Sermon delivered at Grace Presbyterian Church, December 31, 2000
Tomorrow and the Unknown
Tonight we enter the year 2001.
Most of us have seen Stanly Kubrick's 2001, A Space Odyssey, written by Arthur C. Clarke. Thankfully computers haven't gotten as ornery as he predicted. They certainly seem to have a mind of their own at times, and sometimes refuse to work for us by locking up, crashing or needing parts replaced. But they don't shut off our air supply and try to eliminate us as HAL did in the Kubrick movie. And they don't generally respond with the famous line, "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." And we haven't discovered evidence of alien life on our moon or on Jupiter's moons. But it was a fascinating story and made a lot of people think about what lies ahead.
So often, people wish they knew what tomorrow is going to bring.
At the beginning of the scientific age some believed that if we could just know a few physical laws, and locate the molecules of the universe, we could accurately predict everything that would happen in nature.
That dream was proven to be not only naive, but absolutely wrong. Today with our quantum understanding of matter, supported everytime we turn on a computer with semi-conductor microchips, we understand that no one can ever comprehend where things are, or exactly what they will do in every situation. But the error of that mechanistic determinists was that they dared to put things created in the place of the Creator in determining what comes next.
But we do the same in our own plans sometimes.
I have often told about that morning I got up to go to a meeting. Lois stayed home to do some vacuuming and cleaning up around the house. Brian went off to work and Amy was off to stay with a friend the night before.
We hadn't planned for a tornado to crush our house that day. The kids and I came home through police barricades to a neighborhood in ruins. Lois spent a good part of the day in a hospital emergency room, and eventually came home to a house a whole lot dustier and messier than when the day started.
But sometimes things go well that are totally unplanned. I was in 11th grade when we moved to this area from Buffalo. When I registered at Dunedin High School all the elective classes I wanted were filled. All that was available was a Drama class! Me? up in front of people speaking?? I was the one where my oral reports in class were rather quiet. The voice best heard was my frustrated teachers saying, "Robert, don't mumble. And look at the class sometimes." But if God had not put me in that drama class, I wouldn't have been as well prepared to stand up here to teach God's word.
Each of us has experienced sudden twists and changes in his plans. There are tragedies that end days in ways we didn't expect in the morning. There are the successes we never planned for, or dreamed of. And there are those simple changes that may have frustrated or confused us at the moment.
When I was little I always told people I would be a scientist. Though I did get to teach science for a while, God had other plans for me.
Children -- make your plans. But be open to where the Lord may lead.
The Bible puts it this way in Proverbs 27:1
The word used for boasting here isn't limited to simple bragging. It often means talking as if we are sure and confident about something. And of course the thing we boast about isn't tomorrow itself. The warning is that we should not be so confident about what we expect to do when tomorrow comes.
We all know that unexpected things happen,
An example is found in 2 Kings 6:8-17. It tells about one early morning as the sun came up over the ancient town of Dothan. Elisha and his servant were camped there in the large green basin of the lush plains of Esdraelon. The servant woke up and came out of his tent to look out over the scenic pasture lands. He would have had every reason the night before to expect a quiet, beautiful morning.
But as his eyes panned across the tops of the surrounding rolling hills, he saw the unexpected. Silhouetted against the orange colors of the sun rise was the outline of a mighty army! During the night the Syrians had dispatched a powerful force to surround the city. The servant's plans for a quiet restful morning were displaced by fear and alarm.
He came to Elisha and said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" (2 Kings 6:15)
But his master knew the principles and promises God had made known. The text continues ...
After showing him what his physical eyes couldn't see, God struck the enemy with blindness, and they were led by Elisha into captivity. God's plan for the day certainly was not what that servant had imagined when he woke up.
God assures us that things are not as uncertain as they seem to be:
That plan is perfect, all encompassing, and unchangeable. Yet we know so little about what it entails.
Some things are clearly laid out in God's word. There he tells us some of his promises and plans.
