October 18, 2015
Text: Isaiah 55: 1 – 13 & 1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 7
Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abby experienced a big disappointment in her life. She was jilted at the altar by her fiancé́ who said “ I can’t go through with this” and walked away.
Time passes, and she ventures out to visit her grandmother, the Dowager Countess.
When her grandmother asks her about the state of her mind, Edith admits that she’s pretty bored sitting around at the huge Downton Abby estate.
“But what can I do”, she asks her grandmother, “Garden?”
To which her grandmother responds that she hope’s she is not as desperate as all that.
As Edith proceeds to go on about how boring her life is, her grandmother interrupts her, “Edith dear, you’re a woman with a brain and reasonability. Stop whining and find something to do!”
Find something to do! Discover your reason for being!
Most of us have “ found something to do”…but is it fulfilling? Is it our reason for being?
According to a recent Gallup study of 230,000 full-time and part-time workers in 142 countries, only 13% of people feel engaged and fulfilled by their jobs. Psychologist Barry Schwartz writes: Work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment for nearly 90 percent of the world’s workers. Think of the social, emotional, and perhaps even economic waste that this statistic represents. Ninety percent of adults spend half their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be.
WOW! How depressing is that! ? Surely this is not our purpose in life…..our reason for being.
Barbara Brown Taylor has a chapter in her book An Altar in the World, called the practice of living with purpose. She begins the chapter this way: In my life so far, I have been a babysitter, an Avon lady, a cashier, a cheese-packer, a horseback riding instructor, a nursing unit clerk, a cocktail waitress, a secretary, a newspaper reporter, an editor, a fund-raiser, a special events coordinator, a teacher of creative writing, a hospital chaplain, a pastor, a preacher, and a college professor….and those are just the jobs that I have been paid for!! I think she forgot to include best selling author!!
Have you ever made a list of the work you have done so far in your life? I have been a babysitter, a nanny, a waitress, a hostess, a model for artists ( no laughing!), an Avon lady and a Stanley Home Products dealer, a pinhole painter in a silk screen factory, a caregiver for an elderly woman, a dance instructor, a choreographer, a teacher, a youth pastor, a pastor, a workshop leader, a preacher….. all for which I have been paid….and only some of which were fulfilling. I have also been a mother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, sister, wife, dog and cat owner and a friend…..all for which I have been paid with love. Is this a proper list of my reason for being alive on this glorious Earth?
Barbara Brown Taylor goes on to say: “Earlier in my life, I thought there was one particular thing I was supposed to do with my life. I thought that God had a purpose for me and my main job was to find out what that was. “
I am tempted to ask for a show of hands of how many people here think or have thought this way. Many of us have been taught that God has a definite plan for each of us. As the Mark Twain quote in the bulletin states: “ The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day your find out why.”
Nancy Tillman’s beautiful children’s book states clearly: “ You are here for a reason.” Implying that its not just an accident…. me, you, us together was meant to be. There’s a reason we are together. Do you believe that? Do I?
Barbara Brown Taylor continues: I did not have a single clue what I would do when I graduated. I didn’t even belong to a church. So I began asking God to tell me what I was supposed to do. What was my designated purpose on this earth? How could I discover the vocation that had my name on it? “
After much prayer and meditation, often sitting high up on a fire escape ladder, she felt an answer from God. The answer surprised her. The answer she heard in her mind was “ Anything that pleases you.”
“ What!” she exclaimed! “ What kind of answer is that, God.!?”
“ Do anything that pleases you……and belong to me” the voice in her head said.
The ball was back in her court again. She could be a priest or a circus performer…..God did not care, as long as it pleased her….and as long as she belonged….. to God. That was the overall purpose….belonging to God. “ I discovered that God had no particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning, then I was going to have to apply the purpose myself.”
Martin Luther said, quite simply, that our mutual vocation is to love God and our neighbor.
Every day, no matter what we are doing or being, we have the opportunity to love God and our neighbor. We have the choice to be kind or to be a jerk. Taylor writes:
“ Whatever I decide to do for a living, it is not what I do but how I do it that matters.”
Isn’t this God’s ultimate plan for creation….for you and me…. is to be connected to the Divine Spirit of love …to BE the love and encourage the love? Is this our reason for being? Perhaps we are drawn to the people and places, which encourage and strengthen the vital, life giving connection in our own lives. It’s why we gather together in a community of faith and practice to support and encourage and inspire each other.
~ Coretta Scott King said:
There is a spirit and a need and a person
at the beginning of every great human advance.
Every one of these must be right for that particular moment of history, or nothing happens.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., chose to respond to the desperate need of his people to be free…He responded to what he believed was his call from God, his purpose for this time in history… and it cost him his life. Was that part of the “plan”? No. It was the consequence of his choice and actions.
Many people choose vocations that put them in harm’s way…. police officers, firefighters, military people, advocates for peace and right action…. those who lift their voices for change….be they preachers or teachers, authors or artists, politicians or CEO”s. There is much for young adults to consider when choosing a vocation…. a path for their livelihood and fulfillment. There is much for volunteers to consider as we choose causes that call out to us for support.
In Buddhist teaching, right livelihood is one of the flagstones on the Noble Eightfold path. Along with right speech, right intention, right action, and right effort, right livelihood is a key step in waking up to the true nature of you.
Taylor writes: “ the basic life principle is to do no harm. Beyond that, you are free to do quite a lot of things for a living, but they are not all going to come with their own evident purposes. Supplying that purpose is going to be up to you.”
Well, golly gee, God. I sure hope you will send me a few clues now and then!
