A Purpose Not Our Own

A sermon based on Isaiah 49:1-7 preached on January 19, 2014.

Sermon audio

You did not chose me, but I chose you…

Jesus’s words from John’s gospel were fresh on Kathleen’s mind as she made her way to church that special Sunday morning in January. Since October, she had been studying the Presbyterian Book of Confession—all those very confusing ways of saying that we believe in God. She had dove head first into the Presbyterian Book of Order, and heart-first into the words of the Bible. All to be prepared for this moment to join Olivet Presbyterian Church.

Kathleen was trying hard not to see today as her graduation day. Pastor Chad, who had been teaching the New Members class, said that joining the church was just the very beginning of a new and exciting journey along the way to becoming a disciple of Jesus.

Kathleen was proud of the 4 months of exploring her faith with others. She hadn’t gone through the new members class alone.

There would be 3 of them who would be invited up to join Pastor Chad who was going to ask them what they believed. After 4 months of weekly New Member’s Classes, all of them had plenty of time to study what Pastor Chad would ask them this morning.

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior…?

Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be…what’s the wording…something about being unique and authoritative. So, okay, Kathleen didn’t know the questions that well, but the point wasn’t to memorize them or to memorize anything at all for that matter, the point was to make a space for these new ideas in her heart. Seeds planted and space made for them to grow inside of her. That was the important part.

Kathleen’s favorite question that the New Member’s Group had studied was:

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love to your life’s end?

In one of their classes, Krista, the youngest one in the group, the quietest of them all, spoke up and said that was her favorite question too. Sam, the third member of the group, said that question seemed bigger than all the rest. That it made him think about how important a commitment it was to follow and serve God, that it’s a life-long vocation. That it never ends.

Kathleen had learned that discipleship is a long walk with many twists and turns. Being a follower of Christ isn’t something that happens one day, it’s something that happens every day as we take our next step and tumble our way through this world trying to share a little of God’s love with others.

Being a disciple of Jesus has been called “a long obedience in the same direction”. Certainly the end of New Member’s Class was just the beginning of a huge journey that will be filled with moments of discovery, obedience, and wonder.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love to your life’s end?

That’s the kind of question that makes you ask 1,000 more questions.

The group did ask a lot of question in their time together. Big questions, the kind without answers. Or with answers too big for us to know about. Kathleen swam in the depths of all of those questions as she made her way through learning what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ and what it means to become a member of Olivet Presbyterian Church. After 4 months of classes, she knew that her choice to join was not a small one. Pastor Chad took becoming a part of this faith community pretty seriously. Kathleen knew the importance of the profession of faith she would make this morning in front of the whole congregation.


Kathleen had visited many churches before. But through all of these years, going to church never stuck. Olivet Pres would be the first church she ever joined. Too many times, Kathleen had walked into a church and felt instantly judged—for something that she was or for something that she wasn’t, she never knew why really—but that feeling of being judged is as heavy and as jarring and as graceful as an anvil falling from the sky, a piano falling out of the window of a high-rise apartment.

Being judged can instantly shatter you into a thousand tiny pieces. 

She never understood a church like that when, from what she knew, Jesus was kind and open and inviting. She wondered how some churches got so far from acting like Jesus did.

Olivet Presbyterian seemed different. A breath of fresh air even.

Pastor Chad encouraged Kathleen to keep asking questions. To carry those questions around like they were mints in her purse. Pastor Chad said that questions refresh our minds and keep our faith awake. Questions perk us up and keep our journey alive and exciting. If we don’t wonder about our faith then what we have isn’t faith at all. Faith is a relationship with God and others that needs to move forward, and the only way it moves forward is if we keep asking questions.

Kathleen was reminded of a scene in one of her favorite old movies, Annie Hall. They’re in an airplane, and Woody Allen and Diane Keaton realize that their relationship is over.

 Let’s face it, Diane Keaton says, I don’t think our relationship is working.

Woody Allen agrees with her, A relationship, I think, is like a shark, it constantly needs to move forward or else it dies. And, I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.

Kathleen had come to know this church well, over the last 6 months, and she had seen zero dead sharks. Folks here saw faith as a relationship—something that was very much alive. Faith, they taught her, was a relationship with both God and others, and this church wrestled things out as they learned together in Sunday school classes, as they led one another in discipleship, and as they gathered to worship God. The people at Olivet were paying attention to ways that God was calling them to serve, and Kathleen was excited about what was ahead.

Kathleen spent time in these classes at church wondering about the long and winding road she took that got her here.

Pastor Chad said that church isn’t for perfect people. This was good, because Kathleen had found out that she was far from it. Pastor Chad said that church was for the broken and confused. We come to church, he said, not in spite of our brokenness and confusion but because of them. We bring our entire selves to church, every bit of our brokenness and we call out to God together—as a community—to be fixed and made whole.

Kathleen new as much about the people in the bible—that they were people who failed and fell, got lost and walked in circles even when God was pointing them in straight lines.

The history of God’s people read like a Wyle E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon. People chasing God through their own deserts—literal or figurative. Only to fall short of catching up to God. Like the Coyote, we’re good at convincing ourselves of our own conniving ways—we trap ourselves with our own devices. Our plans blow up in our own faces. We think we’re headed the right way only to realize that we’ve just run off the side of a cliff. Our mistakes get us into trouble, and instead of following in the ways God is leading us, we convince ourselves that we know a better way. And our ways, just like Wyle E. Coyote, often lead to ruin.

What Kathleen wanted to find was a community of people who discerned their way together. Who asked God with one voice for directions as they moved forward. A community who kept each other from falling of cliffs.

No, church wasn’t for the perfect among us. We gather together to worship God because we know we need help to find our way.


Kathleen thought that God is a like a parent who teaches us to walk. God stands behind us and takes our hands and urges us to take another step. God upholds us and walks with us wherever we wander. And when we fall, God is there to pick us up, brush us off, and help us find our footing again.


The questions Kathleen will answer today to become a member of Olivet Presbyterian are big ones. She will say Yes to each of them. Kathleen will say Yes to a new life of service to God and to others. She will say Yes to obeying God’s Word. She will say Yes to putting all of her trust in the mercy of God.

These questions Pastor Chad will ask give us a purpose that is not our own. From now on, Kathleen will promise to live for God’s purposes. And with her Yes answers, she knew she was stepping out towards a brand new commitment to serve the world in Christ’s name.

If it was all up to her, Kathleen would be unsure of whether or not she really could say Yes to all of those questions. But the good news is that it wasn’t all up to her. Kathleen’s would not just answer with a simple “Yes”. Her answer would be, “Yes, with God’s help.”

We do nothing on our own. God is our help. And so is the community of faith who walks with us. We stand with the strength that others give us, and we walk on the top of God’s feet, taking our shaky steps with wobbly knees.

It is not by our effort but by God’s grace that we live and serve and believe. It is with God’s strength that we say Yes.

May God forever be our strength and our salvation.

Alleluia! Amen!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s