Scripture: Jeremiah 29:10-14
Sermon: “Change’s Constant” by Pastor Todd Buurstra

Change is here to stay! Maybe so, but this degree of church change tires me. You?
I imagine that it was a beautiful fall Sunday morning in 1541 when change-weary Gene-vans rousted each other out of bed for church. More folks than usual were saying, Let’s get up for church. Why? sleepy teens asked. Because Calvin is coming back to preach moms replied. Normally a snotty answer like, Who cares? might follow, but even young Genevans were hungry for stability.

Geneva, Switzerland had been reeling from one change to another in recent years. It wasn’t that long ago that the Genevan City Council had fought for independence from the Catholic bishop who had ruled the city with an iron fist. But then Calvin and the Reformers had tried to set up a church relatively free from city control that would oversee the morals of the people. These were the forefathers of the Puritans, after all. Now some oversight was helpful, but in the process the weekly consistory meetings became overzealous by:

  1. Reprimanding a man for making a noise during a sermon;
  2. Disciplining a woman of 75 for becoming engaged to a man of 25; and,
  3. Forcing another to make public confession before the church for naming his dog, “Calvin;”

By 1539 the City Council decreed, Rev. John Calvin’s right to the pulpit is denied. But Jean Calvin continued to mount the many steps up the pulpit in St. Peter’s to declare God’s word suspended there between earth and heaven. Finally the Council threw Calvin out because Genevans felt like they were still under the thumb—just the preacher’s, not the bishop’s.
With Calvin gone, however, Geneva spun further into chaos. It seemed to veer between a return toward kissing the pope’s ring or the most radical reformers who, like the modern day Tea Party, wanted very limited government. The town wobbled like a drunken sailor in those days.

So as people hurried to milk the cows, feed the backyard chickens, and dress the kids in their Sunday best before the church bell chimed, they were tired of change. I bet we’ll get a real tongue-lashing from the preacher on his return to the pulpit today, sighed father over breakfast.

Meanwhile Calvin, who had really not wanted to come back, was praying, Lord, what do you want me to say on Sunday? About coming back he had already said, I would prefer a hundred other deaths to that cross, on which I should have to die a thousand times a day. Apparently, he loved pastoral work. What could he say in his sermon? Calvin could maintain his usual practice of preaching verse by verse through a book of the Bible. Or he could weave into it a royal scolding for kicking him out. Or he could preach, like many of his later followers did, on a hot social issue of the day—like a proposed, first of its kind, European sewer system. I imagine that Calvin wrestled with God in his study over that sermon.

As people streamed into St. Peters church, the mayor and the ditch digger, the banker and the beggar, they were asking each other, What’s going to happen? Can he bring calm to the city so that we can make money again? Can we avoid protests in the streets and enjoy parades instead? Is freedom from the pope and stability possible? Sweaty palms shook hands that day.

As the 32 year old preacher climbed up the many stairs to the pulpit, he may have been wondering, What is my opening line? I doubt he wondered, Do I start with a joke? This is the father of the dour Puritans, after all. He might have wondered, Do I use that story, or convey my feelings in exile, or my feelings upon return? Regardless, perched beneath the soundboard, hovering over the standing room only congregation, there was a hush. Even the babies stopped crying. Into that holy hush Calvin decided to begin like he always did, something like:
When I left you we were on Jeremiah 28. Chapter 29 continues…
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare not for harm,
plans to give you a hope and a future.

Plans. Our plans and the Lord’s plans. Geneva’s plans and God’s plans. The week I got the message that Brian may resign, I had just said to our Pastor Staff Committee: whatever you do, do everything you can to keep this guy. He’s harder to replace than me. They all said in unison, That’s for sure! That was my plan. I mean we had just been through a season of music change a little over two years ago. I wanted to keep this good thing going as long as possible. We were all amazed at the talent. Our plans were dashed.

As soon as the news got out, Larry Forni called me up to say, Todd, as a former Planning Engineer I had a favorite Murphy’s Law. It went, “If things can go wrong they most certainly will—and at the worst possible time! Yup. But into all of the tumultuous turnovers that occur in life, could it be that Jesus is saying here:
Its not your plans that ultimately matter. It’s mine.

I don’t know God’s plan for Brian, but I can’t stand in its way. Nor do I know God’s plan for NBRC, but I don’t want to stand in your way either. We need to accept God’s plan. Why? Listen again to the ancient prophet to a people whose plans were dashed by exile:
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare not for harm,
plans to give you a hope and a future.

God’s plan is good. It is to give us a hope and a future. My plans give me a sense of control, but I don’t see the forest for the trees. Its almost like Calvin’s pulpit, hovering between earth and heaven, where God has a broader vision of what is best, of what gives us a hope and further.

And lastly, God’s plans are for you—plural. Not to say that God doesn’t have an individual plan for me and Sue and for Joe and for Fred, but that God’s plans aren’t fulfilled alone. We need each other. Like the Genevans had to come together into God’s plan for them to have stability, so do we. Already people are stepping up to volunteer for things, or to at least center me the football so that I can punt it away. To pull off Christmas, more than any other year, the church will need your prayers, and your efforts. For God gives the hope and future to us.

So listen again, to the first word God says to us in all of life’s changes:
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare not for harm,
plans to give you a hope and a future.


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