Listening for God
Christ Church Cathedral 24 December 2017
† In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
But Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes of mice and men Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!
These words are contained in a poem written by Robert Burns in 1785 when he accidentally ploughed and destroyed a mouse’s nest.
In today’s readings from scripture there are several stories of best laid plans not happening according to human plan, but redirected according to God’s plan.
In the history of the Children of Israel God had made certain that a prophet was living during the reign of each of the kings of Israel. The prophet’s main tasks were to urge the people to follow God and to communicate God’s law and plans to the king. Most of the kings rejected the prophets God sent. But at least God had given them the opportunity to listen and obey. In earlier years, from about 1375 BC judges and priests had the role of prophets. Samuel was about 45 years old when Saul became the first king of Israel 1050 years before the birth of Christ. He served as judge, priest and prophet, bridging the gap between the period of the judges and the monarchy. In the reading from the second book of Samuel, we hear of Nathan the prophet for the first time. David, the second King of Israel, was inclined to listen to the prophet Nathan.
King David wanted to build a House or temple for God and here we find that these best laid plans are not to happen in his lifetime, according to the message from the prophet Nathan.
King David’s prime task was to unify and lead Israel and to destroy its enemies, and he understood that God did not want his temple to be built by a warrior.(too much blood had been shed in the many wars) David’s plan was good, and it was not considered to be unworthy, but it did not fit with the plans God had for that time. This did not mean that God had rejected David, but that there were other plans that God had in mind.
David accepted his part in God’s plan and did not try to go beyond it.
God was planning to do something even greater in David’s life than allowing him the prestige of building the temple. Although God turned down David’s request, he promised to continue the house or dynasty of David forever. David’s earthly dynasty ended four centuries later, but Jesus Christ, a direct descendant of David was the ultimate fulfilment of this promise. Christ will reign for eternity now in his spiritual kingdom, and in heaven, and later on earth, in the New Jerusalem.
The Gospel story tells of more plans turned around by God’s plans.
Mary was young, poor, female – all characteristics that to the people of her day, would make her seem unusable by God for any major task. But God chose Mary for one of the most important acts of obedience he has ever demanded of anyone.
God’s favour does not automatically bring instant success or favour. God’s blessing to Mary, the honour of being the mother of the Messiah, would lead to much pain. Her peers would ridicule her, her fiancé Joseph would come close to leaving her, her son would be rejected and murdered. The world’s only hope would come through her Son and this is why Mary has been praised by countless generations as the young girl who found favour with God.
Her submission was part of God’s plan to bring about our salvation . At the annunciation by the angel Gabriel, Mary does not say “I am not worthy”. “ I do not have the skills needed”. She does not complain that her own marriage plans would now be replaced by God’s plan. She just asks for clarification. She only asks “How” “How can this be?” because that might ask something more of her. She never asks,” if, whether or why!”
This reveals her egoless-ness and her perfect receptivity to God’s revelation of his plan which had just trashed all of her plans. She has said an unquestioning “Yes” to an utterly free gift and her understanding of this and her understanding of the something greater God would do, is in her song, This song echoes the song of Hannah in the time of the prophet Samuel. (1 Samuel 2:1-11)
Mary says “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, who has looked with favour on his lowly servant from this day all generations will all me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name”.
The Almighty continues to do great things throughout the generations as Saint Paul had taught the people of Rome.
When Paul wrote his letters to the Christians in Rome he had not met them previously, and of course he has not met us. His letters are still relevant for us today.
Rome was a cosmopolitan city, the centre of commerce and learning from which the Good news of Christ extended into the whole world. We too live in a cosmopolitan setting, with the entire world open to us – or at least the entire community of Grafton.
We live in digitally-disrupted times where the pace of change is both unprecedented and largely unpredictable but we can be the backbone of stability and opportunity within our community, if our plans are aligned with God’s plans. We need to plan for future outreach to young families, to children, teens and the young adults in our community, as well as catering for the increasing number of older folk unable to come to church. Part of these plans include listening to God’s “no” and “yes”. Another part is being willing to step out in faith, to cultivate the resources both human and material required to achieve the planned outcome.
We may feel that our ability, experience, or education makes us an unlikely candidate for God’s service, but he can use us if we are prepared to trust and listen.
When our plans are interrupted by the working out of God’s plans invariably there is a greater purpose than we imagined, afoot.
We are living in the kingdom of the Son of the Most High. The possibilities are unlimited so can we awaken our faith and begin to make plans.
Accepting God’s “no” requires as great a faith as carrying out God’s “yes”.