The rest unfolds slowly with time. That's how we discover how God accomplishes what he has known and purposed for all eternity. Its only after things come together, that we can begin to appreciate how all those intricate turns move us along the careful path of providence.
But our certainty about future things is limited to what our God has told us will happen. We have those words that are humbling, and at the same time very comforting:
Among the revealed things was the promise that God would save his people from sin. Knowing this, God's people expected the coming of a Messiah who would be the Redeemer.
And there is the assurance that his kingdom will grow until all his people are gathered into it.
And we know there is coming a day of final judgment. At that time each of us will stand before the throne of God and hear his declaration. Either our lives will evidence his hand upon us in mercy and grace, or they will show that we remain as we all deserve as members of a fallen race.
Until then we are also told that each life is limited and will one day end. Those who die before that day will await the consummation of all things either in the presence of the Savior, or separated from him forever.
God also graciously reveals the moral principles he built into his universe. If we live within their boundaries, we live in true peace and confidence. But if we foolishly look for happiness outside of them, that same word of God tells us we are living a lie that will one day be exposed.
Jesus warned of each man's future in a parable recorded in Luke 12:20 ...
The material gains of this life are pitifully inadequate to prepare us for what that day will bring. People work so hard to amass wealth, prestige, luxuries and acclaim. But what good are they when we see the larger principles that make life worthy of its expectations?
As we face the future, another day, another season, another year, eternity ...
We need to shape our plans within the boundaries of the promises and principles God shows us. There alone we can discover true freedom and inner peace by living in harmony with what brings glory to God.
As his plan unfolds, in the uncertain days ahead, that is our assignment:
God tells us through the Apostle James in James 4:13-16
How naive for us to talk about tomorrow's plans, boasting in our great plans and dreams. But at the same time to neglect the hand of God that alone can steer us along the road.
Every year when I was growing up, we went to Hamburg New York, to the County Fair. And since my dad played clarinet in one of the most popular marching bands, we went to carnivals almost every weekend in the summers.
Once, I don't remember where it was, my uncle Dick was with us. He was more of a kid than the children sometimes. But he was lots of fun to be with.
There was the time when he asked my parents if he could take me into an attraction which was a large room with a maze of glass walls. I was pretty young but they agreed.
When we walked in we were surrounded with panes of glass that formed a maze. I could see other people in it and the door leading back out to the midway. But the openings were framed just like the clear glass. I'd take a step toward the exit and smash into a wall of glass. Then I'd turn and smash again. Finally I'd find an opening only to then smash into yet another wall. I started to panic. It was strange to see everybody else wandering around in there, and to see the exit I wanted to get to, but not to be able to get there.
As the panic grew I banged around and was not having much of a good time. I was scared and wondered why they would make such a place, and why we paid to go into it.
But then my uncle Dick saw the panic in me and said, "Here, take my hand." Knowing him, I'd likely find a joy buzzer there. But I was scared, so I reached out and he led me along through the turns in the maze of glass.
Soon we were out again and looking back, I'd enjoyed it -- once I held the hand of someone who knew how to find the way out.
We need to make our plans, and to live in the present. But always to walk according to what information we have, and the duty God gives us.
Here, once again, at the start of 2001, we begin a new era.
That's how, as we face the maze of possibilities and circumstances unseeable in advance, we are gripped by the hand of God.
Taking each step every day in the path he shows us, daring never to step foolishly where he warns us not to go.
So Jesus wisely taught us ...
So we press on, one day at a time, one moment to the next, one year after another, as Paul learned in his life, when from Roman imprisonment he wrote in Philippians 3 ...
God has given us so much to manage for him. We each have the hours of our days, our health and wealth however meager they may be. We have our opportunities and friends.
Faithfully use them all as God unfolds his secret plans which move us toward his much revealed yet still shadowed future.
But there is no question, that we can know the one who brings forth each day. He is the one who loves us in Christ. And he asks us to trust the grip of his leading hand.