Ephesians 2:4-10, 19
Dr. Anne M. Cameron
July 3, 2011
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
Father Benjamin, a Fable
Unfavorable winds blow the ship off course, and when they do, the sailors spot uncharted islands. They see half a dozen mounds rising out of the blue South Seas waters. The captain orders the men to drop anchor and goes ashore. He is a robust man with a barrel chest, full beard, and curious soul. On the first island he sees nothing but sadness. Underfed children. Tribes in conflict. No farming or food development, no treatment for the sick, and no schools. Just simple, needy people.
The second and following islands reveal more of the same. The captain sighs at what he sees. "This is no life for these people." But what can he do? Then he steps onto the last and largest island. The people are healthy and well fed. Irrigation systems nourish their fields, and roads connect the villages. The children have bright eyes and strong bodies. The captain asks the chief for an explanation. How has this island moved so far ahead of the others? The chief, who is smaller than the captain but every bit his equal in confidence, gives a quick response: "Father Benjamin. He educated us in everything from agriculture to health. He built schools and clinics and dug wells." The captain asks, "Can you take me to see him?" The chief nods and signals for two tribesmen to join him.
They guide the captain over a jungle ridge to a simple, expansive medical clinic. It is equipped with clean beds and staffed with trained caretakers. They show the captain the shelves of medicine and introduce him to the staff. The captain, though impressed, sees nothing of Father Benjamin. He repeats his request. "I would like to see Father Benjamin. Can you take me to where he lives?" The three natives look puzzled. They confer among themselves. After several minutes the chief invites, "Follow us to the other side of the island."
They walk along the shoreline until they reach a series of fishponds. Canals connect the ponds to the ocean. As the tide rises, fish pass from the ocean into the ponds. The islanders then lower canal gates and trap the fish for harvest. Again the captain is amazed. He meets fishermen and workers, gatekeepers and net casters. But he sees nothing of Father Benjamin. He wonders if he is making himself clear. "I don't see Father Benjamin. Please take me to where he lives." The trio talks alone again. After some discussion the chief offers, "Let's go up the mountain."
They lead the captain up a steep, narrow path. After many twists and turns the path deposits them in front of a grass-roofed chapel. The voice of the chief is soft and earnest. "He has taught us about God." He escorts the captain inside and shows him the altar, a large wooden cross, several rows of benches, and a Bible. "Is this where Father Benjamin lives?" the captain asks. The men nod and smile. "May I talk to him?" Their faces grow suddenly serious. "Oh, that would be impossible." "Why?" "He died many years ago." The bewildered captain stares at the men. "I asked to see him, and you showed me a clinic, some fish farms, and this chapel. You said nothing of his death." "You didn't ask about his death," the chief explains. "You asked to see where he lives. We showed you."
"You asked to see where he lives. We showed you."
This beautiful fable was written by Max Lucado to illustrate a biblical truth: We were created to outlive this life on earth. We were created to do good works. We were created to find our purpose.
Today we begin a series of three sermons inspired by Max Lucado's book, "Outlive Your Life." We start today with the concept of 'Purpose.' The Bible doesn't use the word 'purpose' all that much---only once in the gospels (Luke) and only 24 other times in the remainder of the New Testament. When the Bible mentions 'purpose,' it doesn't talk much about OUR purpose. It talks about God's purposes. The accent is on God. So when we think about discovering 'our purpose,' we should orient ourselves to God.
This portion of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is pretty well known, especially the phrase, "it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
Salvation by grace through faith was a major theme of the Reformation and is a major Presbyterian belief. We say we embrace this, but do we really believe it? We often live as though we don't. We spend a lot of time doing good works so that we might earn God's favor. So that we might go to heaven. On the one hand, people think doing good things in this life is like investing in a 401K for the next. On the other hand, there are those who worry if their faith is strong enough for them to earn their eternal reward. This is a different twist on the Heavenly 401K idea. Both of these positions discount the power of God's saving grace, because both of them have the accent on us, not God.
