Sunday, June 1, 2008

Your Life's Purpose - Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? There do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Last May, one of our students graduated from ASU’s Walker College of Business. She called me a few weeks later to tell me about a job interview she had been on. She answered an ad for a small company looking for an accountant. The interview was conducted by the owner and founder of the company, a nervous, squirrelly, little man.
“I need someone with an accounting degree,” he said. “But mostly, I need someone to do my worrying for me.”
“Excuse me?” our bright, young accountant said.
“I worry about a lot of things,” the man explained. “But I don’t want to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back.”
“I see. And how much does the job pay?”
“I’ll start you at eighty thousand dollars.”
“Eighty thousand dollars!” she exclaimed. “How can such a small business afford such a large sum?”
“That,” the owner said, “is your first worry.”

I meet a lot of people who are worried about an awful lot of things. Worry seems to have become a national pastime. We worry about more things, and we worry about them at younger and younger ages. Because of my ministry among college students and young adults, and because of my many friends who are constantly going through major life transition, I meet a lot of people who are worried about their purpose in life. “What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?” “What is my meaning in life?” “What has God put me on the planet to do?”

What is your life’s purpose? Pay close attention, because within the next 20 minutes, I hope God will tell us.

We are a society who loves to worry. This worrying and the accompanying planning starts earlier and earlier. If you want to get a good job, you have to get into the right graduate program, which means you first have to choose the right college and graduate with the appropriate degree. But to get into that college, you need to have good grades from the right high school and the accompanying array of extracurricular activities. But, even before that, children need to be in the right elementary schools and preschools and daycare centers, where they will learn valuable life skills, make important social contacts, and learn how to live in harmony with their fellow human beings. But before that, you had better make sure your children see the right pediatricians and psychologists, but those are dependent upon references from the right obstetrician. In short, if you plan to have children within the next 15 years and have not already made sufficient plans, you may have already ruined your children’s future. This will affect you negatively because your children will choose your retirement home.

In our text this morning, Jesus tells us not be people consumed by worry. “Consider the birds of the air,” he says. They don’t sow and reap. They don’t gather into barns. Yet, your heavenly father takes care of them. “Consider the lilies of the field.” They don’t toil or spin. Yet, your heavenly father takes care of them. The lilies, the birds do not plan and worry. Yet, your heavenly father takes care of them. So then, why do we worry? Will not our heavenly father take care of us as well?

We may be tempted to dismiss Jesus’ words here as a quaint teaching for a simpler time. Life wasn’t as competitive, we say. They weren’t faced with the same threats we are. But consider the context in which Jesus spoke this teaching. The unemployment rate of first century Palestine was probably approaching 50%. People literally did not know where their next meal was coming from. They were occupied and taxed heavily by a Roman government. Traveling from town to town or finding yourself outside the gates of the city after dark was literally taking your life in your own hands. Certainly, there were plenty of things to worry about. In the midst of that, Jesus says, “Quit worrying. Quit worrying about tomorrow. Today’s trouble is enough.”

One of the greatest philosophers and social critics of all time summarizes this teaching for us nicely. I appeal to his great wisdom as something from which we can all learn. I appeal, of course, to the noble, the venerable, the enlightened teaching of Charlie Brown. “I’ve developed a new philosophy . . . I only dread one day at a time.”

One day at a time – friends, that’s how we’re called to live!

God’s will for your life is not some path stretching off into the horizon. In fact, God’s will for your life is much more immediate. Getting your life in line with God’s will forces you to ask one very simple, direct question. What are you doing with your life right now?

Don’t worry about what to do with the rest of your life. God doesn’t want you to be worried that far ahead. I’m convinced that what Jesus calls us to do is solve this problem: How should I be living today? Is God being glorified, is Christ being shown in how I’m living today? This hour? Right here at this very moment?

Mike Yaconelli tells the story of a lay leader in his church who didn’t lead. You know, who didn’t live up to his responsibilities. There was a group of young people who conducted a monthly worship service at a local old folks’ home, and Mike finally convinced that lay leader to at least drive them every month.

