This is the message that I presented at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, Brighton, TN on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 4 May 1997. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 10: 44 – 48, 1 John 5: 1 – 6, and John 15: 9 – 17.
I should note before I start that I have been told preachers should never preach about money. This sermon, though it may sound like it is about money, is not about money but rather, is about planning.
You have probably heard, read, or seen something dealing with financial planning. Now it may have been an ad from some financial institution or an investment firm talking about retirement; it may been about handling debts. Whatever the ad said, for any financial plan to be successful, it will take a long period of time.
Even if you are planning on winning the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, it takes several months of action on your part for the people with the balloons, the cameras, and the check to appear on your doorstep.
Similarly, God’s plan for each one of us requires a long period of time. From the very beginning, God has been thinking of us. I think it the one great mystery of salvation that God has known us and about us long before we ever came into existence.
The God-who-is has always been searching for me. By his choice, his relationship with me is a presence, as a call, as a guide; he is not satisfied with speaking to me, or showing things to me, or asking things of me. He does much more.
He is Life, and he knows his creature can do nothing without him; he knows his child would die of hunger without bread.
But our bread is God himself, and God gives himself to us as food.
Only eternal life can feed one who is destined for eternal life.
The bread of earth can nourish us only for this finite earth; it can sustain us only as far as the frontier, the bread from our fields is not sufficient; if we want to march along the roads of the Invisible, we must feed on bread from heaven.
This bread from heaven is God himself. He becomes food to us walking in the Invisible. “The God Who Comes” by Carlos Carretto
And Jesus told His disciples that He picked them, not the other way around.
You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead I call you friends, for everything I learned from the Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15: 14 – 16)
Through all of history, God has never forgotten His plan. Whether it was His promise to Noah and his family after the flood
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you — the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you — every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the water of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all l living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (Genesis 9: 8 – 17)
or his promises to the Israelites wandering through the wilderness, God has always shown his commitment to the plan. It would seem that every prophet from Isaiah to Joel has spoken of God’s caring for us. We know that God sent His son Jesus because he cared for us, because he had a plan for us. As written in John 3: 16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that who so ever believed in Him would have everlasting life.”
But God’s plan is not single-sided. Though it is by God’s grace that we have been given this plan, we cannot simply stand idly by. Action on our part is required. We cannot know God’s Grace if we do nothing! Even if we wait until that last minute before death to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we know that we will receive God’s grace.
If our hearts, like those who listened to Peter preach, are open to the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit will be there for us.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who came with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10: 44 – 48)
The most difficult thing about following God’s plan is that we often feel that it is too hard, that we cannot meet the challenge. But Jesus only gave us one commandment to follow
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 9 – 14)
Granted, this commandment is a hard one. It challenges everything we hear and see today. Consider the Pope. After he had recovered from the attempted assassination, he went to the jail where the assassin was and forgave him. The love that Jesus wants us to show others is like this. While we might agree with the penalties someone must pay for their crimes, how is it that we can forgive someone for their actions? Sometimes, it seems a lot easier to take the easy way out. The recent meeting in Philadelphia shows such a conflict. How many people are willing to volunteer, how many people are willing to help others? I have always been amazed that those who help others often times are not far removed from the situations that the ones they are helping are in. Consider the following thought:
We should try to be so closely united to Our Lord that we reproduce his life in our own, that our thoughts and words and actions should proclaim his teaching, so that he reigns is us, lives in us. He so often enters within us in Holy Communion. May his Kingdom reign in us.
If he sends us happiness let us accept it gratefully. Like the Good Shepherd he sets us in rich pasture to strengthen us to follow him later into barren lands. If he sends us crosses let us embrace them and say ‘Bona Crux,’ for this is the greatest grace of all. It means walking through life hand in hand with our Lord, helping him to carry his Cross like Simon of Cyrene. It is our Beloved asking us to prove how much we love him. Whether in mental suffering or bodily pain ‘let us rejoice and tremble with joy.’ Our Lord calls us and asks us to tell him of our love and repeat it over and over again all through our sufferings.
Every cross, great or small, even small annoyances, are the voice of the Beloved. He is asking for a declaration of love from us to last whilst the suffering lasts.
Oh, when one thinks of this one would like the suffering to last forever. It will last as long as Our Lord wishes. However sweet the suffering may become to us, we only desire it at such times as Our Lord sends it. Your will be done, my Brother Jesus, and not mine. We long to forget ourselves, we ask nothing, only your glory. (“Meditations of a Hermit” by Charles de Foucauld
Life today is not easy. There are cynics among us who would ridicule us for believing in Jesus today. But I think that many of these people are probably leading very miserable lives today.
I can imagine John sitting down writing those letter to his friends and thinking about the problems he had to endure as a disciple of Jesus. But he could remember what Jesus told his disciples.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15: 12 – 14)
Today, John tells us
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is truth.
God’s plan is very simple actually. Accept Jesus Christ into our heart and then live a life which shows that Christ is a part of our lives, loving others as we know Christ has loved us.