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Ephesians 1:1-14

The Meaning of Life...In Twenty Minutes or Less


Sermon preached January 18, 2015
Opening
It is said that one should never enter the pulpit with swagger and confidence, but with
humility and fear and trembling. I certainly feel that today. Because I am attempting to
answer the questions, What is the point of life? Why are we here? that some people
scrawled on the What Would You Ask God board back in October.
Anybody here want to come up here and take a crack at this?
Im not looking for sympathy here - the poor preacher and the weighty task that wearies
his brow - but really - Im going to answer the question that has haunted us human beings
from the beginning of time, the question that has stumped Socrates and Einstein and
Camus - Why am I here? - in 20 minutes?
I am reminded of a Bloom County comic strip from some years back. Three characters
are philosophizing about the meaning of life while laying on their backs on a grassy
knoll:
Milo says, "I dunno, what do you think, Oliver?
Oliver: "Life is the futile passion of the pursuit of rationality."
Milo: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."
Oliver: "Life is a progress from want to want - not enjoyment to enjoyment."
Milo: "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be expressed."
And then Opus, the talking penguin, pipes up: "How about this - you're born, you live,
you go on some diets, you die."
That gets at the absurdity of us puny human beings trying to answer this question - and I
will confess that I have no wisdom of my own to offer here. Our brief lives take place in
the blink of an eye on this dust-speck of a planet and seem to be bounded by the deep
mysteries of Where was I before I was born? and, What happens to me when I die?
What I can do - all I can do - is point to something that happened 2,000 years ago. When
someone from the great beyond came down to us and lived among us. And that someone
wasnt a philosopher or sage or even an alien from an advanced civilization - that
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someone was the Son of God himself, God in the flesh, the creator of the universe, the
giver of life. That someone is Jesus Christ. And he inspired the reading from the letter to
the Ephesians we just read - and in him, through him, we find answers to the great
questions that haunt us.
You are not a created being, not an accident
Why am I here, why are you here? We are told that before time began, before the first
star in the first galaxy burst into flame, God willed that one day, you would be born.
Your mother gave birth to you, you draw breath on Gods good green earth, because God
himself decided that you should exist. You, yes, little old you - and me. There is intention - behind your existence.
In the early 90's, Susan and I had had two children - a boy and a girl - perfect little
American family - and we decided wed stop at two children. But our daughter Amy so
very much wanted a baby sister. Susan or I would pray with our children when they went
to bed, and every single night four-year-old Amy would pray for a little sister. What do
you tell a small child who is pouring out her heart to God and expressing the deepest
wishes for her heart - all she wants is a baby sister? Well, we told her - its not going to
happen. We were determined, it was not going to happen. We took appropriate measures
to ensure, that it would not happen. It happened. And Emily Elizabeth Bowerman was
born on Sunday morning, September 22, 1992. I even had to miss church that day.
In our family we like to say Emily was prayed into existence. But you - were willed into
existence by the intention of God himself. You were a dream in Gods mind before the
universe began, and one day you emerged into the world squalling and kicking - because
God wanted you to be here.
Some of you struggle with feeling worthless. Some of you were told, you are worthless.
Maybe you feel stupid or slow or unathletic or fat or ugly or defective. Maybe you had a
parent who told you that you were unwanted, an accident. Maybe you were an outcast
among your peers growing up, sitting in the cafeteria alone at lunch. Maybe youve never
really found anything youre good at. Maybe you have never known real love.
The incredible truth that Jesus brings us is that you sit here this morning drawing breath
because at some moment in the unfathomable depths of eternity, the idea of you came
into Gods mind and God purposed that You. Would. Be.
Thats great good news. Its also challenging news that leaves us with a problem.
Because if you conclude your existence is meaningless, that life is a cosmic joke, well, it
lets you off the hook - you can give up living with any depth or purpose and instead
become an Epicurean - an old way of living that comes from the Greek philosopher
Epicurus who decided that life is meaningless and the best you can do between birth and
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death is enjoy the interval and eat, drink and be merry - live for your own pleasure.
But the Epicurean option doesnt work. There is goodness and beauty and pleasure in
this world - but if make our lifes purpose to dive deep into the pleasures of life, we end
up empty...dissatisfied - and often, alone. And on one level, this makes no sense. We
have this physical existence, were made of the same physical stuff of the world, you
would think that to dive into the world and eat, drink and be merry, enjoying the best of
this world, would lead to a deep kind of satisfaction. And yet, the deeper you dive into
the pleasures of the world, the deeper becomes our dissatisfaction. This is peculiar, to put
it mildly. What is going on here?
We are created beings with a purpose
Well, we are not only created beings...we are created beings, with a purpose. When you
create something, there is a purpose behind its creation. And God had a purpose in your
creation, in my creation.
What is it? Well, first lets consider what Paul says about what God is up to in the
universe - in vs. 7-9 he says that God has made known to us the mystery of his will...that
he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fulness of time, to gather up all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.
Heres an image that might help us understand what that means:
Imagine youre part of a large family. You grew up with a bunch of sisters and
brothers, and youre one of 17 grandchildren. But your family is scattered all over
the world - youve got a sister living in South America, one cousin is serving on
an aircraft carrier, another is deployed to the Middle East, others live on the West
Coast. And youre losing touch with one another. And with your only surviving
grandparent, your grandfather.
Then one day, your beloved grandfather sends a note to all seventeen of his
grandchildren, and all his children too. Hed like everybody to come back to the
home place for Christmas. He misses all of you. And he sends plane tickets and
arranges leave from the military - how he does this, where he comes up with the
money - its a big surprise.
And so Christmas Eve all the grandfathers children and grandchildren stream
back to the home place and theres a fire going in the big hearth fireplace and your
grandfather is sitting in his favorite chair near the fire and he asks, Just come sit
by me - and even though youre not children anymore you all find a place on a
sofa or chair or even on the floor, you crowd around grandfather and youre sitting
next to the brother you havent spoken to in 15 years and the cousins who dont
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like each other are there and all that junk just is gone - and your grandfather just
beams at you with love and gratitude and nobody says a word, you just feel the
love, the rightness, the beauty, of being together as a family, drawn together by a
grandfathers love, brought together by his invitation and generosity.
God is at work in Christ, Paul says, to gather up everything in himself - there is a force of
love permeating the universe as surely as gravity that is pulling the universe and us
towards God to reconcile us to him that we can delight eternally in Gods beauty and
love. Its like the worship song He Reigns - It's every tribe, every tongue, every
nation/A love song born of a grateful choir.
And your purpose, my purpose, is to join in what God is doing in Christ in drawing every
heart, every inch of creation, back towards him. So we and all who will just say yes to
Gods love can gather round him in the new heavens and new earth.
You are created...and created with a purpose.
No playing small
Heres one implication. We must stop playing small, saying Im too weak, too small, too
little, to make any difference. Because not only are you created...not only are you created
with a purpose...we are given incredible power to do what God calls us to do - in vs. 17
Paul says that he prays we would know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power
for we who believe...
Remember, Paul wrote this letter to a little church in the great big city of Ephesus. And
Ephesus was a major power center in ancient world. It was first a religious center
because the god Artemis had her world headquarters there. The Temple of Artemis was
enormous; one first-century historian said, Ive seen everything, Ive seen the pyramids
and nothing in the world compares to the temple of Artemis.
Ephesus was also a cultural center - had some of the best painters and artists and sculptors
- it was also a banking center; was a market where people came from all over Asia Minor
to buy and sell.
Ephesus had a massive library - knowledge - knowledge and learning are power; had a
theater that sat 22,000 where youd have plays and political rallies. Emperor Domitian,
around AD 96, made Ephesus one of his main headquarters and had a statue erected of
himself there to commemorate his military power - 27 feet tall - and Domitian was the
strongest, most powerful ruler in the world.1
Ephesus was a great, epic, huge city. This is a city that understood power and had power.

