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According to Plan

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost June 28, 2020 Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Everything was going according to the plan. I was set to graduate from the University of Texas in three and a half years. I had a job lined up as a youth minister to get me through the spring semester until I could start seminary. I had a long-term girlfriend I was ready to propose to. What more could I ask for? Like Psalm 89 says, I was singing of God’s love, of God’s faithfulness. I knew the “festal shout.” Everything was going according to the plan.

Indeed, everything was going according to the plan. According to the covenant that God had established in the Old Testament. Long ago, God had anointed David as king in Israel. The ark of the covenant, which held the ten commandments, served as protection for the people. Think, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.” King David had sons aplenty, and surely his line would continue forever. The Temple stood in Jerusalem, a sure and certain sign of God’s eternal habitation with God’s people. The building itself was a witness to the people that God would not abandon them. Like Psalm 89 says, “Truly, the Lord is our ruler; the Holy One of Israel is our King.” Everything was going according to plan.

This sounds a bit like the beginning of a horror movie, doesn’t it? Everything is going well, maybe too well. Maybe ominously well. Maybe we should have all seen it coming. The Israelites should have seen it coming. God had made it clear that Israel was to keep the covenant, and by keeping the covenant God would remain steadfast to them. But as the prophets kept saying, the people didn’t keep the covenant. The people should’ve been listening to the prophets, they should’ve been paying attention. But they weren’t. And things stopped going according to plan. If you have your Prayer Book on you, flip to page 716. You’ll see that between verses 37 and 38 of Psalm 89, there is an extra space. A pregnant pause, if you will. For thirty seven verses, everything is going according to plan, until this stark line: “But you have cast off and rejected your anointed; you have become enraged at him.” Keep reading and you’ll see that the rest of the psalm really does read like a horror movie - everything has gone wrong. The anointed one, that is, David’s descendant, has become scorned. Jerusalem itself is mocked. As we know, or as you learned in my confirmation classes, the Temple is destroyed in 586 B.C. It seemed that God had abandoned the people. Everything was going according to plan, until it wasn’t.

Everything was going according to plan, until it wasn’t. Part of getting into seminary is taking a physical exam. And when they read my blood test results, it was bad news. Type I Diabetes. I had been feeling sick, all the classic symptoms, but I was too hard headed to do anything about it. I didn’t listen to my body. Like the Israelites refusing to listen to the prophets, I just kept doing what I was doing. In a flash, I mean in the span of 10 seconds, my life went from “rejoicing daily in God’s Name” to wondering why God had cast me off and rejected me. In that little extra space between two verses is the gulf between everything going according to plan, and all your plans getting torched.

Obviously, the parallels abound. Everything was going according to plan. We finished the new church. I went on sabbatical. We had our best pledge campaign ever. We had a great schedule for the spring, summer, and fall. Everything was going according to plan, until it wasn’t. We’ve gone without communion since March. Vacation Bible School, cancelled. Mission trips, cancelled. Church Has Left the Building, cancelled. I’ll tell you what - it seems like a lifetime ago that we had our Shrove Sunday pancake lunch before Lent. Like a flash, everything went from according to plan to down the tubes. King David’s descendants are exiled to Babylon. The Temple is burned. The ark of the covenant is lost. Everything has become disoriented. I got a phone call that changed my life. We are dealing with a virus that has upended the world. Welcome to life in Psalm 89.

And we should all know this by now - in God’s eyes, our best laid plans must look like foolishness. Last week a handful of us gathered within our sacred space for Sunday morning services. It was glorious. After being confined to my home, I had forgotten the splendor of all that space. Just the light in that church is magnificent. We few gathered and we knew the festal shout, we walked in the light of the God’s presence, as Psalm 89 says. Everything was going according to plan, until it wasn’t.

But of course, there is more to the story. Remember that with God, the story always changes but it never ends. After seventy years in exile, the people of God return from Babylon to Jerusalem. The rebuild the city walls, they rebuild the Temple. That’s why the people weep when the Temple is rededicated. It’s why the people were looking for a King in the line of David for all those centuries. It’s why Jesus was the long anticipated Messiah. Because not until they lost everything did they realize the goodness of God.

I’ll tell you from personal experience, that I am stronger and more disciplined because of my chronic disease. Only when I started to miss life as it was did I realize how precious life really is. It took me some time to get there, and don’t get me wrong, some days are better than others. But I didn’t know the full measure of God’s goodness until I had been through the darkness. I didn’t know what it meant to be loved in sickness and in health until that girlfriend of mine made that vow to me, even though she knew I would be sick every single day. I thought I knew what the psalm meant when it talks about God’s faithfulness, but I didn’t until I really, truly, depended on God’s faithfulness for the my very life and breath.

And you and I must trust, we must hope, that the way things are now will not always be this way. Not that God sent this virus to teach us a lesson. That’s not what I believe. But what I do believe is that through all of this, we realized just how foolish and petty our mortal plans truly were. Only through this time do we realize the truth of God’s goodness.

That’s the thing about Psalm 89. That’s the thing about any time we sing God’s praise. It might mean something to us when things are good; but it means a lot more when things have gotten worse and we realize just how much we had been taking God for granted.

Of course, Psalm 89 doesn’t end in a terrible place. In ends with praise. Look at it, page 717 of your Prayer Book. Look at verse 52: “Blessed be the Lord for evermore! Amen, I say, Amen.” It sounds trite to say but I’ll say it anyway - God has not gone anywhere. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Even though our mortal plans and our mortal lives have been disrupted, that is not a reflection on God. It’s a reflection on who we are. Mortals.

In the days to come, and all throughout your life, you will go back and forth between these two parts of Psalm 89. One day you’ll be singing God’s praise as if everything is okay, and not ten minutes later the Temple has come crashing down and all your hope has been turned to dust. You should come to expect that by now. That our plans crumble around us is just a fact of life. Do not put too much trust in your own might, or the might of the plans you have laid. Put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will learn of the one thing that never fails. For I am persuaded that God’s love is established for ever; the faithfulness of God is set firmly in the heavens.

* This sermon drew heavily upon this commentary from The Working Preacher.

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