Habakkuk 2:2-3 – Then the Lord answered me and said, “Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet so that a runner can read it. There is still a vision for the appointed time; it testifies to the end; it does not deceive. If it delays, wait for it; for it is surely coming; it will not be late.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 – I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.
We are in the sixth week of this sermon series of Spiritual Practices using Barbara Brown Taylor’s book “An Altar in the World”. Today we encounter “The Practice of Living With Purpose”. Or with a different preposition – “on purpose”.
BBT: Earlier in my life, I thought there was one particular thing I was supposed to do with my life. I thought God had a purpose for me and my job was to discover what it was. So I began asking God to tell me what I was supposed to do. What was my designated purpose on this earth? How could I discover the vocation that had my name on it? Since this was an important prayer, I searched for the right place to pray it. After a few lackluster attempts by the side of my bed and a few more in various cubbyholes around campus, I found a fire escape that hung precariously from the side of a deserted Victorian mansion next door to the Divinity School. Stepping over the “Danger: Keep Off” sign at the bottom, I climbed to the top, listening to the bolts creak as my feet thundered up the narrow iron steps. The fire escape turned out to be an excellent place to pray. Doing something that scared me cranked up my courage. I climbed up so often, I no longer remember which night it was that God finally answered my prayer. I do not think it was right at the beginning, when I was still saying my prayers in words. One night when my whole heart was open to hearing from God what I was supposed to do with my life, God said, “Anything that pleases you.”
“What!” I said, resorting to words again. “What kind of answer is that?” “Do anything that pleases you,” the voice said again, “and belong to me.”
At one level that answer was no help at all. The ball was in my court again. I could be a priest or a circus worker. God really did not care. At another level, I was so relieved. It was not WHAT I did, but HOW I did it that mattered. If I wanted a life of meaning, then I was going to have to apply the purpose for myself.
Later I would find the work of Martin Luther helpful in this regard, A monk who became convinced that no livelihood was dearer to the heart of God than any other. He left the monastery to proclaim the priesthood of all believers. Whatever our jobs in the world happen to be, Luther said, our mutual vocation is to love God and neighbor.
It seems to me that what many people are missing is a sense of purpose in their work. I think most people want to be good for something. I think they want to do something that matters, to be part of something bigger than themselves, to give themselves to something that is meaningful instead of meaningless.
Find something that feeds your sense of purpose and do that. BBT
There was a woman in her 90’s at my last congregation at Sand Point who grew African Violets so I could take take them to people in the hospital or at home recovering. Her name is Tiero Jenkins, lovingly known by her World War II fighter pilot husband as the Tallahassee Lassie. If you went up to the Paine Field in Mukilte and visit Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection, you can still see the fighter plane Colonel Jenkins flew with a picture of young Tiero in a 1940’s bikini, with Tallahassee Lassie emblazoned on the plane. Tiero’s husband was NOT thrilled with all the pots in the house growing into beautifully tended African Violets, but the people I visited loved them, and loved knowing they were lovingly grown by Tiero – and Tiero loved growing them, and I loved visiting Tiero to pick them up each time. We both understood that those flowers carried much more meaning and purpose. They carried a deeper connection of love and beauty.
Tiero had a vocation. Growing African Violets was her passion AND her vocation. Vocations may turn out to be our work that we are compensated for, AND our vocation may turn out to be the thing we do for free, because it not only feeds our passion, it goes beyond us into the universe. And the beauty of unpaid work is that we CHOOSE to do it.
Last weekend found me in the Bay area attending a retreat led by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen who founded “The Institute for the Study of Health & Illness (ISHI) at Commonweal”. The name for the retreat was:
Walking the path with heart: Finding your authentic life.
Here were a few of the teasers do entice people to sign up:
1. Do you sometimes wonder if your life has any meaning? 2. Do you feel that you are here for some reason you cannot put your finger on?3. What if you are here for a unique reason? What if the criticism and approval of others has covered this over and encouraged you to make yourself into the person you are rewarded for being rather than the person you were born to be? Do you know how to come home to yourself and live closer to your reason for being? What if you could find ways to follow the hidden threads of genuine purpose that run through your life and let them lead you to back to the person you most essentially are?
Rachel started off with a Dolly Parton quote: “It’s not about finding your purpose. It’s about figuring out who you are and doing it on purpose.” Be who you are on purpose!
Rachel talked a lot about what she calls our “give-away” in life. That part of us that naturally rises to the surface and not only brings us joy, but brings healing into other people’s lives. She invited us to get in touch and uncover what our give-away might be.
She told a story of her college boyfriend who finally finished his dissertation at the end of eight years in the 1950’s and going with him to stand in the long line waiting for the mimeograph worker to finally take his work and start mimeographing the many pages and binding it together. When they finally approached the entrance, the mimeograph lady gently reached out to take the pages and pages of his dissertation – she held it to her heart and said, “You’ve done it! I am so proud of you. I will make it so beautiful and bind it in such a way that your children will be proud.” Rachel said, “It is not our purpose that gives our life meaning; it is our give-away.”
For the mimeograph lady and for Tiero Jenkins – they both found their giveaway. Trust into God’s good purpose for your life. We are called to trust in to the future and realize that God desires our happiness, health, healing, and well-being.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you,plans to give you hope and a future. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.”
We can not always see clearly what that future is, or what the blessing is in the moment. When the prophet Jeremiah spoke these words to the ancient Israelites, they were in the exile in Babylon, far from home. But Jeremiah was calling them to live into the future that was yet to be – Find a place to live. Plant a garden. Raise a family. Even in this strange new place, remember the things you did before, the things that made you distinctively who you are. Make the best of it by keeping faith in this ambiguous, uncertain world. May we each continue to discover who we are and who God made us to be, so we can do it on purpose. Amen.