Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 22, 2015

2015.03.22 “Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes? – Purpose” – John 12: 20 – 33

Central United Methodist Church
Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes? Purpose
John 12: 20 – 33
Pastor David L. Haley
March 22nd, 2015
grainofwheat

“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”  (John 12: 20 – 33, from the New Revised Standard Version.) Today, in our Lenten series, “Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes?” the quality of Jesus I suggest we emulate is Purpose. Do we have a sense of purpose in our lives, as Jesus did in his? As we think about purpose is in life, one place to begin would be one of my favorite moments in one of my favorite movies, when just such a question was asked. It occurs in the 1994 classic Forrest Gump, in the moving scene between Forrest and his Mama, played by Tom Hanks and Sally Field. Let’s take a look. [You may view the video clip here] So, like Forrest, we ask “What’s my destiny?” What is my purpose in life? At the outset, we should note that there are two levels of answers to such a question, a universal answer and an individual answer. On a universal level, as we saw last week, when we learn how our planet is one small Blue Marble in one solar system around one star in one constellation in a universe with millions of constellations, when we learn that the appearance and history of the entire human species amounts to about the last 10 minutes of a 24 hour day, we may ask what thoughtful, reflective, even religious people have asked, “Who am I, what purpose is there to my tiny insignificant life in the universe?”  Are we, as William Shakespeare put it in Macbeth, “a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5) In light of this, some of us may conclude our universal purpose in life is the pursuit of pleasure (“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”), or the modern version of that, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” For most of us, it is at the very least to live to a good old age with sound mind and body, and to love and be loved by those God has given us. On the other hand, most of us think of our universal purpose in life in religious terms. One of the most famous statements of this is from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which says that the chief end of man (humanity) is to “Glorify God and enjoy God forever.” Does that sound right to you? Do we believe that the universal purpose God intended for us as human beings and children of God is “to glorify God and enjoy God forever?” Day by day, are we doing that? Rick Warren, the Pastor of Saddleback Community Church in California, in his 1997 bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, goes further yet to suggest that from a Christian perspective, God created us with five purposes in mind:              Worship – you were planned for God’s pleasure.              Fellowship – you were formed to be part of God’s family.              Discipleship – you were created to become like Christ.              Ministry – you were shaped for God’s service.              Mission – you were made to tell others about Christ. While all this is true and helpful, today, our universal purpose is not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about today is our individual purpose. As Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it, “What is my job on the planet?” “This,” he says, “is a question we might well want to ask ourselves over and over again. Otherwise, we may wind up doing somebody else’s job and not even know it. (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, pp. 206) Or as Forrest asked, “What’s my destiny, Momma?” Today, in our reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus provides us with an example of someone who understood his purpose in life, his destiny.  In John, chapter 12, some Greeks come seeking Jesus.” Not unsurprisingly, as Philip is a Greek name, they first approach Philip first, saying, “We wish to see Jesus.” And Philip said, “Yeah, you and everybody else; take a number and get in line.” Well, it doesn’t actually say that Philip said that, but what he did do is begin an ancient version of a modern phone tree: “Please hold while I consult with Andrew,” and then, “Please hold while we consult with Jesus.” Commentator Alyce McKinzie says, “It’s a first-century version of “Your call is important to us. All of our operators are currently serving other customers. You will be served by the first available operator.” (Alyce McKinzie,Eavesdropping Discipleship: Reflections, Patheos, March 19, 2012) And yet for all this – it’s never really clear whether the Greeks actually ever get to talk to Jesus. As we have seen in John’s Gospel, it could be a frustrating thing to try to talk to Jesus, because more often than not, it sets Jesus off, and the next thing you know he’s talking about birth and wind and snakes in the wilderness and living water and grains of wheat, as he does here: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12: 23-26) If the Greeks were still listening, what they would have learned was that their arrival was more important to Jesus than Jesus to them; because it signaled to him that his time had come, the “hour” he had been waiting for all his life.  