Rev. Stacy Swain
1 John 4:7-9, 16b-19; John 18:33-37
Will you pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer, Amen.
I have a niece who ever since she was a little girl knew with absolute certainty that she was to be a doctor. I remember thinking when I looked into her emphatic little five year old face that there was no way she could possibly know at such a young age what it was she was meant to do in her life. I was quite convinced that over time her desire to be a doctor would surely fade as she grew.
But nothing doing. Her conviction has never wavered over all these years. And now she is in her senior year of college. She is applying to medical schools and she is absolutely chomping at the proverbial bit to finally take up the doctoring which she has been walking towards all these years. The doctoring for which she was born.
Now I know that that kind of certainty is not something most of us share. How many of us know even now when we are well into our work lives what it is we were meant to do? Instead we wander through the doors that open for us without real certainty that we are doing what we were meant to do. Most of us cross our fingers and hope that the life we are living, whatever it is that we are doing, is at least a close approximation of whatever it is we were meant to do.
Now, this, of course implies that there is something out there that we were meant to do. It implies that there is out there a particular contribution that we are to make. It implies that there is in fact something that we were put on this planet to do and that our life long task is to discern what that is and then to go do it. And isn’t this what our faith tells us? That God has a plan for our lives. That you and I were called into life and set down here so that we could live the life that God gave us to live.
Only problem is that God did not also give us, as Ann Lamont says, “Operating Instructions.” God does not tell us what exactly we are to do with the life we have been given. I can still see the flash of fear and trembling in my friends’ daughter’s eyes when at her graduation party, when she responded to my congratulations with a nervous laugh saying “Yeah, but now I have to figure out what to do with my life.”
What a joy it would be to be able to say: “For this, I was born.” But for most of us, those words are not our own.
Now in Jesus time, there may not have been as many jobs and ways of making one’s way in the world as there are available to us now. And this question of “Am I doing what I was meant to do?” most likely would not have made much sense two thousand years ago. After all, if your father was a farmer, or fisherman, or a carpenter, you would be one too, if you were a man of course. And if you were a woman? Well a wife and mother, if you were lucky.
But there was one job out there that was not assumed. There was one job out there in Jesus’ time that in the eyes of the Jewish people was the most important one ever. It was a job that had remained unfilled for the last thousand years, since the reign of King David ended and the kingdom of Israel dissolved. This was a job for which all longed but that only one would be born to do. And I imagine many a pregnant young woman, laid hand on her swollen belly wondering if her child could possibly be that one, born to do it.
And this job? Well it is that which Pilate asks of Jesus today. “Are you the King of the Jews?” In essence he asks – “Is this job, this that the people have been waiting and longing for, is it yours?” But instead of answering the question, Jesus side steps it first. And then when Pilate asks him point blank, “So you are a king?” Jesus replies “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, —– to testify to the truth.”
With these words, Pilate is left standing there with a proverbial crown in his hand. He asked the question that turned out to be irrelevant. For Jesus was already crowned. Crowned not by a task, or a role or somehow finding just what it was he was meant to do, instead Jesus is crowned already by who is he by how he is.
For I believe Jesus was born. Jesus came into the world, not to do a particular job but to live in a particular way. I know that there are some who understand Jesus in a different way. They understand that the reason that Jesus lived was so that he could die. The emphasis in this theology is on the cross. The saving work of Jesus happens in the mystery that unfolds between Good Friday and Easter morning.
But for me, the saving work of Jesus begins in the birth cry of the manager and extends throughout his life, through the cross, out of the open tomb and into our lives today. I believe that Jesus came into the world not because there was a prescribed job that only Jesus could do, not because he needed to be King, or Messiah, or Atoning Sacrifice. But instead, I believe that God took on flesh, that Jesus came into the world so that through his living we would know what it is to live. .
And if we are to be followers of Jesus, shaping our living in the way he lived, then perhaps the question for us is not are we doing the particular job we were meant to do, or making the contribution we are meant to make, but instead are we living in the way that we were meant to live?
And what way is that? What truth does Jesus living testify to? Jesus testifies in his living to love. Jesus’ job, so to speak, what he was meant to do, the reason he was born, walked among us, was killed and rose to new life was to reveal what it looks like to live out of Love. And this love that Jesus lived did not begin within his own heart. Jesus lived continually pointing to the God that sent him, and the love that flowed through him out into the world touching and healing, feeding and comforting, inspiring and challenging was part and parcel of the same love that God poured into all that is on the dawn of creation. And if by God’s grace we too can live as Jesus lived, in this open hearted way, well this love that is Jesus will move in and through us as well.
A friend of mine, Jim O’Connell who is one of the founders and serves as president of Boston Health care for the Homeless Program, is getting a lot of attention these last few weeks. He has received a distinguished award and will be featured as one of health care’s inspirational leaders in a radio interview next week. He is a remarkable man, truly. Brilliant, committed, tireless, with a list of accomplishments a mile long. One piece even called him a living saint. But you know what really makes him remarkable, at least in my book? He loves his patients. In fact, he really loves people period. It does not matter if it is the most cantankerous patient that has been driving every one crazy for years or the CEO of some major hospital, Jim is equally open hearted, equally engaged, truly present. And to be with someone who interacts in that way of love is to be blessed by them, and healed in a very real way.
Love lives in and through Jim and he would be an instrument of healing whether he was a physician or a bar tender, or a high school teacher or a professor of philosophy.
How does 1 John put it? “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the Day of Judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.” So let us live with boldness, let us live the life we were meant to live- a life aligned by love. Let us live in that the open hearted way of Jesus right in the midst of whatever job we have or whatever it is that fills our doing so that the love of God made manifest in Jesus may move in and through us as well.
For this we were born.