GOD’S PLAN FOR YOU AND ME
REV. MICHELLE BAKER
MAPLE GROVE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
SEPTEMBER 5, 2021
I am so glad to be with you today to be offering the message and serving at the table for communion. Both are near and dear to my heart as is this congregation. Patty asked me to offer a message of my personal life and faith. There was no question which scripture I would use for today but Jeremiah 29:11. This is my life verse. Listen to it again.
For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to prosper and not to harm, to give you a hope and a future.
There is a joke that says: Do you know how to make God laugh .... Tell God your plans. This seems to be so true in my life. I say often, that before I die, I want to learn the difference between my time and God’s time. I’m getting better, but I still have a way to go.
As we begin, Let’s look at the setting in which this scripture is placed. This is part of a letter that God had the prophet Jeremiah write around the year 600BC to a group of Jews who are living in Babylon approximately 400 miles from Jerusalem. They were exiled because of their sins and idolatry. God was giving the land rest for the centuries the Israelites had not kept the Sabbath. They had acquired the values of those around them, not living a life of faith. Living here was not their choice. They were exiles.
The Babylonians had come and literally taken them away from their families and friends, and forced them to leave their jobs and their homes, and to live in a place and culture which was totally foreign to them. This was nothing they wanted, nothing they planned and certainly in their foreign culture, nothing they understood.
Previous to this passage God tells them to get comfortable in their new surroundings. Because they were to be there for the next 70 years, if you ask me, that was a very long time out. BUT God assures them that he had a plan for them ... not to hurt or harm them. A plan with a purpose. What was the purpose.? The Lord planned to prosper them, to provide them with hope ... to provide them with a future.
I think we can understand theoretically that God has a plan but when we are in the midst of trial and difficult times that consumes us, it is hard to see to the other side. Sometimes I feel like that is the world we are living in right now. A virus that just does not seem to stop, fires - earthquakes -hurricanes - global warming, hatred and division even within those who are profess to follow Jesus. I don’t know about you but there are days I absolutely feel like those Jews in Babylon ... I know God has a plan but I would sure like to be brought into the loop and to how this will all work itself out.
To help us make this verse a little closer to our heart, I would like to substitute two words from what we have read. 1. Let’s put dreams in place of plans ... 2. and the original Greek meaning of hope is confidence. Let’s listen again. For I know the dreams I have for you declares the Lord, to give you confidence and a future. I don’t know about you but that lets me see this in a whole different way.
God's dreams for me? Really? The creator of the universe has dreams for me? Yes, God does have dreams for me and for you. If God created me in God’s image and calls me his daughter, why wouldn’t he have dreams for me. Think about parents. All parents have dreams for their children. Why would it be any different with our creator? And it is the same for you. God created you and calls you son or daughter and has dreams for you. It doesn’t depend on you believing it, feeling it or even understanding it. God has dreams for each of us.
Now the other word we substituted was confidence for hope. To give us confidence and a future. I know when I have confidence in achieving something, it becomes easier for me. I believe in my ability. And to think that God gives us that confidence makes it all the more attainable.
God has dreams for you, and instills confidence in you to see the future that God plans.
I’m quite sure I didn’t understand this for many decades of my life. I want to take you on a short trip to places in my life that now, I can see where God's plans helped to form me into the person that stands here today.
Let’s start in the early 1960’s at Worthington Methodist Church. There was a little girl that cried because she was too young to join the children’s choir and when she was old enough stood up in the choir loft and sang to the depths of her soul. (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly was the first song I sang in church, so Quinton if you could put that on out list every Christmas that would make me happy).
Fast forward to the mid 70’s. I went on a mission trip with another church to Broken Bow Oklahoma to work with the Choctaw Chickasaw Indians. I planned and ran a VBS for the children on the reservation. In our evening vespers I remember crying every night. The leaders passed it off as being homesick, but I look back and realize it was the first time I felt the Holy Spirit washing through me and I had no clue what to do with it.
Also during this same time frame I had just completed confirmation and finally I Was allowed to teach Sunday School. One year in the 3’s class, one year in the Kindergarten class and my senior year was lead teacher of the Kindergarten. That was God's training for a future in Christian Education.
Fast forward to 1992 on the steps right here. I was 9mo pregnant with Connor and friends ... there was no better time to play Mary during a children’s sermon than that moment. I told the children about this amazing gift and a very young Kate Morgan looked up with those beautiful blue eyes and said, Oh Miss Michelle ... You mean God loves me that much. I literally thought I would melt into a puddle and slide down the steps. Friends little did I know it then, but God had a plan ... that was my call to ministry. All I knew was I had a story of God's love that I needed to share with others.
7 weeks into life with our newborn, and he was desperately sick and in the hospital, not knowing if he was going to live or die. This was the first time I was able to cling to this verse when in the wee hours of the night I was rocking my baby and praying hard. God calmed my soul and allowed my faith to grow exponentially. I was able to come to a place that if he wasn’t going to make it, somehow I would figure out a way to move on, with God's help, how to be ok. We made it home and it was a rough couple years but 4 months in, his pediatrician said someone needed to stay home and manage him medically. I needed to give up my professional career as an epidemiologist and data analyst. But when I did that, I now had the time to concentrate on my part time job here at MG as DCE and found that ministry fulfilled me like nothing ever had. I now had a path to follow that call to ministry. If you don’t know, that little baby boy is a happy and healthy 28yo married man now.
