Planning Our Salvation

The Rev. Joseph Winston June 1, 2008

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Over the past four years, the cable television network Bravo has aired a program that pits real life chefs against each other. The concept for each season is simple. A chief must be better than their peers are. The separation of the “Top Chef” from all the other pretenders first happens in the “Quickfire Challenge. Here every chef must demonstrate their mastery of basic cooking skills. Many of the tests this year have a Chicago theme since the show is currently set in the “Windy City.” Some of the tasks have included creating a signature deep-dish pizza, building an entree that goes well with beer, and serving eggs in a busy local restaurant.
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3


The next part of the show known as the “Elimination Challenge” is more difficult. It requires the contestants to wow the judges with their ability to turn raw ingredients into polished meals or to clearly show everyone their business knowledge. Any chef that disappoints the officials in any way leaves the show. In the second season, the chefs created a five-course celebratory meal for couples in Santa Barbara. The winners of this round closely followed the theme for the dinner. The third season saw the chefs on a yacht. They had three hundred and fifty dollars and two hours to prepare a meal for sixty. One challenge this season was to cook dinner for a family of four. This meal had to be healthy, simple to prepare, and cost less than ten dollars. One of the unspoken ingredients found in both the “Quickfire” and “Elimination” Challenges is planning. If the chef fails to do everything in the proper order, then failure will likely occur. The home cook knows this basic rule too. Consider for example one of the simplest things done by any cook: boiling water. To successfully boil water, you need a pot in good condition, clean water, and a source of heat. Place the water in the pot. Next, move the pot to the stove. Finally, turn on the appropriate element. Every one of these essential steps must be executed correctly or problems might happen. Too little water raises the risk of boiling the pot dry. Too much water will cause drops of water to spit out of the pot and the water might even boil over. The right amount of water actually depends on the pot. You want enough to cover the bottom but not so much that it reaches the top. Moving the pot to the stove is also fraught with risks. A heavy pot might be dropped and there must 2

be room on the stove for another container. Carefully place the pot down on the burner and move the handle to one side so that you do not accidentally knock the boiling water off the stove. Next, heat is needed to raise the water’s temperature. Normally, the burner is turned on to a level that applies heat without wasting it. This rule has its own exceptions. Do not apply so much heat to melt the pot. Some industrial stoves have this ability. Regulate the heat so that the water boils at the correct time. Most recipes call for a rolling boil. This means that large bubbles must be forming at the bottom of the pot. Finally, watch what you are doing. This step is one of the most important since it helps prevent accidents. Given everything that must go right when we boil water, it is absolutely amazing that we can cook anything more complicated than this. But the reality is this. We can and do prepare items more involved than boiling water (and more tasty to boot) because we have learned the value of planning. One of the reasons for moving this feast day where we remember Mary’s visitation of Elizabeth from Saturday to today is that we normally only hear this lesson important lesson at the end of Advent.2 During this time of the year, we are so focused on Christmass that it is often hard to hear the message that God plans. God has laid out every part of our salvation in advance. We first learn about God’s proposal to come and live with us so that we might be saved immediately after Luke’s dedication of the book to Theophilus (Prologue: Luke 1:1-4. God visits us for our salvation: Luke 1:68; 7:16; 19:44). In this
Year A: Third Sunday of Advent (Luke 1:47-55), Year B: Third Sunday of Advent (Luke 1:4755), Fourth Sunday of Advent (Luke 1:26-38), Year C: Fourth Sunday in Advent (Luke 1:46b-55 and Luke 1:39-45).


