Someone said, “Life is just one [damned] thing after another, and then you die.” (Elbert Hubbard?)1 Sometimes it feels like that doesn’t it? That there is no real plot, no real goal.
When we were growing up our parents would decide on a Sunday afternoon to take a drive. We’d ask where we were going and they would say, ‘just around.’ Looking back, maybe it was their way of staying cool. The breeze coming in the Chevy window was at least a breeze. But there were other times when we just took a random variety of country roads till we ended back at home.
And we were glad to get back.
Do you ever wonder where your life is going?
Several scientist are excited that they have evidence at last for the Higgs Boson particle. Some called it the “God particle” because its existence would explain why the universe is the way it is. A few had editorialized that it means that the universe did not have to exist and that if it did exist it did not have to be like ours.
Now there is a danger putting to much sermon weight on last week’s findings. But honest science is seeking a real and true account of the way things are. And if you believe in God’s revelation is true then somehow God’s creation fits with what we learn about the world. They do not contradict or destroy one another when we know all.
So I take it this way– the universe did not have to be and did not have to be this way. So either it is strange chance or what if it is chosen?
I don’t think this is an idle question. I would take it that the universe is finally tragic if it isn’t going anywhere except finally to death. But what if the universe is chosen? That is what our faith holds to.
Now you will never be able to prove this by another experiment. John Polkinghorne is both a Nobel prize physicist and a pastor. He gives an illustration. When you ask “Why is the water boiling in the kettle?” you could explain it by saying “The transfer of energy from the stove has activated the molecules of water till some of the water is now turning into a gas called ‘steam.’” Or you could explain the boiling water by saying “I am making tea.” Both are perfectly true and do not contradict each other. One describes the mechanism the other describes the purpose.
Paul begins Ephesians with a poem, a blessing. He praises God for revealing the purpose which runs through creation and which defines the substance of human existence.
The universe has a point, and, as a subset of that, your life and my life has a point.
My life and your life is the consequence of a whole series of choices, and ultimately of a choice made by God before he uttered “Let there be light.”
What is this purpose? What is the will of God for me and you and us?
Somewhere down the road I must have heard a preacher say that God had a detailed plan for my life. I know folks who believe that God has an opinion about everything. “Shall I have strawberry jam on my bread or blueberries?”
Maybe sometimes God’s will is that specific.
One of my favorite Tony Campolo stories is about the time he was invited to speak to a small Christian school near his home in Philadelphia. Before the program began several administrators and faculty members thought it would be a good idea to pray, so they had Campolo kneel while they laid hands on him and prayed. Campolo didn’t really mind except that they prayed for a long time, and the longer they prayed the more they leaned on his head. And one guy wasn’t even praying for Campolo. He was praying for somebody Campolo didn’t know named Charlie Stofsels. He’d say, “Oh Lord, you know Charlie Stofsels. Lives on Marinara Boulevard, third trailer on the right hand side…” And Campolo is thinking, “Knock it off! God knows where he lives.” But the fella went on. “Oh Lord, Charlie says he’s leaving his wife and three children. Lord, don’t let Charlie walk out on his family. Touch his heart, Lord. Don’t let him walk out of that trailer on Marinara Boulevard, third one on the right hand side. Oh Lord…” And he went on and on like that until Campolo’s head was starting to hurt. He was thinking, “Hey, if you’re gonna lean on my head, pray for me.”
Well, they finally finished the prayer. Campolo went out and spoke to the students. Afterwards, he got in his car and started driving home on the freeway. He saw a hitchhiker. He knows you’re not supposed to pick up hitchhikers, but now and then he does it. He stopped the car, the man got in and they rode away. Campolo said, “Hi, I’m Tony Campolo.” And the man said, “Hi, my name is Charlie Stofsels.” Campolo didn’t say a word. Just got off at the next exit, circled around and headed back on the freeway in the opposite direction. His passenger looked puzzled. “Where are you taking me?” Campolo said, “I’m taking you home.” “Why?” “Because you just walked out on your wife and three kids, that’s why.” Stofsels mouth dropped open. “That’s right!” he gasped. Campolo didn’t say anything more. He just kept driving, drove straight to Marinara Boulevard, and pulled up in front of the third trailer on the right hand side. Stofsels asked, “How did you know I live here?” And Campolo said, “God told me.” Then he said, “Go inside and get your wife.” Stofsels stammered, “Yeah, yeah. Anything you say, Mister.” He went in the trailer and came out with his wife, and her eyes were as big as saucers.
And Campolo began to talk with them about their marriage, about their personal problems, about their spiritual life, and by the time he left that third trailer on the right hand side of Marinara Boulevard Charlie Stofsels and his wife had patched up their relationship, pledged to continue working on their home life, and committed themselves to a life of faith in Christ. And they’re still together today. And Charlie Stofsels is now Rev. Charlie Stofsels.
God told Phillip “Go down to the Gaza road” and that is where Phillip intercepts the Ethiopian eunuch on his way home.
God may have something very specific for us to do. But not always. and not for everyone. It may be God will leave it up to you whether to live in Martinsville or Mombasa. Sometimes God has a long range plan but in the meantime things are left loose.
God told the prophet Jeremiah to buy a field from his cousin because one day the Jews would come back to Israel. There would be a time, but it was not now. In the meantime it was his will for them to live faithfully and fruitfully where they were in exile. It wasn’t where his people would eventually be, but it was where they were now and in the less than ideal circumstances it was God’s will for them to carry on.
