"How Purpose Inspires"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 25, 2002

Matthew 16: 13-20; Romans 12:1-8

     Jacob Henry is a Social Studies teacher in a high school in Philadelphia.  During his tenure, he has become one of the most popular teachers in the school.  Students go out of their way to talk to him. When he says things like, "You'd better get to class. Don't be late!" the students scurry off obediently wearing smiles.  They know he loves them. 

     Every year teens are in the office and the guidance department trying to get their schedules adjusted so that they can take his classes.  If a student happens to have him for Home Room, they are looked upon as the luckiest kid in the school. There is no question that Jake Henry has something that draws students to him.  He lives, breathes and loves Social Studies.  His main purpose in life is to package his passion and love for the subject in such a way that students will soak up every moment of class time like a dry sponge. 

     A new supervisor for his district became interested in what Jake was doing. She did a computer analysis of his students over a 3-year period and found that most of them scored off the charts not only in Social Studies but in most subjects.  She also learned that some of his classes were beyond the student teacher-ratio permitted by the school system.  Administrators routinely disregarded the rule because of student and parent demand and because of the results Jake generates. 

     She decided to audit one of his classes and managed to isolate two hours each day for two weeks.  She was captivated by him and how he maintained order in a class of 48 students. She never saw anything like it.  

     What he was doing during the initial weeks of the semester had little to do with her understanding of Social Studies.  His lessons had to do with helping students develop a love of life, of helping them understand that having knowledge about things and how they work put them light years ahead of everyone else.  He talked about humor, sexuality, relationships, how to communicate effectively and  how each of them could become a person of substance.  After he excited his students about who they had the potential to be, he launched into Social Studies and never looked back. 

     That supervisor found herself both delighted and frustrated. She was delighted with her experience. In fact, she was sorry she was not a student again.  Her frustration came at the point  where she understood that a purpose-driven life cannot be transferred from one person to another.  She felt that we either have it or we do not.  A visionary of another day once said, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."              

     In our lesson today, the Apostle Paul described how purpose inspires everything that we do.  He wrote, "Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.  Then you will be able to know the will of God."

     How many people do we know who approach their vocational tasks with standards derived from this world.  They often say things like this:  "How many breaks do I get during the day? How long will I have to work here before I get four weeks paid-vacation? What is the policy for sick leave?  Does your company allow time for mental-health days? Will people become upset if I leave a little early on some days?  Rush hour is such a mess on Fridays."

     Would we want someone like this performing high risk surgery on us, teaching our children, building our new home, managing our 401-k or working for us?  It is absolutely amazing the number of people in our culture who feel that our society owes them a living, or they look upon their jobs as an entitlement. Such people are takers.  The universe is big enough to accommodate all of them.  After all, our world regularly teaches us to grab all that we can.  Many of us fall for that line.

     Paul mentioned that when we allow God to transform us, we will know God's will.  We in the church have heard about doing God's will ever since we became involved.  Paul described how this process works.  He wrote, "The human body has many parts and each one of these parts has a different function.  This is the way it is as we experience life together.  We each have different gifts. We must use these gifts in accordance to what God has given us."  What does such a life look like?

     When I was a child in the Cheverly United Methodist Church, we had a woman who was in the building from 8:30 am to noon every Sunday morning.  Her name was Dorothy Bean.  Her purpose and mission was to be with our babies in the nursery. She was there when I was a teenager in that church.  She was there when I became one of the ministers of that church.  She watched our babies, Sue and Steven. She inspired reticent parents to leave their children with her while they attended worship.  Was she doing God's will?

     Let's explore what Paul meant when he wrote, "to know the will of God."  There can be many interpretations of this thought.  How about thinking of one more?  We are to use our gifts in such a way that our joy in using them inspires others to do the same.  When we keep our purpose, one of helping to create a more wholesome world, we are honoring God who gave us life.  This is the will of God.  When we forget this, we find ourselves going off in all directions.

     For example, how many of us squander our energy on wanting others to understand us? It is not uncommon for us to hear people say, "My parents don't understand me. Or . . . "My spouse cannot possibly comprehend my needs." We approach this as though being understood is the pearl of great price. It is not! Think of how liberated we would become once being understood no longer matters.

     Robert Frost once wrote about purpose this way, "You love the things you love because of what they are." You love your puppy even though he just chewed up your new slippers from Nordstrom's. You lovingly prune your roses even though your hands are bleeding because of a moment of carelessness.  Neither our puppies nor our roses will ever understand us and it does not matter nor does it prevent our love from expressing itself.

     When we spend time analyzing our relationships, we are often focusing on what is making us unhappy, or on what someone needs to do to help us feel more appreciated.  When we allow God to transform us inwardly by a complete change of our mind, such analysis stops.  We love the things we love because of what they are, not because of what they will do for us.  If we find ourselves waiting for validation, our cream will never rise to the top.

     In a marriage, there are so many little dynamics that need to be resolved. Relationships  last because of the enormous number of inner adjustments we have to make.  Somebody has to get the new roll of toilet paper.  Someone has to check the oil level in our cars.  Someone needs to run the vacuum cleaner now and then.  Someone needs to prepare a grocery list, take out the trash, and mow the grass. 

