November 15, 2015


Passage: 1 Samuel 1:4-20, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Ephesians 1:1-4, Mark 13:1-8
Service Type:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

Theo Fleury is a former professional NHL player who, among other achievements won the Stanley Cup in 1989 as a member of the Calgary Flames. Subsequent to his playing career, he co-wrote Playing with Fire; a book about his life, including his struggles with addiction, and revealing that he had been sexually abused by a former coach. The book became a Canadian best seller and launched Fleury’s speaking career on behalf of such victims. In an interview aired this past September Fleury said that in writing this book he found his purpose in life; obviously energized by being able to help people who suffered abuse as he did.

I was struck by his comment about finding purpose. He indicated that he did not mean to say that his former identity as a professional hockey player was to be denigrated; however, the work that he was now engaged in he experienced as purposeful in a whole different way.

I got thinking about this sense of purpose Fleury spoke about and how it was only now in his life he said had found such purpose. What is it about our culture that people experience disconnect with respect to purpose for life? Pope John Paul II wrote that “at the heart of every culture lies the attitude humankind takes to the greatest mystery; the mystery of God. Different cultures are basically ways of facing the question of the meaning of personal existence.” In our culture the attitude we take to this greatest mystery is personal and individualized. Our age is an age of the adoration of self. There is no overarching story; life is what you make of it. I am not surprised then, that in such a culture people feel a bit like being cast adrift to find our own purpose—if we can.

1. As is the case in many of the ways humankind talks of the nature of human existence, the gospel reframes our conversation. The good news of Jesus calls us to rethink according to the disclosure that is this word of God, Jesus Christ. We think we need purpose; the gospel indicates that we need him who is way, truth, and life. Humans feel disconnected from purpose; the gospel says that this sense of disconnect is because of a severed relationship with the one who gave us life. Question one of the Westminster Shorter Catechism captures this gospel reframing: What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever

Listen again to how Paul captures the wonderful assurance about human life in the gospel. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” What the believer in Jesus Christ discovers is that God has been for her all along. In Christ, God elected—made the choice—from before the foundation of the world to love humanity. And any who believe can experience the spiritual blessings he bestows. We think we need purpose; God brings us what we truly need—spiritual blessings—which is to say he gives us himself.

Keep in mind that these spiritual blessings aren’t things God dispenses to us as if God were running a drug store dispensing tonics of purpose and meaning and satisfaction. These blessings are in Christ. He bestows them in that he gives us himself. These are experienced in the relationship of faith with him. It is akin to the gift of someone’s friendship with you. “Friendship” isn’t a commodity to be dispensed. Friendship is something experienced in relationship as people give themselves in acts of friendship with each other.

So how does a person experience these blessings? Faith. Faith begins by trusting as much of yourself as you know of yourself to as much of God as you know of him. We can begin with a simple prayer of turning to relationship with Him. Like the father did when he sought healing for his son; he said to Jesus: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

Recall the words of our Lord on the night before he gave up his life for us. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Peace, his peace, is what our hearts long for. To say the same thing differently, it is as our Lord gives us himself that we find that settled-ness about life, that assurance we are loved beyond imagination. Yes, we still have things to work out, the work we will do, the relationships we will engage in, the place to live, and so on. But none of these important things of life—work, career, relationships, home—can satisfy what only the ultimate is by design to do—knowing yourself loved by God.

2. Sometimes when we read the beginning of the Apostles’ letters (epistles) we treat the introductory remarks as an extended “hello.” The important part of the conversation is what follows. It is good to remind ourselves that there are no throw-away lines in the scripture. All scripture is God breathed and for our instruction. Consider the Apostle Paul’s greeting in this Ephesian letter. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Underline the words grace and peace. To be sure these were typical greetings, one from the Greek, grace, and one from the Hebrew, peace (shalom). However, from a gospel perspective these two words of greeting are seen as God’s blessing of your life. Grace and peace are God’s blessing in Christ on your life. In short these two words indicate to us how we are to understand or view our very existence.

Grace, in this gospel context, is that word that points us to the undeserved favour of God. Grace is the very framework of our existence. The very fact that there is something rather than nothing is because “in the beginning God”, as the opening lines of the Bible tell us. Put another way, in the words of theologian Karl Barth, “what unites God and us human beings is that he does not will to be God without us.” Our existence arises from God’s gracious initiative to have a people for himself—a people that he freely gives himself for. And all this from the foundation of the world. This is grace, God’s grace, the reason of our existence.
John Calvin wrote, “it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves.” How is it that you can think, love, and decide—where do these endowments of mind, heart and will come from? Did we not simply arrive in the world and found that we possessed them? All my children and grandchildren possessed a will of their own when they arrived into parental care. We did not get them for ourselves. Consider our physical bodies. Look at your hands. We have found them to be a very useful appendage, have we not? Did we get them for ourselves? Did you arrive in the world and think; an appendage with which to grip things would come in handy so maybe I should have some hands. John Calvin was correct—the endowments cannot possibly be from ourselves.