Since the beginning of human history, humanity has been seeking the wisdom and guidance of a higher power. Our understanding of the nature of the Divine Creator has evolved, changed and matured over the centuries…thanks to the wisdom, revelations and guidance of prophets, scholars, teachers, and spiritual mystics, like Isaiah and like Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Generations of seekers have turned to the Holy scriptures and wisdom texts to get a clue! What is the purpose of humanity in the long range design of the universe?
I read an interesting sermon by author and pastor Leonard Sweet. He begins by commenting on the Montessori method of educating children. He writes:
Every time we arrive to collect our son Soren from school the children in the classroom are going about their business quietly, orderly, cooperatively. It’s almost eerily calm.
From day one the kids are taught classroom etiquette, which focuses first on grace and courtesy. The older children are expected to help out the younger. According to their age, all the kids have “work” they are learning to master and they focus intently on these various tasks (map making, serving “tea,” sandpaper letters, puzzles) with amazing, yet quiet energy.
Sweet worries though, that this quiet, orderly, predictable environment will not adequately prepare his son for the wild, unpredictable world he must face as he grows up. The goal of Montessori is to normalize the children, but life is not normal!! Life is not predictable. He writes: “ God is not normal. God is wild and unpredictable.”
Hmmm, I paused to disagree! ( with all due respect and regard to Leonard Sweet) God cannot be defined by OUR normal….. and I do not think that God is wild and unpredictable. God is an extreme being, totally mysterious…..but also predictable in the divine love and nurture that is always forthcoming as a resource for humanity. God is not capricious subject to the whims of our desires. God is the energy, which surrounds and supports and calls forth the divine within us. … always. Very predictable….and absolutely beyond our human understanding. What is normal for God is beyond us!
I also think it is lovely for children to learn to be together in a peaceful, useful setting….to cultivate a calm place in their inner being to help them face the wild and unpredictable!
How do you experience the Divine?
Verses 8 and 9 of our Old Testament lesson from the Second Isaiah tell us about the absolute otherness of God. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, says the Lord.”
God is predictable in the promise of mercy and forgiveness.
“Return to me, for I will have mercy on you and will abundantly pardon.”
Even when we have made an unwise decision, taken a wrong turn in our lives….. God will not withhold mercy and forgiveness from us.
God’s Word is the bread of life, our strength and sustenance. In the cycle of planting and harvesting, everything in its season will be provided. You may be the one inspired to cultivate the soil and plant your seeds, while another is inspired to harvest what you have sown. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us that, “One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:37-38). It’s a cooperative effort involving varying gifts that each of us contributes to the survival of all of us.
Part of the divine plan…. a hint of our purpose?
The prophet Isaiah wanted to make it clear that God had not lost control of history, or more particularly, the lives of the people when they were taken into captivity. Contrary to all appearances, God was very much on top of things. It was not as though God wanted Israel to be taken into captivity and have to suffer so. That was not a plan of God’s. Israel had provoked those consequences as a result of their indifference to God’s word and warnings through the prophets that they needed to clean up their acts and rethink the reason they were living in this extraordinary universe. They were not doing the spiritual work that the Creator had in mind for us human beings!
The lovely Isaiah passage assures us:
There are few things in life, which you can count on, but you can count on these two: the Word of God goes forth, and the Word of God does not return empty. The rain falls to the earth and gives life to flowers, plants and trees before it returns to God who sent it. Water means life. The Word of God is like that water. In the Word and the water we have the possibility of new life beginning. Not every plant grows; not every human being is connected by the Word. But the life is there for the taking.
That is predictable and we can count on it! Each one of us is created with specific and wondrous gifts and passions…. desires and energies…. each one of us has a purpose….a reason for being….to develop and share those gifts energies.
The Apostle Paul loved lists, and his lists of “giftings” that Joe read in the passage from 1st Corinthians were not meant to be exhaustive and definitive, but expressive and suggestive. Paul’s lesson on “spiritual gifts” was to teach the community that whatever their individual gifts might be, they all came from the same source, and that all who are gifted by the Holy Spirit are guided by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that calls us all to serve one another with love.” There is an old saying: Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisers. Paul would have none of that.
We are graced and gifted not for ourselves but for a life in the service” of others, for the common good.
When people asked Jesus what was required of us to dwell in the kingdom of God…what is our purpose? He said:
“ Wash feet. Give your stuff away. Share your food. Favor wrongdoers. Pray for those who are out to get you. Be the first to say “ I’m sorry.”
For those of us who take this as a model…. it becomes our vocation no matter what we are doing for a living. It becomes our reason for being, our purpose for living.
This is the work we are called to do.
Meister Eckhart said: Every creature is a word of God and a word about God. I believe that is our reason for being….to reveal the love and compassion of God…. to be the Light. And if each of us can find our niche….. our place of service, no matter how small or grand, we will find our purpose and know the joy of fulfillment….no matter what we do to pay our bills.
In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Austrian psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl documents the profound power that a life purpose exerts over an individual under even the worst of circumstances. Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, described how prisoners who felt they had nothing to live for succumbed, while those who perceived themselves as having a mission to complete, struggled to survive. Deprived of all external supports that might give life meaning, these survivors came to realize that, in Frankl’s words, “It did not really matter what we expected of life, but rather what life expected from us.” Their sense of an inner purpose pulled them through the most horrible physical and emotional experiences so that they might make their unique contribution to the world.
I discovered a beautiful anonymous Buddhist prayer which I believe speaks to a purpose for all of us:
With every breath I take today, I vow to be awake;
And every step I take, I vow to take with a grateful heart–
So I may see with eyes of love into the hearts of all I meet,
To ease their burden when I can , And touch them with a smile of peace.
I want to close with one line from a lovely poem by Mary Oliver called Yes! No!
To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
How utterly profound and incredibly important. We will find our niche….our purpose…..our reason for being….if we pay attention. Let is be!