Sermon for June 30, 2019
Texts: Psalm 146/Galatians 1:11-24
A man once invented a light weight boat that could be assembled and disassembled with ease, a boat that could be easily transported in a three by five foot car top carrier he also designed. After acquiring a patent for his boat and completing the rigor process of review and approval by the Coast Guard, he began to search for a site where production of his boat could begin.
Having secured a site he began acquiring the tools and the materials to begin production. The man quickly discovered that the challenges he faced in building the prototype versions of his boat were quite different from the challenges he faced in fabricating the boat in quantities. Machinery had to be designed, production schedules devised, distribution networks created, and, importantly, employees hired and trained to execute his plans.
The learning curve was steep, but in time the man had a product to bring to market. Even as his inventory of boats grew, the man began to advertise for the two or three persons who would constitute his sales force.
Though it took a while, the positions were finally filled. The man, you must understand, was fiercely proud of his boat, an enthusiasm that came immediately to the surface as he gathered his sales staff and introduced them to the boat’s various features.
The staff training proceeded for the better part of the week before the businessman felt that his new team was adequately prepared to take his wares into the world. Be assured it was an anxious, but also a proud day, when the man sent his sales force into the field, newly printed product literature tucked into their briefcases.
You have to understand that the man had made a substantial investment in his product, financially, but also emotionally. This boat was his dream, the big event of his life. You might even say that the boat was his destiny.
Destiny is a big word that may imply, among other things, an outcome or destination. For instance, “His destiny was to become president of the United States.” Destiny may imply purpose. “She fulfilled her destiny when she gave birth to her child.” Destiny may imply a loss of control, fate. “Destiny dealt him a bad hand. Abandoned as a child he went on to one misadventure after another.” Destiny may even imply, as professor Glenn Tinder suggests, “authentic selfhood.” Our destiny under God can be summarized in those two words, “authentic selfhood.”
The boat was the big event in the man’s life, yes, even his destiny. Mind you, the man never personally spoke of his boat in that way, but in fact all who knew him believed that the boat the man invented was the logical end point to all his strivings.
We are experienced enough to understand that the world doesn’t always cooperate or step aside when one of us is working out our destiny. The path to our destiny, our authentic selfhood, often has detours. It may be littered with potholes.
The patent, licenses, building, equipment, and trained personnel all in place, the man had an inventory to sell, and now a sales force to turn vision into the dollars that would recoup his investment, and pay him what he hoped would be a handsome return. Everything was ready to go, but insofar as the man’s destiny was concerned, the world didn’t cooperate, at least to the degree that he had hoped.
The man faced one significant problem. His enthusiasm for his boat was not infectious, not, at least, to the degree he was infected. The sales staff went about their work. They knocked on the doors of all prospective clients. Days turned into weeks as orders barely trickled in. If the inventor’s destiny was to bring his new product to market, the market wasn’t cooperating.
Faced with this obstacle the man might well have lost confidence. He might have sold his inventory at a drastically reduced price, closed up shop, and taken a loss. He might have gone back to the drawing board and designed a more conventional type of boat than the one he was selling.
Instead, he went into the field with his sales staff, and in watching them, learned one very valuable lesson. He learned not to assume that the people who were presenting his product to the world shared his enthusiasm for the product. The boat he was trying to promote and sell may have been his destiny, but it wasn’t theirs.
When your destiny is on the line you make special efforts to protect it. Enthusiasm was the issue. He learned that enthusiasm for something cannot be acquired without knowledge. In order to sell his product his sales staff needed to know his product, and not in some superficial way, but by learning the various steps through which the boat needed to pass in the building process, and overall functionality of the boat.
He learned that his sales staff could not effectively sell his product unless they truly believed in his product.
I remember my first job out of college. I was hired to sell curricular materials for a division of McGraw-Hill. I still remember how the company’s division manager who provided my initial orientation to the products I would be selling went on and on about the virtues of the products in the company’s catalogue. At one point I debated whether or not I should step in to remind him that I was not a customer. Suffice it to say, the division manager believed in what he sold.
The businessman recognized that product knowledge, enthusiasm, but also belief in the product were crucial to sales. He also learned that it is important to know your potential customers’ wants and needs. He learned that there was no “one size fits all” sales approach, but that it was important to know what features of his boat would be most attractive to the specific client, the wilderness outfitter or the marina owner.
We never work out our destinies alone, and this man was no exception. Most specifically, he needed those sales persons. But here was the problem he faced: how would he go about generating enthusiasm in them? He recognized that enthusiasm emerged out of knowledge of his product, belief in his product, but also attention to his customers’ need and wants.
More acutely than our businessman, more acutely than most of us, even more acutely then virtually anyone we are likely to have contact with, the Apostle Paul was aware that a special destiny shaped his life. Did he not receive the gospel, the good news of salvation, from Jesus Christ himself? Was he not willing to surrender his life to fulfill his destiny as an ambassador of Jesus Christ?
Throughout his lifetime as Jesus’ disciple Paul’s enthusiasm for ministry never flagged. As one whose life only acquired meaning as a vessel carrying Jesus to the world, he lived his life constantly strategizing on how he might do that job better. Part of that strategizing involved how to enlist others to bring the message of salvation to the world, how to build knowledge and generate enthusiasm in them.
