Yesterday morning I went to Belle Tire at 8:05 a.m. to get a slow leak in a tire fixed.  They asked if I planned to leave the vehicle there for the day.  I said, “No,” for my plan was to work on my laptop in their waiting area for an hour or two, and then be on my way to scheduled home visits.  Somewhere behind me – or was it above me – I heard laughter.  My revised plan then became one of watching the tire pressure as I made my visits, and then stopping at another Belle Tire at the end of the day.
On the Sunday after Easter, it was announced to the congregation that I plan to retire this coming February.  I was too caught up in the moment to know if there was any laughter at that time or not.  Since then, many people have asked what our plans are.  My response is, “I plan to work very hard for the next nine months, then do some serious relaxing, and then see what God has in mind for me next.”  However, every time I say this, I fear that I may hear a distant laughter in the background.
I was seriously considering retiring three years ago, but the timing did not seem quite right.  Last fall I attended Intentional Interim Ministry (IIM) training as a preparation for retirement.  After that, discussions started with the Board of Elders.  It did not take us long to agree that my retirement would not only be good for me, but also the right thing for the congregation to move forward.  We are coming out of the pandemic as a healthy congregation and are positioned for good things to happen with a younger, more energetic pastor.
Through all the conversations and prayers leading up to this announcement, three Bible passages have served as a foundation.  “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16.3) “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.” (Proverbs 15.22) “’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29.11)
Yesterday morning, however, my experience at Belle Tire brought to my mind two other words from the Lord – ones that I would rather ignore as I focus upon those first three.  “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16.9) “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4.13-15)
“Der Mensch Tracht, Un Gott Lacht.”  This expression, by the way, is Yiddish, and not from the Bible.    I could not find a time when Luther said it, either.  It means “Man plans, and God laughs.”  Yet, despite this, I continue to make plans, and share them with others.

And planning remains a good – and godly – thing, I believe.  The key is to keep God and his will at the forefront through it all.  So perhaps, it would be much more appropriate for my response to the question, “What are your plans?” to be, “We will see how God works this out, but my plan is to …” A favorite hymn of mine by W. Gustave Pollack states, “With the Lord begin your task; Jesus will direct it.  For his aid and counsel ask, Jesus will perfect it.”  This thought is summarized a few verses later.  “If your task be thus begun with the Savior’s blessing, safely then your course will run, toward the promise pressing.  Good will follow everywhere while you here must wander; you at last the joy will share in the mansions yonder.”
In my office hangs a portrait of Jesus created by Ralph Kozak.  Its title is “Jesus Laughing.”  This long has reminded me that, since we have a laughing God, it is much better to laugh with him than to scorn his ways.
My ride with Jesus at STL – which began in January 1995 – has been incredible (as was my previous ride at Charity).  I am expecting these upcoming nine months (Lori, our Minister of Music, wisely suggests we view it as a pregnancy rather than using the term “Lame Duck” – thus the use of the word “expecting”) will be a time of mixed emotions and joyous anticipation.  And the promise is that our laughing God will be with us all the way.  I just pray that I will be able to laugh with him the way that Kozak has him portrayed on that painting.
And, in case you wondered, yesterday I reached another Belle Tire by 5:00 p.m. – after putting air in my tire three times.  Once, in fact, the pressure was down to 8psi before I found a working air pump.  By 5:40 p.m. the tire was fixed, and I was home.  However, I am sure God was laughing the whole while as I, with a knot in my stomach, was singing “I am trusting you Lord Jesus” as I drove down Hall Road from Mound to Gratiot during a rainy rush hour.
To hear more about this episode with Our Laughing God, please tune in to Sunday’s Sermon.

Our Laughing God