When plans have to change…
There are always times when plans must change. When that carefully structured preaching programme needs tweaking because we forgot about Remembrance of harvest, when a relative falls sick just before their birthday party, or when the trains are delayed. In normal times these kinds of events happen every so often. Now, they seem to be happening every day. In the midst of Covid-19 we seem to be in a constant state of flux – where plans are changing daily – sometimes it would seem hourly.
And that of course can be unsettling. It can make us feel as if things are out of control, certainly out of our control. For those in leadership positions, it can make us feel weak, and create a desire to reach for false certainties – why this online platform is the way to do church during lockdown.
If we look at this passage from 2 Corinthians together, we see Paul confronting the issue of a change of plans. Without reconstructing his itinerary here, we can see that he had a certain plan for visiting them in Corinth (1.15-17), but that hasn’t worked out. We know from 1 Corinthians, and what he says in 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 also hints at this, that Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians is not straightforward. He clearly feels the need to defend his conduct, to explain why his visiting plan hasn’t worked out. He tells them two things.
First, he reminds them that God doesn’t change, and that the promises of Christ don’t change (1:18-22). Now this might seem an odd thing to say, given that the issue is Paul’s change of plan. Paul ties in his role as God’s servant, God’s messenger, to the one he represents – Jesus Christ – and the message has been faithfully delivered (v.18). God is faithful, and Christ keeps his promises – all the promises of God are fulfilled in Jesus (v. 18-20). And God has established Paul and the Corinthians and given them His Spirit (v. 21-22). These promises God has kept. And so even though the visit from Paul didn’t happen when they expected, they can still have confidence in God, in Christ, in the gospel message they have received, in the work of the Spirit in their lives, and in Paul.
Amid uncertainty then, we too need to remind ourselves of that which is certain. We are living today in a world, certainly in the UK, which feels vastly different from the one we lived in a few months ago. All seems strange and different, and yet the essentials remain the same. All God’s promises find their ‘yes’ in Christ (v. 20).
Secondly, a change of plan doesn’t mean the plan has changed (1:23-2:4). To put this another way – the fact that we are doing things differently, does not mean we are doing different things. Paul makes it clear that his change of plan was for positive reasons, to avoid a painful visit to them. He has had to write a difficult letter about difficult things, and so the time for a visit needed to be rearranged. Why? So that they might know his love for them (2:4), for the sake of their faith (1:24).
In these times we find ourselves doing things differently, and it looks like this will be a situation that lasts some time. I’m hoping we might be able to do some kind of church service in the building in July – but when? And what will it look like? I don’t know. But I do know that our goals, our plan remains the same: to encourage the faith of God’s people, that more and more may find their ‘yes’ in Christ. So, we live with uncertainty, and our awareness that we don’t control how this will work out. We live with our human frailty, and with things changing when we thought they wouldn’t, and with the sure and certain reality of God’s faithfulness to us in Jesus Christ.
Revd. James Hughes is vicar of St Alkmund's Duffield. He is also the Vice chairman of the Latimer Trust.