Sermon by Jay Pierce
Aug. 2, 2015
“Finding Your Personal Mission”
John 6:24-35 Contemporary English Version
24 They saw that Jesus and his disciples had left. Then they got into the boats and went to Capernaum to look for Jesus. 25 They found him on the west side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “I tell you for certain that you are not looking for me because you saw the miracles, but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for food that spoils. Work for food that gives eternal life. The Son of Man will give you this food, because God the Father has given him the right to do so.”
28 “What exactly does God want us to do?” the people asked.
29 Jesus answered, “God wants you to have faith in the one he sent.”
30 They replied, “What miracle will you work, so that we can have faith in you? What will you do? 31 For example, when our ancestors were in the desert, they were given manna to eat. It happened just as the Scriptures say, ‘God gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus then told them, “I tell you for certain that Moses wasn’t the one who gave you bread from heaven. My Father is the one who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 And the bread that God gives is the one who came down from heaven to give life to the world.”
34 The people said, “Lord, give us this bread and don’t ever stop!”
35 Jesus replied:
I am the bread that gives life! No one who comes to me will ever be hungry. No one who has faith in me will ever be thirsty.
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OK. I’ll admit it. Today I am preaching to myself. I have heard some professional pastors say that they do that too upon occasions, and the sermons from the talented pastors that have been here in my membership tenure have been pretty good. So it seems that one can successfully use that avenue to craft a set of words that is meaningful to more than yourself. Hopefully it works today.
Let’s expand on the selection from John we just heard. The prior day, Jesus had fed about 5,000 people as much as they could eat from five loaves of bread and two fish. Then realizing the miracle had excited the crowd to the point they wanted to take Him by force and make Him king, Jesus retreated to the mountain. During the night the disciples crossed the lake and Jesus joined them as they completed the voyage on the other side (i).
Then our passage begins with the crowd becoming hungry again and finding Jesus and the disciples gone. If it was like the miracle of changing water to wine at the wedding at Cana, the food was not only abundant but also of the highest quality. This motivated the crowd to go find where Jesus and the disciples had gone (ii). Free, good food is still a strong motivating force 2000 years later, so their action makes sense.
Jesus, though, did not want to create a class dependent upon His miracles. Instead of providing more food, He teaches the crowd what they really need in a message that carries forward to us today.
But that leaves us with the challenge of understanding how the lesson applies in our modern world. We could travel down the theological road. There we would discuss how the Book of John was written later than Mark, Mathew, and Luke. How John’s audience was not the Jews like the other three gospels but rather gentiles that had become the majority of Christians (iii). We could also talk about the differences between the “historical” Jesus and the “canonical” Jesus (iv).
However, we can also tie this passage into a series of sermons we heard a few weeks ago to give it a more practical application to our modern lives. Pastor Tim started the series on the last Sunday in June with a message on the definition, power, and importance of faith (v). That was followed by Kimberly and Michael’s work about how we need to put faith into action to help bring the kingdom of God to earth (vi). Then Pastor Tim followed that with a sermon about there being a time for everything and the time to exercise your faith is now (vii).
Although not preplanned, and hence a few weeks later, we run across another passage that fits into this theme. The crowd asks Jesus a question we also could ask after hearing those three sermons, “What exactly does God want us to do?” Jesus answered, “God wants you to have faith in the one He sent” (viii).
As we heard, Jesus wants to give us the bread that satisfies the spirit, the bread that is necessary well above and beyond the physical needs. And we, like the crowd of his day, want to receive that bread.
The importance of having faith and satisfaction of spiritual hunger, or lack thereof, is evident in many of the stories of life. The honestly-earned wealthy that suddenly commit a horrific violent crime or an unexpected suicide. These people clearly have a dissatisfaction, and it is also clearly not a physical hunger that is driving them. It could be physical, chemical imbalance, a mental illness, or a spiritual hunger. If we are spiritually hungry and have faith, how is it that Jesus gives us the spiritual food?
As Gerard Sloyan notes in his interpretation of this passage, “Knowing what you want out of life is half the battle” (ix). Well everybody is different. We recognize and celebrate diversity amongst people many weeks in the words of the service and every week by the wide differences in the people that gather here. And we know each one of us is different above and beyond those things we can observe in our interactions with each other. So there is no cookie cutter formula to figuring out what we want out of life.
But one of the many avenues that the Lord may provide the bread to us is through helping us find and perform a personal mission. And the mission may change over time, without notice, and with or without success in satisfying the prior mission. So knowing at least one method on how to discover your mission is a very helpful item. So let’s explore one method.
