This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Sermon Submitted by Rev. David Weemhoff, Sarnia, Ontario
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There are a certain number of questions that seem to haunt our lives at different times and in different ways. They may not be questions we ask all the time or in every situation. We ask ourselves: “Why am I living? What real difference does my life make? What real contributions have I made or will I make in this world?” Do I dare to ask the question “How much do I matter?” for fear of discovering the answer. These questions are at the heart of the basic fear of living and leading lives of insignificance.
Our desire is that we like to know that our lives matter in some way, that we are making a real difference, and that our lives are worth living. We would like to do something significant for our community or at least for our families. One author tells us that a man of clout in England who at a crucial time contributed to making some crucial decisions for his nation. Even this man questioned whether he had made any real difference. If this was true for him, what about us? And so our desire to make a difference can easily turn into a fear that our lives that are likely not very significant.
The result of this fear is that we begin to look in the wrong places for things that we feel will make our lives significant. Our society is obsessed with finding things that make us significant and with trying to get us in the front pages of life. But as temporary as front page news is, so temporary are the things we do or long for that society deems significant, namely power, wealth, prestige, position, etc. The point is this: we are looking to find significance to our lives in all the wrong places. We may think that is the way the world operates, but is it happening in our lives? The fear of insignificance is lurking at the corners of our minds and the shadows of our lives.
I believe that we should hear Paul's answer to the questions of our insignificance, especially as we see ourselves as being in Christ. Listen to Paul's words once again: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Paul declares that only in what Christ has done and has made us to be can we see ourselves as being significant. Paul is pointing us to an entirely different way of measuring our significance and importance. We can find our significance for all the right reasons. These reasons are lasting and are rooted solely in the grace of Christ in our lives.
We often use mirrors to measure how we look on the outside. Let us look in a mirror that shows us our real significance, the mirror of Christ that shows us who we are in Him, and that shows us the significance and purpose He gives us.
Who planted this search for our significance, so common to all humans, within us? Is this pursuit a mere sociological fabrication? I don't think so. I believe it was placed there by our Creator. However, like all things in God’s creation this quest too has been twisted by our Fall into sin. As a result, our search for significance often leads us into the pursuit of the dissatisfying, flavorless, fleeting things of this world. Who determines what is significant? Who determines who you are? When we want to know how we look on the outside, we look into a mirror. When we want to estimate our worth, we check a variety of "mirrors". Most often we look in the mirrors of the world. But the world's mirrors do not reflect the true measure of our worth but only reflect what the world deems to be important.
What are the mirrors of our world saying about what is important? They are saying that importance is measured by that which gives us power, prestige, position, and possessions. Maybe it is in having a bigger house or a more expensive car. Perhaps it is in having a position on boards and in circles of influence in communities. Perhaps it is in the ability to control people, organizations, and even churches. This is what the world's mirrors are saying or reflecting to us. These are often the standards we use to measure our significance.
In front of which of these mirrors are we putting ourselves? For parents it may be coveting other parents who are raising their children properly. For an employee it may be coveting the kind of salary his friend receives. That then becomes his mirror. For someone else it could be comparing himself to a pillar in the community and then he questions his own insignificance in terms of what he has done in the community. For a teenager it may be comparing himself with his peers and then feels left out and therefore unimportant. The list of mirrors we put before ourselves can be endless. But they are like the contorted mirrors in a fun-house that create only what we want to see as important. In the end we must realize that we are looking in all the wrong places. These are the things that are only temporary. The fact is we seem to be relying on the distorted images that the world is giving us. And all too often either we do not care or we do not even know we are relying on those distorted views of ourselves.
What makes things even worse is that we cannot properly understand and interpret what it is we see in the mirrors of the world. For example, when we look at ourselves in our bathroom mirrors, can we judge whether we are healthy? No! We are not doctors. We do not have the proper knowledge to make that judgment. So it is with the mirrors of the world. We can not see properly the images that are before us.
Our concern is that when we look into the mirrors of this world we have difficulty to really know what is right and wrong. We are influenced by a society that for the sake of freedom and privacy is willing to encourage the abortion of children and to devalue the life of the aged and diseased. We look at this and we wonder what is right. We also know that wealth is not the end-all, but yet what are now necessities used to be mere luxuries. And the list goes on and on. We have difficulties understanding and interpreting what is right or wrong.
When our vision is distorted, we view our situation and our lifestyle and everything else in our lives from this same distorted viewpoint. And we begin to act out that distorted viewpoint as well. We will then acquire the world’s perspective on things, even as we live our Christian lives. We will build ourselves up at the expense of others. We will justify the possessions we earn and the way we earn them. We will follow the concerns of this world and never judge whether they are right or wrong. Thus our lives take on a distorted perspective measured by the standards of this world.
