Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)

Text: Ephesians 1:11
All things are done according to God's plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning.
The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques Louis David

A matter of perspective

The Louvre Museum in Paris is a place jammed full of works of art. Some of the paintings are enormous. One that stands out in my mind is the painting entitled ‘The Coronation of Napoleon’ which is 6.2 metres high and almost 10 metres wide (that’s not including the magnificent frame). Not only was the size impressive but also the enormous amount of detail in the painting. At first I focussed on what was at eye level and the painting didn’t seem to be all that great or even make that much sense.

I was too close and couldn’t take in all the detail. I could only gaze at one section of the painting at a time. And if I wanted to see the top section of the painting I had to look up and so miss the connection with what was happening at the bottom of the painting. However, when I stood back, my opinion of the painting changed. From a distance I could take in the whole painting and could only marvel at the work Jacques Louis David must have put into this piece of art. Appreciation for the painting was all a matter of perspective.

One young lady wrote home from boarding school,
Dear Mum,
Sorry I haven’t written sooner. My arm really has been broken. I broke it, and my left leg, when I jumped from the second floor of my dormitory...when we had the fire. We were lucky. A young service station attendant saw the blaze and called the Fire Department. They were there in minutes. I was in the hospital for a few days. Paul, the service station attendant, came to see me every day. And because it was taking so long to get our dormitory liveable again, I moved in with him. He has been so nice. I must admit that I am pregnant. Paul and I plan to get married just as soon as he can get a divorce. I hope things are fine at home. I’m doing fine, and will write more when I get the chance.
Your daughter, Susie.

P.S. None of the above is true. But I did get a "D" in Maths and flunked Chemistry. I just wanted you to receive this news in its "Proper Perspective!"

When it comes to life and its good and bad times, because we are so up close to what is happening, we see only confusion, disconnected events, the overwhelming immensity of everything and our own smallness in comparison. A bit like looking at the ‘Coronation of Napoleon’ close up.

So we try to put things into perspective and so we stand back and take in as much of the view as we can. In doing that, we try to see not only the present, but also what has come before and what might follow. The further we stand back, the bigger the picture we take in, the more we can see, the better the perspective.

You know how it is when someone upsets you and you immediately want to respond – perhaps giving them your strong opinion about that person’s attitude etc. But you don’t. You stand back, let some time pass and then reassess what happened. You stand back from the emotion and the events that caused the upset. You see what happened in context and you respond differently. You see things in another way because you seen the bigger picture and most likely can see the part you played in the whole upsetting scenario.

When it comes to understanding God and his relationship with us we can’t step back far enough. When we are in the middle of some kind of crisis, like Paul was when he had was afflicted with some kind of chronic illness or disability, we can’t see beyond what is right in front of us. Paul prayed and prayed and prayed that God would take this away and nothing happened. The answer he eventually got was quite different from the solution that he thought would benefit him the most.

That happens to all of us at some time. We have those moments when we wonder what God is really up to. Why doesn’t he stop that war? Feed the hungry? Protect the innocent? Take away this illness? Sort out relationship issues? Supply rain for the farms? The trouble with our perspective of things is that we have our noses flat up against the canvas and can only see what is right in front of us. We need to stand back and see God’s bigger picture.

For God, things are different. God looks at the big picture. He sees everything in terms of his relationship with us. Paul put it this way, ‘Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him’ (Eph 1:4). Let’s put that simply. Long before God planned and made the world, he picked and planned you first. He focussed his love on you and then in due course put you here on this planet firmly within his view and care for you.

Let’s try and get a handle on this with a couple of examples.

Think of two or three good things in God’s creation that you really enjoy.
Now think about this: God planned you before he made those things. And then he made those things you were just thinking about knowing how much you would appreciate and be thankful for them.

Think of two or three people whom you admire, respect, love, and are thankful for as God’s good gifts in your life. God planned you with those people in mind—even if they are older than you. After planning you he gave you those people knowing that they would be an important part of your life.

