How does the saying go? Humans make plans, God laughs?
For some people, hearing ‘no’ to affordable housing would be the end of things. It was difficult, but not debilitating. For us, it meant having conversations. These weren’t always pleasant. People would leave angry from time to time. We talked for months, in whispers and out in the open.
This passage from Jeremiah tells us that the plans God talks about aren’t paths or foreordained futures. The plans are vague at best. They concern our welfare, our care, and our hope. They remind us of a promise to be present, to be found when we seek God. Through these words from Jeremiah, God doesn’t lay a path out before us. There’s no assurance that we’ll be prosperous or that the road ahead is easy. God only promises to care and to listen.
Our initial proposal caused great consternation in corners of our congregation. Maybe some were surprised. They might have been hurt or afraid. We can’t really say. All we can do is imagine and empathize.
We can imagine the grief that might have come up for people who poured their heart, history, and soul into the church. It’s easy to empathize with the fear of losing a place and space built by faithful members. We can imagine the frustration of not being able to fully support something so lovingly created. It must have been overwhelming for some.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,
The proposal from leadership called for the end of an era. It was a radical shift in what a congregation is and how it ministers together. It was jarring for some, exciting for others. The result of that congregational meeting was conflict.
Done right, conflict can be healthy. There were moments when we were healthy and others when we were not. We brought in a mediator from the presbytery. They reminded us that regardless of how long we’d been at the church, Jesus would always be its oldest member. And, despite whatever efforts we undertook, Jesus would always outlast us. The conversations opened up communication, but didn’t necessarily move us forward.
We became stuck. We weren’t quite ready to move together with a vision and plan. We weren’t quite ready to give up on going into the future together.
We were sure of one thing. As Elder Don Peebles remarked, “No is an answer, not a plan.” We needed both to see our way together into the future.