Rogate, the 5th Sunday after Easter + Jeremiah 29:11-14 + May 21, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 201 Jesus Lives, the Victory's Won
Hymn # 458 Our Father, Thou in Heaven Above
Hymn # 413 I Walk in Danger All the Way  

Introit
With voice of singing, declare, pro- | claim | this, *
            Utter it to the end of the earth. Al- | le- | lu- | ia!
|| “The Lord has redeemed His servant | Ja- | cob!” *
            Alleluia! Al- | le- | lu- | ia! (Isaiah 48:20b)
|| Make a joyful shout to God, all the | earth! | - *
            Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise | glo- | ri- | ous.
|| I cried to Him with my | mouth, | - *
            And He was extolled | with | my | tongue.
|| Certainly God has | heard | me; *
            He has attended to the voice | of | my | pray-er. ∙
|| Bless├Ęd be God, who has not turned away my | pray-er, ∙ | - *
            Nor His mer- | cy | from | me! (Psalm 66:1-2, 17, 19–20)
|| With a voice of singing, declare, pro- | claim | this, *
            Utter it to the end of the earth. Al- | le- | lu- | ia!
|| “The Lord has redeemed His servant | Ja- | cob!” *
            Alleluia! Al- | le- | lu- | ia! (Isaiah 48:20b)

Collect
O God, from Whom all good things do come, grant to us, Thy humble servants, that by Thy holy inspiration we may think those things that be right and by Thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
 

Readings
Jeremiah 29:11-4
James 1:22-27
St. John 16:23b-30  

Sermon


Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Today’s appointed Old Testament lesson has become one of the most well-known passages of Scripture of our time. I have lost count of how many times I have seen these words in artistic form decorating someone’s home. Perhaps some of you have these words in your home in a wall hanging or figurine. They are beautiful words that speak of God’s loving provision for us. Usually they are from the New International Version of the Scriptures and go something like this, “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) You can see why modern American Christians would grab onto these words in this translation. We love a plan. We live by a plan. Day planners and even PDAs have gone by the wayside as people plan out their days, weeks, months and even years in their Iphones and on their tablets. They keep their day planners on electronic clouds so that they can access their plans from anywhere in the world if necessary. We are a nation of planners. And there is wisdom in this. My father taught me from a young age that if you don’t have a “plan B” then you don’t have a plan. It is good to be prepared for what is coming in the future. It is right to organize our days and our thoughts so that we make the best use of the time God has given us. And when we hear these words, that God has a plan for us, we love them because we understand how plans are supposed to work. We also assume that Divine plans are similar to our own planning. Since we understand how to plan we like to think we can figure out God’s plan for our lives, as if human reason could hold a candle to Divine reason and wisdom. We also gravitate toward this verse because those plans are “to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Not only does God have a plan that we can probably figure out, but it is a plan for prosperity and the absence of harm to us. Prosperity is a good, comfortable life. Prosperity is more money in the bank. Prosperity is getting to enjoy the finer things in life. Prosperity means luxury. It’s no wonder that the modern American Christian has gravitated toward this verse.

2)         The infatuation with this verse has led to a new and devastating way of thinking about God in our times. It is twofold. First, when we hear that God has a plan for us we assume that God’s mode of planning is similar to ours and that we can figure that plan out if we just get enough pieces of the puzzle. Christians spend much of their time trying to figure out what it is that God wants them to do next in life. “What is God’s plan for my life? Where shall I go to college? What career path does God want me to take? Who does God want me to marry?” If God has a plan then it becomes our job to figure that plan out so that we can get in line with God so that the plan unfolds faster and we live in harmony with that plan. But there’s the hitch. God doesn’t tell you the plan. Trying to figure out God’s ‘plan’ is like trying to find your way out of a pitch black room. You can only grope around in the darkness until you find something, but you have no idea how large the room is, how deep, how wide, how long, or even what shape the room is, or how many exists there are. Searching for God’s plan is an impossible task because you’re searching for something that God has no revealed to you. You may think you see it in coincidences of life. You may catch a glimpse of thinks working out in the changes and chances of life. But mostly you’re chasing a unicorn because you’re chasing something that the Lord has not revealed to you in His Word. This whole “God has a plan for my life” business is only the business of seeking the Hidden God, the part of God’s will that He has not revealed in Scripture.