And theres maybe 50 - 200 Christians in this massive metropolis of power - living under
the power of the greatest empire in history - an empire that ruled by violence, where 40%
of the population of what is now Italy were slaves.
And an empire that was brutal towards the weak. A Roman philosopher named Seneca
wrote We drown children at birth when they are weak and abnormal.
But Christians believed that everyone was created by God and made in the image of God,
and that Jesus came to save everyone, nobody should be treated like that. They
remembered Jesus words, Let the little children come to me.
So they began to go out to the places where these children were abandoned and left to die
of exposure and take them in, bring the babies home and raise them as their own children.
At least one Christian was martyred for doing this. But right within the cruel power
structure of the empire, these long-ago sisters and brothers in Christ lived out their
purpose. Nothing defeats the power of Christ!
Living for the praise of his glory every day
And you dont have to go on a great quest to do this either - God created you, God wills
for you to help draw people back to him, God gives us his power to do it...and God puts
opportunities in our path in our everyday lives.
I got a Facebook message last week from a woman named Lynne who is a member of the
church I served in Virginia. She saw a picture I posted of us ordaining and installing
elders and deacons and trustees a few weeks ago and said, The pictures today...reminded
me that I have always wanted to bless you for leading my friend, Patti, to the Lord. She is
such a blessing to all of us. Thank you.
Patti came into my church office in 1996 and told me her story. She was raised in a
nominally Jewish family and was an agnostic but married a Presbyterian and they wanted
their kids to get some Jesus stuff in a church so they wanted to visit my church and bring
their little girls. But she didnt want me or anyone hitting her on the head with a Bible or
judging her and I said, just come on, well be nice, I promise. And Patti came and sat
through very unfamiliar and at first very uncomfortable worship services.
But...God created Patti...God had a purpose for her, so over the next few months her heart
and mind started to open up like a flower opening to the sun above; shed come ask me
questions about this Jesus guy and about being a Christian...and a few months later she
accepted Christ and I baptized her and she began singing in the church choir and still
sings there today, singing and living for the praise of his glory.
I did nothing special there, just was available when God did his thing and had Patti show
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up in my office.
Closing
God created you, and God has a purpose for you. Maybe todays the day you start taking
your life seriously. Maybe todays the day you stop poor-mouthing yourself and making
excuses. Maybe todays the day you start listening and looking for those God moments
when he offers you a chance to do something large or small that shares his love and helps
build a new world.
Because you have a life - just waiting to be lived. Amen.
Endnotes
1. Rob Bell, Big Jesus Part 2: Uncaging the Lion.