Paul was a man of destiny who experienced the call of God in Christ in such a profound way that he spent his life trying to demonstrate to all who would give him a hearing that God, revealed to the world in Christ, was their destiny also, that they in turn might help shape the destinies of others.
How might Paul’s sense of his destiny translate into your life experience or mine? I believe that, as in Paul’s case, God reveals clues, subtle or not, that disclose each of our destinies. Life under God is a process of reading those clues so that we become the authentic selves we were destined to be. Those clues may not prompt the radical re-orientation by which Paul’s life was changed, but God does not withhold clues from any of us, clues prodding us to think and act on the life-shaping data our individual experiences present.
Our authentic self is our destiny under God. We flourish when we are enacting that destiny, and often suffer when we don’t. Suffering, of course, is not something God wants for any of us. That is where the prophets of God come in. Those representatives of God emerged on the scene to guide and correct when the children of God allowed personal ego needs and ambitions to preempt the destiny God had assigned them.
God’s great ambition for us remained firmly established over generations even in the face of human disobedience, his love for us revealed in Jesus who came to us to embody our destiny. Though divine, Jesus took on human flesh to model the destinies each one of us was created to have, model, though not as before a mirror in the privacy of our home. Christ’s ambition is to use people like you and me to demonstrate to the world what human flourishing looks like.
I have mentioned before that in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina our church in New Orleans was the beneficiary of an incredible outpouring of support. In addition to monetary gifts, clothing, and household goods, dozens of volunteers gave of their time and energy in recovery efforts across our city. One day after the storm just as recovery efforts were beginning, the pastor of a church in another state whom I had never met called our church office. After inquiring about the wellbeing of our congregation, and immediate neighborhood the pastor said something I will never forget, “thank you for giving the church the opportunity to be the church,” [repeat] which I would interpret to mean, “thank you for giving the church the opportunity to fulfill its destiny.”
Recently I was reading about the secession of the southern states over the issue of slavery which resulted in the Civil War. In the immediate aftermath of their states’ votes to secede the southern leadership of the Presbyterian Church followed their state leaders by separating themselves from the northern body of Presbyterians.
The church was handed a gold plated invitation to be a force for reconciliation and union in those fraught times, instead the southern leadership of the church voted the destiny of the southern states over its appointed destiny in Christ.
From its founding in the time of Christ to the present, the church, beset by competing allegiances, has constantly struggled to fulfill its destiny under Christ. Though we may be well versed in the Lord’s gospel, and the values he taught and embodied, time and time again we allow other ambitions to take precedent.
God has a vision for each one us. God has a vision for the church. God might have established his vision without us, but out of his great love for us he chose us to be co-creators of the church’s, and even the world’s destiny. He gave us the liberty to choose how we will use our freedom, the latitude to shape our individual destinies and the destiny of the church.
It amounts to a mere twenty-four hours, but today offers us enough time to make some decision that will impact our destinies under God, after all it was the resurrection of our Lord Jesus on that single day, the third day, that shaped the destiny of the church and the whole world. No day we live is too insignificant in shaping our destiny under God. Our authentic self is our destiny as the beloved of God. Granted there is a lot of trial and error involved in claiming that prize, but we have an advocate, even Christ Jesus, who is on call twenty-four seven to redirect our flagging spirits and errant wills. AMEN.
With praise and thanksgiving we gather to reenact the rituals of worship, O God. May all that we do here being pleasing in your sight.
Source of light and all holiness direct our steps in the path of the destiny you have chosen for us, and redirect our steps when we stray. We are fallible, but you are infallible, we are weak, and you are strong. Lend us strength when our strength is insufficient. Have compassion on us when our vision narrows to exclude the signs you would have us to see.
Christ, your son, your messenger, has shown us the way. In living his life he revealed your will, and surrendering his life he overcame the powers that seek to subvert our wills. Grant us, O God, the confidence of faith to embrace the freedom that Christ’s death purchased for us.
O Lord, be with the leaders of nations upon whom great responsibilities rest. Grant wisdom to our President and to those who serve in his administration. Even as we pray for those in the Execute branch, we pray for those who serve in the Congress and the courts, praying that their love for country will inform them as they execute the duties for which they are responsible.
As the fourth of July approaches we remember with gratitude the courageous deeds of our forefathers that helped gave birth to republic, even as we remember women and men throughout the generations who have kept the lamp of liberty burning. With a heated election season in the offing may the citizens of this land cherish anew the freedom that was purchased for us at so great a price, and may political debate this election season be marked by civility.
Abide, O God, today with those suffering depression, and anguish in all its forms. Support those who live in abusive relationships, and all those who suffer persecution and injustice. Strengthen those who face medical challenges, and may those upon whom they rely for counsel and support exhibit patience and empathy.
Finally, Lord, we ask that you favor us with your presence in all circumstances we may face in the coming week. We know that you hear our prayers. Grant us eyes that we may see your holy purposes unfold in our daily affairs.
For this day, for the church, and for the destiny toward which each new day points we give thanks, praying the prayer…