Sermon: Where Passion Meets Purpose
Scripture: 1 Peter 2:21
Date: October 16, 2016
If you have spent any time on Facebook I am sure that you have received one of these posts that shows a picture of some appliance or something else that was once a part of our every day life that has become obsolete with all of the advancements in technology and the instruction is to “like” or “share” the post if you remember using one of these. You know the ones. I know they are intended to invoke feelings of nostalgia (remember a simpler time?) but usually they just make me feel old because I can remember using the rotary phone (show picture) and the rabbit’s ears on the television (show picture) and growing up with a black and white TV. (Show picture). So in that Spirit I decided to begin today by seeing just how good your memory/cultural awareness is. For instance, who can tell me what this picture is (show picture of television tube) – or this one (show picture of transistor radio). Some of you might not recognize it because if you’re like me you hid it under your pillow and listened to WLS out of Chicago or WLW in Cincinnati or the Cardinals games on KMOX out of St. Louis when your parents thought you were going to sleep at night. Or how many remember these (show Atari Console). We thought it was the culmination of technology. I played Pong and Space Invaders and Pac Man for hours. No telling how many of those joy sticks I wore out. Now they seem so primitive.
Well there is one more that I want us to look at (show picture of WWJD bracelet). How many of you remember these? How many of you wore one of these back in the 1990’s when they were popular? What did the letters WWJD stand for? If you said “What Would Jesus do” you were right. Well did you know that these bracelets had their origin in this passage of scripture from 1 Peter? The WWJD movement began in 1989 with a church youth group in Holland, Michigan who were studying Charles Sheldon’s book “In His Steps” which drew it’s title and premise from Peter’s admonition to walk in the the steps of Jesus. And so those youth began to think about what that would really look like in their lives if they walked in Jesus’s steps and they made a covenant that in their lives as they faced the difficult choices and decisions that life placed in their path, that they were going to pause and ask the question What Would Jesus Do in this situation? And to remind them of the covenant that they had made with each other they wove bracelets to wear that simply had on them the letters WWJD. Well in today’s terms they went viral. And soon young people all over the world were wearing WWJD bracelets. And all throughout the 1990’s the letters WWJD appeared on all kinds of merchandise. And even today, if you search ebay and Amazon you can find for sale all kinds of things with the letters WWJD on them. It was a powerful movement. I was a Campus Minister back then and most of the students that I worked with wore one of those bracelets. And the church embraced it as a positive movement, and it was that. As a pastor I did my best to relate WWJD with what Paul wrote to the Philippian church, when from prison He wrote that Christians are to “be like Christ”. Rick Warren in our study says that the third purpose for which we are called is to “be like Christ.” So the question that we should be asking as we approach the difficult times in our life, as we seek to walk in Jesus’s steps, is really How can I be like Christ in this situation of my life? Which is not a bad question to ask really? Just as What Would Jesus Do? Is not a bad question to ask. Accept I don’t think it is the question that either Paul had in mind when he wrote “be like Christ” or Peter when He talked about walking in His steps. Now hang with me here. You see, when we talk about What Would Jesus Do? Or “be like Christ” we are really advocating a situational kind of faith. Implying that the decision to be like Christ in this particular season of our life is really a decision for us to make. Ok, we think, in this particular circumstance or decision that I am confronting, what would Jesus do? How can I be like Christ? It implies that as followers of Christ we have the choice to act Christ like or act unChristlike, depending on the situation that we find ourselves in. And it is in those moments of seeming indecision that our faith is often tested. But here’s what we often miss when considering both the words of Peter that we are to walk in His steps and Paul when He says to be Christ like is that neither of them really felt as though they had a choice. You see both of them write these words when they are facing their own death because of their discipleship.. Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians (which was written from a Roman prison), by telling them that all that is left for him is to be like Christ in His death and Resurrection. It is not a choice. In essence, He is not talking about being like Christ, as much as He is talking about being Christ. He clarifies his words to the Philippians when he writes: “be of the same mind as Christ, the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” And Peter also ties his statement to walk in the steps of Jesus with the suffering that he is about to endure. It is not a choice. It is where the path of Jesus has brought Him. It is no longer a matter of walking in Jesus’s steps but rather Jesus walking on this earth in and through Peter. What Paul is saying to the Philippians is not that we should be “like” Jesus but rather as Disciples we are to be Jesus in this world. And I think there is a significant difference between the two. Paul’s greatest desire was that when people see him, that they no longer see Paul, but that they see Jesus. Human beings have emphasized the word “like” in Paul’s words because we believe that it is important to preserve the freedom to choose, but the truth is that when we give our lives to Christ, we do just that. We give our lives. We don’t live in Christ, but rather Christ lives in us. We surrender our lives to Jesus. And in doing so we don’t become like Christ, but rather it’s the other way around, Christ becomes us. And so ultimately the question as we approach the situations of our earthly life as disciples is not “what would Jesus do?” It is “what will Jesus do?” Or more specifically – “What will Jesus do through me?” Not WWJD but rather WWJDTM. So What in this world are we here for? We are called to be Christ in this world. Our first purpose was to love God. Our second purpose we said last week is to be loved by God. And this third purpose can really be expressed in this way: we are called to be God’s love. As we walk in His steps, we become God’s love in this world.