God can call on some people to marry, and some to remain single, and leave it to others to decide. He may call on some to give away everything they own, and others like Zaccheus to use all they have honorably, honestly, generously.
Sometimes God’s will is written into our nature. So that waking and sleeping, working and playing, in laughter and tears we are by being profoundly human and humbling accepting that we are fulfilling part of God’s will for us who when he created said of each stage, “that is good.”
In this hymn of blessing in Ephesians Paul speaks of God’s purpose lying under and running through all of creation. He says that Jesus is God’s way of revealing the mystery of his will. Let me pick up three things that are God’s purpose for us all.
1) God’s plan is to adopt us as his children. Jesus’ coming in our flesh signals God’s desire to adopt us. Christ becoming human reveals God’s intention that humans be included in his life, that humanity come into the family.
You know how adoption works. Someone who is not a natural biological child of a couple is chosen to be their child. It is not the child choosing. It is not something that just happens of its own accord. The parent picks the child and pledges to care for and provide for the child, to rejoice with it and hurt with it “till death us do part.”
A little girl found out she was adopted and was crushed. Her mother sat down with her and explained, “Honey everyone in our family is part of the family because someone picked them. Your father and I chose each other, and we chose you.”
The difference is that when God chooses, he chooses for keeps. Paul wrote of the Jews (Romans 11:29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.)
We know God will not take back his decision to include us. Those who hear and trust this good news receive a persistent assurance. The Holy Spirit is a seal on our hearts of God’s ownership, a down payment on all the blessing God yet has for us.
The other day I tried to put gas in my car and something was wrong with the pump. I went in to the cashier, but I wanted to fill the tank. So I left my credit card with her and she turned the pump on. My credit card was my guarantee that I’ll be back and finish the transaction.
God has given us a “credit card,” His Holy Spirit – that says “I will cover all the promises.”
God’s will is to adopt you and for you to live as his child in this world. From before the foundation of the world God chose you “in Christ.”
2) “he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” God’s plan is that you we by holy and blameless in love. The holiness and blamelessness is tied up with loving. 2
So the first thing we need to know is God loves us and the second is that God wants us to love each other.
Now it is a central theme of Ephesians how God brings things together in harmony and gracious cooperation. “Tearing down the dividing wall.” The wall that separates Jews and Gentiles for in Christ they are one people. Tearing down the wall between us and a holy God for in Christ we are forgiven our sins and can approach boldly. Tearing down the wall between clergy and laity, for in Christ everyone has gifts, everyone has a ministry, we are priests to each other. And then in the practical part of the book Paul talks about how husbands and wives learn to be partners instead of competing to be boss. How parents and children can behave so that relation is positive.
God’s will is that we discover unity and cooperation and strive for peace and reconciliation.
Now what this tells me is that it may not be clear to us which vocational path God might have had in mind for us, but the way we do whatever job opens up is God’s will if we do it “as unto the Lord.” Whether we are policeman or politician, plumber or professor, what is clear is that is God’s will that you treat others with love and respect and seek ways of working it out so we can live together compassionately, justly and productively. “Pray for your enemies” teaches us that the call to be holy and blameless in love extends to everybody.
speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ … and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:15, 24)
3) Lastly it is God’s will that we share his joy.
Notice how many times Paul describes God’s will with joyful terms. according to the good pleasure of his will, according to his good pleasure, to the praise of his glory( twice)
God not only gets a kick out of this grace he chooses to pour out on us, but he wants us to revel in it. To delight in his delight. To take pleasure in his pleasure. To share the divine joy.
There is nothing like laughing with joy together to know that you are with a friend.
Do you remember the punch line of all those parables in Luke 15 – lost sheep, lost coin, lost boy– “Come and rejoice with me.”
The gospel lesson is about the cruel joy of Herod’s family. Dancing, merriment, music, but in the end death.
But there is a heavenly joy. David dances before the ark as it enters his city. He throws himself body and soul into dance. Gives himself up in worship with everything that he is, in joy.
Whatever his faults, and David had them, David always comes back to the Lord. always has this sense that his life is in the Lord, and before the Lord. After he sinned by taking advantage of Bathsheba and betraying his general her husband, David is confronted by Nathan and we are told that Ps 51 is the result. “I have been a sinner since I began to be. ..
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
….12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
Return me to the joy of a close relation.
That is one way we could put salvation: Rejoicing in the joy that God had in me.
In Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis is addressing, somewhat indirectly, the question: How, or better yet, Why, do you worship a God who needs nothing? If God is altogether self-sufficient and cannot be served by human hands as if he needed anything (Acts 17:24-25; Romans 11:33-36), least of all glory, why does he command our worship and praise of him? Lewis continues.
“But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything else—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise lovers praising their mistresses . . . readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised the most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised the least. . . . .
“Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible…..I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”
“The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” 3
God will for us to find joy, the deepest joy ever they could be, the joy of praising God who has chosen us as his own beloved children and appointed us to share that love by loving one another and loving him back in praise and blessing. AMEN
1Someone else said, “It is not true that life is one thing after another, it’s one stupid thing over and over.”
21 Thessalonians 3:12–13: May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men . . . so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father.
God predestined us to be his children and that means he destined us to be like him—to be holy, to be blameless, that is, to live in love to each other and to all men.
1 John 3:10, “By this the children of God . . . are manifest . . . the one who does not love his brother is not [a child] of God.”
Your destiny is to be holy as your Father is holy, and that means that your very essence is to love, for God, your Father, is love (1 John 4:8). You are predestined to be like your Father.
3Reflections on the Psalms [New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958], 93–95