3)         The second line of thinking that this translation lends itself to is what we’ll call the ‘prosperity gospel,” the thinking that God wants to bless you with all sorts of worldly wealth and material blessings. It’s the embryo of the television evangelists and the false churches that teach that if you only do what God wants you to do, then He’ll bless you with so much money you won’t know what to do with it. Now some will call this an oversimplification. But doesn’t the human flesh want prosperity? Aren’t the bookshelves of so-called Christian bookstores littered with works about thriving rather than just surviving? Having your best life now? Getting over your bad attitudes and hang ups and moving on with the power of positive thinking? When God says He has plans for us that involve prosperity our flesh leaps for joy. The Lord does not want you to live paycheck to paycheck. The Lord does not want you to have any cares in this life.

4)         So you see where this has gone all wrong from the start. But it gets worse. The Devil can play this game too and often does. What happens when things go south? What happens when bad things happen? What about that divorce? Was that part of God’s plan? What about that bankruptcy, that unwanted pregnancy, that certain vice that won’t go away? Either God planned them, which means that God authored wickedness for you, which is heresy by the way, or you messed up God’s plan. And if you’ve messed up God’s plan then what happens? Does the plan change and adapt like human plans? Is the whole thing shot? Does He scrap the plan He had for you and start over with a plan that’s not as good but that will do?  So the trouble and vexation that is caused by this verse wages a terrible war on the soul of the Christian who seeks to find out what is God’s plan for their life. Any attempt to figure out God’s plan results in getting lost in a thick darkness.

5)         The Lord does not give His word to confuse, to confound, or to drive us to despair. It is the Devil, not the Lord, who wants to sift us as wheat so that our faith fails. I think much of these Jeremiah 29:11 problem we see today would be solved if we just got a better Bible. Did it catch your ears this morning, the New King James Version as it was read? “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Now that says something entirely different, doesn’t it? Here we a God at His finest. He is not telling us that somewhere in His hidden counsel there is a plan for our lives. He is telling us that in spite of what it may look like at times He is favorably disposed towards us. What does the Lord think of you? He thinks thoughts of peace and not of evil. He is not set against you as your enemy. He is your Father. There is nothing to try to figure out. There are no pieces to put together. There is no mystery as to how the Lord God thinks of you. His thoughts towards you are peace, Shalom in Hebrew, wholeness, solidity, unity without fracture or perforation. He is for you.

6)         And this means a lot when you consider the verse that immediately precedes this one. In verse 10 the Lord says, “For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.” The Lord must chastise Judah for her sins of idolatry in all its different forms. They have failed to repent so the Lord will punish them by exile. But the exile is enacted with a terminus. It has an end. He does not punish forever. The Psalmist sings in Psalm 103:9-13, “He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.” The punishment has a prescribed end. He will bring Judah back to her land, back to the Lord’s temple, so that Messiah may come from them for the entire world. His thoughts are of peace, restoration, and wholeness for His people.

7)         He shows you think most clearly in the incarnation, for there God the Son assumes human flesh to bear all of your sin so that He might atone for the sins of the whole world. God does not spare His own Son, but freely gives Him for you and your salvation. Not only that but He gives you the Holy Ghost through the means of Grace to create faith, forgive your sins, and give you all the blessings that Jesus earned at the cross. When you are tempted to think that God is set against you, know the thoughts He thinks toward you! When you are ashamed of your sins, wishing you had never done them, when you spend your time lamenting who you are, confess them and remember the thoughts He thinks towards you in Christ Jesus. When you are tempted to think that God’s mercy is not deep or wide enough for your sins, remember the thoughts He thinks towards you. He desires your peace, your wholeness, your restoration. He has not promised the easy life of the prosperity gospel. We will hear of our lot in this wicked world in next week’s Gospel lesson. He has not promised you an easy life of comfort and luxury. He has promised you the perfect remission of all of your sins through faith in Christ. He has promised you peace of conscience through the absolution of all of your sins. He has promised to cleanse you of your sins in Holy Baptism so that you might daily remember that washing and rise to new life as the new man and the new woman.

8)         If the Lord does have a plan for your life He does not tell you. But that’s alright. You don’t need a plan. What you need is a Father in heaven who promises to care for all of your needs. You don’t need prosperity either. You need a Father in heaven who has given you His only-begotten Son, for through this gift you know that He will freely and graciously give you all good things. Through Christ you have a future in paradise and the hope of everlasting life. Through Christ you peace with God because your sins are no more. Amen.
 Now may that peace of God which far surpasses all human understanding keep you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus out Lord. Amen.


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