Reflection November 03, 2019

"Things Do Not Always Go According to Plan" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

      On Sunday, October 20, I began a new series of sermons based on David Richo’s book, The Five Things We Cannot Change. The first thing: Everything Changes and Ends. I preached on the second thing: Things Do Not Always Go According to Plan this past Sunday, October 27.

     For some reason I was unable to live-stream the service through Facebook as I normally do. Because of this difficulty and because of the small number of our congregants this past Sunday, I’ve decided to place most of that sermon in this week’s Advance:   

     Some of us may remember a lyric from John Lennon’s song, Beautiful Boy, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Today I wish to explore the second “given” from David Richo’s The Five Things We Cannot Change.

     When we are young, we expect that life will give us all we want and expect. Isn’t this so? We know that things can change at any moment, but, by and large, we expect life to unfold well for us.

     As I mentioned last Sunday, life wants what is best for us as a species. Life doesn’t care that much about us individually. Yet most of us at birth, if we could articulate our infant thoughts, want a perfect life. We want a perfect childhood. We want a perfect adolescence. We want a perfect adulthood. We want a perfect spouse. We want perfect children. We want a perfect pastor. We want a perfect church. We want a perfect old age.

     Well, much as we want perfection, we can’t have it! We have to take what comes along. We have to play the cards we are dealt. We are swept along in life by a rushing river that doesn’t give us much thought.

     In 1965 I went off to college in Quincy, Illinois. As far as I know, I was the first in my family to attend college. (My two brothers graduated college after I did.)

     My four years of undergraduate studies were spent in a small town built on a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. I spent a lot of time watching that spectacular river as its ran down to the Gulf of Mexico.     Life, in many ways, is akin to plunging into the Mississippi and letting it take us where it will.

     We, believers, cling to an important truth: God has a plan for each life and for all of life collectively. This is true, sisters and brothers, but it’s a plan that’s as murky as the waters of the Mississippi.

     Yes, God has a plan. What is that plan? In a word: salvation. Whenever we open our bibles, whenever we read our bibles, we are reading what is known as Salvation History. But what is involved in salvation? Getting into heaven? Not exactly! Salvation is a much larger process.

     The Greek word we find in the Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament usually translated as salvation is soteria. There’s a branch of theology known as soteriology, the study of salvation and salvation history. But here’s the thing, church, the Biblical word soteria is, I believe, best translated as rescue.

     God, in a through Jesus Christ, in and through the power of the Spirit of the Living God, is in the process of rescuing us. A valid way of understanding this is to say that God is in the process of rescuing us from ourselves.

     Brothers and sisters, God as Creator knew how to make us. Surely God knows how to mend us! We are a work in progress. Each of our lives is a work in progress. All of our lives together is a work in progress.

     Works in progress are never perfect. I am far from perfect. You are far from perfect. We are far from perfect. We are works in progress. Everything and everyone around us is a work in progress: never complete, never perfect.

     Do we need mending? Yes, indeed! Do we need rescue? Yes, indeed! We all make mistakes. This is how we learn. Think, sisters and brothers, about the mistakes you have made in life. If we pay attention, mistakes can teach us very important truths. The problem for many of us is that we make mistakes and because we’re NOT paying attention, we don’t learn what we’re supposed to learn.

     There’s a saying in addiction circles: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We learn by making a mistake and deciding not to make that mistake again.

     Life cannot be perfect and it’s the height of hubris to expect that everything should be clear sailing for me because I’m so special. I’m not that special! You’re not that special! I need rescue. I need mending. You need rescue. You need mending.

     We are a church because we admit our individual and collective need of rescue; our individual and collective need of mending; our individual and collective need of salvation.

     A person who doesn’t need rescue, a person who doesn’t need mending, doesn’t need church. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it! What’s surprising to me is the great number of people who don’t feel the need of rescue, the need of mending, the need of church.

     So how do we speak about God’s overall plan for us and all creation? God’s overall plan for us and all creation is salvation/rescue/mending.

     But another way of speaking about God’s overall plan for saving/rescuing/mending creation is the term Evolution. As Christians we should never fear this term. It’s a fact of our long history. Those who fear this term create all kinds of trouble for those who would wish to be believers. A good movie to watch sometime is the classic  Inherit the Wind, which fictionally explores the Scopes “Monkey Trial.”

     Evolution is not just a scientific word, not just a scientific theory. It’s a theological word, a theological hope, a vast cosmic divine plan. And Christ is the Core Player in this cosmic plan. You and I, brothers and sisters, are also players in this cosmic plan.

     The term evolution is not an insult to us believers, it’s a word that speaks to the heart of who God is and what God is doing in our vast cosmos. Our cosmos, our universe, is so vast and it’s been evolving, unfolding, for so very long now. But it has a purpose. There is a plan to it all.

     As a Christian, I believe, I trust, I know that the unfolding of the universe has Christ as its most important influence and guiding principle. Everything, as our brother Paul asserts in Romans (8:22-23), is being transformed in and through Jesus Christ: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation but we ourselves …”

     Brothers and sisters, things do not always go according to my plan. Things do not always go according to your plan. Things do not always go according to our plans. But things always go according to God’s plans!

     When things don’t go according to our plans, we so often  seek someone to blame. We are a species so very good at blaming. We are a species so very good at complaining. We are a species so very good at self pity. But as they say: Get Over It!

     It was February, 2006. I was in Ireland to do a special service on the first anniversary of my mother’s death in her home town. I then traveled over to Dublin city to spend a day or two with the Franciscans there. I had visited them many times over the years.

     Each night, around 9, they would collectively gather for drinks. I sat with them as they drank. And the more they drank, the more they complained about oh so many things. I said to myself: If I stay with the friars, this will be me in another ten or twenty years.

     This realization pushed me onto a different path, pushed me into a different river, leading both to marriage and to becoming the pastor of this beloved Christ Community.

     Sisters and brothers, an important caveat: the unfolding of God’s vast plan takes enormous amounts of time. One thing we can say for certain is that God is infinitely, exquisitely patient in the unfolding of the divine plan. And many of us, myself surely among them, are not very good at patience. We want God to bring it all to a conclusion NOW!

     That’s the great difficulty with so many of our Christian brothers and sisters who demand the plan’s end NOW! I would be delighted if God’s plan came to its conclusion today or tomorrow or next week. But that’s unlikely. God is infinitely patient. So we’d do well to stop demanding God to “get on with it.”

     Let me add a final thought for us. This comes from the well-known psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow taught that people who are the most evolved are those who are fascinated and comfortable with Mystery.

     Yes, we would all like answers. Yes, we would all like certainty. But if we accept the flow of life, if we accept God’s unfolding plan, we must accept a great deal of uncertainty. We call this uncertainty by it’s real name: Mystery!

     Everything, and I do mean everything, is gathered in the enormous hands and the enormous heart of God, the greatest Mystery Who ever was or ever will be. Let’s together trust those hands. Let’s together trust that Heart of Hearts! Amen! 


Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643