Oh sure, we start out with the very best of intentions. But then reality settles in and we realize it’s too high of an order. We really want to live a life worthy of God’s calling, but we settle for a life to get by.
How soon we redefine what a worthy life is, from peacemaking to making a buck; from looking out for others to looking out for number one; from loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you to hating your enemies and plotting to get revenge; from helping out your friend or neighbor to hoarding your intellectual property so someone does not steel your idea. I’m not saying that anyone in this room is going to do this or has done this, but it is the tempting way of the world.
That’s why we come to church Sunday after Sunday. We come to remind ourselves of the higher ideals for which we strive. We come to remind ourselves why we are here. We come to prayerfully ask ourselves if we have lived lives that are worthy. How do we make our lives worthy?
Martin Luther King was fond of reciting the lyrics to the Gospel song:
“If I can help somebody as I pass along
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song
If I can show somebody they are traveling wrong
Then my living shall not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought
If I can spread the Gospel that the Master taught
Then my living shall not be in vain.”
There is a theological conundrum in the Bible. In some parts of the Bible, it says that you have to earn your salvation by your discipleship. That would certainly be the perspective of the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistle of James. Whole church institutions were built upon this belief. Indulgences were sold so that you could garner yourself a seat at heaven’s throne.
Then there is the line of thinking in the Bible which says that you cannot earn your salvation at all. It is rather a gift from God. It is free. It is the grace of God to all who believe. This is the perspective of the Gospel of John and the Apostle Paul. Gone are the ethics of Jesus in Paul’s writings. Gone is the concern for this world and its suffering people. In its place is a sense of salvation in the hereafter—where God reigns with all those who believe. This is not something you earn. It is something that is given to you freely from God as a gift. All that is required is faithfulness.
Then there is the gospel of Mark who is clearly not interested in salvation, but is interested in discipleship and calling us to be the good soil which means living ethically and taking risks and suffering as did Jesus Christ. That will save the world, according to the Gospel of Mark.
So which side do you come down on? Wars were fought over this. The church was split over this. We still fight over this and we cynically call each other spiritualists or activists, thinking that the other side has it wrong. We have gone so far as to declare that people with differing beliefs are not Christian. This is juicy fare in campaign politics.
I guess whichever side you fall down on, whichever perspective you resonate with, the important thing must be your faithfulness to God. How you live your faithfulness is how you earn your life.
The writer of Ephesians says that we are to live a life worthy of our call. Not so you can earn salvation, but so that you can witness to the new life which you experience. Clearly the writer is talking about the church community. He implies that part of our worthiness comes through recognizing the worthiness of others: That’s why he says “grace was given to each of according to the measure of Christ’s gift...and his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…all to build up the body of Christ.(the church) until we attain the unity of the faith and knowledge of Christ and no longer tossed too and fro by every wind, but speaking the truth in love we are to grow in Christ.” That’s how we become worthy. We recognize each other’s gifts and we continue to grow throughout our lives.
As Elizabeth O’Connor says in her book, Journey Inward, Journey Outward, “there is no Christian community not rooted in service, and no Christian service not rooted in relationship.” (p.40)
So, this community seeks unity by becoming a place
- Where peace reigns with justice, where there is no distinction between Gods children,
- Where the table is extended to all of God’s people and all are offered the opportunity of salvation, both individually and collectively.
- Where we are not concerned so much with ourselves as we are concerned with the plight of another, not out of pity, but out of compassion.
- Where we are committed to looking at and building a world where there is joy born of right relationships and the recognition of God’s creation in every bug, bird, plant and person. That’s how we live lives worthy of our calling.
How do we know if our lives our worthy?
Howard Thurman, once dean of Howard’s Rankin Chapel before going on to the same position at Boston University, presented a baccalaureate address called, “The Sound of the Genuine.” Like many baccalaureate addresses, Thurman had plenty to say about one’s life work. Thurman said, “There is in you something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. Nobody like you has ever been born and no one like you will ever be born again - you are the only one. And if you miss the sound of the genuine in you, you will be a cripple all the rest of your life.”
To live a worthy life is to recognize what is at your core. It is to unlock your genuine self. What do you see when you look in a mirror and no one else is watching? Your genuine self may be a teacher, a healer, a peacemaker, and agitator, an artist, a student, a caregiver, a seeker, a lover, an advocate. What is your core self? Remember, God ig good and does not make people innately evil, bitter, mean and selfish. We hide behind these things. They cloud our genuine self. Spend your time on and with your genuine self—the personality that God has imprinted in you. When you embrace your genuine self, then you join God in improving our world. That’s a worthy life. That’s the unity that the writer of Ephesians is after.
Howard Thurman wrote, “There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the genuine in yourself—and if you can not hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are searching and if you hear it and then do not follow it, it was better that you had never been born. You are the only you that has ever lived; your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all the existences, and if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
We are not puppets. That’s not how God created us, all to conform to one way of being and acting. We are to join God in creating a blessed world where all may be free to discover and claim their worth; where the impediments to claiming that worth are diminished until they fade away.
The writer of Ephesians speaks of people having different gifts and that all of us are needed in order to build up the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul said something similar in I Corinthians 12 when he likened each of us to a part of that body. Worthy people are needed to do worthy tasks, being their genuine worthy selves. That’s what it’s all about. That’s how we find if our lives are meaningful, if we have earned the life we were given and for which others sacrificed, including Christ Jesus himself.
So, we do not simply get by. We do for a while. For some of us, that’s a victory in itself. But when we gather together in a community, we seek the unity of recognizing each other;s gifts, challenges and perspectives. The unity is not in everyone agreeing. It is agreeing that we are all children of God and worthy of the embrace of God. That’s what makes our lives meaningful. By living into your God-giftedness and by celebrating the giftedness of another.
Have you told someone how much you enjoy their light lately? I encourage you today and in the days to come to tell people of the worth you see in them. Tell them how they give light to you and those around them. Tell them that you celebrate them, not just what they do, but their genuine and unique selves. We all need to hear that we are worthy. For some of us, we need to hear it a lot before we’ll believe it. But it is true. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, by a cloud of worthy people who impart and reflect the grace of God.
Let me close with a final poem from Howard Thurman. He wrote this poem in answer to the question, “what shall I do with my life?”
“Give me the courage to live!
Really live – not merely exist.
Daring the truth –
Particularly the truth of myself!
Live resiliently –
Ever changing, ever growing, ever adapting.
Enduring the pain of change
As though ‘twere the travail of birth.
Give me the courage to live,
Give me the strength to be free
And endure the burden of freedom
And the loneliness of those without chains;
Let me not be trapped by success,
Nor by failure, nor pleasure, not grief,
Nor malice, nor praise, nor remorse!
Give me the courage to go on!
Facing all that waits on the trail –
Going eagerly, joyously on,
And paying my way as I go,
Without anger or fear or regret
Taking what life gives,
Spending myself to the full,
head high, spirit winged, like a god –
On…on…till the shadows draw close.
Then even when darkness shuts down,
And I go out alone as I came –
Even then, gracious God, hear my prayer:
Give me the courage to live!”
Help us to live lives that are worthy. Maybe together we can remember or rediscover who we are called to be. May all of our lives be worthy of our calling.