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Message for 10-13-13 FINDING YOUR MISSION

“FINDING YOUR MISSION”

Romans 15:17-29, 16:1-4, 22-23

 

            What is your mission in life?  What are you here for?  What is the great purpose of your existence?  Is life all about what I want?  (Sounds pretty tacky if you put it that way.)  Should my life be defined by what my fellow humans want?  What a tyranny!  If we want to know what our mission in life is, if we want to know what we’re made for, the best way to find out is to ask the One who made us.  God made each of us for a mission, a mission that we can pursue with passion.

Paul had 1 passion in life, and it wasn’t his possessions.  All he had (all he needed) was 1 winter coat and a handful of books (most important: his Old Testament scrolls).  Paul and his buddies had an all-consuming mission, and it wasn’t to keep their club going.  Paul’s passion was to take Jesus to places where no one else had heard of Him before, to win followers for Jesus all the way to the ends of the earth.  For him, that was Spain.  After planting churches all over Turkey and Greece, Paul’s vision was to visit Rome, and then go on to Spain!  Jonah sets sail for Spain to run away from God.  Paul wants to take God with him to Spain, to carry out God’s mission there.

            Paul never does make it to Spain.  He does make it to Rome – in chains.  When he gets released from jail (from what we can tell), instead of going on to Spain, he gets sidetracked into unfinished business back east.  He starts churches all over the island of Crete.  He plans to spend the winter in Yugoslavia.  But then Paul is arrested and hauled away hurriedly to Rome a second time, this time to be executed by Nero.

            Paul was cut down on a detour from his vision to reach Spain.  Yet he was still pursuing his mission, even if it wasn’t exactly where he had in mind. 

It has been pointed out that Paul was cut down in combat, not in retirement.  Billy Graham has said he can’t find the word retirement anywhere in his Bible.  I disagree.  But for me, retirement doesn’t mean quitting work.  It means being set free from some tasks I’m not gifted for, in order to concentrate on doing what I do best.  Rick Warren says it best: You can retire from your career, but not from serving God.

So where does God want us?  Where is our mission?  God wants to use us to do what we were made for, to use those talents that bring us our deepest joy, our greatest excitement.  God wants to use our abilities wherever they are most needed in this world, to meet needs that only we can meet. 

But finding that place can be a challenge.  I find it pretty confusing myself.  I can’t say for sure that I’ve found God’s unique mission for me.  I’m still looking.  But until we do find God’s unique mission for us, we need to concentrate on the parts of God’s mission for us that are not unique. 

We are all called to make this a better world.  We are all called to care for people, to listen, to share, to spread God’s kindness, to show more of God’s love, to be living advertisements for Christ.  The problem is that we can get so fixed on finding some grand plan for our lives that we miss the small ways that God wants to use us every day. 

We want to know what our Mission in life is.  One reason why maybe we haven’t found it yet is because we won’t sit still long enough for God to get God’s hands on us.  We haven’t learned to yield long enough to let God get a word in edgewise.  Another possible reason why we haven’t found our Mission is that we haven’t proven we’d do it if God gave it to us.  Why should God waste time revealing our master plan, when we don’t bother to do what God has already told us?  If we want God to use us in big ways, we’d better be faithful serving God in small ways.  And maybe small is all God has in mind.        

We don’t have to look for some grand plan.  God may have some less-than-glorious mission for us, that will make an eternity of difference in God’s world.  As we read the list of all the folks Paul sends greetings to and from at the end of his letter, we find a gold mine of overlooked people whom God used in unique ways.  None of them is famous like Paul, but each of them played a vital role in what God was doing. 

In 16:22-23, we find 2 slaves who were given numbers for names: Tertius (which means “Number 3”), and Quartus (which means “Number 4”).  How humiliating, to be given a number for a name!  But notice what it says: “I, Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.”  Tertius is the secretary who puts Paul’s words into writing.  God used a slave with a number for a name to author an all-time theological classic!

Paul passes on greetings from Gaius, “who is host to the entire church.”  Gaius Titius Justus was a rich Roman convert whose home was big enough to house the entire Corinthian church.  This guy opened up his home to give believers a place to meet.  Where would the church at Corinth have met without Gaius?  Paul also sends greetings from “Erastus, the city treasurer.”  Here we have a Christian in politics at City Hall.  We’ve even found a piece of city pavement laid by him – it says “Erastus laid this pavement at his own expense.”

Several women appear on Paul’s list of greetings.  Paul sends his letter to the Romans by the hand of Phoebe, whom he calls a “deaconess” or literally a “minister.”  Phoebe hosted an entire church in her house, when she wasn’t in Rome on business.  Paul also names other women as fellow-workers: Priscilla, Tryphaena and Tryphosa.  He even describes 1 woman named Junia as being “outstanding among the apostles.”

Paul gives us all kinds of other names in this chapter: Andronicus, Epaenetus, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Herodion, Narcissus, Persis, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, Philologos, Julia, Nereus, Olympas.  We have no idea what they did or why they were important.  But they were just as important to God as the folks like Paul whose names we do know.  God immortalized their names by putting them here.