He was there at the home, standing in the back with his arms crossed as the kids set up. Suddenly, there was a tug on his sleeve. He looked down at an old man in a wheelchair. He took hold of the old man’s hand, and the old man didn’t let go all through the service. This was repeated the next month, and the next month, and the next month. Then one month, the old man wasn’t there. The lay leader asked about him and was told he could find him down the hall, third door on the right. “He’s dying. He’s unconscious, but if you want to go pray over his body, that would be all right.”

The lay leader went and there were tubes and wires all over the place. He took the man’s hand, and prayed that God would receive him graciously from this life into the next. When he finished, the man squeezed his hand, and he knew his prayer had been heard. He was so moved that tears began to roll down his cheeks. He stumbled out of the room and ran into a woman. She said, “He’s been waiting for you. He said that he didn’t want to die until he had the chance to hold the hand of Jesus just one more time.”

The lay leader was amazed at this. “What do you mean?”

She said, “My father would say that once a month Jesus came to this place. ‘He would take my hand and he would hold my hand for a whole hour. I don’t want to die until I have the chance to hold the hand of Jesus one more time.’”

Friends, I don’t know what you think God’s will for your life is, but I’ll tell you it is this: God’s will for your life is to do what Jesus would do in your place. It’s to be Jesus for people who are in need. It’s to be Jesus for people who are hurt. It’s to be Jesus for people who are lonely.

If you’re going to be Jesus to people, you have to treat them like Jesus would have treated them.

First, you have to believe in people. Jesus seemed to be drawn to people the world had given up on. Many of them had long given up on God! It had been years since they believed in God. But yet, as Jesus shows us, God never stopped believing in them. While the world believes in a God who helps those who help themselves, Jesus reveals a God who helps those who cannot help themselves.

When Jesus met a tax collector, or a prostitute, or a paralytic, or someone demon-possessed, he didn’t see a tax collector, or a prostitute, or a paralytic, or someone demon-possessed. No, Jesus saw someone created in the image of God, one of God’s precious children, a person of inestimable and sacred worth.

When we meet the modern-day equivalents of these people, we are called to believe in them just as Jesus would. We are called to believe that God is not finished with them, and that every life is an arena for the glory of God to be revealed. If you’re going to be Jesus for people, you’ve got to forgive them.

Second, you have to forgive people. Chuck Colson tells a story about a prison ministry his church was involved with. After the service, they were leaving, and discovered one member of the group was missing. They found him in a cell on his knees praying with one of the prisoners. Chuck said, "I scolded the man and said, ‘You're ruining our good graces here! Please come out of there. What's going on?'" The man rose to his feet and said, "I'm Judge Brewer. This is a man that I condemned to death. We need some time to forgive each other."

Who in our lives stands in need of forgiveness? We are called to forgive them, just as Christ has forgiven us. We are called to offer the hope of new beginnings to anyone and everyone, regardless of what they may have done. If you’re going to be Jesus for people, you’ve got to believe in them.

The last thing I hold before you is this: you have to love people unconditionally. Jesus calls us to exercise unrestrained love. It is easy for us to love that which is lovely, or desirable, or pleasing to our own sensibilities. It is much more difficult to love that which, from our perspective, is ugly, or undesirable, or disturbing to our own sensibilities.

How often, when something appears outside of our own self-determined realm of acceptability, do we ignore or reject it? How often, when someone appears outside of our own self-determined realm of acceptability, do we reject them? Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

It is not our job to determine who gets into God’s kingdom. It is not our job to determine who is and who is not the worthy recipient of God’s love. We are not the judge, the jury, nor the executioner. We are called to be witnesses of God’s great love in Jesus Christ. If you’re going to be Jesus for people, you’ve got to love them unconditionally.

God’s will for your life is to be Jesus for people whenever and wherever you meet them. Over the long run, if you continue to be faithful day by day, moment by moment, you will find your life to be the perfect reflection of God’s will. We are called to show people a God who loves them unconditionally, who forgives them, who believes in them.

In so doing, we will find the grace of God rich in our lives and in the lives of others. We will find ourselves gathered as one family, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as children of a heavenly Father, who invites us in our unity to a table lovingly spread with bread and wine – a place where we commune with God and with one another. Christ has already invited you that table – come, let us join there now.

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