Monday, October 12, 2015

The Meaning of Your Life

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio. The church will relocate its offices, worship center, and activity space to Centerville, Ohio in 2016, the first Sunday there scheduled to be on January 10, 2016.]

Mark 10:17-22
Today, I want to talk with you about why you exist, why you were born in this time and in this place, your purpose for living. 

Scripture is clear that God has an intimate hand in the formation and birth of every human being, no matter the circumstances of their conception. With King David, we can confess to God, “ created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made...” (Psalm 139:13-14). 

And this God Who forms us in our mothers' wombs also has a purpose for these lives He has created. 

This purpose is no mystery, even though we may sometimes forget it or try to evade it. 

Forgetting or evading it can destroy our souls, our relationships with God and others, and our lives. 

Forgetting or evading God’s purpose for our lives can do this no matter how many of the world’s markers of success we may possess or enjoy. 

Last winter, I saw an interview with Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer about a book that had changed his life

Meyer had great success as the coach at the University of Florida, where he won two national championships. 

But then, Meyer’s life started going wrong. He had chest pains one night, certain that he was having a heart attack, and was taken to a hospital ER. His self-diagnosis turned out to be wrong. 

Soon though, he announced that he was retiring from the game, only to reverse himself a short time later. 

Then, came the period when, by many accounts, Meyer “lost” his team, no longer able to communicate, work with, or motivate them as he had. Meyer did retire then, taking a job as an analyst with ESPN, but without any clear understanding of how he might spend the rest of his life.

He spent a year doing that and really had no plans to return to coaching, when a friend recommended that he read a book called Lead...for God’s Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership

I've recently read the book. It tells the story of a high school football coach who, like Meyer at Florida, has “lost” his team. He’s stressed, losing his family because of his obsession with winning at all costs, and incapable of enjoying even the victories that had once meant everything to him. 

You can understand why Urban Meyer resonated with this book. Like the fictional coach in Lead...for God’s Sake!, Meyer realized that he had forgotten his whole reason for coaching. In the chase for championships, he had even forgotten his whole reason for living. 

Fortunately, blessedly, this book helped him rediscover those things and he felt that he could take his dream job at Ohio State.

Our Gospel lesson for today tells us about Jesus’ encounter with a man who had forgotten his purpose in life. 

It’s a familiar passage, Mark 10:17-22. It begins: “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

It’s an interesting question for two reasons. First of all, it indicates that here is a man of action. He wants eternal life, apparently. He deems it preferable to a life separated from God in hell. So, he asks Jesus, “What must I do?” This is a man whose focus is on doing, performing, getting to the top. He lives like a human doing rather than a human being. 

His question is also interesting because he thinks there’s something that he can do to inherit eternal life. The question is no different from what a modern person of similar position might ask his accountant, “What must I do to decrease my tax liability?” This man who has fallen to his knees before Jesus lives with the delusion that everything, even eternal life, is about doing the deal.

Jesus knows teachable moments, though. 

Verse 18: “‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’” In essence, Jesus is telling the man that whether he knew it or not, he was confessing that Jesus is God. By His rhetorical question, Jesus does nothing to refute the assertion. 

But Jesus has much more to teach. He meets the man where he is, mired in thinking that he could or needed to earn God’s favor. Verse 19: “You know the commandments [Jesus tells the man]: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 

Here, Jesus references what we Lutherans call “the second table” of the Ten Commandments, the section that gives us God’s will for our relationships with others. As an explication of the command not to steal, Jesus also says we shouldn’t defraud others.

The man must have felt that he had met all the requirements for eternal life because he says to Jesus--was it with pride, relief, or triumph?--in verse 20: “Teacher,...all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 

We’re then told in verse 21 that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Those words can sometimes bring tears to my eyes. Jesus looked at this man--this dealmaker, this conqueror of the world--who, in his desire for eternal life, placed his confidence in himself and his good works--and Jesus loved him the way a parent loves an errant child. 

