“The glory of God is a human being fully alive” “The glory of God is a human being fully alive” – that is a statement from a man named Irenaeus, who was an important early Christian leader. When Irenaeus said that, it was a big deal. It was a big deal to promote the fullness of human life as a fulfillment of Christian discipleship. Because at the time there was quite a movement among Jesus followers that believed that this earthly life is so depraved and evil at its core that a faithful person seeking salvation needs to deny the flesh totally and hate this live and all of fallen creation, and just focus on spiritual and heavenly matters. Irenaeus said, No, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” That’s what we see when we come to know the Divine in the flesh through Christ. Jesus was fully alive in this life as he shone out the glory of God in urging all he encountered to become fully alive as children of the living God. That’s why Jesus was an agent of physical healing, physical nourishment, physical freedom as much as he was an agent for spiritual healing and nourishment and freedom. The Realm of Heaven come on Earth. For any of us, for all of us, to be fully alive in this life, with whatever life it is that’s ours to live, to be fully alive is a way to express the glory of God, a way for us to glorify our Maker. And the fullness of life for each of us, for all of us, with whatever life that’s ours to live, at the heart of that fullness is our purpose, the sacred purpose or purposes that our Maker calls out from each of us, at different stages of our lives. That’s at the heart of our duty and our joy in living into the fullness of our lives- Discerning, discovering, praying into, living into the purpose that God has given to each of us and to all of us together.
And so, let’s take a moment to reflect, inwardly:
What is the purpose, what are the purposes, God is calling you to, here and now, at the time and place and stage of life you find yourself in? How have we said “Yes”? How have we said “No”? Are there stumbling blocks for us? Are those stumbling blocks imposed on us, or imposed on ourselves? How can we approach those stumbling blocks in a way that helps fulfill our purpose?
Now, these are questions we can ask as individuals and as a group, as a church: And as a church, what are the purposes God is calling out from all of us, together as a faith community, here and now, at the time and place and stage of life we as a church find ourselves in?
Now, for some of us right now the answers to these kinds of questions may be very clear. And for some of us right now the answers may not be clear at all. These questions about sacred purpose actually may be troubling. “It’s not clear to me that I have a purpose right now. I don’t know why God is keeping me around.” Or “I’m not feeling particularly fully alive these days.” Or “Have I ever been fully alive?” “Have I ever fully known my full self as a child of the living God?” There are all kinds of struggles. But, you know, if we actually look at the examples of the fully lived lives of faith we find in the scriptures, and the examples of fully lived lives of faith throughout history and in our lives, we find the truth about our life’s purpose is often times not a clear and easy Hollywood storyline. There is often struggle, often seasons of aimlessness and uncertainty, as well as breakthrough.
So, allow me to just offer a few observations about sacred purpose and “call.”
1. Priesthood of all believers Yes, everyone means everyone! There is a way that everyone can be ministering according to their particular gifts and the needs around them. Where a deep passion of yours meets a deep need in the world. Often it is very humble. The people who are truly fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives are very often not widely acknowledge for it, or even properly thanked. But that said… 2. Challenge The call to a higher purpose often involves a deep challenge to our expectations of who we are and what we can do. God has meant us for something more. a. So, it can sometimes feel scary and require courage. Jonah ran the other way when God came calling. He wound up at the bottom of the sea in the belly of a whale before he finally set himself to fulfilling the purpose God had called him to. And even then, Jonah kept being grumpy about it. But God managed to use him, despite himself. b. Recently I’ve heard it a few times someone saying “Our deepest fear may not be that our lives don’t have any meaning. Our deepest fear may be that our lives are utterly meaningful. What we do and how we do it and who we are is in fact infinitely meaningful. c. It may be more comfortable to us to stay small and hamstrung, but God’s call on us challenges that. In the Bible when people have experiences where the Divine shines clearly on them and makes a claim on their lives, the first thing they feel is fear. Here is this tremendous power and scope of what God is bringing them into. But God responds to that fear by saying “Do not be afraid”. And then something amazing happens. That brings us to: 3. Fulfillment The whole adventure of saying Yes brings us more deeply into relationship with God, often in surprising ways. And this is deeply fulfilling. We talk a lot about “calling” – this is because of experiences people have where God does call to them, call for them, call them out. The prophet Samuel is a great example. But for me at least the experience has been more more a “dawning” or “awakening” than a “calling.” It’s like I had been in the dark, feeling out my way, stumbling, groping, when slowly, slowly, then suddenly: the sun of God’s truth for my life dawns. Things I only dimly felt how are now lit in clear, strong light. It’s clear where I am and where I am going, for the next few steps at least. “Proceed as the way opens,” as the Quakers say. 4. Process This is not a one-and-done kind of thing. a. Living into a call to a higher purpose is a process of sacred experimentation and exploration. A cycle: We pray, we act, we reflect, we see how we’ve made mistakes and gone astray, we correct our course, we pray more, we act again, we reflect again. All under the light of God’s grace. This can be a daily cycle, how we pray at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. b. This is also a cycle throughout our lives, as our higher purpose and how we live it out often evolve along with our circumstances. c. This isn’t about becoming perfect, God doesn’t want us to get perfect, somehow. God wants us to be meaningful, to live out our meaning. Along with challenge: Prepare to get schooled.
d. Jewish story about Yosef: A man named Yosef dies. He finds himself standing before the glory of God. He weeps: “I’m sorry I wasn’t more like Moses.” The answer: “Josef, God doesn’t care that you weren’t more like Moses you were. Why were you not more like Yosef?” 5. The “No” and the “Yes”: a. We often find purpose as much through our “No” as our “Yes”. At first all we may know is that “No” what is happening right now is not right. It’s deeply wrong. I stand against it. From that “No” we can find the “Yes” to the reality of God and of God’s realm, the reign of Christ which sometimes is a possibility we only dimly perceive. b. Sometimes if someone is in very desperate, violent circumstances, the “No” is all they can do to assert their sacred purpose. “No” I will not succumb, I will survive. Overall, our sacred purpose often is forged by the pain we experience in life. c. Sometimes people’s “Yes” to their call from God forces them into struggle against sinful systems at work in the world. A clear example is the staggering difficulty women who are called to ministry, and gay folks, and trans folks who are genuinely exploring calls to ordained Christian ministry – too, too often their churches and church hierarchies are blinded by prejudice and fight to shut down what God is doing. This is not only wrong, it’s also just stupid, frankly. My colleagues in the ministry with the United Church of Christ who don’t fit the tired mold of the straight man in a collar, are consistently the most capable and committed minister I know. Why deprive the church of their God-given gifts? At the same time I can see that the fact that they have had stumbling blocks thrown in their way, which I haven’t, has honed their strength and compassion. 6. Not alone. We are not alone in this. We have to help each other out, encouraging each other, lovingly challenging each other, helping each other discern how God is at work in one another. Saying Yes to God’s call on our lives is always about having a role within the beloved community. This is true even if we’re an outsider or misfit – especially, in fact. Sometimes it can be lonely, like someone who bravely defies authority or breaks an unjust law… but even then, it is for our sacred purpose, it must be done not out of some anti-social self-righteousness, but for the sake of others and for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. So let me just allow us to pray on it some more: What is the purpose, what are the purposes, God is calling you to, here and now, at the time and place and stage of life you find yourself in?
As a church: what are the purposes, God is calling out from all of us, together as a faith community, here and now, at the time and place and stage of life we as a church find ourselves in? “The glory of God is a human being fully alive” “Speak, God, for your servants are listening”