This is not to say that the life of faith is a life of doing nothing! God forbid! Let's see what Paul's letter has to say about this:
"He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago" (NLT)
"He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing." (The Message)
When we discover God's purpose for us, we discover who we really are—we find our true identity. We are blessed by God to become the kind of people we were created to be. We are given grace to do good things for God's glory. We are strengthened to live out the life we were destined to live.
Humans thrive on purpose. There is something fundamental in our nature that finds great contentment when we discover and live into a purpose, especially a purpose beyond ourselves and our own immediate concerns. The greatest purpose we can imagine is doing something God has designed for us. This allows us to outlive our life.
I want to outlive my life. In at least two ways. I want my life to have counted for something important, something meaningful, something lasting. I want my life to have made a difference for the good. For at least for a little corner of the world, not just the private real estate of my own family and friends. Second, I want to outlive my earthly life by joining God eternally. I know you want these things too. As Christians we often put more emphasis on the heavenly reward than on the earthly impact we are called by God to make. Both are fulfilling. Both are biblical. Both are important.
This passage from Ephesians is what the seminary profs used to call an "eschatological" passage. This is the big picture, the eternal picture. Here we find a picture of how things were before Christ---SIN, SATAN, and SELF.
Then Boom! Christ enters into salvation history and makes it possible, through the grace of God, for us to transcend SIN, SATAN and SELF and to live fully and completely in God's purposes.
In God's plan, a life without purpose is not a life. We may be walking around taking nourishment, but if we do not find God's purpose for us, we are the living dead. Through Christ, we are made alive, we discover a new life, a life with a purpose.
Have you discovered God's purpose for you? Have you ever thought you should? Have you asked God, and others, this question? Have you found your unique blend of traits, abilities, and desires to do good works for God? There is only one you, and God has a purpose planned for you.
You may feel it's too late in life to discover your purpose. You may feel it's too early. You may feel you are too old, or too young, too slow or too busy. You may feel you have nothing to offer. But if you feel these things, your feelings are wrong. Do not allow these feelings to take over.
There is nothing more exciting, nothing more fulfilling, and nothing more energizing than discovering God's purpose for you! It is never too late.
I also believe God's purpose for each one of us changes over the course of our lifetime. That is because our gifts, skills, and resources change. God wants us to use all the things we have been given (our time, our intellect, our education, our work, our finances, our health, our energy, our skills, our emotions)----God wants us to use everything we have been given to fulfill God's purpose. Obviously, this changes over time.
How do we find our purpose? Fred Buechner said we know it when our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.
Where is your deep gladness? Find that first. Find your fire. Find what excites you. Find what you love, and then ask God to show you how you might use that gift, talent, or ability for God's purposes.
Do you love to sing? Your purpose might be to glorify God through song, and to share that talent to inspire others.
Do you love to paint? Your purpose might be to give your time so children can discover God's world through the medium of art.
Do you love to build things? Your purpose could be to join a team and build a house for someone with few resources.
Do you love to organize? Your purpose might be to support a volunteer organization or a church through this gift so that the less organized others are freed up to fulfill their purpose.
Do you like to raise money? Do you like to teach? Do you like to write letters? Talk on the phone? Sew? Visit people? Bake? Pray?
Are you gifted with a generous heart and a generous income? Have you received an unexpected financial windfall? God uses these gifts to God's purposes, too, if you will turn them over to Him.
Are you passionate about children? The poor? The sick? God has something in particular planned for you to do, something that only you can do, something that is your particular purpose.
God will show you your purpose if you earnestly ask. God will open a door or a window. God will plant an idea. God will send you a message. God will tap you on your shoulder. God will shake you to your core. God will provide the vehicle. God will.
Scripture says, "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Philippians 2:13). "by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith." (2 Thess 1:11)
It is never too early, it is never too late to discover the joy and fulfillment and the amazing grace of God's purpose for your life.
When you do, you will outlive your life, not only by the good you have done on this earth, but by the way you begin living your eternal life right now.