Posts Tagged ‘purpose’

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

“That we … might live for the praise of his glory.” Here is the Bible’s answer to the question that every maturing human being has asked: What’s my purpose? What is the end for which I exist? While contemporary Western answers may offer such goals as individual happiness and prosperity, the Bible invites us to look farther out. It is necessary to see that personal meaning and human purpose, while certainly legitimate concerns in themselves, must be a function of reference to a still higher or larger or more enduring reality. Purpose is always a link to another level or dimension, and the quest for human purpose naturally opens us to the Something More that encompasses our existence, the reality we name God.

For its part, the Bible defines human purpose as giving glory to God. To understand what this means we need to imagine God as the transcendent ground and energy of being, manifested outwardly in the myriad forms of existence. The universe carries this deeper energy into material expression, and has evolved into the astonishing miracles of life, consciousness, and community. Each existing thing “declares the glory of God,” as the psalmist says (Ps 19), simply by virtue of being a visible expression of the invisible ground beneath and within all things. This helps us see that the glory of God and the fulfillment of creation are one and the same. In becoming all we were created to be and by actualizing our deepest potential as human beings, we glorify God.

GENESIS 12:1-4a

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Accepting God’s calling on our life will always involve some sort of “departure” from where we are presently. Sometimes this departure is of a physical variety and takes us to another place, nearby or distant, in order to fulfill what God has given us to accomplish. But whether or not such a physical departure is involved, there will always be required of us a going forth from our current way of life – from our present mindset, our acquired habits of thinking, valuing, and behaving.

Because our worldview is our reality-in-perspective, this psychological departure can often be felt as a death (and rebirth) experience. The most critical phase in this transformation is just after the departure has been made, but before a full view and understanding of our destination is gained. In that vulnerable and frequently confusing time, the thing most needed is our deep trust (faith) in the providence and wisdom of God.

The Jewish people came to an early appreciation of Abram’s call as most significantly a summons from God to leave behind one worldview for another. Abram was called out of the polytheistic culture of his ancestors, with its deep assumptions and ancient traditions, in order to enter a revolutionary and completely novel experience.

His destiny was to be in a devotional and moral relationship with the one God, the one and only God, with that Divine Reality and Holy Mystery beyond all the gods of religion.

                                                                                            

Abram’s departure, being physical, must surely have been difficult. Leaving his tribe, its traditions, its pantheon of deities, the familiar landscape and way of life – not to mention his relatives, his occupation, and whatever reputation he had been able to make for himself – leaving all of this must have been a fairly wrenching experience.

But leaving behind things, particular locations, and even other people is not in itself the most difficult part. It’s the value and meaning, the emotional attachment (in degrees of dependency) and cognitive certainty we’ve associated to these that arouses feelings of anxiety, disorientation, and sadness.

This is where physical departures become psychological departures, where shifts of location initiate shifts of identity.

For Abram, the call of God was not simply and exclusively a summons away from his familiar environment and definitions of self. Along with the call away was the call toward: “Go from your country and your kindred” was followed by “to the land that I will show you.” Abram’s new mission was to serve God’s blessing for the world.

 

ISAIAH 9:1-4

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.

A prophet is one who is able to look beyond the conditions of current reality through a vision of future possibilities. Abraham Heschel has characterized the prophets of the Bible as individuals gifted with “depth perception,” where the envisioned possibilities of the future are in fact the concealed potentialities of the present. In other words, the prophet is able to discern the underground movement of history and seeks to bring this awareness to his or her contemporaries in parables of warning, consolation, and hope.

The eighth-century prophet Isaiah flourished during the rise of Assyria to world power, and his basic message was concerning the holiness (divine otherness) of God and the need for Israel to resist the temptation to protect herself against the Assyrian threat by building up her Department of Defense and forming alliances with neighboring nations.

To put her faith in such investments and strategies would amount to abandoning confidence and trust in God. “Pull yourselves together,” Isaiah urged, “and return to the faith you once had.”

It wasn’t a going back to some distant apostolic age that the prophet was advising, but a going within to the inner ground of spiritual power. Don’t misunderstand: neither was this a world-renouncing withdrawal into some sectarian fortress of ascetic practice or dogmatic fundamentalism. Instead it was a call to connect with the God who is the very ground and hope of existence itself.

                                                                                                  

Isaiah’s confidence in God, even in spite of his guarded optimism over the likelihood of his generation returning to faith, made him hopeful for Israel’s future. He was sure that God had brought this nation out of bondage and onto the world stage for a purpose, and that this purpose had not yet been fully realized.

