“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Years ago there used to be a television show called the A Team. Remember Mr. T, “I pity the fool!” It was about a group of former U.S. Army Special Forces men who worked as soldiers of fortune. These were the guys you called when it seemed like there was no one else to help with the problem you had and/or the mission was next to impossible. Their leader, Hannibal, was known to say at some point in the story, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Fans of the show loved it too. These guys were creative, committed, funny, skillful and very talented. They did not always like each other and they did not always get along, however they worked as a team to get the job done, and any job, especially the nearly impossible ones, were all neatly wrapped up start to finish in sixty minutes of air time. Rarely is real life like that.
I don’t know about you but my plans don’t always turn out the way that I thought they would. Somewhere between vision and inspiration they get complicated, messy, and sometimes they just plain get forgotten because some new problem, event or interest takes over and I am on to the next thing.
And then there is the matter of trying to accomplish something when I have to work with other people. The truth is I am naturally inclined to be a “my way or the highway,” type of person. I often think that I really do know what is best.
Recently my boss and I had a conversation during which I complemented her on her talent for including diverse points of view and really listening to what people had to say. She told me that whenever she went into a meeting she just naturally assumed that she was not the smartest person in the room and that everyone present had something to offer that would result in the best decision being made if she included their recommendations. I replied that I realized why I knew I needed to work for her. It was because when I walk into a meeting I just naturally assume that I am one of, if not the smartest person in the room, and while I do listen to what people have to say, I am often listening to see who agrees with me and supports my position rather than really taking in all points of views and ideas. Yes, it is a big character defect and I am working on it.
As a matter of fact, I had to smile to myself when I delved into today’s lessons because I realized that by having to preach on these texts God was helping me to see that I haven’t been working on this flaw quite fast enough.
The truth is, I am often so caught up in the execution of my own designs and plans that I forget that God has plans too. God has a plan for me, God has a plan for you and God has a plan for this faith community. When I only focus on my plans then I often miss great opportunities for building community, sharing in ministry, growing in faith and learning from each person as he or she shares their spiritual gifts. There is a phrase I learned from the recovery community that succinctly puts this in perspective. It is their definition of EGO which means Edging God Out. When we are invested in having our way, getting what we want, proving we are “right”, controlling or insistent that we know best, we are Edging God Out. When we ignore the ideas, gifts, talents and words of others we are Edging God Out. When we stick to a plan or a goal that is obviously not working, we are Edging God Out. Our egos are in control and before you know it there is conflict, hurt feelings, confusion, blame, criticism and ruined relationships all because we Edged God Out.
Today’s lessons show us a better way. Like the start of most ministries, Nehemiah’s mission began with a vision. He saw a need and realized that God was calling him to lead and take action. So he left a comfortable, some might say cushy life, and set about rebuilding a new foundation for his faith community. To rebuild the temple walls he needed to lead, organize, encourage and support his team to provide for God’s people a place where they could worship in peace, safety and beauty. Whenever Nehemiah ran into problems and challenges he turned to God in prayer and asked for guidance and, I imagine, other gifts as needed and then let go of the outcome. Basically it looks to me like Nehemiah offered God the best he could do and then got out of the way so God to do the rest. By working with God and not just his own ego as a guide, Nehemiah was able to successfully rebuild the temple walls in 52 days.
The Psalm is another reminder that creation is at its best when it comes from God. The majesty of the mountains, the power of the seas, the sweet smelling flowers, the gentle breezes and the flowing rivers all came about without human input. God knows how to create, how to make things work, most importantly how to get the job done. Whenever people get stuck and are unable to accomplish things it is often, I think, because they have forgotten to invite God, the great creator, into the process. Our egos convince us that we do not need God’s help or we wait until we are really stuck and then turn to prayer. Why not trust in the One who really knows how to get things done and invite God into the process in the beginning?
Corinthians helps us to realize that no matter how talented we might be individually not one of us is so talented as to be able to do everything, do it well and do it alone. Yes, it can be hard to work with others who have different ideas, different ways of working, different talents and abilities. However, if we take a step back and ponder the message in this lesson that every member of the body of Christ has a purpose, a mission and gifts from God that are designed to improve the overall function of the community, then we can avoid comparing, criticizing, judging and complaining. We focus instead on what we can accomplish together. I know for myself, if I trust that even people I do not care for, okay don’t like so very much, are as precious in the eyes of God as I am, then it changes the way that I relate to them. If God has given us a common ministry or mission, then I need to pause and reflect on why God put us together. And, if I am having trouble relating to that person, then I need to ask God to be present when we are together to help us see what God sees so we can do what God has asked.
The Gospel lesson pulls all of this together. Jesus reminds us that he has the spiritual gifts to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to restore sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor- the jubilee. As Christians, before we start, continue or even end any ministry, doesn’t it make sense to check in with Christ first? As our advocate and mediator, as our savior and redeemer, as our Emmanuel – God with us – the one leader we know has all the answers when we need them, the one who could truly and rightly say “my way or the highway” is the One who loves each of us dearly and therefore will always give us the best answer for how to successfully do what God asks us to do.
Arnold J. Toynbee, a British historian, said, “Sooner or later, man has always had to decide whether he worships his own power or the power of God.” We each need to decide if we will be driven by EGO -edging God out- or inspired by Christ. And on those days when we pray and allow ourselves the gift of grace to let go and let God, I imagine that somewhere God is smiling and saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Amen.