Jesus knew that this earnest man truly wanted to be with God. 

But he thought that his life with God and the meaning and purpose of the life God had given to him, could be captured, slaved for, worked at, claimed as a personal achievement. 

Jesus felt compassion for this man who could, with a straight face, claim that whether in his heart, mind, or actions, he had obeyed God’s commandments and so had earned eternal life. I don’t know of a single human being who could honestly make that claim, including me.

Jesus saw the obstruction between this man and the life with God he wanted. Jesus saw that this man’s understanding of his purpose in life was the same claimed by a bumper sticker popular a few years back: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” 

Jesus continues in verse 21: “‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” 

Let’s be clear here. Jesus is not saying that having wealth is inherently bad. There are many example in Biblical history of wealthy people who followed God: Abraham, Job, Nicodemus, Lydia, Joseph of Arimathea, and others. 

Nor is Jesus saying that everyone who’s wealthy needs to get rid of everything, give it to the poor, and live like paupers, any more than the call to be Jesus’ disciples means that everyone who follows Him has to go to seminary and become pastors. (Thank God!)

It means that when the earthly pursuits of our lives become our whole purpose for living, we need to dramatically change our relationship with those pursuits

When those pursuits become so consuming that we forget the reason we’re alive, things need to change

In the case for the rich young man, Jesus knew that nothing less than the total separation of the man from his money would allow him to follow Christ by faith into a purposeful life with God on earth and life with God in eternity

What earthly pursuits might we have to give up in order to follow Christ? 

Or, with what earthly pursuits must we change our relationship in order to have life with God? 

The things that keep us from following Christ might be, on their face, good things like being a good parent, moving ahead in our careers, keeping a beautiful garden, or coaching a basketball team or a football team. 

When the central character in Lead...for God’s Sake! understands his purpose in life, he doesn’t sense that God is calling him to stop coaching, but to change the purpose for which he coaches. 

And, after Urban Meyer went through his year of soul-searching, he didn’t feel that God was telling him to leave the football sidelines behind. 

In the past, I have erroneously thought that following Jesus meant making Him our number one “priority.” You know, like in a list reading: Jesus, family, friends, country, and so on. I've even preached this.

But what I now realize is this: Jesus doesn’t want to be our highest priority; He wants to be our God and King and Savior

He wants to be at the center of how we pursue every priority in life, be it making a living, raising children, getting an education, or enjoying the company of friends. 

He wants us to pursue the purpose of our lives, whatever we do and He makes clear in today’s Gospel lesson that whatever we do that keeps us from pursuing our life’s purpose must be changed.

Now, I’m not being coy. I haven’t mentioned the purpose of our lives until now because every one of you knows what it is. 

The purpose of every human life--and the road to eternity--is to know, follow, honor, and share the God we meet in Jesus Christ with our whole lives

Jesus summarizes these purposes for our lives in what we know as the Great Commandment: to love God and to love others; the Great Commission: to teach others about life with God belonging to all who turn from sin and follow Christ and making disciples; and His new commandment: that we love fellow believers with the same self-sacrificing love with which Christ has loved us. 

Jesus invites us to follow and to be transformed by His grace not so that we can learn what we have to do to earn eternal life, but so that, changed and changing over into His image as we fellowship with Him, we will live out the true meaning of our lives.

Along the way, we may become wealthy or earn wins or raise great kids, and, like the rest of the human race, we may have poverty, losses, and troubled children. 

But at the center of a life lived with its intended meaning and purpose will be the God we know Jesus Christ, the God Who made us, saves those who trust in Christ from sin and death, and gives us the only reason worth getting up for in the morning. 

And that reason is simple: To live as human beings certain of our purpose in this life and certain that on the cross, Christ has done everything to give us eternal life with God

Follow Jesus wherever you go and you will live out God’s purpose for your life. Amen 

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