Now that sounds good, doesn’t it. But realistically how do we do that? If that is our purpose for which we are called then How do we become Christ, how do we become God’s love, in this world?
Well, let me suggest first that to be Christ, to be God’s love, we must rid ourselves of everything in our life which is not “of God”. Most of us tend to carry around a lot of worldly baggage that only weighs us down. I talked last week about the process of “becoming”. Well, faith is a journey with the ultimate destination being Christ alive in and through us in every circumstance of life. But along the way there are many distractions that threaten our ability to complete the journey. Holding on to the baggage of this world – the material baggage, the emotional baggage, hatred and animosity, the inability to forgive, only weighs us down and keeps us from being Christ. What in this world are you holding on to that is keeping you from being Christ in every situation of your life? I read not too long ago a story about a B-29 bomber in World War II and it’s crew who were part of the bombardment of Tokyo near the end of the the war. But before the bomber could reach Tokyo, the plane was hit and seriously damaged by enemy anti-aircraft fire. And it lost a good portion of it’s fuel. With it’s home base more than 1000 miles away on the Marianus Island, the crew knew that the possibility of making it back with the diminished fuel load and the damage to the plane, over a thousand miles of open water, was unlikely. But they also knew that if they bailed out, they would be taken captive by the Japanese and their mistreatment of prisoners was well documented. Most of them would not survive. And so they made the decision to try and make it back to base before the plane crashed into the ocean. And so to conserve fuel the captain ordered the crew to jettison everything possible from the plane in order to lighten the plane. They abandoned the bombing mission and focused completely on making it back to base. So they threw out of the plane everything they could. All of the bombs and weapons and ammunition. All of the equipment that they could. They even pried the armored plates off of the outer shell of the plane and tossed them out. They were completely defenseless and flying over enemy territory. But anything that was going to keep them from completing their goal of landing safely at the base, was tossed out. And their efforts were successful. They were able to conserve enough fuel and land safely back home, because they got rid of everything that would keep them from completing their task.
Well, being Christ requires of us a singular focus on being Disciples. That was the only task that Christ left with His disciples and thus became the singular focus of Peter and Paul. But to do that they had to get rid of all of the distractions, those things that would alter their direction and use up all of their fuel. To live in to our purpose of being Christ, then that must be where all of our efforts and attention must be. Peter says that if we are going to follow in his steps then we must endure everything that he endured, suffer everything he suffered, forgive all that He forgave, love all that He loved, in short, He must live through us. Paul writes “I must diminish so that He can increase until finally all that’s left of me is Christ.” We become Christ in this world when we rid ourselves of everything that does not reflect Christ.
And then I would say that we become Christ in the world when our passion meets our purpose. In other words when we are passionate about those things that represent Christ in our church and in our community. It is so easy to get distracted by things that don’t really reflect our passion.
The church has long suffered because we have insisted on trying to match people with ministries and programs that no one is really passionate about. At some point someone might have been passionate about those things but those people have moved on but the ministries continue on and we too often spend a great deal of time discussing why those ministries are no longer as effective as they once were and aren’t reaching as many as they once did and what do we need to do to revitalize them.
When John addresses the seven churches at the beginning of his revelation, he begins with the church at Ephesus and he talks about some of the good things that are happening but then he says there is one thing that is weighing you down. You have lost your passion. We are Christ to our community at the point where our passion intersects with our purpose.
As I said earlier, Paul wrote all of these things to the Philippians from the prison in Rome. Now understand what a threat Paul was to the Emperor Nero. Not only did Nero have him locked up to await his execution, but to guarantee that he didn’t escape he had him chained to a Roman soldier in six hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Now these soldiers would have been the most trusted in Caesar’s guard in order to guarantee that Paul would not escape. But Paul did not let that diminish his passion for Christ at all. He spent most of his time writing letters to the churches that he had founded in order to continue to “build them up in love.” To share his passion for Christ and the people with them. The church at Ephesus would have been one of those. And he also apparently took the time to share his witness with those Roman soldiers (talk about a captive audience). They couldn’t go anywhere and neither could He, so He became Christ to them. And apparently he was effective in his witness because he closes the letter to the Philippians by extending greetings “from all the saints (the members of the Roman Church) and from those who belong to Caesar’s household.” An reference to those Roman soldiers guarding him and their families. But here’s the thing.
Though Paul was a great teacher, he knew that it was not enough for him to just teach about Jesus. To become Disciples, we must know Jesus.
(So Paul became Jesus for those guards.)
We become Jesus in our world when our passion for Christ and others meets our purpose of being God’s love and people come to KNOW Jesus through us. When our passion fuels our service and witness, we become Jesus for those we serve. This is so evident in those who give up everything and go and serve on the mission field.
Peter tells us that when our passion for service meets the love of Christ we realize that our purpose is to be Christ in this world. What in the world are we here for? We are here to be Jesus. So what are you passionate about? Where does your passion meet your purpose of being Christ? What on earth are you here for? Or maybe the question is – who on earth are you here for?