Emergency room, get her some medicine and let her rest.

Our plans for a fun afternoon at the zoo and an evening in the pool were ruined, but the purpose of our trip was not. We did spend time together, away from the phones and computers, away from the stress of our lives. I felt sorry for Vicki because her pain was intense, but in many ways it turned out to be a good weekend. The best part was that we trusted in God to help us through, spend time in prayer and loved one another.

We spend a great deal of time making plans. For a trip like the one to Tulsa this weekend, we called ahead to a hotel, we checked out what was available to do and we set a schedule for travel. Longer trips take more planning, yet we generally even plan short trips. We make shopping lists; keep calendars with every minute scheduled for our week. With busy schedules, it is something vital to plan ahead. Kids need to be picked up, groceries need to be purchased, and laundry needs to be done. It is important to find time to do everything. So, we figure out every detail in our minds and go forth trusting that it'll work out just as we planned.

Unfortunately, John Steinbeck was right when he said, "The best laid plans often go astray" because things rarely work out exactly as we decide they should be. Some people go so far as to decide exactly when they will have children, where they will be in five years. They map out their lives and expect things to go just right. But life isn't like that, is it? Sometimes our plans go astray.

Imagine what it must have been like for Abram. After all, he left everything he knew based on the promise of this unknown God who spoke to him one day. God promised that he would be the father of many nations, yet when he was ninety-nine, he wasn't even a father. I am sure that as he Sarai left their home to go to an unknown land, they made lots of plans. They probably thought about names, about their expectations for their children. They probably thought about a home they would build, how they would take care of one another. They made plans. But many years passed and they remained childless.

Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. He had a right relationship with God, so he trusted that even when his own plans did not come out as he had hoped, God would be faithful. We don't know the mind of God, even though we try to juxtapose our own plans to His - or should I say we try to juxtapose His plans to ours. God makes us a promise, so we start making plans. "If I am going to do this, then I need to do this, that and the other thing." We think our way is the way to get to where God is sending us.

To confirm His covenant with Abram, God changed his name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah. They were marked in a special way to be servants of God.

Abraham laughed (verse 17) when God repeated his promise in today's lesson and asked that Ishmael live under God's blessing. God said Ishmael would be blessed, but answered that Sarah would bear him a son named Isaac who would be the heir to God's covenant. Abraham tried to make God's plan fit into his life. After all, their plans for a family passed away long before when Sarah became too old to bear children. Yet, Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. He established the way by which many generations and nations would know the Lord - not by rule or law but by faith.

Peter had great plans for Jesus. He was going to be King and save the Jews from their oppression. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he knew Jesus was the Messiah, but had it all worked out in his head how Jesus would accomplish the work of salvation. Unfortunately, his plans were not Jesus' plans. When Jesus began to speak about death and the cross, Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him. Jesus rebuked Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men." Jesus was not calling Peter Satan, but Peter was trying to make God fulfill his own plans - exactly what Satan tempts us to do every day. We saw him tempt Jesus in the wilderness, attempting to turn Jesus away from the path that God planned for Him, the path to the cross. Here again, Satan was trying to tempt Jesus away from God's plan, and he was using Peter to do so.

We make plans every day - schedule our time to fulfill the needs of our family, co-workers, communities. We plan ahead for retirement, for our children's education and even for our death and burial. When something goes wrong and our plans are changed, we often become confused and upset, particularly when we believe we have made our plans based on God's promises.

But what did God promise Abraham? Did He say that Abraham and Sarah would have children at a specific time? Did He say that they would have a long life with their children and grandchildren, that their plans would be fulfilled? Did Jesus ever promise that He would become their earthly king, that He would defeat the Roman Empire and make Israel an independent nation?

We are no different than Abraham and Peter, trying to fit God's promises into our plans. But our plans don't always work out as we intend; they often go astray. The only thing we can truly trust is the fact that God's plans never fail, and the blessed life is the life lived in faith that God will fulfill His promises. When our plans seem to fail, we look to God knowing that He will not.

This is what it means when Jesus says, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." This isn't a law or a rule that says we all have to do what Jesus did. It is a promise that He will be faithful in all that He has said would happen, and we should set aside our plans to trust in Him. The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, but the Word of God is true and He is faithful to all He has promised. While we can and will continue to make plans - for our days, our children, or any part of our lives - it is by faith we move forward when our plans fail, knowing that God has something much better in store. Thanks be to God.

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