Visit our new site at

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings- The Plan B Edition

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

For some reason, I love this passage from Acts that depicts Saul (the future Paul) participating in the stoning of Stephen. It’s not because I like the event, that's for sure. I suspect it is because I am in awe of just how huge the transformation is going to be.

Saul had no idea what was ahead- he was focused on his own plan for his life. His plan A.

Craig Barnes, a Presbyterian Pastor and professor, writes, “The real mark of leadership is not having the right ideas, but knowing how to recognize what the Holy Spirit is doing. And what the Spirit is not doing. Usually, we discover the second thing first. But the greatest failure in leadership is, after discerning that you have been wrong about a particular idea, giving up. The failure of Plan A is always, and only, and invitation to look for the Spirit in the next idea.”

Why do so many of us stick with our Plan As? Sometimes it is because we are too much in love with our Plan As to focus on anything else. We are wearing blinders.

Other times it’s because we don’t have a clue what God is saying- either we don’t know how to listen or we’ve turned the background noise up too high. And reality is, even when we aren’t sure, we still have to plow ahead. The church still needs to move forward. You have to make decisions in your life, even when you aren’t sure what direction God is illuminating. And so we do the best we can, and then in retrospect we can learn about God’s will and our choices. God loves the retrospect- the ways in which we looking back and where we made God choices or me choices, and from those choices learn, and get back to the Plan B life God has for all of us.

Anne Lamott writes that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty, “Certainty is missing the point entirely (Plan B, page 257).” Finding the plan B life God has for you, for us, is about letting go of certainty. About holding onto your hopes and expectations for your life, for our life together, loosely, leaving room for God to work. About looking back with humility, to see where you could have made faithful choices, and learning from those times.

Coming to faith can happen through many ways, one of the most important is through realizing that Plan Bs aren’t mistakes, they are steams of light given by God, waiting to be seen by human eyes.

It’s a lesson Saul is about to learn.

So. What are you thinking about?


  1. Ah yes - I also tend to be captivated by Saul's role in Stephen's stoning. This week, what sang for me from these readings were two different images, and I wrote about them here.

    I find it interesting that I did come around somewhat to a bit of what you mention, about being stuck in Plan A and fearing the change to a different plan. I guess that's pretty universal, huh? :-)

    warriormare (aka hedwyg)

  2. Ooh, like what you said. I haven't been able to decide which passage to use this week, but this helps a lot. Thanks.

    I'm busy preparing a memorial service. But not a typical one - this is a for a 41 year old physically and developmentally challenged woman who passed last week. The folks attending will be about 30 others like her plus caregivers. I'm challenged because I want to make it relevant to everyone present but find the standard prayers unsatisfactory.

    Oh yeah, many of those who will attend are bilingual but many others speak only Spanish. My "Spanglish" isn't up to the task. So for purposes of making life easier for the translator, simple is critical.

    No worries, I have 3 hours till the service begins.

  3. Thanks, Hedwyg!
    I am preaching this week, for a change, but I am trotting out Thomas in the upper room in those early post-resurrection appearances. I confess, I'm rewriting an old sermon, because senior pastor's out of town this week and I have family coming in this weekend. But also, I really like this sermon.
    That said, I think Saul's story is captivating precisely because of who he turns out to be, and certainly answers the question of Psalm 139 (where can I go to get away from God). I wouldn't be preaching this week's gospel anyway--I've done too many funerals here lately, and, to pun badly, it's been done to death.
    Grace and peace to all!

  4. This is just the kick start I came here looking for. Thanks! I too wanted to give folks a rest from John 14 because of the context they have recently heard it in. The stoning of Stephen was sticking in my mind, but after my idea for an opening discussing how they never read this passage in seminary... I was lost.

    Thanks Listing Straight!

  5. Wow! That was a sermon in itself.

    I wish I was preaching from Acts, but alas, I need to do a sermon on baptism.

    But I will return to these thoughts later.

  6. I may be getting in over my heada, but I’m going with the 1 Peter text and adding verse 1. The sermon is kind of inspired by a question one of the children asked me – it was “I have a Muslim in my class. Will he go to heaven?” This is a struggle for me, because we so need to encourage diversity and respect, but at the same time, I don’t want to water down our faith. Anyway, I want to talk about how being chosen isn’t just about salvation from hell. We don’t make the decision who goes to heaven or hell. Perhaps the question is not so much whether the Muslim goes to heaven, but does the Muslim see a little bit of heaven in us? It sounds muddled, but I’m hoping it comes together. Any thoughts?

  7. Listing Straight- great intro as always! Makes me wish I had picked Acts. Course the Christian Century's Theolog made me wish I were preaching on John!

    But... chilly fingers... i'm with you 1 Peter, adding vs. 1. But not so much taking it from a salvation angle necessarily. Actually I'm going to try to write the sermon right now... nothing else is working today, might as well write. Feel free to e-mail or facebook me if you want to chat about the passage.

    blessings rev. maria on what sounds like a challenging memorial service- but also like a great opportunity to offer and receive blessings.

  8. aw never mind... this was just not meant to be a productive morning. guess i'll go make some visits.

  9. I'm in week 2 of a sermon series weaving the lectionary with Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. This week is "blessed" and I'm going with the Psalm. I'm playing around with the words "blessed" and "blessing." That's about all I have at the moment, except to say that the real blessing is feeling a sense of God's abiding presence.