In the passage we read in Jeremiah, we find the prophet’s message to the exiled people of Judah, who can’t understand how they can be the people of God in the midst of a foreign land. Furthermore, they can’t understand what the future holds for a people that were promised the land of Canaan forever. “What has happened and what is happening to us?” they ask. The mirror in which they saw themselves prior to exile resulted in sin and its consequent judgment of the exile. This is why Jeremiah sends this message from the Lord that gives them a new mirror and enables his people to understand how they can see themselves in that new mirror.
As we find the mirrors of this world to be only the distorting mirrors we find in an amusement park, we realize that we need a new mirror of the kind Jeremiah speaks about in our passage. It must be a new mirror that is made neither by this world nor of our own making. And with this new mirror, we find a new perspective of our lives.
Without this new mirror we are left with nothing but a room full of contorting mirrors that only reflect the distorted images the world continues to reflect. The distorted images will cause us to measure our worth by our work, our value by our productivity and our significance by our performance. In all of these categories we know that we find perspectives fleeting, changeable and never lasting.
The most important mirror that we need to use is the mirror of God's word and more particularly the words Paul shares in our passage. From God's word, we learn the real understanding of the root of our significance. The place of our significance is rooted in the fullness and depth of Christ’s love towards us.
The foundation of our significance comes primarily from the fact that God is our creator. Listen to this important passage from the Psalms: "For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body." These words of the psalmist express that each one of us is a unique handiwork of our creator. There is no one like you or me. No one has your mix of personality, characteristics, talents, skills, interests, family history, personal experiences, and present-day circumstances. No one! Each one us has his or her own DNA. This is primary: We are special simply because we have been so created by God.
The apostle Paul reinforces this for believers in Christ in Galatians 2:20. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Or, Romans 8: 15, 16: "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." From these passages and others we can see the significance given us by the saving and recreating work of Jesus Christ. Christ calls us to look into this mirror. And when we see ourselves in the light of this mirror, we find that we are significant in Christ no matter who we are or what kind of past we have had.
Instead of searching for our significance as persons in all the wrong places, the Word of God says that we are created beings and can be and in fact are redeemed in Christ and we are given our significance by his grace. God addresses our fears of wondering how we can be someone significant or do something to be noticed. It is to rest in something far greater than ourselves, namely in who we are in Jesus Christ.
We find the same sentiment in Jeremiah's prophecy spoken to the exiled people of God: "For I know the plans I have for you.' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." To a people who did not know who they were any more and who did not know their future, God comes and reminds them that he still is their covenant Lord. The covenant of their faithful God was still intact, they were still His people and they still had a place, a purpose, and a future. God in his grace forgives them and seeks to restore them. Thus Jeremiah reminds us and points to what we have now received in Jesus.
We can find our significance in what God has revealed in his Word and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Our worth and significance are not found in anything we have done or in that which the world purports to be significant. Our worth is not rooted on our possessions, our position, our power, or our prestige. All of these things are temporary and worthless.
Our worth in Christ also is something that is permanent. If it were rooted in our reputation or our position of power in an organization or in some social status, we would be of all men most miserable, for all these things come to a sorry end. We are created in God's and Christ’s image. He now lives in us. And Jesus has promised never to undo that.
As we have received God’s love, we will also want to reflect this love. We now mirror Christ and His image in us. People should see in us Christ himself and then notice that God sees us as valuable creatures. And so we show our worth as a reflection from God. When we view life from God's perspective, we develop new criteria for valuing what is important. We value human creativity and achievement in all areas that honor God. The way we view ourselves and the things around us is different from the world’s understanding. We have a new perspective on the world's standards of power, prestige, position and possessions.
Reflecting once again on Paul's words about our new status in Christ, we begin to understand what it means that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This not only means that we are so special that he would dwell in us, but also that we begin to take on His perspective, His purposes, and His will for our lives. We begin to see the things of this world and the objects of this world through His eyes. For you and me, this means seeking to be more like Christ, allowing His Spirit to work in us and through us.
We can be so obsessed by seeking what the world describes as important and significant that we fear that our lives do not mean much or that we will not do anything of significance. Instead we have reason to be obsessed with having received our worth in Christ’s love and growing in our understanding of how special we are in Him. We look at other people and the things of this world in light of this new perspective. It is like putting on a new pair of glasses when you need them. You see things like you have never seen them before. This is our response to the fear of insignificance.
