Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sermon: "A Master Plan for a Better Future"

Ephesians 1:3-14
July 15, 2012
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 

In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

About 30 years ago, a billboard went up at a vacant field in Wichita Falls announcing: “Rolling Meadows – A Master Plan for a Better Future.”  It turns out it was a retirement community being built by a religious denomination.  Soon construction began and Rolling Meadows is still there.  There are apartments, cottages, the Gables, the Atrium, an activities center, a health care center, a swimming pool, and playground.  It’s a beautiful facility.  All built according to a master plan.

I think of that billboard when I read this passage from Ephesians 1: “A master plan for a better future.”

Almost every project benefits from having a master plan, whether it’s a retirement community, a housing development, a hospital, a business park, or even a church.

A master plan suggests that a project is well thought out, not accidental or random.  The individual parts will fit together into a whole.  Great thought has been taken for the future.

I realize that not everyone likes to follow a plan.  Some people like to plan; others like to be more spontaneous, more flexible, more open-ended.

Regardless of how you feel about planning in everyday life, I think we all like to know that the world operates according to a plan.

There really are two basic explanations of the world: either there is a plan and a purpose to the world, or it all happens randomly, by chance.

Some people look at the world and see only chance, blind fate.  They point to disasters, drive-by shootings, disease and wonder, “How could there be a plan?”

This kind of view has consequences for morality.  If there is no order, no plan, no “higher authority,” there is no standard of judgment outside of the individual person and whether he/she feels something is right or wrong.  It’s everyone for themselves and “look out for #1.”

As Christians, we look at the world differently.  We trust that God has a plan for the world, even though we may not always be able to see it or understand it.  I’m not sure how I would be able to operate in a world where everything was by chance and up for grabs.  I need to know that someone is in charge and that there’s a plan and purpose to life.

Some people are bothered by this talk of a “plan,” because they think it means that there’s no such thing as human freedom.  That God has everything planned from the very beginning and we’re just sort of like actors living out our parts.

Some of what Paul says in today’s passage sounds like that’s what he means.  He talks about us being “chosen” in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4) and that we are “destined” for adoption as God’s children (1:5).  If we’re chosen and destined, where does that leave human freedom?

I believe what Paul is saying is that we are in God’s hands.  It is God who is sovereign, not blind fate or pure chance.  God is sovereignly working out all things to God’s good pleasure (“All things work together for good…”).  But we are still free to follow God’s plan or not.

We might say that God has a “game plan” that insures God’s ultimate victory: the triumph of good over evil, life over death  We as human beings have the choice of being on God’s team or playing for the “other side.”  But in the end, God’s plan will win out.

In today’s passage, Paul is saying, in essence, that God has a “master plan” to give us a better future – the best possible future.

God’s master plan is not a secret.  God wants us to know this plan so we can follow it.  Christianity is not a “new age” religion of secret knowledge.  It’s all out in the open.

In verse 9, Paul talks about the “mystery” of God’s will.  That doesn’t mean that God’s will is “mysterious” or a secret.  “Mystery” means that something is “hidden,” unrevealed until the right time.  But in Jesus Christ, God’s plan is revealed.  Now we don’t have to guess at what God’s plan is, because God has revealed it, in his own timing, through sending his Son Jesus Christ to the world.

It’s of vital importance that we know about God’s plan so we can make it the plan for our lives.  God wants us to have our own plans and follow them, but our plans must fit in with God’s plans, or else all of our planning will really amount to nothing.

God’s plan that Paul lays out here in this passage has three elements:
1)      It’s an eternal plan.
2)      It’s a Christ-centered and universal plan.
3)      God’s plan takes our response seriously.

1)      It’s an eternal plan.

God’s plan goes back to “before the foundation of the world” (vs. 4).  God “chose us in Christ” even before God made the world.

In other words, God didn’t come up with this plan at the last minute.  It wasn’t just thrown together in a few moments.  This has been God’s plan from the very beginning – from eternity.

Before the foundation of the world, God was making plans for us.  That should tell us how much God thinks of us.

If someone spends a lot of time in planning a birthday party they’re going to throw for us, that’s one way they show how much they love us.

God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  That’s how much God loves us.  God was thinking about us even then.

Even before God said, “Let there be light,” God was planning to adopt us as God’s children.  Isn’t that awesome?  God was thinking about you and me even then.

God chose us long before we chose God.  Salvation is God’s choice way before it’s ours.  That’s part of the symbolism of infant baptism as we practice it in the UMC.  When we baptize a baby or a child, that’s a testament to our faith that God chooses this child before the child is old enough to choose God for himself or herself.

God’s plan is that we grow into “holy and blameless” children.  This is our destiny if we follow God’s plan.

2)       It is a Christ-centered and universal plan.

The next thing we need to know about God’s plan is that the whole plan revolves around Christ.

Notice how many times Paul refers to Christ in these twelve verses: seven times directly and several more times indirectly.
  • We are blessed in Christ.
  • God chose us in Christ.
  • We are destined for adoption through Christ.
  • We are redeemed through Christ.
  • We have obtained an inheritance in Christ.
  • Our hope is in Christ.

This whole plan doesn’t make any sense apart from Jesus Christ.  So, do you see how futile it is for us as human beings to make our plans apart from Christ?  To leave Jesus out of our planning or to try to tack him on as an afterthought?

The centerpiece of God’s plan is that we be redeemed and forgiven through Jesus Christ.

It’s amazing to think that God’s plan took into consideration every possible contingency.  Before the creation, God knew we would make the wrong choices and fall into sin, so God made provision for our salvation.  As hard as it is to understand, Christ’s life, death and resurrection were part of God’s plan from the very beginning.  That’s how much God loves us.

What a mighty God we worship, that even sin couldn’t wreck God’s plan, but instead helped to fulfill it.

Paul is clear that God’s plan is not just for a chosen few.  In vs. 10 he says that in the “fullness of time” God will “gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.”  God’s plan is for everyone.  No one is left out.

Christ is not only the source and sustainer of creation, but he is creation’s ultimate goal as well.  All creation comes together in Christ.

That’s why it’s so important that we share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, so they will know God’s master plan so they can have a better future.

3)       God’s plan takes our response seriously.

The last part of this passage talks about the importance of our response to God’s plan.  Paul talks about hearing the “word of truth,” which he calls the “gospel of your salvation”; about believing in Jesus Christ, and about being marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit (which for Paul means baptism).

Scripture tells us about God’s plan.  It’s up to us to choose to follow it or not.  God loves us enough to give us the freedom of that choice.

Our response involves hearing, believing, and receiving.  We hear the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus.  We believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and accept him as our Lord and Savior.  And we receive the gifts of forgiveness and salvation and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

So our decision is of crucial importance: are we going to follow God’s plan or some other plan?  One of our own making?  The plan of another religion or belief system?  Or will we choose to believe that there is no plan for us to follow?

Think about it.  Only one plan is eternal.  Only one plan is Christ-centered and universal.  In God’s plan you will find true meaning and purpose for your life.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

There’s only one master plan that makes sense.  There’s only one plan that can give you a better future, not only in this life but for eternity – a future filled with hope.  The question is, will it be your plan?

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