Sunday, April 02, 2006

What To Do on the Way From God to God

[Message shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on April 1 and 2, 2006.]

Ephesians 2:1-10

Do you know how you could tell that a man led the people of God through the wilderness without even knowing about Moses? Because an eleven-day trip took forty years; a woman would have asked for directions.

I bring that up because this past week, I read about the experience of a German Biblical scholar, Joachim Jeremias, when he visited a Jewish friend in Israel. It was time for one of the great feasts of the Jewish year, the Festival of the Booths or Tents. It remembers the forty year period when God’s people, the Hebrews, wandered through the wilderness, their only homes the temporary huts or tents they erected along the way. It's a reminder that God cares about aliens and strangers and that for people of faith, our real home is with God.

Jeremias's friend escorted him to his backyard. There stood a tent with an entry way. On either side of the entry were slips of paper. On one was written the words, “From God.” On the other, “To God.”

That really is the journey which all of us take, whether we have faith or not. Our lives come to us from God and at the end of this short migration on Planet Earth, we will once more appear before God.

For some, faith in Jesus Christ is nothing more than an insurance policy. "Heavenly fire insurance," some call it. They throw in with Jesus so that their return appearance before God won’t result in Jesus saying, “Because you spurned me on earth, I must spurn you in eternity. You’ve chosen not to live with Me in your life; now you get to live with that choice forever.” (See Matthew 10:32)

For others, coming to faith in Christ is the beginning of a whole new relationship with God and a new way of living. According to our Bible lesson, it’s really a mid-course correction, changing the trajectory with which we entered this world, setting us on a pathway alongside God. Heirs of Adam’s and Eve’s rebellion against God, we’re all born in a condition the Bible calls sin, alienation from God. The Message paraphrases the words from Ephesians at the beginning of our lesson, words in which believers in Jesus are reminded of the rebellion against God in which they once lived:
It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.
But for believers in Him, Jesus has changed the journey from God to God. Our lesson goes on to say that far from wanting to punish us or to remain separated from us:
...immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.
But why does God do it? Why does God let us share in Jesus’ hard-won victory over sin and death for free? Why doesn’t He demand that we jump through proscribed religious hoops to earn His forgiveness or to gain eternity with Him?

The answer is simple. Not long ago, I told you the story of my grandfather and my first car. I had been a commuter student at Ohio Statefor about five quarters. Because I didn’t have a vehicle, I took a bus back and forth each day. I didn’t mind so much. But some days, it did make it tough for me to get back home in time for my part-time job. So, my grandfather sold a car to me...for one dollar. It was a gift and the only reason I had to give him a buck was so that a price could be shown on the title transfer. He later gave the buck back to me.

I can assure you that I had done nothing to earn such a sweet deal. I think that I had always been sort of a pain in the backside to my grandfather, annoying him in countless ways though he never complained. (He used to say, "I love to see my grandkids coming up the driveway. I love to see them going back down the driveway.") There’s only one plausible explanation for his giving me that Dodge 330: He loved me and wanted nothing to stand in the way of my getting my education or working the thirty or so hours a week I worked while in college and so, fulfill the promise of my life.

God sets you in the heavenly places with Jesus Christ for similar reasons. God loves you and wants to help you fulfill the promise, the destiny of your life.

At this point, it’s right for you to ask the question that Forrest Gump asked his mother as she lay on her deathbed, “What’s my destiny, mama?” What’s our destiny, God? What did you make us for? What did Jesus die and rise to save me to do?

Here’s how our lesson answers that question:
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
Secure in our place in God’s Kingdom because of what Jesus Christ has done for us and our faith in Him, our call is simple. We’re to be servants who strive, in big ways and small, to thank God by rolling up our sleeves to do the good work God has ready for us to do.

In the coming week, our daily 40-Days to Servanthood readings will help all of us to uncover the work God has given you to do. We’ll be challenged to uncover our spiritual gifts; identify how our passionate interests, abilities, personalities, and experiences can be used in God’s service; and be reminded that because we lean on the power of a big God, He can even make something of our service in areas where we may not feel competent.

In coming weeks, we’ll also be offering new ministry opportunities and training, as well as a special workshop led by Amy from our congregation will help you see the kinds of good works that God may have specifically designed you to do.

God, our lesson tells us, is an artist and He’s created you and me for lives of service.

Now that you’ve been set free from sin and death through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, don’t miss out on the life God made you to live. On your journey from God to God, savor the life you can have when you live each moment with God!

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