If we use Christ as our mirror in understanding our importance and worth as a person, something interesting takes place. If we understand that we are in Christ, we begin to mirror Christ to others around us. And if we mirror Christ to others we find that Christ has given us purpose and meaning to our lives. Our significance lies not in ourselves but in Christ. The result is that we can and will make a difference in the world and in the lives of others.
Note again Jeremiah’s words. When the Israelites see themselves as God’s people, they also can see that God has plans for them. He has plans to prosper them and not to harm them. He gives them a hope and a future. They are not to fall into hopelessness. God has something for them. They are to live out their lives in exile as his people and to be a blessing to the community in which God had placed them.
When we see ourselves in Christ, we too are called to live our lives in Christ. We are given not only significance but a purpose. We are given something that will enable us to make a difference, to make an impact on the lives of others around us. If Christ lives in us, as Paul writes, we have His love, His presence, and His compassion living in us. We are then enabled to share His love, His presence, and His compassion with those around us. We are enabled to share Jesus’ grace that can make an eternal impact in the lives of others. We can share the mysteries of God revealed to us in His Word. We can love as only Christ can love others unconditionally and compassionately.
Nicky Gumbel of Alpha fame speaks in one of his Alpha presentations of the opportunity he had in sharing the gospel after one of his Alpha meetings with a husband who had left his wife. Not only was this man brought to Christ but a family was reunited. His wife saw the difference in her husband and wanted to know more. As a result the wife also came to Christ. Together they began to make an impact on other lives by their involvement in later Alpha programs.
We all know of the impact of an aged feeble looking woman sharing the love of Christ to the weak, rejected individuals on the streets of India. It was Mother Theresa. She did not toot her own horn. Instead, the Christ-like love she shared made her well-known and made world leaders stop and listen.
We may ask, “What can I do where I am at? The answer is: If Christ lives in us, Christ will give us what we need. If Christ lives in us He has also placed us right where He wants us to be to make a significant difference. Andrew Murray writes: “I am here by God’s appointment, in his keeping, under His training, for this time.” This is what Paul means when he says that Christ lives in us.
If you are ever wondering about this, read the book of Esther. She was placed in the court of the king for God’s purpose in saving His people. She was in God’s place to do God’s work in God’s time. Like Esther, each of us is placed where we are at to do His work at such a time as this.
We struggle quite often with the question how our lives or our service are making any difference. After all, I am not part of some life-changing program. As far as I know, no one’s life has been affected by me. And so we could go on. We need to admit when we make statements such as this, it is often that we have set the standards. We need to remember then that it is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me. And if Christ lives in me, then I have a purpose. If I am fulfilling His purpose, I will make a difference. I can make a difference. The promise that Christ gives us is that we are significant and if we continue to live in Him, all that we do for Him is significant.
Where do we find our significance? Are we looking in all the wrong places? Are we looking in all the wrong mirrors? If we are looking in all the wrong mirrors, are we finding that all our striving makes a mess out of our lives? Do we feel that we really aren’t much or aren’t worth much?
Paul’s words remind us of who we are in Christ. It is Christ who lives in us. This is the mirror by which we are to judge ourselves. By looking at ourselves in Christ we see our significance that comes in Christ. In Christ, we find our worth, our meaning in life. Only when Christ lives in us do we have significant lives. Then our lives are being shaped according to Christ’s design. And we are working according to Christ's purposes if we are obedient to Him and live in Him. Most important of all, we will always find ourselves in the height, the breadth, the depth of Christ's love all of our days. Amen.
Order of Worship
* = Congregation Standing (if able)
*Call to Worship: I Chronicles 16:9, 10
Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
WE LIFT UP OUR PRAISE TO GOD
*Opening Hymn: PH #198: 1, 3, 5 Arise, Shine, for Your Light Is Come
*Hymn of Praise: PH #169 I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord
WE RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE IN JESUS CHRIST
Call to Confession: 1 John 1:5-8, 10
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
We respond with a Prayer of Confession: PH #287: 1-3 Have Thine Own Way, Lord
Assurance of Pardon: I John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
We respond: Hymn of Renewed Commitment: PH #287: 4 Have Thine Own Way, Lord
God’s Will for our Lives: Galatians 5: 16-25
WE HEAR GOD SPEAK TO US IN HIS WORD
*Hymn of Preparation: PH #505: 1, 2,3,5,6 For All the Saints
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 29:10-14 Galatians 2:17-21
Sermon: “Significant Lives”
Prayer of Application
WE RESPOND TO OUR GOD WITH THANKSGIVING
*Hymn of Response: PH #547 “Fill Thou My Life, O Lord, My God”
*Closing Song of Praise: PH #505:7 “For All the Saints”