God’s Vision

by Edea Baldwin
Jeremiah 29
Lent Five
April 2, 2006

We had a principal at Quitman High School some years back who had a favorite catchphrase. It came from some lesson plan evaluation materials that he was using at the time, and was meant to describe what a teacher should do during the course of any lesson. That phrase is “monitor and adjust.” The idea is to monitor what your students are doing – or in some cases, NOT doing – and make necessary adjustments to the lesson plan if something is not working, or if student progress is taking place either faster or slower than the teacher who wrote the lesson plan envisioned.

“Monitor and adjust” has now become an inside joke among our faculty. Whenever some event disrupts the school routine – for example, a pep rally, a faculty-student baskbetball game, a tornado drill, or state testing – we all just look wryly at one another and say “Monitor and adjust.” In other words, just go with the change in routine and be flexible enough to change plans when necessary to keep everything flowing smoothly.

I think there are times in life when we all discover a need to monitor and adjust. Despite our best intentions and most carefully made plans, life has a way of happening. Our little personal trains get derailed, and we have to stop and rethink how to get our plans and intended results back on track. Sometimes this is relatively easy to do, and the train gets chugging along rather quickly with only a few minor repairs. But there are also times when our train gets so badly derailed that it falls off the tracks alltogether, and major work is needed to get us going again.

I’d like you to imagine two workers. The first worker is doing great work, and everything is going along exactly as it should. The work is of the highest quality and everything is perfectly on schedule. But then suddenly a problem develops. Something is no longer going like it is supposed to. The worker becomes very discouraged and just gives up – quits the project all together.

The second worker encounters a similar problem, something goes wrong and plans go awry. But instead of quitting, as the first worker did when things got messed up, this worker is determined to figure out where and why things went wrong. This worker is bound and determined to finish the project he has started, and he is determined to do the job right, refusing to quit until the whole job is completed and done well.

The second worker, I think, is the one who has monitored and adjusted, thus keeping the project moving forward even despite a setback.

Which of these workers do you think God is more like? When God begins a project, does he quit when things go wrong, or does he refuse to quit until His project is completed?

I think God is more like the second worker. I think God monitors and adjusts. He uses us to carry out his plans, with all our imperfections, knowing that we will surely mess things up somewhere along the line. When those times happen, when we do things or fail to things and threaten God’s master plan, He steps in and creates a new way to proceed. The very mistakes and missteps we take often become the very bedrock upon which the new way of carrying out the plan is built.

In the passage from Jeremiah that Anita read for us, God is announcing his intention to renew His covenant with his people Israel after they have suffered exile in Babylon. Earlier in the book, Jeremiah had prophesied that because of their sins, the perople of Israel would be carried off into Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar, where they would have to live in exile for many years.

Then once they are in exile, Jeremiah writes to them and tells them God’s will for how they are to live in exile – and then tells of God’s promise to restore them after the time of their exile is fulfilled:

    This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

God’s people have gone astray and need to experience his just punishment. But He does not simply throwout his plan for Israel and leave them in their despair. He has made an unbreakable covenant with them, promising to use them in his plan, and after their time of suffering they will come back to their homeland. He sends a message of hope through his prophet, promising them the restoration of his plans for their good, a new and improved vision for their purpose.

    “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
    “when I will make a new covenant
    with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah.It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their forefathers
    when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
    because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to [d] them, [e] ”
    declares the LORD.

    “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
    after that time,” declares the LORD.
    “I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

    No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
    or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
    because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
    declares the LORD.
    “For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

    This is what the LORD says,
    he who appoints the sun
    to shine by day,
    who decrees the moon and stars
    to shine by night,
    who stirs up the sea
    so that its waves roar—
    the LORD Almighty is his name:

    “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,”
    declares the LORD,
    “will the descendants of Israel ever cease
    to be a nation before me.”

    This is what the LORD says:
    “Only if the heavens above can be measured
    and the foundations of the earth below be searched out
    will I reject all the descendants of Israel
    because of all they have done,”
    declares the LORD.

God has a grand and glorious vision for us. He has held this vision from the foundations of the world, and everything in creation is moving steadily in its direction.

But God’s vision is not just for his people as a whole. I believe God has a vision for the life of each of his children, for each one of us. I believe we have all been created and fashioned with the utmost care, gifted with unique characteristics, talents, gifts, and possibilities. Our life’s most important work is to discover this vision God has for our lives, and to live accordingly, in ways that help to bring the vision to full reality.

But of course, you know what they say: the best laid plans of mice and men… No matter how hard we try to keep moving in the right direction, to keep working toward this personal vision as it is revealed to us, life happens. Circumstances change, sometimes for the best but also sometimes for the worst. Other people get in our way, sometimes unintentionally, not meaning to hurt us or mar the beautiful picture of us that God is painting. And yes, sometimes intentionally, too, wanting to hurt us, to keep us from becoming what we need to become to achieve our place in God’s scheme of things.

