“A Saint Asks: What am I Here For?” November 11, 2012
Matthew 19:16-30 Stephens City UMC
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I. It was in 1647 that Presbyterians approved what is known as the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
A. The purpose of catechism is to provide answers to questions to help shape a person’s faith and thus follow in the faith of the saints who have gone before them.
1. The first question asked in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?”
2. The answer to that question is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.”
3. Excellent question and a pretty good answer.
B. In our New Testament Lesson for today the situation described by Matthew is sort of a catechism.
1. A young man approaches Jesus with an urgent question.
2. One of the intriguing aspects of this event is that in Mark’s version we are told that the young man “ran” up to Jesus (Mark 10:17).
3. As N.T. Wright, former Bishop in Durham, England, and now a faculty member at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland has written in his book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, “We should perhaps remind ourselves that serious people in the ancient world did not typically run. It was undignified. But this man really wants to meet Jesus, really wants an answer to his question – or he thinks he does. So he forgets his dignity and runs to see him, asking in effect, ‘What good thing must I do?’” (p. 12)
4. To me that question is closely related to the question I want to address today which is “What am I here for?”
II. So let us present day saints try to answer these age old questions and the first thing I want us to note is that the young man who questioned Jesus was searching for something we are searching for and that is hope.
A. Throughout the centuries people who are striving to be faithful have been concerned about the future.
1. People who take religious faith seriously have long recognized that present actions have future consequences.
2. It is why we agonize over sin.
3. “Oh, why did I say that? Or why did I do that? Or why didn’t I help out in that situation?”
4. Often we’re distressed because our words or actions or lack of action causes us the loss of a relationship or even more seriously we wonder how on earth we can ever pass through Judgment Day given what we know should properly be held against us.
5. This is why the young man blurts out “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
6. He’s looking for hope.
B. Now I need to comment on what the Bible means by “eternal life.”
1. A first century Jew would not think about going to heaven the way so many of us normally imagine it.
2. 2,000 years ago when Jesus was walking on this earth – teaching and healing and feeding and preaching – “eternal life” meant the age to come, the time when God would bring heaven and earth together or as Jesus taught in the prayer we say every week “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
3. To participate in the fulfillment of God’s will was what it meant to have eternal life.
4. So as Dr. Wright writes, “When that happened, the man was asking Jesus, will I be part of it? How can I know? What sort of person must I be in the present if I’m going to be part of the new age, when God rescues this sad old world and does what he’s always promised? How can that future reality shape the sort of person I’m becoming right now? If that’s my goal, what is the path which leads there?” (p. 13)
III. Historically people have pursued one of two paths in hopes of obtaining eternal life.
A. The first is to follow the rules and the other is to follow one’s dreams.
1. The first group is stringent, sort of modern day Pharisees.
2. They want a check list.
3. Those in this group think, “I’m doing OK because I’m not doing bad things. I haven’t killed anyone and I’m not doing cocaine and I’m not presently in an affair and I’ve done some good things like I went to church and I even stayed awake through Pastor Jeff’s sermon. That alone should get me eternal life.”
4. That’s a check list mentality.
5. The young man who approached Jesus was doing this when Jesus began to recite the importance of living in accord with the Ten Commandments as the thought probably went through the young man’s mind, “I can put a check next to all those so I’m in, right?”
6. “Since I have enough check marks then I’m fulfilling my purpose in life, right?”
B. The second group is the Walt Disney group who believes that to obtain eternal life and to live a life of purpose one pursues their dreams of happiness which is so American as it is written in the Declaration of Independence that we are about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
1. Now this attempt to gain eternal life begs the question as to what is true happiness.
2. I’m unsure how we are to pursue happiness when we’re not sure exactly what it is.
3. When we’re young we think that graduating from high school will make us happy and it does but then we have to either go on to college or join the military or get a job.
4. And think about how some people in our society try to find happiness in big houses, fancy cars, drugs and/or alcohol and multiple sexual relationships.
5. Just how well are we Americans doing in our pursuit of happiness?
6. Many are like the young man who approached Jesus who went away sorrowful because he had many possessions that he thought would make him happy.
7. In the end he was more attached to his possessions that he thought would make him happy than to his pursuit of eternal life and that realization caused he to go away sorrowful.
C. Like the young man many American Christians do want to be a faithful Christian and yet the materialistic American culture is strong and it just seeps into you, so there is a struggle with what we must do to have eternal life – what is my purpose – what am I here for?
1. Sometimes we take the path on which the key question is “How should I behave?” which is usually about morality and the avoidance of sin while other times we take the path on which the key question is “How can I become truly happy, the person I was meant to be?”
2. And neither of those paths gets us to where we want to go.
IV. Today I want to offer an alternative answer to the questions of “What must I do to have eternal life? What is my purpose? What am I here for?”
A. It seems to me that that the path that has been selected by the saints who have gone before us is the path of living a virtuous life, of being a person of character.
1. Persons of character do not pursue a course in life where they are putting check marks on a list.
2. Instead persons of character allow Jesus to shape them.
3. Check mark people are trying to maintain control over their own lives, whereas people of character are granting Jesus the power to be in control.
4. People who refer to check marks use those check marks as their standard, while those who are concerned with become a person of character permit Jesus to be the standard against which they evaluate all that they say and do.
B. Persons of character are not concerned with their own happiness, but are concerned with Jesus’ happiness.
1. If Jesus is happy then I am happy and that’s the order in which that works.
2. An example of that was Eric Liddell who would become a missionary to China and who is one of the key characters in the 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire.”
3. You might remember that Liddell was a British sprinter who refused to run the 100 meter race in the 1924 Olympics because the race was scheduled for a Sunday, a Sabbath day for him.
4. Despite great pressure from many people, including the King of England, Liddell would not relent.
5. Eventually a team mate who has already won an Olympic medal suggested that Liddell take his place in the 400 meters and although the Americans were the heavy favorites in the race Liddell won the gold medal.
6. What Liddell’s story is really about is not that he won an Olympic gold medal, but that he revealed himself to be a person of character, a man of virtue, a saint of God.
V. Liddell asked a question that many have asked: “What am I here for?”
A. His answer revealed that he would not pursue the path of rules, check marks and legalism, neither would he pursue his own personal happiness.
1. He permitted his character to be shaped by Jesus, giving up control over possessions and personal goals and his own satisfaction.
2. For many the term saint is attached to his name because he was a person of virtue.
B. By faith Liddell was able to answer the question “What am I here for?”
1. And this was his answer “I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.”
C. Oh saints of God, when the question enters your mind “What am I here for?” and you are wondering which path you to take in life the path that is your answer and is your hope is the one on which you feel God’s pleasure.