The gospel’s frame for life is that everything in existence is of grace. I realize that there are competing narratives about how we have our human existence. The gospel story is that all of this is grace from our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who willed from the foundation of creation not to be without us.

“Grace to you and peace,” wrote Paul. Peace is the Hebrew greeting—shalom. The blessing of “peace” is a greeting that encompasses the totality of our life. In our small group study last year we studied a work by Dr. Timothy Keller who pointed out that this word peace (shalom) has in view a prosperity of life in all its aspects—spiritually, socially, physically, and culturally. The blessing of peace isn’t limited to a wish for cordial relationships and the absence of war. It is a “life-in-all-its-fullness” blessing.

When God created human life and observed all he had made God said—it is very good. The life God created was made for this full-orbed goodness that is captured in this word shalom (peace). The peace was shattered in the human turning of our backs on God thinking we knew better than God about goodness. Human life was made for the prosperity of God’s peace; God did not make us for misery. So when Paul blesses with peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ it is a blessing that has God’s best for humanity in view.

The gospel framework for understanding our humanity is the grace and peace of God. Human life is a glorious treasure all in and of itself. And this treasure shines and becomes its true glory in relationship with God.

3. Whenever we speak of God’s choosing to be for us—his election—a question about human freedom arises in our conversations. Do we humans have free choice? Does God determine everything? The popular notion of freedom is simply the complete absence of restraint. Freedom is then seen as being able to do whatever we choose. We can see that as humans we can choose all kinds of things; but is this the freedom the gospel speaks about and bestows?

The freedom that the Christian knows and enjoys is a reflection of God’s freedom. God is free not in the sense that he can do anything at all (such a God could never be trusted). God is free, rather, in that nothing prevents God from acting in accord with his true nature. Nothing within God; nothing outside God; nothing inner or outer impedes God from acting in accord with his true nature. Freedom doesn’t mean doing anything at all; freedom means acting in accord with one’s true nature. God isn’t free because there’s nothing he can’t do; God is free because he can do what it’s his nature to do.
“If I make you free,” Jesus promises, “then you will be free indeed.” Apparently Jesus does not believe we are free; free to act in accord with our true nature. Think of everyday objects for a moment. If our coffee maker is clogged by calcium deposits it needs to be freed from those deposits so that it can be free for making coffee. It is freed from whatever clogs it, impairs it, impedes its proper functioning. It is now free for the purpose for which it has been made. It’s not free to do anything at all such as make ice cream. It’s free to serve its purpose. The freedom that Christ bestows is both a freedom from and a freedom for.

According to gospel humans are not free, free to live according to our true nature. Something clogs up the works. According to the scripture the clog-up is massive; the clutter and debris is called sin. The root of sinfulness is unbelief; we don’t believe God.

Are we humans free; free to live according to our true nature? I have read the confessions of a number of public celebrities apologizing for some slip of the tongue over-heard by people nearby or recorded and played back later or maybe a years-old Facebook posting that now comes back to haunt them. The typical apology goes something like this; “I would like you to know that the content of my post is not a true reflection of my feelings” or “that wasn’t the real me.” Can we act in accord with our true nature? The gospel says it has been corrupted. It is this corruption that our Lord frees us from in order to be free to follow him—the one human being who did live that uncorrupted life.

When we talk of freedom and humans having free choice we often identify freedom with liberty. When we leave the driveway of our home we have the liberty to choose whether to go right or left. When painting the wall in our home we can choose from an array of exotic colours like “coriander seed” or “mossy rock” (I live with an interior designer.) But this liberty to choose your favourite ice cream is not the freedom the gospel promises. The landscape of life, according to gospel, is that we are bound by sin. The freedom to live according to our true human nature has been corrupted. Our Lord gave his life to set us free.

4. Permit me one more reflection on this choice God made not to be without us. This choice that God made from the foundation of the world, the choice to be for us in Jesus Christ is in one sense a promise easily said at the foundation of the world when “everything was very good.” Not unlike the deeply-in-love couple on their wedding day as they make their vows. But that choice to be for us, the choice to never abandon the human he had made; that choice would cost God everything in his self-giving on the cross.

That idea, that in the good news of Jesus we learn that God does not will to be God without us expresses at a profound level something of the all-encompassing love of God for humanity. While God did not need to create us humans to be God, out of his great love God does not will to be God without us. I am staggered at such commitment.

His choice to be for us isn’t because of some special quality in us—so there is nothing for me to measure up to in order to get him to make a choice in my favour. Before we existed God made this choice. His choice to be for us is not deflected by human disobedience to his will or ungratefulness for the gift of life. You can be certain of his spiritual blessings for you because they rest in the sufficiency of his love out of which God elected to be for us from all eternity.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.