The Gospel lesson for today is the Passion of Our Lord. The complete text can be found here.
Mae West once said, “Women with ‘pasts’ interest men because men hope that history will repeat itself.”... however, I do not believe that men or women would ever wish that a preacher repeat a sermon... Today I don’t want to repeat myself, but I would like to begin with where we ended last week....
We spoke of Jonah and Jesus and how each had been given a divine purpose by God... but we did not end there, because we also understand that God has given each of us a divine purpose. Like Jonah , we may not always agree with what is being asked of us.. we may not like.. or it may not be easy or.. like Jesus it may come with suffering.. and we may lose our life in the end... Yet, in the midst of that divine purpose we must always remember that God’s plan for each of us is not about us.. it is about Him... we are called to submit and be obedient as Jesus did.
However, I think that many - not necessarily you - are skeptical about this idea of a divine purpose ... and some disagree simply because they don’t believe a higher calling... Take Mark Twain for instance... shortly before his death he wrote... "A myriad of men are born; then labor and sweat and struggle;...they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; ...those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It .. that is - Death --comes at last--the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them--and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,...a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever."
If that were all our purpose in life amounted to.. to labor, sweat, struggle, scramble, fight and then be forgotten.. if that were our only purpose in life.. then there is no need for Hell, because we are already in it.... but that is not the case... if for no other reason, we have been called to be God’s children, to be holy, and to love... as St. Paul says to the Ephesians, “You and I belong to Christ’s family, for he himself has chosen us before the foundation of the world, to be saints, to be blameless in his sight, for love of him, having predestined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his Will.”
If, as Paul says, we already belong to Christ’s family.. then what is it we hope to gain by fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives? The answer is not a selfish one.. as we said, it is not about us.. it’s about God... Our purpose is about drawing others to him. As Paul also wrote, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
I told you last week that our divine purpose is to be obedient and submit to God’s will. How do you do that? Simply by “testifying to the good news of God’s grace” under any and all circumstances... Now that word “testify” sends chills up and down the spines of almost every Episcopalian. We hear and we think, “Dear Lord, he wants us to go out on the street corners, stand on a milk crate, wave around a floppy bible, and tell everyone they’re going to hell!”... but that is only a small aspect of what the word “testify” means... It comes from the Latin word “witness”.. so not only does it mean to proclaim, but it also means to be an example.
This is not an easy teaching… but it is a truthful one… It may be that the fulfillment of your divine purpose will end in your death after a long struggle. If you think that God does not assign such hard purposes, I would point you to His one and only Son and the death he endured… So if the fulfillment of your divine purpose involves trials and suffering, then you can do one of two things… You can rail against God and the world. You can become bitter and angry. “Life’s not fair!” and all that… Or.. you can imitate Christ. You can persevere in the face of those suffering and you can be a witness to Our Father… You can hang upon your cross along side of Jesus and cry out to God for His people.. you can teach forgiveness.. you can point them to the paradise of eternal life.. you can demonstrate the life of an apostle, what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.
Most of the greatest saints of the Church became saints through their sufferings – it is very easy to praise God when all is right with the world.. but if you can still reflect the joy of the Lord while enduring great trials, then that is the true sign of a disciple. Throughout the history of the church.. these saints of endured the torments of their demons, stigmata, persecution, beheadings… Yet as Paul writes, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”… we are given over to all sorts of trials so that the life of Jesus can be made known to others.
You may not be happy about the divine purpose that you’ve been assigned... you may not want to endure.. and no one can blame you.. it may cause suffering and hardship.. but through it you can make Christ known. Again Paul writes, “Therefore, my dear friends… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then… then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.”
Mother Theresa said, “Life is a promise; fulfill it.”… fulfill your vows to the Most High through your obedient submission to Him… and shine like a star at night so that all might see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.
Let us pray… Jesus, You endured total submission, showing us the way to refined living. Submitted to the Father until the end, You fulfilled the Celestial Plan. Teach us the meaning of meekness, our wills complying to the Heavenly Father. Remove our weaknesses of disobedience, shaping us to the Will of God Almighty. Guide us on the road of resignation, molding our souls into total submission. We walk in the path of righteousness, Hand in hand with You, Lord Jesus! Amen.