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The Meaning of Life

Updated: Feb 5

Reverend Philip Stringer

Mark 1:29-39

LET US PRAY: Enlighten our hearts, O God, through the hearing of your word and the meditations of our hearts, that we may be strengthened in faith and bear a bright witness to the world, through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen

Has anyone ever asked you what the meaning of life is? It’s a big question, and I suppose that there are many answers that different people might give. One that hits closer to home is the question: What is the meaning of YOUR life?

It’s a question that every person asks of themselves in one way or another -- for many with a great deal of difficulty.

When Jesus arrived in Capernaum, the people soon began trying to figure out the meaning of Jesus’ life. It was a Sabbath day. In Mark it is the first public event of Jesus’ ministry. He teaches in the synagogue, and he casts an unclean spirit out of a man, “At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”. Then, “immediately,” Mark tells us, he went to the home of Simon and Andrew, where he heals Peter’s Mother-in-law, also on the Sabbath. That evening, after sunset -- after the Sabbath -- the people brought many others to him to be cured.

In less than a day’s time, the rumors about Jesus were well-underway. The people were trying to figure out the meaning of Jesus’ life.

What was unclear to the people was not unclear to Jesus. He knew why he was there and what he was to do: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

Jesus came to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Not everyone asking questions about Jesus was doing so because they were excited. Controversy was already beginning to surround Jesus in these first days of his ministry.

First there was the matter of his healing the demoniac on a Sabbath. In the Jewish understanding of the universe, humans are beneath the power of angels and demons, who are beneath the power of God. No human could control a demon. And no human could be God -- that left only one explanation: Jesus must be a demon.

Then there was the matter of his healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Jewish law forbid a man to touch a woman on the sabbath -- which Jesus ignored. Secondly, it forbid touching someone sick, which he ignored. Third, it forbid working (or healing) on the sabbath, which he ignored again. Jesus’ first actions in his ministry were filling people with all sorts of questions about him. Who is this man who teaches with an authority greater than human authority, and disregards the laws of the sabbath -- laws that were intended to hold the people together in relationship with God? There were lots of questions about Jesus -- and the answers weren’t at all positive.

By Jesus’ understanding, his purpose was to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was at hand -- and yet everything he did seemed to stand in conflict with what the people understood it meant to be in relationship with God.

I began by asking you about the meaning of life, and in particular, what is the meaning of your life. One might dare to say that it has something to do with God’s plan. Perhaps what can make answering the question difficult, is misunderstanding God’s plan. What does God want?

What Jesus did in those first days of his ministry, are directly related to answering the question about the meaning and purpose of your life.

It’s no secret that ancient near-eastern culture was decidedly paternalistic. Jewish culture was very clear in its assumption of the inferiority of women, and we might balk at the notion that immediately after Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, “she began to serve them.” Don’t get yourself worked up.

In the home, the eldest woman’s honor is to be the hostess -- something (A) she physically did not have the strength to do and (B) she was ritually unfit to do because of her illness. What the story tells us is that Jesus not only healed her of her physical illness, but also -- and perhaps most importantly -- he RESTORED HER TO HER PROPER PLACE IN SOCIETY.

Jesus puts things back where they belong. He stops what shouldn’t be, and restores to what should be. That’s what the healing of the demoniac was about, too. In fact, all of Jesus’ miracles are a foretaste of the kingdom, and teaching tools that show what it means for the kingdom of God to be at hand: the kingdom of God is where all is restored to its proper place in God’s design -- and all is restored to its proper relationship with God.

What is the meaning of your life?

People often puzzle over this question as if it’s a great mystery. Am I supposed to be this or that? Am I supposed to go here or there? It isn’t a mystery. There is no hidden answer. God’s will for you is to be restored to full relationship with God. Being restored, you are set free to serve. Jesus came for you. Jesus heals and restores you to your proper place/status. Free means free to decide how you will glorify God with your life. You also have a freedom to decide how you will glorify God as a congregation.

I told this story to Chase & Riley a few weeks ago — Two brothers were sitting at the dinner table arguing about who would get the last piece of chicken. Their mother saw a teaching moment and pointed out, “If Jesus were here, he would let his brother have the last piece.” Without missing a beat, one of the brothers looked at the other and said, “You be Jesus!”

What would Jesus do? That was a popular question a few years ago. Do you remember when the slogan, “WWJD” was popular? What would Jesus do? It’s a good question to ask and there are plenty of times when it is appropriate to ask the question of ourselves and then do the same.

But there is an important point where we need to make a distinction between our purpose and his. What would Jesus do? He would save the world. Which you cannot do. Don’t need to do. But as one whom he came for — as one who has received life and healing in him, you can point to him -- he who saves the world.

In our baptismal liturgy, these words of Jesus are spoken to every baptismal candidate:

“Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

What is the meaning of your life? What is your purpose as a congregation? To point to Jesus, who has restored you to wholeness and rooted you in a right relationship with God.

Or, in other words, Your job is simply to BE who God created you to be. There is great creative freedom in that. Peter’s mother served where she was. You don’t need to go somewhere else or be something/someone else. As an individual, the person who you are -- made whole and restored in Christ — you are equipped by God for serving in the kingdom.

When you look around you and see what other congregations are doing, you don’t need to turn into that to be the church.

As a congregation — gathered and called to mission in this place with the unique gifts and abilities and setting that you are in — you are equipped by God for serving in the kingdom.

Wherever you are, then, is a place where the kingdom of God is breaking forth, and you become a proclamation of its coming. You become a partner with Jesus in proclaiming the kingdom of God.

In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery.” “Your Majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”

“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.”

Figuring out what you want to do in life isn’t always easy-- and realistically is usually not a one-time decision. And never does it mean that you will always be happy all of the time, or that things will go right all of the time.

But what is the MEANING of your life? What are you SUPPOSED to do? It is simple. Live as one restored to God in Christ. After that, God gives you a marvelous freedom to decide how you will do it.

In following after his own calling, Jesus said, “that is what I came out to do.” Jesus “came out”. There is a similar phrase that applies to you: The Greek word for the church is, “ecclesia”-- ecclesiastical-- the word literally means, “the called out ones.”

You are the “called out ones.” You shouldn’t think of that as meaning that you have been “taken out of the world”, but rather, you have been called out into the open, so that the witness of who you are as redeemed by Christ may be seen by all the world. Wherever you are.

The work Jesus began in Capernaum-- the work he did in Simon Peter’s house-- he continues in you. He has come. With these waters-- with this bread and wine-- he touches you-- he raises you up and heals you. You are the beginning of the creation restored.

So rise and serve your Lord. AMEN


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