     Young couples seemingly struggle endlessly over whose task it is to do such things.  This is what makes marriage such a virtual laboratory for experimentation and refinement.  After 50 years of marriage, the couple knows how each of these details got worked out. The prize is a golden anniversary when they are surrounded by 35 grandchildren and 27 great-grand children.

     According to Paul, the will of God has to do with reflecting our own personal inner beauty.  Sunflowers know this.  Hummingbirds know this. Peach trees know this.  What about people? Paul wrote these words, "Whoever shares with others should do so generously, whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.  Love must be shown in a completely sincere manner."  Do we sense the purpose behind every quality Paul described? 

     When our lives are governed by the purpose of extending our God-given inner beauty, we bring the power of the universe to bear on what stands in front of us.  If we hold back because of the fear that we are not getting our share, or that someone else is getting credit for what we deserve, or that we have failed to meet the expectations of others  -- we have placed a bucket over our light. 

     When our light is covered by our neediness, our frustrations and our fears that we are lost, no one can see it.  The reason we have Jesus Christ today is because he gave of himself until he no longer could.  By realizing and living his purpose, he overcame every barrier including death.

     What is your purpose?  Is your purpose connected with the standards associated with this world, or is your purpose one that knows how to give without counting the cost?  Remember, the things of this world will one day leave us, disappoint us or change.  They know how to promise us much and they can deliver nothing of substance or permanence. 

     The inner beauty each of us carries inside ourselves  grows more intense, powerful and contagious the more we use it.  This is why God put so many beautiful qualities in us.  The universe literally opens its arms wide to those who find and use them.

     One day a young boy was stranded along the side of the road staring under the hood of his Model T Ford.  The engine would not fire.  Out of nowhere an old man appeared.  He had pulled off the road on the other side. He said, "Son, can I help you?"  The boy said, "I don't think so, sir, but thanks for asking.  This is an old car and not many people know much about Model Ts any more.  They can be a fussy car." 

     The old man said, "Get in and start it.  I want to hear what she's doing."  The boy looked at this gentlemen standing there wearing his white shirt and his three piece suit and said, "Sure, fine!"  The boy cranked over the engine and in no time the car was running. As the young man got out of the car he could not disguise his complete amazement. The old man said, "Son, I made a little adjustment.  Come here, I'll show you what to do if this should happen again.  By the way, my name is Henry Ford. I built this car."

     We have to remember, God built each one of us from scratch.  God knows us inside and out.  God allows for every possibility we face.  God built the infinite engine that lies under our hood.  When we live purpose-driven lives, ones that refuse to conform to the standards of this world, our inner beauty displays itself.  As Paul reminded us, we all have different gifts.  We discover we have them only by using them day after day. When we use them the world becomes a very different place. 

     This marvelous truth was made visible by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the Prophets.  Everyone from Jesus to people like Jacob Henry has demonstrated what is possible when our lives are on purpose and we refuse to conform to the standards set by this world. 

     We have to be old enough and wise enough to realize that when we conform ourselves to the values of this world, we reflect nothing more than what is already here.  When we allow our minds to be transformed by God, we reflect love, beauty and light along with all our differing abilities.  That alone brings a little bit of Heaven right here on earth.  What drum beat are we listening to?  Who are we following?  Remember, Jesus said, "Follow me."  Are we?


     We are grateful, O God, that our lives can reflect you will.  However, we confess that there are moments when doubt makes us hesitant.  Our desires and limited vision can misdirect our decisions.  Unmet needs can speak to us with authority.  Our sense of justice and fairness can overshadow patience and peace.  Awaken our spirit, O God, to behold a world magnificently created.  Remold our thinking so that our awareness may rise above self and our perceived needs.  Teach us to grasp only the timeless truths of your Son, as we outgrow our need to lunge at the mist.  May the light of Christ's spirit within us serve to make love visible always and in all ways.  Amen.


     Regardless of what vocational world from whence we have come, O God, how pleasant it is to remember the Sabbath day in this way.  We are conscious how days, weeks and months blend.  It was just yesterday that our children were out of school for the summer, and now they are returning to their classrooms.  We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, subtle reminders of how time stops for no one.  This morning our thoughts turn to our relationship with you.  We are so grateful Sundays give us such opportunity to reflect on who we are growing up to be.  

     We invite your cleansing spirit into our minds and hearts.  Help us release those things which preoccupy us with worry.  Help us sense the adventure that comes from life's events, so we do not feel the need to control them.  Still our minds with the sense of your presence that we might hear your thoughts with our hearts, and understand our unfolding destiny through eyes that trust your faithfulness.  You have placed within us so many qualities that reveal their beauty the moment we give them away.  Help us to remain generous with all that we have, that each of us might become the art form you designed us to be. 

     As we take your hand, O God, and we find ourselves stretching and growing, lead us to clasp the hands of others, so that together in our journey, we might leave this world a better place because we lived.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .