Sunday, May 26, 2019

Rogate - The Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A well-known bumper sticker reads, “Men make plans. God laughs.” This does not mean that God is capricious, but simply that what seems wise to men is often foolishness to God, and typically vice versa. Today we rejoice to recognize five high school graduates – Ada, Hannah, Sidney, Kennedy, and Emily; and one college graduate, Danika – who by God’s grace and their own hard work have achieved much. Undoubtedly, they have made many plans for their futures: What college to attend, what career to pursue, whether to commute from home or to reside on campus, etc. We hope and pray that their plans will all work out, all the while acknowledging that some of them most likely will not. In truth, it is quite likely that, in some cases, what the LORD has planned for these graduates will turn out to be something completely different than what they or anyone else could ever have planned or imagined. [I know a guy like that who ended up in seminary.]
Because, God does have a plan for you. The LORD once said to His people through His prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” This is an important and comforting promise, for it acknowledges that, even when our plans seem to go awry, when it seems that nothing is working out, and when it seems that God is not in control or that He doesn’t care, that He is in fact still working all things for our good and according to His overall plan and design.
Indeed, in our Old Testament reading today, it certainly seemed to the children of Israel that God’s plan wasn’t working out. The LORD had led His people out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea to the promised land. However, their hearts sank when their spies discovered that the people of Canaan were strong, mighty, and fierce. They feared that they could not conquer them. They despaired that they would be conquered themselves. They failed to trust in the LORD that He would be with them. Because of this, the LORD caused His people to wander in the wilderness for an entire generation until Joshua would lead their children across the Jordan into the promised land. They had planned to go to Canaan, conquer the people there, and enjoy life in a land flowing with milk and honey. However, when things didn’t go as easily as they had imagined they became disillusioned and longed even to go back to Egypt and slavery rather than continue in the way of the LORD which seemed increasingly foolish to them.
In their wilderness wanderings shortly thereafter, the LORD actually sent the people in the opposite direction, away from the promised land, towards the land of Edom. It wasn’t long before the people began to grumble. What is the LORD doing? Does He want us to fail and not achieve our goal? Does He want us to starve? And, my favorite complaint of all, “There is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Sounds like my kids standing in front of the pantry stocked full of food claiming there’s nothing to eat! Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes to bite them, and many of them died – definitely, not what they had planned! The people cried out to the LORD and to Moses saying, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” And, Moses did pray. And, the LORD did not take away the snakes – definitely, not what they had planned. For, the LORD had another plan. The LORD instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and to raise it up on a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a poisonous snake could look up to the bronze snake raised up on the pole and they would live. Not – what – they – had – planned.
You can imagine that people bitten by poisonous snakes would think it foolishness to look at an image of snake raised up on a pole. I suspect that a great many refused and therefore died. This is not what they had planned! And yet, the LORD did answer their prayer. He provided a way out. Much later, St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth saying, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” The LORD has promised that He will always provide you a way out – but take note that it will be according to His plan and not yours. Moreover, the LORD provides you a way out so that you may endure and persevere throughyour temptations, tribulations, and suffering.
You see, that’s really the trouble with us, isn’t it? We are not willing to endure and persevere. We want to succeed and conquer, always. We want our plans to succeed and winconquer and rule, always. The problem is that, because of our sin, our natural wills are set against the LORD’s will. Even our reason and wisdom, our vision and sight, are corrupted by sin so that we cannot think soundly or see clearly. For, there is only one will that is truly wise and sound, true and good, and that is the LORD’s will. Thus, we pray in the prayer Jesus taught us that His will, not ours, will be done. It’s a matter of whom you trust when it comes down to it – Do you trust in the LORD, or do you trust in yourself. Who is your God?
You have plans. So do I. But the LORD has plans for you too, plans for your welfare and not for evil, that you may have a future and a hope. So, make your plans, but make them in consideration with the LORD’s Word and Commandments. And pray. Pray to the LORD that His will be done, not yours, but that He would guide you by His Spirit through His Word, illumining the path you should go. There will be times when your plans do not succeed, when you fail, and when you feel conquered and defeated. Do not despair. It may well be that the LORD has other plans for you – good plans to give you a future and a hope. Take these opportunities to reexamine and reflect on the way you are going, the choices you have made, in the light of His Word and Commandments. Pray, and the LORD will guide you in the way you should go.
This Sixth Sunday of Easter is called Rogate, which means “Ask.” Your Lord Jesus says to you, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” You do not have to ask Moses, or your pastor, or even Jesus, but Jesus says that you can ask His Father directly, even calling Him your Father, with the promise that whatever you ask the Father in Jesus’ Name He will give to you. Those words, “In Jesus’ Name,” are important words, however. They are not some magical incantation that prompts God to give you what you want, but they refer to the content of your prayers, to what you ask for. What you ask for must be something that is “in Jesus’ Name.” What sorts of things are “in Jesus’ Name?” Well, the sorts of things that Jesus Himself would ask of His Father in prayer: love, mercy, compassion, patience, forgiveness, healing, guidance and wisdom to serve others and glorify the Father. Ask, and you shall receive, in Jesus’ Name.
Dear graduates, – Ada, Hannah, Sidney, Kennedy, Emily, and Danika, – and all of God’s people, make your plans, but make them in accordance with the LORD’s Word and Commandments, and in Jesus’ Name. And, when your plans do not work out, pay special attention, for you just might discover that the LORD has another plan in mind, a good plan that you might have a future and a hope. Continue to listen to His Word. Avail yourself of the opportunity to take rest in Him from all your labors. Consult Him in prayer. Ask, that you may receive, in Jesus’ Name. Your LORD has plans for you, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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