Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Greater Purpose

Jeremiah 31:31-34 Psalm 51:1-12 Hebrews 5:5-10 John 12:20-33

Having a sense of purpose is the reason we do what we do, whatever it may be. Having a sense of purpose moves us beyond a mere existence, drives us forward, and defines our very being and sense of self. We become whatever it is we choose to do. For good or bad, it is who and what we are. For instance, I am not a professional writer though I still hope to one day be published AND paid for my work. Until such time, however, an inspiring article told me that if I think about writing and study about writing and enjoy writing, then I AM A WRITER. But in that effort, it’s not simply about writing for writing’s sake. Writing is not the end; it is a means to an end. I hope to inspire and persuade through whatever I choose to write about. So writing – and preaching – cannot be considered “ends” unless they each serve a useful purpose beyond themselves.

Watching a favorite movie the other night, I was reminded (by a simple line in the movie!) that as hectic and overwhelming and burdensome as our lives can often be, there is really only “one thing” that truly matters. In the movie, “City Slickers”, the trail boss, Curley, is explaining to “Mitch” that ‘city slickers’ spend 50 weeks out of the year getting knots in their rope, and then go on a trail/cattle drive as they were on, thinking 2 weeks on such a trip will untie those knots and clear their heads. “None of ‘em get it”, Curley says. Then he asks if ‘Mitch’ knows the secret of life. When ‘Mitch’ says no, Curley holds up his index finger and says, “One thing. Just one thing. You figure that out and stick with it, and all the other stuff just won’t matter.”

Having a clear sense of purpose actually defines what we do and determines whether what we do will have a profound effect on the outcome, or if the outcome will merely be a natural result. In other words, does our sense of purpose exceed our sense of self so that we are focused not on how something may affect only us in the end but, rather, on whether what we will achieve will ultimately serve a greater good, something far beyond self. Will the result be purposeful or simply incidental to the act which created that result?

In John’s Gospel (12:20-33), Jesus has a clear purpose. Though at first glance Jesus may seem to come across as somewhat haughty when these Greeks wanted to see Him (vs 20, 21), perhaps to learn more about their own conversion from the Teacher, the Rabbi many were likely talking about. If these Greeks were the Jewish converts some scholars believe them to have been, then it is interesting that since Judaism is relatively new to them, they would certainly like to talk to the Man who seems to be challenging the Jewish faith, or at least what they have come to understand about Judaism.

Think about the religion the Pharisees taught and the many confrontations between Jesus and them. The religion the Pharisees pushed was a cult of rules and regulations (the means) which seemed to do nothing more than to suppress and oppress. Its only end seemed to be toward keeping people in line. It’s not unlike the cattle drive of the movie in which the cattle are moved in a particular direction, surrounded by cowboys as “enforcers”. The cattle will move as they are directed to move and under some circumstances may even panic (stampede), but they can be quickly brought back under control. And throughout this whole ordeal, the cattle have no idea where they are headed or why.

In reality, however, Jesus is not trying to re-invent the wheel; His whole ministry is about reorienting the way the faithful think about and approach the Lord God. He is challenging a man-made religion that came to feed and serve only itself and had little to do with the Lord God Himself. That religion which Jesus sought to destroy served no legitimate purpose except to create a “ruling class” of pharisees who were served by the people who were kept “in line” by their sense of fear. The Pharisees created a “god” more aligned to their own image of self as merciless enforcers and task-masters.

Still for the moment, it must be remembered that “the hour has come” (vs. 23) and Jesus has something profoundly important to do. Distractions such as unexpected guests could not be allowed because The Greater Purpose is now on track to be fulfilled. There can be nothing more important than this. And when we stop to think about it, it is such distractions that perhaps created a scenario as this one which finally made such a Sacrifice necessary in the first place, to create a New Means of Reconciliation between mankind and the Holy Father.

In a busy world such as the ones we have created for ourselves, it is easy to get knocked off course when we are on track to do the things we need to do even beyond those more practical and mundane, day-to-day tasks that mark the moments in our day. Yet there are so many other tasks we have before us that we never seem to get around to because of the busy-ness of our world and our lives. Our necessary focus on that purpose for which we were created is profoundly diminished when we are distracted by other things, especially things which serve only themselves.

Yet we live in a society that values “multi-tasking”, meaning that one can do many things at the same time with some careful juggling of priorities. The truth that actually comes out of such efforts, however, is that no matter how many tasks we are able to juggle at the same time, it can rarely be said that we can do any ONE thing really well not because we are incapable but because we are distracted (jack of all trades, master of none!). It is not unlike the argument and safety concern about cell phones. One cannot be fully engaged with the task of operating a vehicle AND fully engaged in a phone conversation at the same time. One or the other is going to suffer as a result of a distracted mind, and the purpose of neither one will be adequately served or fulfilled. In fact, it can be said that more harm than good will result.

When Jesus challenges His followers – then and now - to “take up their cross” and follow Him, there is a Greater Purpose in such a journey that transcends our own personal needs or wishes. And the Journey itself is a Purposeful Means because the Journey cannot be the ultimate Destination. We must also necessarily notice and embrace verses 27-28. Therein lies our Purpose: to please, honor, and glorify our Holy Father, to make Him well-known to those whose existence lacks Purpose, to give to the “last, least, and lost” clarity and meaning.

Faithfully purposeful, dear friends, we will hear the Immortal Words we long to hear: “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

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