Monday, May 2, 2016

You Were Born for...

 There is a Facebook meme that I have seen several times pop up in my feed that says, “You were born to do more than just work, pay bills, and then die.”  I would agree wholeheartedly.  But it begs the question: just what were you born to do?  That is the million dollar question that millions of individuals ask themselves on a regular basis.  Humanity has a deep longing to have an answer to that question: why was I born?  What is my purpose?  Why am I even here?  Let’s consider a couple of alternatives for just a moment.

 First, let’s take the path of the atheist.  For those who believe that this universe is all that there is, ultimately, there is no purpose.  There is no meaning.  There is no reason for existence.  Now, this does not mean that atheists don’t have some sense of purpose for their lives; it doesn’t mean that they don’t get some sense of personal meaning about things–I mean, I have come in contact with several atheists who indeed have some sense of momentary purpose that drives them in life.  But I am not talking about a fleeting sense of purpose governed by my circumstances in life at any given moment.  I am talking about an ultimate sense of purpose that goes beyond my existence today.  Ultimately, atheism cannot give you such a sense of purpose that is larger than a given moment in time.  Why do I say this?  Well, think about this: do you remember any relative of yours who lived 500 years ago?  Do you think anyone will remember you 500 years from now?  More than likely, not.  Do you think anyone will remember some random act of kindness you perpetuated even 50 years from now?  I mean unless you are massively famous, only those immediately affected will even care.  And let’s shift the time line even further down the road–a long way down the road–billions of years down the road, in fact. 

 Scientists who study the stars tell us that in a few billion years, our sun will begin expending its energy and expanding.  When it does this, it will unleash a fiery hell upon earth burning everything we know or have ever known into dust and ash.  This is the end result of everything we have ever done; all our great accomplishments; all our moral advances; dust and ash consumed with a burning flame.  So, let me ask you: if this is the ultimate end of all things, is there anything that really makes life worth living other than simply living for the moment?  Is there any higher purpose then?  I mean, why not simply enjoy life for the little bit of time we have here because in the very long run, it will not make any difference at all–if there is nothing beyond this physical universe.

 But if there is something...

 That changes the outcome.

 Let me try to explain.  First off, Christianity believes that there is a Creator who is beyond this physical universe.  It also states that this Creator is eternal or has existed forever.  This Creator exists as a relationship: a Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And, this Creator/God entered into this world to help you know your ultimate purpose and why you are here.

 This is quite a daunting task to cover in the next several minutes as well as get us through today’s Gospel lesson from the 14th chapter of the book of Mark, but I hope everything comes together in the end and that we are not here all morning. :-)

 Today’s text begins with Mark telling us about one of Jesus’ inner circle: the disciple named Judas–who in stark contrast to the woman who extravagantly gave a lavish gift to Jesus–seeks to take from Jesus.  Judas, for whatever reason, decides to throw his lot with Jesus’ enemies and betray the Lord.  We know that at least one of the motivations is money, and so after collaborating with the chief priests and the scribes, Judas seeks an opportunity to betray Jesus in secret.

 Mark then sets the stage for this betrayal by telling us about the events that lead up to it–the institution of Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.  There are some things happening as the meal is being prepared that are quite interesting.  We know that an arrest order has been issued for Jesus–the wording of this arrest order can actually be found in the Talmud or Jewish writings about the Torah.  According to Jewish custom, the Passover meal must be eaten IN Jerusalem, so Jesus, to fulfill the law must go into the city to eat this important meal.  By all accounts, Jesus has arranged it clandestinely–at least that is what a couple of the commentaries suggested.  I mean, it makes sense.  Jesus says, “Go into town and look for a man carrying a water jar.”  This would be an anomaly.  Men carried wine skins.  Women carried water jars.  I don’t know what that says about the difference between men and women, but gender roles aren’t the point.  The point is, the man will be easy to spot.  Then, there is a password of sorts.  Jesus says, “You are to say, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” Again, this has all the marks of intrigue.  Sneak in; get everything ready and prepared; sneak out when all is over.  And that’s what happened, to an extent.  But there was some really, really important stuff that happened in the middle.

 Jesus and His disciples gather in the room to eat the feast.  After they had dined, Jesus says something astonishing; jaw dropping; something that I am positive sent all but one of the disciples reeling.  “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.  One who is eating with me.”  This was a repulsive thought.