I want to make a caution here, I in no way believe that God caused Connor to be sick in order to fulfill his dream of me being a minister. My theology simply does not allow for that. But he did give me the ability to see through an unimaginable time and find good within it.
I started a full time position at Hilliard UMC as minister of education, graduated from seminary and was zooming toward ordination when it felt like every support I had fell out from under me. I was denied ordination the first time I interviewed. I had to take a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. I picked Children’s Hospital because my ministry experience had been with children, youth and families. One late night on call I had to pray a 4month old into heaven as we discontinued life support. Friends I cannot describe what it felt like but I literally felt heaven and earth touch in that moment. I knew without a shadow of a doubt chaplaincy was my next step in ministry.
God said it wasn’t time yet, because the wheels were coming off my marriage and I needed to heal. The church (not a west Ohio church) where I was serving told me because of that to go find another job elsewhere. I needed time to heal. And so I did. During this time, working a non ministry job, I had our verse for today taped to my computer monitor. I read it literally hundreds of times every week. I didn’t understand it, but I believed it. And now I have completed my advanced training, became board certified and have been a hospice chaplain now for 10 years. People ask me how I do this difficult work and I can safely and confidently, It’s where God calls me today, where God calls me tomorrow, I’ll just wait and see.
This is only just the highlights in my life, and dare I say does not even begin to tell the story of how many times I made a plan, tried to change the major or minor events of my life, because ... surely I know better what direction my life should’ve. What plan are you on, B, C, T, or maybe Z? How often do we wonder? “What's next”, “Where is God in all this?” or maybe “God, what is your plan?”
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. The Jewish people of Jeremiah’s day had to feel like this. The prophet Jeremiah spoke for God and told them to hold tight, hang on ... God had a plan and it's to give you hope and give you a future. Have you felt like this last year and a half has had us in exile? I would venture the answer would be yes. How many of our plans have been derailed. How many of our dreams have been derailed. We don’t know where this will all end, but I pray it isn’t what the Jewish people were told, 70 years. We have been separated from loved ones, activities that nurture our soul, loss of work and so much loss of life, and then not always being able to even celebrate our loved ones lives when they die. But I assure you, God tells you today to tell you that God has a plan for your life, and God offers you a future.
Sometimes in our lives, bad stuff happens. I almost lost my first born, I didn’t plan on being a single mom, I certainly didn’t expect a church to let me go because I was no longer married, and my career goal was clear -- I was going to find the cure for cancer, not be a pastor for heaven sakes. All things I didn’t plan, but I can see how my faith grew, my personal strength grew, and my relationship with God grew out of the difficulties in my life.
There were many times when I cried out wondering where God was in the mess.
But in times like this, I think God is calling to us to look to God for our security and strength. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 121 [my favorite Psalm] “I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Sometimes in difficulty it is not where is God, but Where are we, What have we been going? Like those in exiles, we too often realize that we also are trying to blend in with society instead of being a light in the darkness. That isn’t always the case, but I think it bears giving ourselves a reality check as to where we are in relation to where God’s word tells us to be.
God often uses our mistakes or our heartaches, if we allow it to fulfill the bigger plan for our lives. God has a plan for this world, even if we cannot figure it out in these days, and God tell you and me that there is a plan ... and God wants to be sure that that plan includes you.
I asked my coworkers this week in our team meeting what this scripture meant to them. Here are a few of their responses. There are things in life to look forward to and life will be happier. God is in control, especially now. I hear emotional fulfillment. God loves me more than I know and wants the best for me.
But it was my friend and coworker Kari that I think hit on the ultimate meaning of this passage, God does give us a hope for a future ... its not just our life on this earth, because this life is temporary. God wants us to focus on the eternal - the life to come. I love the beginning of the Gospel of John chapter 14... and I take this from the Rev. Michelle paraphrase version of the Bible. “In my Fathers house there are many rooms, and if it was so, I would have told you. And because it so, I will come and take you to be with me, because where I am you will be also.”
That’s God’s ultimate promise for you, Jesus tells us that we have a place in heaven. God’s ultimate plan is to spend eternity with you in heaven.
Jesus died on the cross for you and me and the world. The creator of the world wants to spend eternity with you. In the grand scheme of things, the bumps in the road of life begin to pale. God tells us to be secure in the plan, whether we can see the outcome or not.
You probably are saying, thats all well and good, but how do we put this into action? I was thinking hard on this when I felt pulled to my momma’s well used and worn Bible. We have talked about verse 11 this morning, but mother has V12-13 marked and highlighted.
“When you call upon me and come to pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”
Prayer ... connection to God ... looking for God in the crazy events of life. Seek God with all your heart. That's what God wants. All of us, to put God first in our lives. To do all the good we can with our time on earth, and look to the future of eternity.
We prepare now to join at God’s table through the sacrament of Holy Communion. We remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us, his death on the cross for which he paid the price for our sins, and so that we will spend eternity in heaven. Have confidence in this dream of God, to have a relationship with you throughout your life on earth, as well as eternity.