As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Faith in the Game Plan, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Trinity Sunday 5 June, 2016. The Reading was Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16.
I love this time of year. Well, this time of every couple of years. It will see me getting up early, staying up late, and even pulling the mattress into the lounge room so I can make the most of every single second. See, I love the Olympics. I was up early yesterday morning, to watch the Opening Ceremony… and then realised I got the time wrong. So after Men’s breakfast, I was back quick smart to keep watching it.
And yes, Liesl and I will most likely bring out the mattress at some stage so we can watch the games until we fall asleep. We love it. I love the stories that come about every year, of athletes pushing through adversity, of never giving up, and finishing, even when all hope is lost.
I was just six years old when this happened, so I have no idea if I actually saw it live, or have just seen it in so many replays and telecasts that it feels as if I was there, but this video captures so much of that Olympic spirit that I love.
Something I love about a number of the sports is that even when the Athletes might not have a chance to win, they still give it their all. Because, even if you’re not shooting for the gold, you still have an opportunity to do better than you’ve done in the past. So they stick to their plan, as best as they can.
It’s been something that I’ve thought about a lot over the past couple of months. Particularly today, as it’s the Derby today – the biggest game of AFL in the West. It doesn’t matter who is on top of the ladder over there – whoever won the last derby is the team who has the bragging rights. And it was the Derby earlier in the year where Fremantle’s season fell to pieces.
Freo were the minor premiers last year, and were expected to do well. However, their game plan depended on their dominance in the ruck. But when a few rule changes came, their plan didn’t work as well as it had. And then, in the derby, their ruckman, Aaron Sandilands, was injured in a collision with Nic Natainui, which ended up puncturing his lung. And from that point, while Fremantle had been in the lead up until that point, almost immediately West Coast dominated the rest of the game.
With their ruckman gone, Fremantle didn’t know how to play. They couldn’t stick to their new game plan. They couldn’t stick to an old game plan. They just didn’t know what they could do.
So often we can’t see the end, or know we won’t see the end.
So often, when we have a plan, even if things go wrong, if we can stick to the plan while it might not work out as best as we had hoped, it often works out better than if we had no plan. But with the majority of our plans, we have an end point. We can see what we’re working towards.
But sometimes, with the things that we do, we don’t have an end point. Or at least, we can’t see the end point.
This is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time. You see, in my music studies, while there would often be milestones, I would rarely reach an end point. I would be practicing, getting a piece ready for a performance, or an exam, or something. And that would come, and it would go, and it would be only a milestone. While that performance would be over, there would still be work to do on that piece. It was never perfect. We would strive for perfection, but in reality it is a goal that is never reached.
Similarly, in Theology and ministry, I know that I rarely see an end goal. Faith is a spectrum, and we can help move people along from absolute denial of faith to absolute acceptance of faith. But it’s not a simple binary “no I don’t. Now I do” scenario. In a spectrum that is spaced across this room, I might be able to move someone from one spot to another. I might move them maybe two or three spots if we’re really close. But very rarely will I be the one to see them move from the side of unacceptance to the side of acceptance.
I guess this is why I have taken an interest in Woodwork. Because, in each woodwork project, there is a firm completion point. The point where I can say, yep, that one’s complete. I don’t need to work on that any more.
So often in our lives, and particularly in our faith, we can’t see the end point. We can’t see what the plan is. All we can see is our little bit, and we often don’t have any idea how that fits in to the larger plan. And that sometimes makes it hard to commit to that bit of the plan. It makes it hard to have the conviction to press on.
Through the example of the Patriarchs, we can have faith in God’s plan
The writer of this letter to the Hebrews, in exploring what it is that faith means, enters into a long exposition surrounding the faith of the patriarchs – that is, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – to show that faith is often dealing with things that are unseen, or unseen in our lifetime. When Abraham set off, following the Lord’s instructions, he wasn’t told where he would live. Just that a land was promised to him. So he went. He had faith that God would provide, and when he reached Canaan, it was then that God told him this was what he had been promised.
Abraham was also promised that he would be the father of many – despite his old age. I’m sure that he never could have imagined that the lineages that are found in Matthew and Luke would ever have been thought possible to contain so many names.
But the promise of a “homeland” was one that none of the patriarchs saw in their life time. When the came to Canaan, they still lived in tents – they were sojourners in the land, living there temporarily. But the author here is implying that there is another homeland – heaven – that is where they would belong. Here, they would no longer be temporary residents, sojourners or resident aliens. They would be permanent residents of their homeland, of the land that was promised to them, from where they would never have to move.
The reality is that they never saw that in their lifetime. But they still had faith, to follow God’s plan, even though they didn’t know what the end point was. They had faith, and they followed God, they didn’t try to set up permanent homes in just any land, but they waited, and trusted in God.
In the same way, we need to trust in God’s plan.
Through having faith in God’s plan, we can partner in God’s work
God is doing incredible work in this world. There are stories of people coming to faith, of people’s lives being transformed. It is through the faithful endurance of Christians that God’s plan is continued in this world. We won’t always see the end result. Sometimes, just like when Abraham did stay in Cannan for a time, or when Moses was shown Canaan from the mountain top, we will capture a glimpse, a short vision of what God’s plan is. But through it all, we need to remain faithful in what God is calling us to do, however big or small, confident that if we are faithful to God’s plan, then things will work out for the best.
For those athletes who are competing in the Olympics, if they stick to their game plan, they will surely do better than if they were to discard their plan completely. In the same way, we need to have faith in God’s plan, and be faithful partners in bringing about God’s kingdom wherever we are.
Go and live out your faith, trusting in God’s plan, even when we can’t see the end.
So Go. Go and live out your faith. Go and do what God is calling you to do. It might be to go and talk to your next door neighbour. It might be signing up for a community class, and being an example in there. It might be answering a call for ministry, whatever that might look like. It might be taking that step and saying “God, I believe in you, and trust you with everything that I have. And even though I may not see the end, I am here and available for whatever you need.”
Whatever step God is calling you to take, we are reminded that whatever it is, that we can wholly trust in Jesus’ name. No matter what comes our way, it is Christ alone who is our cornerstone, the one who holds it all together. As we sing this song, you might like to come and commit to trusting in God’s plan. You might like to come and pray for discernment over what God is calling you to do. Or you maybe you’re feeling that today is the day that you come and place your trust in Christ alone – maybe for the first time, or maybe for the hundredth – either way, whatever you need at this time, this place of prayer is open for all.