Consider Joseph, son of Jacob. Through the medium of dreams, God imparted a vision He had for Joseph’s life to the young boy. In dreams, Joseph saw his older brothers bowing to him, and himself in a place of greater position and authority. But Joseph, being young and immature and most probably arrogant and insensitive, bragged about his dreams, and his brothers became jealous and plotted to destroy their brother, along with his dreams.

We know the story. Joseph managed to survive because of Reuben. Instead of being killed, he was sold to a caravan of Midianite merchants and taken to Egypt, where he ended up as an imprisoned slave. While he was in that Egyptian prison, Joseph had to unlearn his arrogance and replace it with patience and a bit of wisdom. God did not abandon Joseph, but rather gifted him with continued insight into dreams, but this time the dreams of others. Through his ability to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, and then the dreams of Pharaoh himself, Joseph was removed from prison and exalted to high rank, with great authority.

Joseph received a hint of God’s vision for his life. His brothers tried to subvert that vision, through their hateful actions thrusting him into a life of slavery and captivity. Joseph did not despair and give up, but used his time of adversity to grow in wisdom, patience, and compassion. When Pharoah made him his second-in-command, Joseph found himself in a place where he could provide rescue for his family and people in a time of famine and hardship. He brought his family over into Egypt, thereby setting the stage for one of God’s most grand and significant works. Four hundred years later, God would bring his people out of Egypt and give them their own land, the promised land. Joseph’s experiences, the suffering and the exaltation, the fulfilllment of God’s vision for his individual life, set the stage for the Exodus.

Consider David, son of Jesse. As a young man, he was brought in from tending the sheep one day to find a strange man who wanted to pour a horn of sacred oil over his head, anointing him as the next King of Israel. Many of us feel God’s plan for our life is hard to discover. Well, for David God made things really clear.

But did David then go right to Jerusalem and assume the throne? No, we know the story. King Saul was still on that throne, but he had become a troubled man, growing further and further apart from the Lord and beginning a descent into the madness of paranoia and jealousy.

After killing Goliath of Gath, David fought for Saul and became a renowned commander. But Saul, seeing how the people admired and praised David for his accomplishments, grew to hate David and plan his destruction. For many, many years, David had to evade the efforts of Saul to find him and kill him. David had many opportunities to kill Saul and seize the throne which the prophet Samuel had anointed him for, but he refused to lay hands on God’s anointed, refused to take the timing of his life’s vision into his own hands, instead leaving that in God’s hands.

In time, Saul was killed in battle, and David became King of Israel and the poet of the Psalms, the most heartfelt prayers ever penned. David was not a perfect man – no, far from perfect. But he was used by God to help establish the nation of Israel and to carry God’s vision for his people forward. It was through David’s line that Jesus came to us. Mary was a descendant of David, and Jesus is called the Son of David.

David had received more than a hint of God’s vision for his life. It was boldly pronounced by the prophet Samuel. But he had to live for a time in great adversity, surviving in desert hiding places, always running from Saul. But eventually, when the time was right for the fulfillment of God’s plan, David assumed his rightful place on Israel’s throne.

Just like Joseph and David, we are given hints and signs of what God has planned for us. The people around us help us to refine our awareness of what we are meant to become. But then life may slap us down, through our own faulty choices, or through the subversion of our plans by other people, we stray from the path and lose sight of God’s vision for us. Our most important life’s work is to find our way back to that path, to refine our awareness of our place in God’s plan.

But we can never see the whole picture. Our personal vision becomes a piece in a vast puzzle, like the pieces some of you are holding. The only way to see God’s glorious plan is to begin to place the pieces where they belong.

(Invite folks to come and place their pieces.)

Notice the missing pieces? The reason is that Jubilee is not the whole of God’s vision. The community of believers that is Jubilee cannot bring about the full picture, but must join in with all of the rest of God’s people to complete the picture God is painting. But when we work together to help fulfill God’s visions for each other, we find that we can begin to see enough of the picture to give us hope. We can see enough to get a glimmer of how wonderful and perfect God’s final grand picture will be.

The people of God did not stop with the ancient Israel of Jeremiah’s time. The people of God continue in the church today, and I believe we share in the deal God makes with his people in Jeremiah 31:33-34:

    “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
    after that time,” declares the LORD.
    “I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
    or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
    because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
    declares the LORD.
    “For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

In the face of our sins and failed choices, God monitors and adjusts and keeps us on the path. During the coming week, let us be especially watchful for ways in which God’s forgiveness and grace restore us and keep us turning in His direction. And let us strive to help one another discover and live up to God’s vision for each of our lives.

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