Sounds Like a Plan

Heritage Presbyterian Church

November 15, 2020
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture readings – Judges 4: 1-8 and Matthew 25: 14-30

Back in the olden days, when my daughter was in elementary school, she had a friend named Amanda that was in her class for all five years of school.  Amanda’s older sister was also in our son’s class for all five years of school.  So Amanda’s family and my family became pretty good friends, and over the years we did all sorts of things together.  Much of us centered on the kids and what they were all doing.

Whenever we would decide to do something together or go somewhere as a group or just coordinate who would get the kids and pick up or deliver them to some event, we would just phone informally and discuss it.  No matter the list of ideas, when we were done, Amanda’s mother, Susan, always ended those conversations with the same phrase:  “Sounds like a plan.”

Once we had a plan that everyone understood, we could get things done reasonably….usually.

I can imagine that most of us in groups larger than two often come up with plans for how we are going to get things done.  Also, I can imagine that each of us also make various plans in our heads for how future events will unfold.  These plans can be complicated, dreamy, big, small, silly, unrealistic, and even foolish.  But we all do it.

Our planning seems to fall into three categories:

  • Some of us make a list, either in our heads or actually written down on paper somewhere.  If the plan is for everyone to go to the movies, someone has to drive, which movie, which movie theater, anyone have coupons.  If it’s a shared meal, what will be eaten, where will it be, is a reservation needed, and so forth.  It’s not rocket science, but you can’t just run for the parking lot, pile in various cars, and then off you go to a successful event.  It takes a little planning, so writing down a list or at least thinking about what’s required makes for a good plan.
  • The second category of plans is having a good idea.  Often this cannot be planned very extensively because you don’t know all the variables.  It takes a certain amount of leadership, bravery, and nerve to make this happen – especially if it involves others who don’t have the same idea.  This seems to follow the “let’s see where this goes” type of thinking.  And that frustrates those of us who like a list of what to do and how it’s going to be done.  A perfect example of this is the planning for our new church home.  Where will it be?  We don’t know.  How much will it cost?  We don’t know.  Who will build it?  We don’t know.  When can it happen?  We can sort of answer one:  when we sell our current church property.  But the rest of this plan is only a good idea that will take time, effort, discussion, money, initiative, and some guts.  But it’s still an excellent idea.
  • The last category is the most difficult one for me: going with a feeling.  Another way to describe this is “going with your gut.”  The biggest problem with this one is that usually only person has the feeling, and the rest have to decide if they will follow, help, or quit.  It can be discouraging to the person with the feeling, especially because the Holy Spirit often leads this way; following someone who has little more than a feeling takes an unusual amount of courage and trust.  It can also be discouraging if you are the one with the feeling but you can’t convince anyone to listen to you.  Millions of good plans have been cancelled because of this.  But it is the toughest plan of all.

When we look at the two very different Scripture readings for today, we are encountering two very different plans that demonstrate much of what I have been describing.

First of all, in the Book of Judges, we have the story of the only female judge in the entire history of ancient Israel.  Deborah must have been someone obviously very special for the Israelites to listen to.  In those days, female leaders were extremely rare and they stand out in history.  God was at work through Deborah because she was also recognized as a prophet.  So God’s plan was to use her as a judge, and the Israelites must have agreed with the plan because she was busy all day long settling disputes between God’s people.

Yet, despite being taken seriously by God’s people and by her military leader, Barak, her plan that was described in today’s reading was not followed by Barak.  Experts are split over exactly what Barak’s plan might have been:

  • Barak was weak and could not plan for himself.  So when Deborah told him that he would lead the Israelite army against the Canaanites, he agreed – but only if Deborah went with him.  In other words, Barak wanted to play it safe and cover all his bases before agreeing with Deborah.  That’s one version of Barak’s plan.
  • The second is that Barak trusted Deborah completely and wanted her to be at his side as the plan unfolded.  This one is a little hard to accept because it seems that when Deborah heard this demand, she agreed – but also changed the outcome to give glory to a woman instead of either Barak or his soldiers.
  •  No matter what happened, God’s plan was fulfilled.  Of course, this proved to be true.  The Canaanites were defeated, a woman killed Sisera, the Canaanite general, and the people of Israel were saved.  No amount of human effort could alter what God’s will was going to be.

Lots of lessons learned in this passage, which is surprising given how brief it is.

Next, we have Jesus teaching another parable about the Kingdom of God.  In it, various plans appear and all have much to teach us.

Let’s set the scene of the parable: a master had three slaves that work for him.  Already, we can assume that he knows and understands these three men.  He must trust them at least a little bit because he is leaving them while he goes on a journey.  He called them together and tells them his plan.  At this point, we have to wonder if this is a test because of the amount of talents he gives each of them…especially when we learn that just one talent equaled about 75 pounds of silver, or the equivalent of 20 years of daily wages. 

