Our Storied Purpose

Three chapters prior to today’s rather strange reading from Genesis, Abram responded to God’s call to pack his bags and take off on a life-changing journey. God had promised Abram a new land in which he would be the father of a great nation. That Abram set out on this journey is establishes that he trusts in God’s word.

Today’s reading, however, shows us that Abram has a question – he and his wife have remained childless and Abram is thinking that God hasn’t quite kept up his part of their agreement.

Abram – soon to be renamed Abraham – seems to have run out of patience. He has a purpose to fulfill and wants to get on with it. Even his name tells his purpose: Abram/Abraham “father of many.” But he has no son, no legal heir to receive this promise (other than a distant nephew).

God responds – assuring Abram he will have an heir. God then augments his assurance with a visual presentation. God takes Abram outside and says, “Look toward heaven and count the starts, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” I can only imagine what Abram felt – and wonder if he remembered this every time he saw the sky filled with stars. God is assuring Abram that working together Abram’s purpose will be accomplished.

Jesus, too, is focused on his purpose. Some of the Pharisees have come to him, telling him to leave town because Herod wants to kill Jesus. As the representative of Rome, Herod must keep order in his land, and Jesus has been stirring things up with his teaching and healing. Jesus’ work of “casting out demons” and “preforming cures” is becoming known, and Jesus’s cousin John created waves, being a burr under Herod’s saddle (so to speak).

Jesus answers the Pharisees with his purpose: shalom – healing and making whole, done by “casting out demons” and “performing cures.” We, who live in the 21st century, may dismiss “casting out demons” as an understanding best left in the first century. Yet, there are plenty of “demons” to “cast out” in our time – the demon of thinking we can control our world, the demon of desires that entice us to loose ourselves from our purposes, the demon of ‘isms,’ (such as racism, ageism, and nationalism), the demon of addiction, and so on.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees with the words about Jerusalem from scripture. Jesus reminds them that Jerusalem is not the city God intended it to be, it is, rather, a city that kills the people God sends to it – prophets whose purpose it is to call people back to living as God desires them to live.

Jesus, like these prophets, has a purpose: to call people to return to God’s dream. This dream is one of deep shalom: of wholeness in relationships. He even alludes to his resurrection “on the third day I finish my work.” One way to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is to view it as Jesus’ YES to God’s ways that was at the same time a NO to the demons of the world. Jesus’ YES is about healing, wholeness and hope – and the triumph of these over the forces of life – the demons – that wish to pull us away from living God’s dream.

I believe that God has planted an echo of his dream in each one of us in the form of our life purpose. One way to visualize our purpose is as a golden thread through our lives that is woven into what we love to do.

I will use myself as an example. Beyond being with family and friends, I love to do a number of things:

  • weaving, spinning, sewing, knitting
  • my past work as a church musician
  • learning and teaching
  • shaping liturgy
  • facilitating groups

Each of these activities – at their core – is about creating and weaving connections. This is my God-given purpose. Not only am I most alive when I am creating and weaving connections, I am also most “in tune” with God’s Dream for healing, wholeness and hope.

My husband, Don, has another purpose: to journey with people. One son has the purpose of discovery, another of drawing out stories. My family members come to life when they are involved in an activity that fulfills their purpose.

Each one of you has a God-given purpose; one which when used in life-giving ways is also working with God to grow God’s Dream of a world that is healed, whole, and hope-filled. And I know that each of you is most alive, most vibrant, most shining when you are doing something that requires you to be “in tune with” and use your purpose

This life-purpose is a critical part of our faith story.

Our parish, St. Paul’s, has a purpose as well. From our work together a few years ago, we discovered and named our purpose as “sharing God’s radical openness.” This is the way that we work with God to bring God’s Dream of healing, wholeness and hope to this corner of God’s Creation.

Sharing God’s radical openness – when we are engaged as a worshiping community in activities that fulfill this purpose we will be most alive, and closest to working with God for healing, wholeness and hope. I have seen this when:

  • The outside doors and communion rail are physically open
  • The vestry made the decision to open our parish hall to Exit 0’s meal program to meet a real need.
  • We celebrated the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, deliberately removing the boundary between sacred and secular.
  • Embracing an unfamiliar person within Sunday liturgy.
  • Supporting members through tough times. I will never forget the space you made for Cyndi to read Ezekiel’s story of the valley of dry bones. I am touched by the Spiritual Companionship Group’s capacity to deepen spiritual roots.
  • Your generosity with sending towel after towel to Haven House, and canned good after canned good to the CLM food Pantry. These needs are not met with a one-time donation.

Last week I spoke of how we can find echoes of our faith story in bible stories. Maybe we have days in which we feel buffeted about looking for solid ground, like Noah’s year-long voyage on the ark; or times when we, like Job, cry to God and don’t seem to get an answer; or times when we just want to stay where we are, with Peter, James and John on the mount of the Transfiguration, so we can avoid the tasks that are set ahead of us. In other words, there is likely some hint of our story in the bible stories we hear week to week. The challenge is to find it, claim it, learn from it, and share it.

The dimension we are adding to our Faith Story this week is one of depth – of purpose, both our own God-given purpose and the purpose planted in St. Paul’s – (which is…) to share God’s radical openness.

It is with these purposes that we joyfully join God in making real God’s Dream. We can do this in our families, in our work, in our leisure activities, and in this very faith community. When we are aware of our purposes, and using them to their fullest, we are also being faithful stewards – caretakers – of the Gospel, the Good News of God with us.

Nancy

About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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