This purpose would achieve greater clarity and focus through the ministry of Isaiah’s successor, the so-called Second Isaiah who took up the prophet’s main themes and transformed them for the situation of exile a century-and-a-half later.

One of the dominant themes of this tradition is that of light, explored for its attributes of radiance and warmth as well as its power to purify. Used poetically, light is also a metaphor for awareness and higher knowledge (fittingly called enlightenment).

The prophet looked with expectancy to the time when God’s truth would dispel the dark shroud of ignorance that blankets the collective consciousness of the world. His “land of deep darkness” is a poetic reference to the global conditions of spiritual confusion and dogmatic blindness, along with the violence, oppression, and suffering that spin out of these.

The thing about such prophet-mystics is that they know, because they’ve seen it, that the holy light of truth is already there beyond the veil of ignorance, shining in all the fullness of power. Now the veil just needs to be pulled aside.

1 CORINTHIANS 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

“Called to be saints” is a phrase that Paul used time and again when he addressed the various congregations under his care. A saint is literally a holy person, one who strands apart from the usual preoccupations and daily compromises that diminish the divine image in the rest of us.

There are, however, two very different schools of interpretation when it comes to the fuller definition of what it means to be a saint. The first, what we might call the monastic paradigm, sees the saint as a person who necessarily withdraws from the world in order to cultivate and protect the purity at the heart of this vocation. Typically the retreatant will live either in utter solitude or else in a convent with others of a similar bent.

The second school, which is also the one with roots in the New Testament and the gospel of Jesus, holds to the missionary paradigm. Here the saint cultivates more of an inner transcendence, but with a compelling desire to assist in the awakening and salvation of others.

Interestingly enough, Buddhism has these same two distinctions, with the Arhat being the saint who withdraws, and the Bodhisattva the one who dedicates him- or herself to the liberation of all sentient beings.

The New Testament (that is, Paul’s) concept of a saint is inseparably tied to the Bible’s broader concern for the world, as something worthy of redemption and not to be renounced or abandoned. Simply put, the saint is one who answers the divine call by taking on God’s purpose as his or her own, a purpose that has human liberation, genuine community, global peace, and planetary well-being as its ultimate aims.

                                                                                               

What does it mean to be “sanctified in Christ Jesus”? We can see that the word is related to those of “saint” and “holy” (sanctus). A first pass reveals it to mean “being made holy.”

In the Bible, something (most often a person or object) is made holy by means of a special ritual that separates it from the backfield of the ordinary, purifies it by water or blood (the life-power), links it into a symbol system of sacred values, and thereby empowers it with the higher purpose of that system to which it now belongs.

Must as the consecration of the bread for holy communion ritually removes the loaf from the realm of the ordinary and imbues it with a sacred meaning associated with Jesus’ body and death, so is one sanctified in Christ Jesus by detaching from the world and identifying with him.

For Paul, this is an ongoing process for the Christian. As long as we are in the flesh we will be given new opportunities to rise above our selfish impulses, leap beyond our fears, and sacrifice ourselves (the word literally means “to make holy”) on the cross of love.

It isn’t as if joining a church is the end-point of a Christian’s journey; it’s only a beginning! Identification with Jesus the Christ means following him into the world, reaching for those in pain and need who are at the end of their hope, and losing ourselves completely in the holy purpose of a love that never fails and knows no limits.

For the task ahead God has bestowed every good and beneficial gift.

PSALM 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

In addition to the conventional tasks fulfilled by the gods and goddesses of the ancient world – managing the cosmos, blessing the fields, flocks, and women with fertility, giving victory in war and upholding the moral order – the God of Israel was rather unique for his attention to the forward progress of history.

This can partly be explained as reflecting the fact of Israel’s tribal and national experience, beginning as a nomadic people, having to contend with the near-constant threat of invasion once they settled Palestine, and undergoing the profound trauma of deportation and captivity in Babylon.

The current state of affairs for them as a nation was something that kept them looking to the horizon of the future for deliverance, security, or fulfillment. But beneath this psychological explanation lies a deeper spiritual one: the God of Israel was the transcendent anchor-point outside the turning cycles of time, who awakened and inspired in his people the self-understanding of being an instrument of a greater will and purpose.

That’s not to say that Israel couldn’t appreciate the mystery of being in the Now, or enjoy the passing beauty and pleasures of the moment. For them, however, the present moment was not defined so much by the revolutions of time past, as by the progressive realization of God’s promised future. Israel’s difference from other surrounding cultures is most pronounced in this idea of time as evolutionary and forward-moving.