Plans (Sermon for November 24, 2019)

As you all know, before I became your pastor, I worked for an organization called Back Bay Mission. One of the things that we did was rehabilitate houses for low-income families. Sometimes, those were houses that had been through a flood or a fire. Sometimes, those were houses that had just fallen into disrepair. When a family needed help to stay in their home, we stepped in.

I didn’t work with the construction team. I didn’t rehab the houses. I raised the money so that the team could afford to rehab the houses. But one of the things that I learned from that team was that sometimes… life gets in the way.

You could open a wall and discover mold. The cost of some supplies could change. Equipment could break. No construction project ever went to plan.

A few years ago, Mariah and I bought our first house, and I’ve discovered that it isn’t just the folks at the Mission. We’ve experienced the same thing.

Ready to put pea gravel in the frame for a patio? Snow.

Starting in on the unfinished basement? Looks like we need drain tile.

Want to take out an old laundry line pole that really looks like it was just kind of stuck in the ground? Oh, there’s cement that starts a foot-and-a-half under the grass and dirt.

And, of course, there is also life. I have a job… and one day off a week… and other things that need to be done… and other things that I want to do. I work on the house some of the time. And that means that it takes time to get things done.

That’s true with houses. That’s true with other things. There are a lot of plans that don’t go to plan.

We think and pray and discern. We hear God’s call for our lives. We set our feet on the path and we set our eyes on God. And then life happens.

A long time ago—long before I worked at the Mission, long before Mariah and I bought a house, long before the story from the second book of Kings that we heard today—the Israelites lived in slavery in Egypt.

The Lord—the God of Israel—heard the cries of the people and called to Moses. The Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh to demand that he let the people go. The Lord sent plagues to convince Pharaoh to let the people go. And, eventually, Pharaoh let the people go.

The people journeyed through the wilderness for a generation. The Lord appeared as a cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night. The Lord led them to a mountain, and called Moses up the mountain, and gave—to Moses and to the people—a law.

And after a generation, the Lord led the people into Canaan—into the land that he had promised to their ancestor Abraham—and the Lord gave them a land.

A promise, a time of oppression, a liberation, a journey, a law, and a land. That is the story of Israel. There are many other stories about Israel. But that is the story of Israel.

At some point, someone wrote that law down in a book. Then a king built a temple to the Lord. The people put the book in the temple… and then…

The people of Israel had walked into that land with a purpose, and then life happened. There were other people and there were other gods. And, sometimes, the traditions of those people and the stories of those gods were attractive.

It might sound strange to us, but the Israelites were in Canaan and they did as the Canaanites did: they had vessels made for Baal and Asherah; they made offerings to the sun and the moon; they made their children pass through the fire as offerings to Molech; they listened to the prophets and priests of Astarte and Chemosh and Milcom.

They forgot about the law. They remembered some things; they forgot other things. They abandoned the Lord and made offerings to other gods. They provoked God’s anger and kindled the wrath of the Lord.

They had thought and prayed and discerned. They had heard God’s call for their lives. They had set their feet on the path and set their eyes on God. And then life happened.

And let’s not kid ourselves. That happens to us, too.

There are a lot of plans that don’t go to plan.

Every day, I wake up to the call that God has placed on my life, the call that I accepted when I affirmed my baptism, the call that I accepted when I took my ordination vows. It is—at its most basic level and in its most general terms—the call that God has placed on all of our lives: the call to love the Lord, our God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, the source of abundant life, with all of my heart and soul and strength and mind; and to love my neighbor as myself.

And then life happens.

Some of life is small and personal and simple. If I really loved the Lord, my God, with all of my heart and soul and strength and mind, would I skip worship while I was on vacation? If I really loved my neighbor as myself, would I call that person who’s doing 20 down 11th Street names?

Some of life is huge and systemic and complicated. If I really loved the Lord, my God, with all of my heart and soul and strength and mind, would I drive a car the contributed to the destruction of the very world that they create and sustain?

If I really loved my neighbor as myself, would I leave someone hungry when I have more than enough food? Would I leave someone homeless when there is more than enough room in my house?

In one way or another, life is a series of compromises. Plans don’t go to plan. I fail to live up to my call. I wander away from the path. I rely on God to call me back. I rely on God to grant me grace.

In our reading today, we meet Josiah. 

Josiah was a good and righteous king of Israel, and he reigned over the kingdom of Judah for thirty-one relatively peaceful years. He looked at the temple—the house of the Lord—and saw that it was in disrepair. So he sent word to the Hilkiah, the high priest of the temple, and said, 

“Take the money in the treasury of the temple and give it to the workers. Rebuild and refurbish and spruce up. This is the temple—the house of the Lord—let’s make it look like it.”

And Hilkiah said, “Okay.” He took the money from the treasury and gave it to the workers. And then he sent word to the king,

“I found this book…”

Now, scholars agree that this book was some version of Deuteronomy. It was some version of one of those big long books of the law that we usually don’t spend a lot of time reading. But it called the Israelites back to the covenant that God had made with them, back to the law that God had given them.

And Josiah, destroyed the vessels that were made for Baal and Asherah; he stopped the offerings to the sun and moon; he stopped the people from making their children pass through the fire as offerings to Molech; he killed the prophets and priests of Astarte and Chemosh and Milcom.

And the people recommitted themselves to the covenant and lived under the law of the Lord… for a while. Later, they would wander off again… and be called back again… and wander off again… and be called back again.

Just like us.

There are a lot of plans that don’t go to plan. Life happens… and life is a series of compromises.

A long time ago—long before I worked at the Mission, long before Mariah and I bought a house, long after the story from the second book of Kings that we heard today—we lived in slavery to sin… all of us… every one of us.

The Lord—the God of everything—heard the cries of the world. And God set aside glory and became one of us. God taught us and showed us how to live and love and be human. And when we hung God on a cross and laid God in a tomb, God got back up again and said, “I’m not done with you yet.”

God loved us. God loves us. God will always love us.

That is the story of Christianity. There are many stories about Christianity, but that is the story of Christianity.

There are a lot of plans that don’t go to plan. Life happens, and life is a series of compromises. We wander from the path that God has laid out for us.

And no matter how many times that happens, God still comes to us and says, “I have this book… I have this story… I have this hymn… I have this ritual… I have this act of kindness… I have this little sign of love…”

And we can wake up and try again. Thanks be to God!

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