Thursday, January 12, 2017

God's Answers to Life's Great Questions

There are three great questions that lie at the heart of our human existence—questions that speak to our identity and the meaning and value of our lives—questions that must be answered if we are to be truly happy—questions that find their only real answer in Christ.
Those questions are:  Who am I?  What am I doing here?  Where am I going?  These are the questions that the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives answer to today as he writes to the congregation at Corinth and to believers in every time and place—including us here today.  Paul writes:
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes…
            When you go into Barnes and Noble Bookstore—one of the largest sections in the whole store are those books devoted to:  “self help”.  Row after row after row of books trying to answer life’s great questions—all of them offering nothing more than the limited perspectives of their human authors.
            But the words we hear today about our identity, purpose, and value are the words of God himself through the apostle Paul who was called by God for that purpose:  to tell the us that the answers to the questions that lie at the deepest part of our human existence are found in Jesus Christ and a life with God through him. 
God has created us for fellowship with him and that is why he sent Jesus—to remake and restore what sin has destroyed in us.  And that is why he called Paul to be an apostle—so that we would know the real answers—God’s answers-- to life’s great questions-- beginning with our true identity.  Paul writes:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.    
            This letter to the Christian congregation at Corinth is one of the most timely, relevant books of the Bible with a profound connection to our modern existence because Corinth was a place that would be familiar to us.  Corinth was a place of wealth and commerce.  It was religiously diverse.  It was full of sexual immorality.  Material things were valued above all else.  A place much like our nation today.
And the reason that Paul wrote this letter was that the Corinthian Christians much too readily identified themselves with the culture around them.  They were not immune to sexual immorality even in their own congregation—and in fact, bragged about how their freedom in Christ allowed them to live like this.  They were very aware of financial differences among their own members and looked down upon those with limited means.  They valued spiritual celebrities.   
They had an identity crisis like so many in our world today because they had forgotten who they were—that they were called to be saints.
From the Bible’s perspective, to be a saint is not just someone who lived in Bible times- or someone fantastically holy- or someone listed on a liturgical calendar of a church.  To be a saint is to be someone set apart for God.  That’s what the word means --and to put it terms from the beginning of our sermon it means that we find our identity in terms of our relationship with God.
That is what Christ does.  He sets us apart for God—sanctifies us—by forgiving our sins with his blood on the cross—and living in our hearts by his Spirit—restoring us to the life we had with our heavenly Father in the beginning of time. 
These words from the apostle Paul about our identity were not just written for the Corinthians—they were written for us too-- for we also call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and confess him to be our Lord.  
The Good News for us today is that we do not have to find our identity in the world or wonder who we are-- for we know that we are God’s sons and daughters—set apart for him in Holy Baptism and this identity gives answer to the next great question of our human existence:  Why am I here?  Paul writes:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—  even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—  so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift,
            The Corinthians were a spiritually gifted congregation.  There were those who had the gift of discernment and those who had the gift of speaking and those who had the gift of healing and those who had the gifts of serving and giving and administration.
When God gave them the gift of faith in Jesus Christ-- he also lavished upon them spiritual gifts that gave meaning and purpose to their lives.  Paul told them:  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… so that there may be no divisions in the body but that the members may have the same care for one another. 
But what was happening in that congregation is that the gifts given by God were not uniting them as members of the same body—they were not serving the common good—but they were dividing them-- and instead of caring for one another—they were living for themselves.
That is what we see so much of in our world today—so many people living for themselves—living as if they sand at the center of the universe.  But lives devoted to the service of a “god” as small as ourselves cannot help but leave us feeling as if our life does not count for much.
But when we find our identity in Christ, God himself breaks into our narrow little world and gives us a purpose that is above the bounds of time and space.  His eternal purposes and plans now include us-- as we serve him and his people.  That is the purpose of our lives—to serve God and those around us! 
To that end, he gives each of us spiritual gifts—gifts of administration and giving and leading and speaking and teaching and serving so that we can help those around us.  This is what Paul means when he says that the testimony about Christ was confirmed among them:  the Gospel converts us to Christ and the spiritual fruits of that re-birth will be seen in our lives in this world.
As children of God, our lives have meaning and purpose:  to know God and his ways—to speak of him to others—to serve those around us in the context of our daily vocations.  The life of the Christian in this world is the most exciting, fulfilling way to live because it is what we were created to do:  to love God and love our neighbor.  Paul says that this is the way we are to live:
As we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
            There is an emotional and psychological and spiritual toll that is taken on us when we do not know who we are and what the purpose of our life really is.  This is especially true when we do not know the answer to the third great question of life:  where are going?  Are we simply going into a grave and that’s it?  Will our lives end in futility and nothingness? 
All you have to do is look around at the culture we live in to see what happens to people when they do not know where they are going when this life is over:  mind-numbing addictions—constantly seeking one new experience after another—grasping for their fifteen minutes of fame—trying to fight the fear of death. 
All of us, by nature, are afraid of death because deep within us is the realization—that futility and death is not the way it is supposed to be for the human person.  We know in our hearts that we were created to live forever. 
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 The hopes and dreams and aspirations we have for the future are not a cruel hoax perpetuated on us by evolution-- but have been placed within us by God to draw us back to him as he source of a life that death cannot end.
Jesus Christ has made the way back for us to God.  He has taken away our sins that keep us from a holy God.  He has conquered death for us in his own resurrection from the dead.  His ascension to heaven is the assurance that our own bodies will rise from the grave and live eternally with God. 
To that end, Christ works continually in our lives to keep us in faith until the Last Day.  That same faithful God who:  chose us from eternity -and sent his Son to live and die and rise again for us- and called us into fellowship with him by the Holy Spirit—WILL work in our lives through Word and Sacrament with that same powerful love to keep us in faith and bring us safely to our heavenly home.

The Good News for us today is that God answers life’s great questions about our identity and purpose and value:  We are God’s children, living lives of loving service here on earth, headed to heaven when we die.  May God grant his faith to us all for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

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