God’s Salvation Plan

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Do you ever wonder what God does all day? I mean, what do you think God is doing right now? There are those who, because they are blind and deaf to the movement of God’s spirit, conclude there is no God. There are those who believe that God is like a great celestial clockmaker who created the heavens and the earth, then wound up the universe, set it down and let it go. Which means, of course, that God is just sitting back in God’s great easy chair, enjoying a brown pop and is just watching this world unravel.
Yet, we Christians have a slightly different way of seeing this. We confess in our creed that God has created and is creating something new. But what? Well, from the time of Adam and Eve’s first steps outside of paradise, God has been actively working to bring us back to walking in the garden with God. It’s God’s salvation plan, that once again we might become so intimate and close with God that we would know God’s presence, hear God’s voice and work to repair and regain paradise. Thy kingdom come. And God has been working at this for a long time.
Once, God tired to scrub humanity clean by washing us all in a big flood. Then God gave to us patriarchal figures like Abraham and Joseph that we might adopt them as mentors. Then God thought that maybe we would listen to some wisdom, and sent us people like Elijah. When we had gotten ourselves into a real bind, God sent women of great courage like Hannah and Rebecca who changed the course of human history. God even sent us few superheroes like that little shepherd boy David and his sling shot, and Samson with his great strength. When, because of our own short sightedness, we ended up in slavery, God sent Moses to liberate us. Not lastly, and certainly not least, God decided to come herself and showed us that nothing, not even the powers of this world, can ever stop God’s plan of redemption.
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So what is God up to today? God is still working out God’s salvation plan for a very stubborn, rebellious people.
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Since I announced my intention to retire, people have been offering me their congratulations. Quite honestly, I’m not sure I know what to do with that because my retirement means more than my no longer working. When I was ordained, I took vows to serve the Church through Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care. What that meant to me was that I was joining that long line of people who, from the beginning of human history, have been faithfully working to bring about God’s salvation plan. And that includes Wesley United Church. If you think that all this church is about is raising money to keep the doors open, fellowship, music, and food, then you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Every time a stranger is welcomed into this place and finds a home in one of our pews, another piece of God’s salvation jigsaw puzzle has been put into place. Every time a lone voice is given the dignity of a safe space to speak, salvation is redeemed. Every time a donation is made to a food bank, to Hospice Niagara, a lunch made for workers of Habitat for Humanity, every time items are collected for Women’s Place, loving is healing a broken world. With every hymn we raise in praise, with every prayer we send skyward in a whisper, with every tear and laugh we share, the world takes one more step towards paradise.
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When God called you and I together back in 1997, God was calling for our paths to converge. God called us into pastoral relationship. It was a covenant agreement that we would walk alongside each other, holding each other’s hand, working toward a new creation in this world, God’s garden. Together, I believe we have learned from each other what it means to be a ‘community’. We learned how to respect everyone, how to faithfully disagree and challenge each other, to listen carefully without interruption, to separate people from problems and to honour the decisions of the body, the committees, council and congregation, as the will of God for this community. It has been quite a journey. But now God is saying it is time for our roads to diverge. Is this a cause for congratulations? You can see why I feel confused.
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This story of Moses has brought much comfort to me in the last few weeks. I can identify with Moses. Moses has walked quite a journey with his people. Forty years of Red Sea crossings, manna from heaven, water from a stone, Ten Commandments delivered from God. Now, they have finally reached the promised land. Today, Moses stands on a mountaintop looking at the land his people will inherit that flows with milk and honey, a land he will never enter. Hardly seems fair, does it?
After doing all the work of dealing with these grumbling people, he doesn’t get to reap this reward. But this isn’t his destiny. He has fulfilled his destiny by getting these people here. It is enough. He played a crucial role in God’s Salvation Plan. Now, it is time to let them to. This is a new land. There is no place in this land for the Moses of yesterday. If he was to go with them they would be dragging an old history with them. It’s hard to start something new when you’re tied to something old.
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As I mentioned last week, a few Saturdays ago I was in the church for I reason I now forget. There had been some kind of a gathering here that day so I went around the church just checking for lights left on, doors left open. As I was doing so, I became very aware of just how big a stamp my ‘Wright’ family name has on this church. My father was the chair of Central United Church Board when they were discussing building this satellite church in Welland’s north end. My family was one of the original 25 families which came to Wesley. Although I was the only one of my family to be baptized here, the rest of my siblings were all confirmed here and grew up within these walls. I have clear memory of church being held in the hall, along with Sunday School partitioned off in the hall after service which is why we still have some of those old wooden partitions.
As I walked further through the church that day, I could identify all the things I have participated in building here with my father, with Larry and Mark Jolliffe, with Kelvin and Del, and Peter and Mike…22 years is a long time.
When I came into the sanctuary, God whispered into my ear that it was time to let all this go. I began to understand that Wesley can not move forward, can not create something new while dragging all this behind them. As I sat in the pew discerning God’s voice, I saw the image of a congregation who used to make 5,000 turkey pies, who now make 500. I saw women working in the kitchen during the fashion show who won’t or shouldn’t be doing this 5 years from now. I saw men with their ‘day after the garage sale bad backs’ making it quite clear that they won’t be taking any large furniture items again in the fall.
I used to think the survival of Wesley depended upon us attracting young families to this congregation. But I have come lately to appreciate that we have been gifted in the last few years with what I shall call, for lack of a better term, ‘newly retired’ people. I began to see that Wesley is not diminishing but is simply transitioning. We are one of the few area churches that has actually had an increase in membership in the last few years. There is great, joyful energy in this place. People are happy here. We have financial resources. You are no longer wandering in a wilderness, you are ready to enter a new land. But I am not to go with you. If I were to go, I would be dragging with me a past of which I am so much a part. This does not allow for new beginnings, changes of direction, any more than if Moses had entered this new land reminding the Israelites of their years of slavery.
The new leaders of tomorrow do not need to hear, “Remember when Rev. Kim was here and we….or…..“We always use to do it this way.” Not helpful when you are entering a new land. The time has come for our paths to diverge and for me to stand back and watch as Wesley responds to God’s new initiative towards God’s ongoing salvation plan.
I will watch with joy and gratitude.
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Yet, God is not merciless. The Israelites were allowed a period of mourning for Moses before they entered the new land. This grieving period is important for we can not leave behind that which we have not dealt with. God has granted us a year to learn how to let go of each other. It will be a bittersweet time for both of us, filled with laughter and tears. But it is a time we both need in order to let go properly.
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So what is God doing today? God is doing a good work through us, reminding us that Wesley Church belongs to God, not us. It is part of a long standing salvation plan and has its own destiny and mission to perform in this. What we have today is not ours to hang onto for the sake of our own comfort and benefit. As the world changes around us, so must our responses to it, but never our mission which has been the mission of every believer since the beginning of time, to find our way back to the garden.

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