Summit Presbyterian Church
March 11, 2018
Created for Good Works
Years ago, when he was in his early 20s, my cousin Fred made it known to the family what he wanted for Christmas. It wasn’t a new CD (this was decades ago); it wasn’t a tie or a watch or a car (fat chance). It wasn’t even money. He wanted purpose. He wanted a purpose for Christmas! Of course he was saying this tongue in cheek. We laughed and gave him socks. But he wasn’t entirely joking. He was at a crossroads — and couldn’t even see the roads clearly. He had graduated from a good college and had many possibilities before him: an entry-level job in a bank, graduate school, maybe travel. But he was stuck. What was he meant to do? How could he fulfill his potential? He had always been told he was headed for success, but nothing sang to him. He was a very good student and a lovely person but had no outstanding talent or deep passion. He knew he was fortunate, but he was anxious and a bit depressed. Who was he and what was he meant to do with his life?
In seminary, the question uppermost on nearly everyone’s mind, the one most discussed, was not a question of doctrine, scriptural authority, or campus politics. It was: What is my call? What is God’s plan for my life? We prayed, journaled and talked. We took personality tests and did internships to help discern if we were called to ordination as pastors, or to chaplaincy, advocacy work, academia or maybe none of the above - a scary thought when you’ve spent thousands on a seminary degree. We believed that God had a particular path for each of us in mind, and our job was to figure it out. Many of us were mid-life, some with children and spouses, so it felt like this might be the last chance to get it right. What was God calling us to do with our wild and precious lives? (We also read a lot of Mary Oliver).
I have a friend in his late sixties who says he still hasn’t figured out what he’s going to do when he grows up. This is said partly in jest, and partly in pain, as he’s been grown up for a while and feels he never found his true path, making the way ahead even murkier. Other folks who have retired report that losing their role and status as pastor, teacher, banker, secretary, or union member has left them shaken, wondering who they are — aside from being older. Some older friends (and younger ones) are burdened with regrets or guilt: for things done or not done, for money not saved, for roads not taken. When the limitations of age set in the questions become sharp: who are we when we can no longer drive or climb steps? And what are we to do with the rest of our lives?
“For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Our scripture suggests the answer to these questions - at any stage of life - is simpler than we think. Who are we? We are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus — that is, created in the image of God. Good. Holy. Loved by God even when we we’re dead through our trespasses, following the passions of our flesh. (not necessarily sexual desire) Who are we? Created in Christ Jesus and saved by grace, through faith that is the gift of God, not the result of works, so no one may boast. Who are we? We sing it in the hymn: ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. That’s who we are. We may also be teachers or students or social workers, programmers or bus drivers. We may be female, male or transgender, white or African American, from California or China. Extroverts or introverts, math whizes or readers or athletes - but those are all secondary and ultimately not that important. We’re created in Christ Jesus, like all people created in the image of God, loved and saved through faith not works. That’s who we are.
But God, in God’s wisdom, knew we’d hunger for something more. We do need purpose! My cousin was right to ask for that. And not just any purpose, but a purpose aligned with God’s purposes. We were right to pray about it. And we need a purpose to the end of our days, even when we can’t do what we once did. So God prepared good works beforehand to be our way of life.
And those works are there before us, no matter our age or abilities. No matter how much schooling we’ve had, no matter how much money. No matter our situation in life. God is an equal opportunity giver when it comes to good works. Prayer may be the most important; something we all can do. After all, we’re a people who believe prayer matters - the church has supported monasteries so some people can pray full time! What greater work can we do than to pray for those who need healing, who hunger or thirst; for our nation and the world, and for the church. Worship is also a good work, witnessing to God’s glory and love. So is caring for one another - friends, family or neighbors - in sickness and health. Feeding and hugging our children or our parents or friends— and also receiving hugs. We can do good in almost any job we take or choose — finding ways to be helpful, to be a blessing to others. Voting and canvassing, speaking up against all kinds of injustice is a good work. Good works include anointing a body for burial and showing kindness to those who are poor.
Discovering and doing the good works that God has prepared is a joy and a blessing. It doesn’t depend on choosing the “right” career, or even the right spouse. It doesn’t depend on a particular call. Those of us fortunate enough to have career and relationship and other life choices should of course make them thoughtfully and prayerfully. We should receive opportunities with gratitude; learning all that we can and developing our talents will help us to do good. But fulfilling our potential is not the point. And we don’t need to agonize over finding our special purpose or our special call. Good works lie in wait for us no matter who we are, where we are, or what we have done. We have only to open our eyes and our hearts to find them.
My cousin asked for purpose at Christmas — but he did not really need to ask, as he had already received it. We all did when Jesus was born. Christ Jesus who loves and saves us. Christ Jesus who has shown us the way to live and calls us to follow, doing the good works that God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.