Worshipping–Now Let Me Explain: a Reflection on Romans 16:25-27
Born in 1842, Daniel Burnham became a successful American architect and urban planner. He developed the master plans for many cities including Chicago and downtown Washington D.C. During his career Burnham said: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.”
This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The fourth candle has been lit: love, following joy, peace, and hope. Advent is the unfolding of the master plan of master plans. Do you realize that the Christ child was born for you? If you were the only human being on earth, Jesus would have been born for you. The master plan is for the salvation of humanity with personal and societal implications. The Christ child and his significance for your life with the personal and social justice issues humanity faces, is important. Put simply, the Christ child is relevant. Not the packaging or marketing of the Christ child, but the Christ child himself. Mark Labberton, the author of The Dangerous Act of Worship, reminds us that the pressure to be relevant is everywhere. Labberton writes, “The criteria for appropriate relevance include things like a contemporary service, a great sound system, projection screens for songs and images, video clips. We try to look, sound and feel like we are relevant, just like the broader culture. It’s about technology. It’s about speed. It’s about volume. It’s about now.” Oh, enabling worship to occur in many forms is important. But worship is not about the frills and thrills. Worship is first and foremost about giving praise to God for what God continually does personally and collectively for the sake of the good news of the gospel…the master plan.
Daniel Burnham, the urban planner who stated big plans, not little ones are what matters, begs the question on this Fourth Sunday of Advent. What does it mean that those after us will “do things that would stagger us.” According to Romans 16:25-27, a benediction, words used at the end of a service, to bless congregants who have gathered for worship, we will be strengthened by God to embrace and live out the master plan. Others will see the master plan being built for their sake so that they too can love God and love others. The text is awkward. It doesn’t lend itself to pithy or relevant comments on God. In fact, the verses require us to think, ponder, change, and act.
Romans 16:25-27 is heavy in theology and broken in syntax. Yet, it clearly offers a master plan for life. Let me explain. God strengthens us in two ways. First according to the gospel with its proclamation of Jesus Christ and second according to how the Triune God continues to create, redeem, and sustain our lives. These two things lead us to the obedience of faith, that ability to persevere as God makes us stronger day in and day out to be his person, making a difference in real life situations, for real people, who have real needs. Now that’s a master plan for your life that makes sense. But it’s not flashy or pretty, glamorous or easy. It’s most certainly not relevant as culture defines relevancy.
God seeks to meet you in the real stuff of life. That’s correct, God meets you in your personal hardships and the difficulties of a society that is bent on hate, accumulation, the top 1%, misguided nationalism, and the wealthier getting wealthier at the expense of the middle class and the poor. The master plan of the Christ Child, this Jesus whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow, God incarnate, fully God and human who lived on earth and showed humanity the way, wants us to praise him for how God is at work in our lives and society. Can you praise God for the ways righteousness and justice has entered your life and societal issues through you that are hell bent on destruction of people’s lives? What has God done in your life, in our society that warrants your praise? Yes, I’m inviting some of you to share evidence of how God’s master plan for the redemption of individuals and society has occurred this past week, month, or year. TIME FOR SHARING. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below; praise him above ye heavenly host; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Wherever segregation ends, the gospel is proclaimed. Wherever discrimination ends, the gospel is proclaimed. When an individual gets that worship is not about being entertained, but being encountered by and encountering the living God, the gospel is proclaimed. When a person begins to trust Jesus with his or her life, the gospel is proclaimed. When economic parity is advanced, the gospel is proclaimed. When life is valued as an end not a means, the gospel is proclaimed. Sally A. Brown, Associate Professor of Worship and Preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary writes, “…the gospel news of the God of the Jews offering salvation to all was boundary breaking, world shattering, and world renewing.”
Let me explain. Relevancy can deaden authentic relationship with God and others. On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, let us prepare to walk in the master plan God has for humanity and society by taking the Christ child seriously, personally and collectively. Let us risk ordering our lives around God’s master plan. And when we begin that journey, the way we live will impact others, so that they too can live a life, bigger than themselves, with a lasting impact that lives on, personally and collectively, long after we have left this planet to live eternally with the Christ child, Jesus.
The Burnham citation is found in Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham: Planner of Cities (Boston, 1921), p. 147. Ray Ortlund is the source as found in “Make no little plans.” As presented in the Christ Is Deeper Still blog (5-10-12).
Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 49-50.
Sally A. Brown in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 89.