I am going to now rely very heavily on a book titled What Color is Your Parachute? The book is intended primarily for those seeking employment or changing careers. It has lots of advice on how to find job opportunities, how to place yourself on social media for employers to check you out (yes, be careful with the pictures and posts on your Facebook page), and the like. However, there is also an Appendix entitled “Finding Your Mission in Life” (x). Even though the target audience is job seekers, this particular appendix is applicable well beyond that audience.
A career or job may be part of your mission directly. Clearly, the job of a pastor is likely to be a mission / career combination. But it may be that your job enables you to fulfill a mission by providing the financial means, knowledge, or access to other items required by your mission instead. Your mission may only take only a small portion of your time or it may be a 24/7 consumption. No matter the form of the personal mission, it could be providing the bread you need to satisfy the hunger God has installed within your spirit. Only you and God know if your spirit is hungry or not. So please, don’t think I am telling everybody to go get a different career or even take on a different task around the church. I’m not. But at some point you may find yourself with that spiritual hunger and having a tool to satisfy that hunger may come in handy.
The author of Parachute is Richard Bolles, and he is clear that his appendix is written from a very Christian point of view. He identifies his credentials as an ordained Episcopalian minister as well as a career counselor (xi). Not to mention a bestselling author.
He identifies three major parts to identifying your mission. The first part, and I quote, is “to seek to stand hour by hour in the conscious presence of God, the One from whom your mission is derived . . . to Know God, and enjoy him forever, and to see His hand in all His works” (xii). There is nothing unique or individual about this part, it is a commonly shared mission of all Christians. And for me, I think this is hard, very hard. Humans, particularly in the western civilizations, have built a society that provides tremendous opportunities to distract us from this goal. The pace of life ever increases as we see more things we can and want to take part in. Time is often squeezed–“let me just send one more email”–and suddenly we are forced to press forward at a rapid pace as not to be late for the next item on the daily agenda.
We are busy doing things on earth. However, this first stage of the mission and the words spoken by Jesus we discuss today don’t really call for us to “do” anything. Is having faith in God really doing something? Or is it being something? Yes, faith leads us to doing (or not doing) things. However, we don’t say “do faith.” We do commonly use the phrase “be faithful.” Therefore, this first step is not a mission of doing. It harkens back to that first sermon in this connected set on being faithful, letting go, and trusting God (xiii). Once we have made or renewed this connection of being with God and are starting to live in His presence, we are ready to start considering “doing” (xiv).
The middle of the three steps suggest by Richard Bolles is “to do what you can, moment by moment, day by day, step by step, to make this world a better place, following the leading and guidance of God’s Spirit within you and around you” (xv). Yes, now we get to do, what a relief. And could this be the answer to the question “What exactly does God want us to do?” (xvi). It certainly is part of the answer.
Well it is clear why we have to accomplish step one before we can start on step two. Without the relationship built by an understanding of the constant presence of God, we don’t have a shot of “moment by moment” making the world a better place. Life is usually not like a sporting event or game show where you can call time out and plan the next play in a critical situation.
Instead, opportunities for actions to make things more like heaven on earth sometimes take a quick reaction. Is it displaying “tough love,” or is it compassion and understanding that is the best course? Is it a teaching moment or a helping moment? Is it a take charge moment or a moment to follow the lead? Is it time for an apology?
The good news and bad news of the first step is the same in the second step. Opportunities are present all the time. This is great in that we may practice trying to improve our world constantly, but it also can make us weary. We must guard against that weariness forcing us to take actions that are not making things to be done on earth as they are in heaven (xvii).
A common thread through these first two steps is that they are not check boxes like completing a prerequisite course. They are missions in life all unto themselves (xviii). These steps are hugely important and cannot be forgotten once we have first come close to realizing them.
A great athlete or business person may have as their mission being victorious. They have advanced beyond the first two steps. But a mission of victory does not justify any means to win. Sportsmanship and fair play opportunities are present at every moment. Once I heard someone say, “It is not enough just to succeed, but others must also fail.” This is not what we respect from a winner and certainly is not in concert with these first two steps. We want a gracious and humble winner that plays fairly and ethically. We also want them to encourage those just vanquished to try again because they have put up a valiant effort. And not just someone who says those words, but we can see it in their very actions throughout the competition. That winner is making the world a better place.
I think we can conclude that these first two steps are nothing new to us. From this very pulpit, these words have been presented many times in many ways over many years. Although the contexts have been different, and some more narrow and some broader, these two foundations have formed the basis of many messages. Connecting them back to the prior recent faith sermons, just these two steps alone are working examples of having and employing faith and how now is always the time for your faith to be exercised.
But is that it? Is that all there is to having a mission? There is nothing unique or individual here, this is just the greater day to day mission of Christianity. So let’s look at step three and see where that takes us.
