No Auditions Necessary May 12 and 13
Scripture: Ephesians 2 and 4
Today we’re beginning a new sermon series on spiritual gifts. There are over 20 spiritual gifts listed in the Bible, and today you’ll find an activity that will begin to teach you about those gifts. We thought it might be a fun way to help you learn. But teaching on spiritual gifts must always be framed as part of our larger purpose and calling. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Let’s read.
A well-known blog editor had an idea: She would try out for the hit show “America’s Got Talent.” Like many of us, she’s watched the dreams-coming-true performances from people who just want to make it in the world and wondered if she could be one of them. So she set out on her journey. It was a long day. She waited in line for hours, with young and old hope-filled contestants, each awkwardly practicing their unique talent until their name was called. But one by one, they were sent home, their American dream dissolving into the American disappointment. Nobody from that day’s auditions received a call back. Every single one of them was told, “Thanks for showing up, but you’re not what we’re looking for.” Except for the blog editor. She was asked to hang back and told that her stand-up comedy routine was pretty funny. And even though she didn’t make it, that affirmation was enough. She had been noticed, and in America, she wrote, is the best you can hope for. The best you can hope for is to get noticed.
When I read that story, something struck a chord in me. We all have a desire to be noticed, to be recognized, to be seen, because we want our lives to count. And so we live life as one big audition, trying to convince others, and ourselves that my life matters, that my life has purpose. I see this everyday in my house. When I praise one of my girls for something they’ve done, undoubtedly the other one will say, “Look at me. Look at what I can do. I’m just as important.” But what my girls don’t know is that I’ve always seen their significance, and they never had to do anything to prove it.
This is one of the hardest pieces of theology to wrap our heads around. We are people of grace, which means that our significance is determined more by God’s activity than by ours. We sing a lot about grace, talk a lot about grace, but to embody this idea that God willingly loves us with a love that is underserved is quite the challenge. We’re used to proving ourselves; we’re used to working for what we want and need; we’re conditioned to study, sweat and grimace just so we can pass the test, cross the finish line, get the job and make it in this world. But here’s the good news: Long before we put in any effort, God had already spoken significance over our lives. Listen to what God speaks to the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah wasn’t even a glimmer in his mother’s eye, yet God had his finger on him. And all Jeremiah could do was receive this promise, this life, as a gift from God.
It might not always seem like it, but from the moment you were conceived, and even before that moment in mysteries I can’t even begin to comprehend, God had his finger on you. Ephesians calls this “God’s handiwork.” Another translation puts it this way: “You are who God created you to be.” You hadn’t even proven yourself yet, and God was still circling your name, calling you, dreaming of fulfilling beautiful purposes in you and through you. And when we live out our purpose, our God-given potential, there is rejoicing in the heavens and transformation on earth. So let’s talk a little bit about purpose.
Purpose is a buzzword in our world. Everyone’s searching for it; everyone’s trying to nail down an answer to the age-old question “What on earth am I here for?” And for good reason: we want our lives to count. There are no shortage of self-help books, ideas and entire careers that try to help us answer that question. But most of the time, we start at the wrong place. Let’s look again at Ephesians. Paul writes, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So what’s this have to do with purpose? Everything.
You see, more often than not, our conversations about purpose usually start with the unholy trinity: me, myself and I. We ask questions like, “What am I good at? What skills do I have? How do I fit in? What do I like to do? It’s a very me-centered driven way of thinking. And that’s understandable because we live in a culture that places a premium on the individual’s quest for meaning and identity. We spend thousands of dollars we spend the rest of our lives paying off for a degree that we hope points to purpose. We buy things we don’t need because we hope they’ll reveal something deep about why we were born. We stress out over what we’re good at and what we’re not because we know we only have one shot to live. But faith invites us to frame our understanding of purpose differently. Because if life truly is a gift from God, and if we truly are God’s handiwork, then my purpose and your purpose doesn’t begin with us; it begins with God. The question for us is no longer, “What is my purpose,” because purpose is found in Christ. Now the question we ask sounds like this, “What is the purpose God desires to achieve through my life?”
So what does this mean? How we go about discovering God’s purposes for us. Well, at the very least, it means “good works.” This was meant by God to be our way of life. Paul says that God prepared us for good. We’ve been created to do good, because God himself is good. William Barclay, an old theologian, implies that there’s something wrong with a faith that doesn’t produce good works because that’s simply not God’s design for his creation. We are meant to reflect the character of God, and God is self-giving Love. God blesses, lifts up, heals and makes new. God sets free. God carries burdens. God fills our cups. And quite simply, that’s our purpose.
I was spending some time with the Lord the other morning, reading some Scripture, when Joanna came in and filled up my coffee cup. And that little act blessed me and set the course for the day. She had had enough coffee that day, she didn’t need any more, but there was extra. So she filled up my cup. Whose cup are you filling? That’s a question about purpose. If the only cup overflowing is yours, you’re probably missing out on something really important. But when you reach out to fill another’s cup, you are fulfilling God’s destiny for your life. When you give your life away, you will find purpose.
Purpose is what Rachel, an up and coming young track and field participant, found in a stranger one day. As a sophomore on her high school track and field team, Rachel had just run the race of her life. But a timing mishap forced a re-run, and her second attempt resulted in a last place finish. Bursting into tears, Rachel sought out a friend to console her, not wanting to be alone as she looked back at what she thought would be one of the worst days of her athletic career. As it turned out, that moment became one of her best sports experiences ever –thanks to another runner who gave her one of his medals. “It’s not the fact that I didn’t get a medal or first place in the league that I’ll remember,” Rachel said, “it’s that somebody noticed and that someone cared enough to make my day by giving me something that meant a lot to them. “That’s what I’ll remember forever.” That one simple gesture transformed a horrible moment into a good one. I’d call that “purpose.”
I don’t know anything about this young man’s faith, but I think it’s safe to say that his gesture has a lot to teach us about our own. When we give our lives to Jesus, something deeper than making a heavenly reservation happens to us. We become a part of Jesus. We become a part of his body, his life, and in a way, we are joined to his hip. All of which is to say that his purpose becomes our purpose. And what exactly is God’s purpose? John 10:10 puts it nicely: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the fullest.” God’s purpose, our purpose, is to live in a way that helps others come to life.
“The best I can hope for is to be noticed.” Those were the words I mentioned earlier from the wannabe America’s Got Talent contestant. But that’s the same yearning that many people are crying out for today. To be noticed. To be seen. To be wanted. And in Christ, they are. In Christ, all of creation has a God who has given his best for them. And your purpose, brothers and sisters, and my purpose, is to join Jesus in his life-giving mission. That’s how God wants to use you! And the best news is that God has already called you to do this holy work, and he’s already given you everything you need to be a part of his plan. There are no special skills required, no education requirement, no extensive training or extraordinary faith. Just a willingness to say, “Yes” to filling the cups Jesus brings your way. Just a willingness to let Jesus grab a hold of your life and fulfill his purposes in and through you. So are you willing? This will be the greatest adventure of your life, and you will never have to worry about purpose again. Friends, we have a dying world that needs our “yes” to God. God has already given His “yes” to you. Will you give God your “yes” in return? Amen.