Summary: First Sermon of Purpose Driven Life series.
THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT
March 7, 2004
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel , Jr.
“Planned for God’s Pleasure”
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we bow in your presence. May your Word be our rule, Your Spirit our teacher, and your greater glory our supreme concern, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Carl Hurly, a professional humorist from Kentucky, tells a story about an elderly deacon at a Baptist church who wore the same suit to church week in and week out, year after year. When the suit became so threadbare as to be almost unwearable, some of the church’s wealthier members took up a collection to buy him a new suit.
The deacon took the money quietly and humbly. Being from a small town, they soon learned that he had gone to the best men’s store in town and purchased a fine suit with new shoes, a new shirt and a new tie.
The Baptists were waiting for him on Sunday, but the deacon never arrived. Afraid that they had offended him, some of the other deacons visited him to see if he was all right.
When they asked him about his new suit, he admitted he had bought one. He also admitted it looked good on him. In fact, he confessed that as he was dressing one Sunday morning, he looked at himself in his new clothes in the mirror. He said, "I just looked at myself and that new suit -- and it was so fashionable and good-looking -- that I just decided to go to the Episcopal church instead."
That’s the kind of story that people like to tell about us. We’re supposedly the church for the upwardly mobile and those who have long ago arrived, and if money bought happiness, then Episcopalians would be the happiest people on earth. Some how, I don’t think that this is how it really is.
In 1995, the Roper polling organization asked Americans how much money thought that they would need to fulfill their dreams. The medium sum mentioned was $102,000 a year. But the number responding $1 million or more a year doubled from the previous year. In 2002, Roper asked “How would you rate your own financial situation? 55% said fair or poor. That includes 26% of those who earn $75,000 or more a year. The majority of Americans are not a contented lot.
Christian psychologist David G. Meyers studied this issue and come to this conclusion: The things which enable you to be happy are not how much money you make, or how many possessions you own, or whether you are highly educated, or whether you are old or young. Meyers has discovered that while per capita income in America more than doubled in real terms between 1957 and 1990, the number of Americans who reported being “very happy” remained the same – at one third.
The American Dream, defined in terms of material things, has become the American Nightmare, or at least a bad dream. Meyers concludes,
Never have we been so self-reliant, or so lonely.
Never have we been so free, and our prisons so overstuffed.
Never have we had so much education, or such high rates of
teen delinquency, despair and suicide.
Never have we been so sophisticated about pleasure, or so
likely to suffer broken or miserable marriages. [p. 178]
Maybe we are ready for another approach. In our second lesson, we find the apostle Peter writing to a Christian community that was struggling with its sense of identity in a largely pagan, alien culture. First Peter is addressed to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" (1:1). These are places in modern Turkey, and speaking to the church there that included many new Christians, Peter says
v. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,
In the Old Testament, stone was a metaphor for Israel, but here we find Peter using it for Jesus. Writing to young Christians, Peter concentrates his thoughts on Jesus, “a living stone rejected by men.” While Jesus was rejected by men, He was also chosen by God and precious to God. Furthermore,
v. 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Despite the newness of their faith, Peter declares that these Christians are “living stones;” they are rock solid in the spiritual house that God is building. All Christ’s followers are living stones that are being joined with Christ in a spiritual house. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), and in today’s second lesson, we see how Jesus is building his church, living stone by living stone.