Saturday, May 19, 2012

People plan; God laughs; Just wing it.

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; John 17:6-19

At seminary, my friend Randy had a magnet on his refrigerator. It was a cut-out of an angel. There were words printed on the magnet: People plan; God laughs; Just wing it. It was an especially appropriate saying for seminarians. When we entered school, we knew just what we wanted to do when we graduated. We knew, as we made our choices for field work and internship, that the places we chose were the perfect places for us. We knew, as we graduated, that the congregations we would serve would be the perfect congregations, with no conflict, with a love for education and service to and with the needy.
We quickly learned that the plans we made were not necessarily the plans God had in mind for us. We learned to look for the blessings God offered us at the third place on our list; we learned to appreciate the people with whom we served for who they were; we learned to love the challenges presented by each situation. People plan; God laughs; just wing it.
In Jerusalem, as the disciples ate what would turn out to be their last supper with Jesus, they had plans, big plans. Jesus would declare himself to be the Messiah, gather his army, and get rid of the Romans. He would bring about peace in their lives and justice for all people. Life in Judea would be different now, and they were looking forward to it. But God had other plans. People plan; God laughs; just wing it.
Jesus knew what the disciples were thinking and already planning. In response to their plans, Jesus offered this long discourse – five chapters long – about their lives after he died. He closed by praying for them, that they would be safe from the influence of the God-hating-world. He prayed that they would not be divided from each other, and that they would remain united in love for God and for each other. A few hours after this prayer, Jesus was arrested.
... A few days or weeks after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples waited for the power Jesus had told them would come to them. As they waited, they made plans. In keeping with the long-standing tradition of “twelves”, they wanted to restore the number of leading disciples to twelve. So they determined the criteria – the candidate must have been a follower of Jesus from the beginning and he must have been a witness to the resurrected Jesus.
They identified two candidates, Justus and Matthias. They drew lots for the candidate chosen by God. Most likely, they put dark and light stones in a leather bag. The disciples reached in and drew out stones. A majority of dark or light stones determined the winner – just like they do on Survivor when there is a tie in the vote to cast off the latest player. The tribe has spoken.
The majority of stones drawn represented Matthias, and he became the twelfth disciple. But there is no further mention of Matthias in the New Testament. Instead, God chooses Paul to be the real twelfth disciple. Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and Paul are the clear leaders of the newly developing Christian community. People plan; God laughs; just wing it.
... In our lives, there are lots of times when we make plans, discern the best options, and move on to the next thing in life. The trouble is, our choices don’t always turn out to have the best results. Unexpected events force us to make new plans. We meet someone special, or break up with someone we thought was special. We fail a class, or we decide to choose a new major. We lose our job or we get a promotion. We face a health challenge or win the lottery. We make lots of plans, but God may have other plans for us. At those times, we need to just wing it.
Sometimes, the disruptions to our plans are no big deal; other times, they are life-changing. In either case, change causes stress. To deal with the stress, Jesus says in this Gospel text, trust in God, the same way he, Jesus, has.
Experts on stress management tell us to breathe, slowly, deeply, intentionally. This is good advice. The evening of Easter Day, Jesus appeared in the “upper room” where the disciples were gathered, scared, grieving, their plans definitely disrupted. He popped into the room and appeared before the startled disciples. He said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and he breathed on them. As they breathed in their next breath, the disciples breathed in the Holy Spirit.
Each time we breathe, we also inhale the Holy Spirit. Breathing is a good thing, especially when we pray. When I pray, I often use a breath prayer. That’s a quiet prayer in which we say a few words to ourselves as we breathe in and out. When we pray a breath prayer, we are not asking for anything; we are simply spending quiet time in God’s presence. I use a breath prayer as I fall asleep, or take a break in the middle of the day. I also use a breath prayer as I walk a prayer labyrinth.
I like short sayings which I can say slowly, because that enables me to breathe deeply, slowly, and calmly. I’ll pray, “Be still and know ... that I am God.” “I am God’s ... beloved child.” “Abide ... in my love.”
In a moment, Larry Whitler will sing a song for us I really like, because it helps me slow down and breathe. It’s called, “(This is the Air I) Breathe.” It’s a handy song to know for those times when we really need to remember that God is in charge, when our plans have gone awry, when we need to remember it’s ok sometimes to just wing it and breathe.

This is the air I breathe
this is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

this is my daily bread
this is my daily bread 
Your very word spoken to me

And I, I'm desperate for you
And I, I'm I'm lost without you
Michael W Smith