portion of the Gospel, the narrator tells us about John the Baptizer’s conception (Luke 1:5-25). The angel Gabel comes to the priest name Zechariah and tells him that in their old age, he and his wife will have a son. This child’s calling is to bring many back to God and John will be the one that comes before the Savior. Right after this account and just before today’s Gospel lesson, we hear about Gabriel’s visit to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). Before going any further, we need to recall something that God has already planned out. God promised King David that oneday after David’s death, a son would sit on the throne forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Mary is descended from King David and it is her Son who will finally fulfill the words that God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan. Today’s lesson shows us God’s plans coming together (Luke 1:39-57). Mary, almost three months pregnant, travels to see her cousin Elizabeth who is about six months pregnant. In Mary’s words of praise, she sings out what God has done. He has fulfilled His Word. He has cared for those who fear Him. He has helped those in need. The rest of Luke follows this exact same pattern that we have seen so far in the first chapter. We are told about God’s plans and then we are shown how these plans are put into action.3 Naturally, we are curious to see if this method of following a blueprint continues for other characters in Luke. The short answer to this question is, “Yes.” All
The introduction to Luke Timothy Johnson’s book titled The Gospel of Luke explains this promise-fulfillment pair in more detail. Luke Timothy Johnson; S.J. Daniel J. Harrington, editor, The Gospel of Luke, Volume 3, Sacra Pagina, (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), p. 17-19.


those people who we are to emulate follow God’s will. Although this message is heard clearly througout the Gospel, it might be best recalled in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this teaching of Jesus, the Samaritan followed God’s plan that everyone should love their neighbors and because of the Samaritan’s sacrifice the injured man lived. Another example can be found in the parable of the foolish rich man. This individual is remembered because he did not correctly execute the plan that God gives to each of us. Rather than placing God first in his life and taking care of the poor, the rich man planed to build more barns so that his wealth would be increased. God was not pleased with his scheme so God called the foolish rich man home. In addition to these two specific examples, Jesus states to each of us: For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace (Luke 14:28-32). Over the last three days, pastors and leaders of churches in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod have learned how poorly we have followed Christ’s command 5

to plan. One painful statistic proves this point. We are not growing. Out of the one hundred and twenty six churches in this synod, only one-half, in other words eighty-three churches, have enough resources to pay a full time pastor. These churches with an attendance of less than one hundred people on a Sunday do not have any good choices. They can close and then not have any Lutheran presence in their neighbor hood. They can combine and hope that the resources of two, three, four, or even five churches are enough to support a pastor. They can call a part time pastor and pray that the pastor has enough external resources to survive. The other way to look at the numbers is to examine the ratio of Lutherans to the rest of the population in the synod. We would hope that this number would stay constant over time or grow slightly as new people arrive in our neighborhoods. The reality is that as a synod our membership is dropping. When we factor in the growth all around us, the numbers are very frightening. The Lutherans in this area are not keeping up with the changes. This is also happening to us. We are not keeping pace with all the new people that are moving into the area. Our goal as a denomination, a synod, and a church is never about the number of members. Our mission given to us by Jesus Himself is to make disciples. This is our calling and we need a plan to follow Christ’s command. Our work of designing and implementing a plan that follows what God has already done for us is not what gives anyone eternal life. This life togther with God and all those other believers is a gift from God. This fact needs to be constantly emphasized because we are prone to forget this Gospel Truth. Jesus has already 6

given each of us this gift. This is God’s plan for you. We are His and because of this fact, we will live forever. Even through the “Top Chef” competition never comes out and says it, we all know that planning is important. Otherwise, these chefs would not be able to accomplish anything in their kitchens. Our life in the church is no different. God plans what He will do and He expects us to do the same thing. During the last two months that I have been with you, the Holy Spirit has been visibly active in your lives. This large ship, called the Tree of Life, has slowly started to right herself itself because some of you have heard God’s call to pump out the water we had taken on. Others of you have heard God say to trim the sails. Now with the Holy Spirit’s blowing across the face of the water, we are beginning to move. But there still is one thing missing from our ship. It is not the captain. We have One and His name is Jesus. It is not the crew. We have one aboard already and they are you and I. It is the rudder. We have not been able to attach one. Without a rudder, we cannot control where we will go. We might run aground and become stranded. We could end up in the doldrums and drift about aimlessly. We need a plan. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”4

Philippians 4:7.


Johnson, Luke Timothy; Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., editor, The Gospel of Luke, Volume 3, Sacra Pagina, (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991).