The names of these unsung heroes in Romans 16 are there for youYou are God’s Romans 16 heroes for today.  We need to believe what we’re doing for God right now is just as important as the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas, because Billy Graham and Mother Teresa would have been helpless without millions of others who came alongside them to do what God gave them to do.

            On the day of that great final awards ceremony, instead of God getting all excited about the big name preachers and theologians, I see God singling out a woman who missed a lot of church because she was in the nursery, creating a safe place for little children to sleep and play, praying for those children, helping make the church for them a place those kids could call home.  I see God shining the spotlight on the lady who took care of a bedridden soul for years in a place where nobody saw and nobody knew.  I see God honoring the usher who gave each newcomer a warm welcome and made that newcomer feel truly valued for who they are, so that newcomer could hear the Gospel and come to believe.

            C S Lewis pictures a lady named Sarah Smith of Golders Green whom nobody noticed on earth, but who was world-famous in heaven because of her good deeds that never got publicized.  1 Timothy 5:24-25: “The sins of some people are conspicuous, pointing to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good deeds are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden.”

            Pastor Rick Warren’s wife Kay is the wife of a famous pastor, but she says she once felt like a nobody who had nothing to offer to God: no special skills as a writer or speaker or leader.  Finally one day, however, she says that, “I offered all that I am and all that I am not to him.  I said, ‘God, I’m so sick of whining and complaining that I’m just average.  Forgive me for accusing you of making a mistake when you made me.  From now on, I accept with joy your decision to make me average.  I surrender myself to you.  Use me whenever, wherever, and in whatever way you choose.”

Friends, we are writing the 29th chapter of the book of Acts.  Each of us has our part to play in the plot.  It may not be huge.  We may be destined to carry out our entire life’s mission in obscurity.  That’s OK!!!  Are you willing to do what God is counting on you to do, even if there are no awards ceremonies waiting for you on earth, even if you are performing only for an audience of One?

God’s got a place for you on that list of little-known people who have been used by God in vitally important ways.  You say, “God can’t use me?”  What’s your excuse?  Noah had a drinking problem.  Abraham was too old.  Jacob couldn’t be trusted.  Leah was unattractive.  Joseph was a smart-aleck brat.  Moses was tongue-tied.  Ruth was a foreigner.  Naomi was a widow.  Rahab was a hooker.  Jephthah was illegitimate.  Abigail was married to a jerk.  Samson had a problem with lust (so did David).  Elijah was suicidal.  Isaiah had a guilt complex.  Jeremiah was a whiner.  Amos was just a farmer.  John the Baptist was just plain weird.  Peter was impulsive.  Martha was a worry-wart.  Zacchaeus was a crook.  Timothy was timid.  Paul was handicapped.  Lazarus was dead!  And there are many more!  Yet God used them all.  And God will use us, too, if we’ll stop making excuses.

How can we find our Mission?  The best advice I can give is to find where Jesus is going, and see where you can help.  Seek the heart of God in prayer.  Find out where Jesus is going and what Jesus is doing.  And look deep inside to see what you have to offer.  Can you offer God the money you make, or the skill of your hands, or your brainpower, or your time, or your caring heart?  Can you offer God your job as a place where God can use you at work?

God wants to use us as his Romans 16 heroes for today.  Your name is there, as a part of the cast for the 29th chapter of Acts, which we are writing right now as we speak.  Offer yourself to God for a piece of the action, however unimportant as it may look down here.  Be willing to play whatever part God needs you to play. 

Are you willing to be Tertius the slave, writing words that he never dreamed would be read by hundreds of millions?  Or, are you willing to write that cherished letter to that downcast person who needed a word of comfort?  Are you willing to be Gaius Titius Justus of Corinth, who opened his home for the entire church to meet?  Are you willing to be Phoebe, who hosted a new church in her home when she wasn’t on business in Rome?  Are you willing to be Erastus, the guy who took Jesus to City Hall, the guy who gave out of his own pocket to build his town?  Are you willing to be one of those dozens of names in the church at Rome where nobody remembers what they did but God?   Don’t worry about the awards.  Don’t worry about who’s in the audience.  We perform for an audience of One, the only One whose praise truly counts.

And why do we do it?  It’s all because of God’s undeserved mercy on us.  All we do counts for nothing if we’re trying to earn our way into heaven.  If that’s what we’re trying to do, there’s no way we can pile up enough good deeds to get there.  None of us can save ourselves; only Jesus can save us.  What he has done is enough to take away all of our sin and put us right with God, and all we can do is reach out and receive it in faith.  All we do from there is simply a response of gratitude, a way we say “Thank you!” each and every day for God’s un-earned, undeserved mercy.

Finding God’s mission for us – we may not find a vision like Paul’s, and if we do, we may not ever get there.  But each of us can find what God has put within us to make this a better world, so that we can use that gift with passion.

Let us pray.   God, we are so thankful for all that you have done to save us in your unprecedented act of self-sacrifice, for taking upon yourself all the pain of hell, so that we would never have to go there.  We want to live our lives to say “Thank you!”, not to impress some audience out there.  God, help us to find our Mission in life.  Help us not to get hung up on the Big Picture.  Help us to find those places in life where You want to use us to make this a better world, no matter how small they may appear to be.  Help us to find and carry out your mission for us on this earth, and help us to do it all with joy.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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