Saturday, January 4, 2014

So, What Is the Plan?

RCL Epiphany A
5 January 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         One evening, as we sat around the seminary dining table, one of my classmates told the following story.

         On the day that Jesus ascended into heaven, he was greeted by the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel.  Being archangels, they were aware of what had happened during  Jesus’ earthly ministry, but God had not entirely let them in on the whole plan of salvation.  They were aware of elements of the strategy, but they weren’t entirely aware of what God was hoping to accomplish in the long run.

         So, when Jesus arrived in the heavenly realms, the four archangels thought that this would be the right moment to find out a little bit more about ‘THE PLAN’.  It was Michael, the senior archangel, who was the first to speak to Jesus.  “Welcome home, Lord,” said Michael, “we’ve been waiting for you.”  “To tell you the truth, Michael,” Jesus said, “I would rather have stayed on earth, but the Holy One, blessed be the Name, has decided to begin a new phase of the healing of creation.”  “Yes,” said Gabriel, “we know about the work of the Spirit, but we’re not entirely clear about what ‘THE PLAN’ is.  Can you tell us a little bit more?”

         “Well, here’s what I’ve done,” said Jesus.  “I have created a community of friends who have committed themselves to following the path that I forged during my earthly ministry.  The Spirit is now going to encourage them, guide them, strengthen them to continue to follow this path come hell or high water.  That’s how the Holy One intends to heal creation.”  Raphael, who spent a great deal of time as a healer, remarked, “Lord, I’ve been watching these people from the day that the Holy One gave them the gift of freedom to be life-givers or death-dealers.  I am not encouraged by what I’ve seen.”  Uriel, who had been silent, piped up, “Are you saying that THE PLAN is for the world to be healed by communities of humans who choose to follow your path and who will try to persuade others to do the same?”  “Yes,” answered Jesus, “that’s THE PLAN.”  A somewhat despondent Michael looked at Jesus and asked, “What’s the Back-up Plan?”  “There is no Back-up Plan,” Jesus responded, “only THE PLAN.”  “Some ‘plan’,” muttered Uriel to the other archangels as Jesus walked away.

         What my classmate told us that day at supper is, of course, completely imaginary.  No human being knows what happens beyond our environment of time or space.  But his story is ‘true’ because it touches on one of the recurrent questions of human life:  What is ‘the plan’?  Our banking institutions make some of us uncomfortable by asking, ‘Do you have a plan for retirement?’  Our governments, whether municipal, provincial or federal, promise that they have a plan to reduce homelessness, to reduce child poverty, to manage our national economy.  Every parish in this Diocese is expected to produce a ‘Ministry Plan’ and to evaluate how well the plan’s goals are being met.

         Then, of course, there is the great question that human beings have sought to answer throughout the millennia of our conscious existence:  Is there a plan hiding behind the events of our daily lives and all the dimensions of the universe?  Some scientists and thinkers have delighted in the absence of a plan and have been fascinated by the possibilities of ‘randomness’.  There is the famous question, ‘If a butterfly flutter its wings in the Amazon jungle, will a hurricane strike the shores of North America?’  Some theologians and religious believers affirm the existence of a plan that touches every aspect of our lives, but these beliefs always run aground on the shoal of evil:  Do we believe that human evil such as we see in the murder of a mother waiting for her son in an arena parking lot in Surrey are part of a plan for her life, the life of her family and ours?

         For the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus of Nazareth the question of a divine plan became a pressing one for them.  Despite their conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, the Promised One, these Jews saw more and more non-Jews come to join the ‘Way’, as the Christian movement was first called.  Every year Jewish believers in the Way became a smaller and smaller minority and non-Jewish believers became the majority.  Is this part of God’s plan?  ‘Yes,’ some of the non-Jewish believers answered, ‘we are to grow greater and you to grow smaller.  We shall assimilate you.’

         To this arrogant assertion the author of the Letter to the Ephesians responds with a firm ‘No!’  What God began in the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Moses was the reconciliation of all humanity with its Creator so that all creation could live in the freedom and dignity that God intends.  The ‘mystery’, the ‘plan of God being revealed in the passage of time’, is one of universal reconciliation.  The dividing walls between Jews and non-Jews have been demolished in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  What distinguishes Jew from non-Jew is an outward and visible sign of the diversity of God’s creation and the innumerable gifts, the charisms, that God bestows upon all.  What makes us different, one from the other, is not to become a claim of superiority but a recognition of our inter-dependence:  no one has all the gifts, but all the gifts are necessary for creation to thrive.

         But God’s plan is not forced upon us like Cinderella’s step-sisters forcing their feet into the glass slipper.  We are invited rather than coerced to become part of the ‘Way’, this challenging and costly path of discipleship that Jesus forged and that we who have been baptized have chosen to follow.  Like skiers in the wide open spaces of the mountains, we are often tempted to leave this path and explore the dangerous terrain that lies beyond its boundaries.  God never fails to send searchers out for us so that we can return to the way of life we have chosen.  And this way of life leads us to become agents of God’s compassion and reconciliation.  But it is our choice whether we follow this path or not.

  • When the magi travelled from their secure homes in the east and brought gifts to a child in an unimportant town in an unimportant country, they chose to re-commit themselves to THE PLAN and bring it to fruition. 
  • When Nelson Mandela was freed from prison and called for truth and reconciliation in a free and democratic South Africa, he chose to re-commit himself to THE PLAN and bring it to fruition.
  • When Archbishop Peers apologized to First Nations for the church’s involvement in the residential schools, he chose to re-commit himself to THE PLAN and bring it to fruition.
  • When we ‘take a bite out of winter’ and reach out to those in any need or trouble, we chose to re-commit ourselves to THE PLAN and bring it to fruition.
  • When we bridge divisions in our own families or in our neighbourhoods, we choose to re-commit himself to THE PLAN and bring it to fruition.

May God strengthen us in our inner being with power through the Spirit.  May Christ dwell in our hearts through faith so that we might share the promise of God hidden through the ages and now revealed in us.  Amen.


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