Richard Bolles gives use a three part third step:
a) to exercise the Talent that you particularly came to Earth to use–your greatest gift, which you most delight to use,
b) in the place(s) or setting(s) that God has caused to appeal to you the most,
c) and for those purposes that God most needs to have done in the world. (xix)
OK, now we are getting somewhere! We are talking about an individual mission, not just being part of the masses. Something that can really satisfy that spiritual hunger. But what does all of this mean, how do we put these words into practice?
Let’s examine each of these three parts in more detail. The first part can be broken down into two pieces. It asks two very distinct questions that you must answer. The first question is “What are your talents?” The second one is “Which of those talents do you like to use?” Finding this intersection is very, very critical. I truly find delight in utilizing my athletic gifts. There is a major problem here, they are mediocre at best. There really is no intersection at all so my mission is not to temporarily relieve the pain and suffering of others through the entertainment of sport. Trust me, if there was any chance when I was young to have made this my mission, I would have taken it.
The examination of this intersection of talent and desire is complex. It may be that prayers will bring the voice of God to you and present a clear choice. But it may be that His words have already been spoken to you and it is an examination of the information already present that is necessary. Particularly with a successful completion of step one, realizing God’s presence in everything, we may find the talents that he has given to us (xx).
The second piece is where God recognizes our free will. We are not enslaved to Him. When it comes to picking a mission, we are looking at a partnership. He has given us talents, but we know those that give us joy. So going to Jesus for the bread of spiritual fulfillment is not just a receiving relationship, we are required to be an active participant through our free will and emotions (xxi).
Part B is a repeat of Part A in terms of process. Now instead of talents, we are discussing locations and settings. Since this is so similar to what we have just talked about, I’ll move on to the third part, the purposes most needed by God in this world. Clearly we need help with this one. It requires us to employ all of our steps thus far as well as prayer and observations. Our free will cannot determine what things God most needs done. But we can observe where a tiny piece of the kingdom of God can be brought to earth. And then we can compare that to our talents and joys.
What we find may not be unique or be something that’s going to make us go down in the annals of history. It may not be recognized by its presence and only missed when it is absent. There may be thousands of others performing the same mission that we will join as teammates (xxii). But when we go to the Lord and ask, the answer should come back that yes, this is it, we have found the sweet spot of talent, enjoyment, location, setting, and improving life for others. It will give us the spiritual bread that brings joy and satisfaction. We will lose our sense of time and utilize energy we didn’t realize we had as the bread feeds us.
I would like to tell you how well this process works from personal experience. I cannot. But I have embarked on the journey and I am presently working on the finding the constant presence of God. Being a planner type, I have embarked on this journey as I want to see if there is something that I may be called to in the future should I ever find the time is right to leave my clear first calling of engineering behind. If I come to that time, I want to know where I am going next. And if that new mission requires a certain level of financial or time investment to be ready, I want to know what will be required to open the doors to the change. Or maybe I’ll find my mission is unwavering. Without the journey, I will not know.
It also seems to me we can all work on steps one and two to bring us more spiritual satisfaction on a moment to moment basis and help make the world just a little bit better place. So let’s have faith, put it into action today even if in a small way. And if still hungry then go on to look for our own personal mission.
i John 6:5-22
ii John 2:1-10
iii Barclay, William, 1975. The Gospel of John; Revised Edition, Volume 1. The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, p. 6-7.
iv Borg, Marcus, 2002 paperback. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally. HarperSanFrancisco, p. 190.
v Woodard, Rev. Tim, June 28, 2015. “Have Faith”, http://rivieraucc.org/category/sermon/.
vi Kimberly C. and Michael G., July 5, 2015. “Faith that Serves”, http://rivieraucc.org/category/sermon/.
vii Woodard, Rev. Tim, July 12, 2015. “Now is the Time!”, http://rivieraucc.org/category/sermon/.
viii John 6:28-29, Contemporary English Version.
ix Sloyan, Gerald, 1988. Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John. John Knox Press, Atlanta, p. 69.
x Bolles, Richard N., 2014. What Color is Your Parachute? 2015 Edition. Ten Speed Press, New York, p. 252-274.
xi Ibid, p. 253.
xii Ibid, p. 257.
xiii Woodard, Rev. Tim, June 28, 2015. “Have Faith”, http://rivieraucc.org/category/sermon/.
xiv Bolles, Richard N., 2014. What Color is Your Parachute? 2015 Edition. Ten Speed Press, New York,, p.258.
xv Ibid, p. 257.
xvi John 6:28, Contemporary English Version.
xvii Bolles, Richard N., 2014. What Color is Your Parachute? 2015 Edition. Ten Speed Press, New York, p. 265-268.
xviii Ibid, p. 265-268.
xix Ibid, p. 258.
xx Ibid, p. 269-272.
xxi Ibid, p. 269-272.
xxii Ibid, p. 259.