And what he had to say to that was John’s equivalent of Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane experience in the other Gospels: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12: 27-28) And exactly what was Jesus’ purpose? It was the completion of his mission, which in John’s Gospel was to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. What it would mean would be to die in absolute and complete surrender, to become like that grain of wheat planted in the ground, God’s grain of wheat, from which the fruit of God’s life and love for all humanity would break forth. We might ask, “So where and how did Jesus learn his destiny? Did he do it as Forrest Gump did, from his mother Mary, who surely must have shared with him the mysterious and providential circumstances of his birth? Did he learn it in the carpenter shop, as he worked with his father Joseph? Maybe in the synagogue, as week by week he heard the readings of the scriptures.  Was it at his baptism, as he came up out of the water, when he saw the vision and heard the voice? How about out in the wilderness, when he heard another voice speaking to him, suggesting an alternate way, which he would refuse, because they did not serve his purpose. How about us: how do we learn what God’s purpose is for us? Forrest Gump’s Momma was right, no one can tell us our purpose in life, we have to find it out for ourselves, using the gifts God has given us. Sometimes, the purpose of our lives is evident from the beginning; we know early on what we want to be and do. Sometimes, it is only becomes evident through the living of our lives, when we discover or even stumble onto it. Sometimes it might be a grand, universal thing, on the order of Jesus or Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr.; sometimes the purpose of our lives might be a simple, unrecognized task, like being the best father or mother we can to our children, as Forrest Gump’s Mama was to him. Sometimes, we may even discover at a late date that what we thought was our purpose was not, it was only preparation for a larger task unveiled later. Sometimes – as Jesus suggested in his “grain of wheat” analogy, our purpose may not be revealed by dying literally, but by dying to self, that we might live for God. Buckminster FULLER before his geode dome at Montreal World Fair.Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), the discoverer/inventor of the geodesic dome, as the story goes, at age 32 contemplated suicide one night at the edge of Lake Michigan. After the death of a daughter and a series of business failures that left him feeling he had made a mess of his life, he wondered if the best thing might be for him to remove himself from the scene. However, instead of actually ending his life, Fuller heard a voice telling him to live from then on as if he had died that night. Being dead, he wouldn’t have to worry about how things worked out for himself personally, and would then be free to devote himself to living as a representative of the universe.  The rest of his life would be a gift. Instead of living for himself, he would devote himself to asking, “What is it on this planet that needs doing that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?” He decided he would just ask that question continually and do what came to him, following his nose. While he didn’t live long enough to see it, in addition to all his other seminal inventions and ideas, a whole new field of chemistry opened up around the unpredicted discovery of soccer-ball like carbon compounds with remarkable properties which quickly became known as “Buckminsterfullerenes,” or “buckyballs.” Playing in his own sandbox, following his own path, Buckminster Fuller’s musings led to discoveries and worlds he never dreamed of.  (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, pp. 206-209) Without such an experience, what about us, how can we find our purpose in life? Back in January, a time of the year when we make New Year’s resolutions, Tara Parker-Pope, in an article in the New York Times, suggested that instead of resolutions, what we really need to come up with is a mission statement for our lives, of who we are and what we are about. To get started on it, she suggested using the following questions from the Corporate Athlete program, as follows: ■ How do you want to be remembered? ■ How do you want people to describe you? ■ Who do you want to be? ■ Who or what matters most to you? ■ What are your deepest values? ■ How would you define success in your life? ■ What makes your life really worth living? (Tara Parker-Pope, Creating a New Mission Statement, the New York Times, January 5, 2015) And so we ask ourselves, “What is my job on the planet with a capital J?” If you start reflecting upon such questions in your twenties, by the time you are thirty-five or forty, or fifty or sixty, the question itself may have lead you to a few places you wouldn’t have gone if you’d followed mainstream conventions, or your parent’s expectations for you, or worst of all, our own unexamined and self-limiting beliefs and expectations. Of course, it is a question we can start asking at any time, at any age. Like now; now would be a good time. It is the most important question we can ask, and once we find the answer, will be the greatest spiritual adventure of our lives. Saint Francis of Assisi once wrote: “Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in his sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember, that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received – fading symbols of honor, trappings of power – but only what you have given: a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.” (St. Francis, “Letters to Rulers of People”) Jesus put it this way: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” May God help each of us know and live out the purpose for which God created us, and in so doing, may our lives bear much fruit. Amen.

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