Think of a difficult time in your life; a time when you just could not see how you could in any way fit that struggle or that pain or that failure—whether you were at fault or whether it was someone else—you couldn’t fit that into any reasonable sense of a good plan of God.

God had chosen you for himself long before that moment came into existence—even before you were made. And knowing how that moment would impact on your life he determined to make sure that it could not and would not separate you from him.

He made you to be in a relationship with him and he was prepared to do anything to preserve and restore that relationship if need be - even if it meant letting his Son, Jesus, suffer and die for you. He makes us a new creation. He says, ‘Long before you were even a "twinkle in my eye", I made sure through Jesus that you would always be in my eye, in my love, living as my child. Always. I planned that first. And then I made everything else.’

You were not a footnote to whatever year you were born. Your birth into this world was a great day of celebration for God. At that moment the one he had planned since before the creation of the world—you—came into the creation he had prepared for you. When a new baby is born this isn’t an afterthought on God's part. He might have waited thousands of years (and we think nine months is a long time to wait) but that new life is all part of God's eternal plan.

This whole concept is mind bending in the least. It is an attempt at seeing God’s plans for us and all creation from a distance. I know we can’t do this to any great extent – certainly not see the big picture as God does. But it does help to know that in spite of all the disasters that might hit us and the world around us, these things are not outside his control. In view of the big picture of things he can use all this to bring blessing and a stronger relationship with him.

You and I are always first in God's eyes. Paul makes it quite plain to his Ephesian friends that even before the world was created God placed us in a relationship with him because of his love for us. Because of ‘his glorious grace’ he was ready to do whatever was needed to rebuild his relationship with each one of us. As far as God is concerned, you are number one.

A reminder of this fact is our baptism. God marks us with Jesus’ cross in our baptism. God gives us his name in our baptism and publicly declares, "Long before you entered this world, I planned you as mine, and then I made the world, and the family, and the community to place you in.
But you have failed? Your sin has mucked up my plans.
I forgive you. I forgive you.
I love you now in the same way I loved you before the world was created and always will love you.
When you live in a way that reflects my love and my goodness, that is me, my Spirit, working in you. Your goodness doesn’t earn you any special place in my plans. It is my Spirit strengthening and guiding you to be the person whom I always planned you to be!"

Some people talk about ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’ or ‘good luck’ or ‘bad luck’ as if things happen in our lives randomly without any order. It’s as if things just happen. It’s as if there was no controlling power. It’s like reading ‘Your week by the stars’ in the paper and saying that things happen because your star sign says they will. That is so far from what God says to us through the Scriptures. Paul does talk about ‘destiny’. Our destiny as God’s own dear children is to walk with Jesus, to enjoy his grace and forgiveness, and finally enter our eternal home in heaven. There is nothing left to good luck or chance here. God has made sure of this through the death and resurrection Jesus. We have the power and love of God at our disposal.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Three people were visiting and viewing the Grand Canyon - an artist, a pastor, and a cowboy. As they stood on the edge of that massive geological marvel, each one responded with a cry of exclamation.
The artist said, "Ah, what a beautiful scene to paint!"
The minister cried, "What a beautiful example of the handiwork of God!"
The cowboy mused, "What a terrible place to lose a cow!"

The cowboy could only see the problems the Grand Canyon placed in front of him. Sometimes we are the same. It’s easy to be a pessimist.
Every now and then we have to step back and look at the bigger picture. In the whirl of daily living and the many problems and issues that confront us and challenge our self-worth we need to step back and look at where we fit into God’s plan.
Look at the bigger picture and see the beauty of his love, his never-ending faithfulness, his forgiveness, and total commitment to each of us.
Step back for a moment and remind yourself that you were planned by God before the creation of the world. His love for you has never wavered. And as we look at the cross we see that same commitment to each of us today as back then.

‘Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his’

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th July, 2006

More sermons

Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
All material written by Vince Gerhardy is copyright, but permission is freely given for limited use.
Please e-mail for permission, or with questions or comments about this web site.