Sermon at Kinmundy and Wesley United Methodist Church on 9/1/19. Title: Connect The Dots. Text: Jeremiah 29:10-14, 4-7. Audio link – Right-click, open in new tab to play: Kinmundy. Right-click, open in new tab to view slides as a PDF: Slides.
In one of the books that he wrote, Further Along The Road Less Traveled, Christian psychiatrist M Scot Peck spoke of a rabbi that lived around the turn of the century, 1900, who he said was his mentor. And the story goes like this …
In this little village in Russia, the rabbi used to go from his house, across the village square, to the synagogue every morning at 11 o’clock to read the bible and to pray. And as he went across the village square to the synagogue, he went past the city jail. And in those days these villages were run by Cossacks. So, imagine if you will, the rudest, angriest, nastiest police officer you can imagine, sitting there on the front porch of the jail, and he just decides to give the rabbi a little bit of hassle. And he looks at the rabbi and he says, “Rabbi, where do you think you’re going?” And the rabbi stopped, looked at him and respectfully said, “I don’t know.”
The Cossack got very angry. He said, “Rabbi, I’m going to ask you just one more time. Where do you think you’re going?” And the Rabbi looked at the Cossack and said very respectfully, “I don’t know.”
At this point in time the Cossack lost his temper, grabbed the rabbi, told him, “Every single day you go across to the temple to read the bible and to pray at 11 o’clock. How can you tell me you don’t know?” And he’s dragging the man into the jail. Threw him into the jail cell. And the way I like to imagine it, when the rabbi lands on the ground, he looks back at the Cossack and says, “You see, you just don’t know.”
Friends, I wish, every single day, from the moment you got out of bed, everything would happen just the way you wanted it to. But let’s be honest, you just don’t know. You just don’t know.
In 2005, Steve Jobs, gave the commencement address at Stanford University. Being a curious person, I wander all over the internet, and when I find something interesting, it seems to me sometimes, God says, “That needs to be in the sermon.” And that’s what happened this week. This is a very brief statement from all that he said that day.
“Of course,” he said, “it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards, 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them, looking backwards. So, you have to trust. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust,” Steve Jobs says, “in something.” Now remember, he’s from California; he’s not from the Bible belt. “You have to trust in something,” he says. “Your gut, destiny, life karma, whatever.” And then he says this: “This approach has never let me down and has made all the difference in my life.”
Every one of us has a Cossack in our life. Every one of us has things that happen that are like a bunch of dots that, if you could figure them out, are going to make a big warning sign that will tell you what you need to do. But you know something? You can’t connect the dots looking forward to know what you should do in the future. It’s only clear when you look back that all the dots were connected all along. But you see, we know someone who connects the dots.
Here’s a verse from the Book of Jeremiah which is frequently taken out of context. I want to give you the context here of just this tiny part of this chapter in Jeremiah. The people of Israel have been taken away in the captivity, and there they are in Babylon complaining about everything that God has done to them.
And Jeremiah sends them a letter to remind them of the One who connects the dots. So Jeremiah prophesized, “This is what the LORD says, ‘When 70 years are completed in Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.'”It’s a good promise, but you won’t be able to look back and see how all the dots connect for 70 years. That’s a long time, but it’s a good promise.
And then, verse 11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,'” because God connects the dots for us. “Then” – but it’s going to take 70 years – “‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek for Me with–‘” what does it say?”All your heart.“
“I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” God has a plan that humans can’t understand. But when you look back, you will see that it all makes sense.
But when you’re having to live forward through it, it is not going to make sense. So, what do you have to do? You have to hang on and live in the present day until God makes everything clear.
There will always be Cossacks. There will always be warning dots that you do not understand. Do you think that when the disciples looked at Jesus on the cross, that they did not wonder what in the world was happening? But starting with Easter, when you look back, now you can understand why it makes sense. But when you’re going through it, it doesn’t make sense.
Maybe someone among us this morning is going through something just like that. It just does not make sense. There you are on the cross. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. What in the world is God trying to do? And if that’s how you feel today, I am very sorry. Because while it’s not as painful as hanging on a cross, it’s certainly very difficult. In fact, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” It’s hard to be in a place where you cannot connect the dots.
But remember these words, “I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord. Where you find those plans? The rabbi knew where to look – in the Bible. “Plans to prosper you,” God says. Doesn’t seem like that in the moment. Not to harm you. Doesn’t seem like that at the moment. Plans to give you hope in the future.
What you need to do is endure till the day of resurrection — to the day of new beginnings — to the time when the tide turns, as things become more clear. You have to hang on. And then you’ll understand that it’s God’s love that is surrounding you. Then you’ll understand what’s hard to understand now. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Then you will seek me and you will find me, when? When you seek me with all your heart.
And what happens when we do? You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future. And I’m not from California, so I can say it like this, you have to trust in someone. And I know who holds my future and your future. And when I choose, I choose to trust.
This approach has never let me down.
This approach has never let me down and it’s made all the difference in my life, and it can make all the difference in your life. I’d like to pause for just a moment here, and let us in prayer give One Minute for God to let this truth sink into our heart. So please pray with me.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?
What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?
Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford in 2005 can be viewed here: https://news.stanford.edu/2005/06/14/jobs-061505/
Photos are from Wikimedia Commons.
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Raod, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.