  10. Hmm. I had chosen the Acts passage, with the intention of doing a first-person narrative from Stephen's perspective. I don't think it's a very well-known story, so that would be interesting. That was Plan A. We'll see what the Spirit has in mind this week.

  11. Whoa! Rev. Maria. Prayers are being sent for you this minute. I think you have a wonderful pastoral challenge and blessing before you. May you and others feel God's grace and resurrection hope this afternoon.

  12. In this place we are going with Earth Day (or I am and I'm taking the congregation along for the ride).

    I think some hard questions have to be asked here in this forestry community. ANd some of my thoughts may have to come out in a rant on the blog to avoid destroying the sermon (or ending up in a regrettable letter to the editor). BUt for now you can see my stqrting worship thoughts here

  13. I am going with 1 Peter, in week three of a four week series on Being Church. The phrase "chosen and precious" sticks in my craw a little because of the Chosen Baby mythology that I grew up with as a an adopted person.

    But, honestly, whenever I am asked a theological question it is usually about that whole "election and predestination" thing, so I want to spend some time thinking about being set apart not for "specialness" but for a purpose--so that we might be more like Christ, the cornerstone rejected by the establishment of his day and still being rejected.

  14. A piece I wrote for American Bible Society got picked up by Textweek. It is called "Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light" under bulletin inserts.

    Hope it can help someone.

    I want to talk about Jesus the Way--NOT the ONLY way. Chillyfingers, I understand your kid's concern. That is why I want to talk about NOT the ONLY way.

    Had a big discussion at bible study today about people not wanting to be identified with the word "Christian" or for that matter "Church" because of the negative feelings that words conjure. Got to do something with that.

  15. muthah+ - have you heard Joseph Campbell talk about the many ways? He gives some good perspectives on it. I like that he (and maybe we) can see the bigger picture of multiple 'ways' while still choosing ONE way in which to live our lives.

    THe references I have for him are all print, sorry I can't link you to one.

  16. I'm not preaching this week for my first time since I started at this church Jan. 1. Whew. I'm ready for a break. I came here after being an associate pastor for 5 years so this every week thing is new to me. It's been better than I would have expected, by far, but I am definitely appreciative of the break!

    That said, we're dedicating our new stained glass windows in worship this week and the artist who designed and made them is going to "preach". He has some seminary training (RC), but won't be "preaching" as much in the traditional sense, as he will be (in my words) giving testimony about the importance of art in his spiritual life and the specifics about his interpretation and inspiration of our windows. I'm looking forward to it and know the congregation will eat it up.

    I'm writing the liturgy for worship, including a special prayer of dedication. I plan to use Scripture around the theme of light since he talks a lot about the play of light being his inspiration on his website.

    It'll be fun to do something different this week. I'll keep the rest of you in my prayers as you prepare the word for worship.

  17. Festival of Homies folks, I've got a question - - Did you register somewhere ahead of time for the different optional workshops? I saw them listed on the website in the agenda, but I didn't ever see a place to sign up for them. Am I missing something? Anyone know what they're planning to do for these?

  18. What an amazing and blessed morning! The memorial went better than anyone could have imagined. I've posted a bit that will let you know how Tanya was like a child

  19. your reflection was absolutely perfect. It makes me wish I were preaching.

  20. Ouch. That Ann Lamott quote cut a little close to my heart this week. But thanks for posting it and allowing me to get some perspective on what might be coming down in my life...

  21. muthah+- can you give us a link to what you wrote for TextweeK I couldn't find it and it sounds like it would be helpful in getting started.

    I haven't had a minute to even think about preaching this Sunday. We have a bishop's conference Fri and Sat, and after church on Sunday I leave for CREDO. Has anyone here done CREDO?

    peace -


  22. A couple of comments. I haven't figured out where I'm going this week but it's only Thursday.
    First, I heard a bishop from Pakistan talk Monday night. This is the third persecuted Christian I have had the privilege of hearing/knowing. I am struck by the fact that all of them are kind, gentle, humble, humorous people. What is it about real persecution - as opposed to the "you don't go to my church so you're going to hell" kind - that has allowed these three people to love their enemies is ways I can only hope I would?
    Second, I had a delivery man ask me this week if this church believes that Jesus is the only way. My answer was, yes I do believe that; however, I don't presume to know how Jesus brings everyone to him and I don't tell him who is worthy of being brought. Yes, I am a universalist.
    Third, I have also preached this passage to death - 53 funerals my first two years - but the line about "the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these" caught my eye this time. I don't know what to do with that even though I like Gail O'Day's comments about empowering the believing community.
    Like I said, it's only Thursday.

  23. I'm going with the 1 Peter 2 text and adding verse 1, as well.

    I posted a very long discussion I had as a part of a Second Life lectionary group here.

  24. I'm actually going with 1 Peter also and talking about the start of our spiritual community. Maybe along the lines of the "being the church" series that cheesehead is doing.

    I'm focusing especially on the idea that once we were no people and now we are God's people - about how our congregation was called into existence and why we are here. More along the lines of chosen for a purpose, rather than the only ones chosen.

    Afterwards, we are having a church potluck and we will be creating a congregational timeline! We'll map out the living history of our congregation - and discover how each of us have been living stones in this temple of God.

  25. While I'm not preaching this week, I spend time with the texts to help prepare my worship leading. Here's my reflection and memory of a year ago today.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.