That’s quite a bit of trust to be given to three slaves…  

The first slave is his “eager beaver.”  This slave gets five talents to work with.  We get no other information, like how did he double the money, or what did he do with it, or how long the master was gone.  All we get is that eager beaver Slave #1 had five talents and turned it into five more, a huge amount of earnings for the master to receive.  Small wonder the master was so pleased with his eager beaver Slave #1.

Next, we have the “cheery chipmunk” Slave #2.  He was still trusted by the master – remember that just one talent equaled 20 years worth of daily wages.  To be given that much also showed trust in this slave.  And how did this slave’s plan turn out?  He also doubled what he had been trusted with.  The master was also pleased with cheery chipmunk Slave #2.  

So far, whatever the master’s plan was, it had worked to perfection.  Then we get to the third part of the story.

Slave #3 is the “pokey puppy” in this story.  He was still given a huge amount of money by today’s standard, and he had obviously done some things to show the master he was not in the same category as the other two slaves.  Still, the master gave him one talent and trusted him to do something with it.  Instead, the third slave only protected that one talent by burying it in the ground. He brought it back and gave it to the master…that was his plan, it seems.

But let’s look a little more at pokey puppy Slave #3.  Not only did he do the bare minimum while the master was gone, he also delivered it back to the master – along with some sass.  He did nothing with the talent except to keep it safe; that would have been weak enough, but then he decided to sass the master to justify his lack of action.  Remember the passage from the Gospel reading: “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.  I was afraid…”  

We don’t really need to look any further than this passage.  

The master may not have had high expectations for this pokey puppy, but he expected more than this.  And he certainly didn’t expect to be disrespected by this slave.  That part strikes me as the weakest part of the slave’s plan.  I can only imagine that he thought he could reason with the master and point out the master’s own culpability in the overall plan.  Working for a tough boss – especially one who apparently reaps where he did not sow anything, and gathers where he did not scatter seed – would be a tricky master to please.  But even a master such as this could be pleased by a little more effort from the slave.  The pokey puppy Slave #3 didn’t even try…he just protected what he was given and gave it back.  I get a better plan when one of my neighbors borrows a shovel from me; at least I get it back cleaned up and ready to go for the next project.   Slave #3’s sin in this parable was his lack of effort.

There are two more points for today’s message, and they are both extremely important.

The first one comes to my mind when I think back on the work I have been doing with another church that was in danger of splitting up – just as our own church did over ten years ago.  This particular church was divided right down the middle over their pastor; half of them wanted him gone and half of them loved them.  There was no middle ground between them.  During our work with them, we came up with a plan and presented it to both groups.  One group was willing to work with us, but the other dug in and refused.  At that point, one of the pastors in our group stood up and thundered at the stubborn group:  “Where is God in all this?”  He was demanding that they at least consider that the plan they insisted upon didn’t involve the Lord at all; it was just stubborn human actions designed to get their own way.  

In our own plans, perhaps the first thing to consider is to answer that pastor’s question:  “Where is God in all this?”  I don’t mean we should consider God when we are just trying to figure out where the group will eat dinner or what movie we should see.  But Christians are supposed to seek a personal relationship with God; that means praying, listening, and being aware of his Spirit’s movement in our lives.  It also means that even if the Spirit is not moving in our own lives, perhaps it is moving in the lives of others around us – and perhaps we should consider following their plans.

The second point to remember was clearly spoken by Jesus himself.  Toward the end of the parable, Jesus said, “For to all those who have more, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”  Despite the clear lessons from the parable – like try harder to be either an eager beaver or a cheery chipmunk – this one can be lost in the story.  Yet it is the main point of the parable Jesus was making when he told it. 

If we are blessed with much, we are expected to do much.  But even if we are only given a little, Jesus still has expectations for what he expects us to do with it.  

For a perfect example of this, I look no further than the recipient of our recent Peace & Global Witness offering.  We sent a $200 check last week to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Sulphur, Louisiana.  This church has been devastated by three of the five hurricanes that have struck Louisiana this year; yet they continue serving as coordination center and a gathering point for hurricane relief efforts in their part of the state.  Isn’t that amazing!  Who would blame them if they wanted to concentrate on their own plan of repairing their church building?  Not too many of us, and yet they choose to continue their plan of helping their brothers and sisters in the area.  Little was given to them, and yet can’t you picture the joyful face of the Master when he considers all they are doing!

So make your plans, sisters and brothers.  Dare to dream and dare to dream big and boldly.  The Master has given each of us a set of gifts, whether we recognize them or not.  

What is our plan?

What is your plan?

And where is God in all of it?