 According to Walter Liefield in the Expositor’s Bible commentary, “To betray a friend after eating a meal with him was, and still is, regarded as the worst kind of treachery in the Middle East.”  This is why I say Jesus’ comment would have been a heart stopper.  It was reprehensible to think this would happen.  Everyone in the room asks, “Surely not I?”  We know that at least one of those was putting on a good show.  Jesus doesn’t back down.  In fact, He narrows the playing field.  “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.”  Again, Liefield sheds some light here,
“This clue does not specifically reveal the betrayer but emphasizes again that it is one who enjoys the closest relationship with Jesus–he even dips his bread into the same bowl with Him.”

 Mark Edwards reflects upon Jesus’ actions here and then writes a powerful observation, “Jesus is not a tragic hero caught in events beyond his control.  There is no hint of desperation, fear, anger or futility on his part.  Jesus does not cower or retreat as plots are hatched against him.  He displays, as he has throughout the Gospel, a sovereign freedom and authority to follow a course he has freely chosen in accordance with God’s plan.  Judas and others may act against him, but they do not act upon him.”

 I think Edwards is right on target with this statement because Jesus is going through this with eyes wide open.  He knows what is going to happen. He understands what is going to happen, and He is not running for it.  Neither is He acting with a sense of fatalism.  He understands who He is and what He is here for.  He has tried to make that known throughout the book of Mark, and He will do so once again.

 For Jesus now does something that has become a staple in every church throughout the world.  Different denominations disagree on exactly what is happening during this meal, but all celebrate it.  Jesus takes bread, breaks it and says, “This is my body.”  What is the significance of this?
 Mark Edwards says, “When Jesus said, “This is my body,” the Aramaic behind body likely meant “my person”, “my whole being,” “my self.”  Likewise, the Greek word behind “body” is not sarx (flesh) but soma “body” or perhaps “being.”  All the activity signified by the verbs thus results in the gift of Jesus himself, wholly and without reserve in his self-offering for the disciples.”  Jesus is giving Himself to His disciples.

 And while the giving of one’s self to another carries significance, it is rammed home when Jesus takes a cup of wine, blesses it, has everyone drink from it, and then says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

 Every commentary I consulted tied this event back to Exodus chapter 24.  Please listen to the story, “3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ 4And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. 6Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ 8Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  What is so significant about this?

 Let me read to you from Edwards once more, “In Hebrew thought the life of a creature resided in its blood; Jesus’ reference to the cup as “my blood” thus implies his very life...The “blood of the covenant” cannot be understood apart from the first covenant that Moses instituted by throwing blood on the people (Exodus 24:3-8).  That covenant was sealed by necessity with the blood of a surrogate sacrificial animal.  The new covenant here instituted must be sealed by Jesus’ blood; it is not simply thrown on the community as in Exodus 24:8, but imbibed into believers.”

 So, what does this mean?  This means that the God of the universe who has come down to earth gives His very self to us and pours His very life INTO us!  The One who is ETERNAL, pours His LIFE INTO YOU!  You who are mortal, imperfect, trying to make your way in this world and in this life.  You who are sometimes cranky and angry and upset.  You who are depressed and anxious and worrisome.  You who are sometimes greedy and self-righteous.  You who are going through the motions and longing for something more.  Jesus pours His ETERNAL LIFE into you.

 Why?  Well, first, it’s because He loves you.  Despite your frailties and failings, Jesus loves you.  He loves you dearly.  So much so that He is willing to die for you.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  You see, the world that God created will indeed come to an end.  There is no doubt about that, but God loves the world.  God loves you.  He does not want to see you perish.  So, He pours His eternal life into you so that you will not perish but cross over the threshold of time into eternity to be with Him forever.

 Secondly, God wants you to sense that eternal life now.  He wants you to know that there is so much more that what we see here.  If you become so focused on the here and now and lose sight of eternity, then you will drive yourself crazy trying to do everything and see everything.  You will eventually become exhausted and overwhelmed. You will reach the point where you know you simply cannot do and see everything, and you will become depressed.  You will face your mortality and limitations with no hope.  Yet, when you know that eternity dwells within you, you know that you have forever to see and do.  You know there is more to the story.  You know that beyond this life there is a different and better reality.

 And finally, because you know this, you understand that it is your purpose to know that reality and make it known.  It is your purpose to know God and make Him known.  It is your purpose to seek the God who loves you deeply and then make Him known by loving others as you have been loved.  And it doesn’t matter what kind of job you have or don’t have; who you marry or don’t marry; where you live; or any of these things we stress deeply over.  Wherever we are; whoever we are around; whatever our lot, we have the privilege of telling others there is a God who loved this world and poured out Himself for it.  We have the privilege of knowing Jesus and seeking to make Him known.  We have the honor of being loved and then showing that love.  Indeed we were made to do so much more than working, paying bills, and dying.  We were made for eternal life.  Amen.

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