3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love5 he[a] predestined us for adoption to sonship[b] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he[c] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen,[d] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
There’s a famous interview that Time magazine once did with George Harrison, one of the Beatles. Speaking about their meteoric rise to fame George said: ‘At first we all thought we wanted the fame … After the initial excitement and thrill had worn off, I, for one, became depressed. Is this all we have to look forward to in life? Being chased around by a crowd of hooting lunatics from one crappy hotel room to the next?’
He, like so many of the rich and famous had came to realise that we were created for something bigger than fame and fortune.
Most of us instinctively sense that there has to be more to life than scrabbling for a living, trying to give our kids a good start and dying before we become a problem to them. And most of us, I think, feel there’s something specific that we are meant to do with our lives, too. The problem is finding out what it is.
It’s clear that our affluent society faces a real crisis of meaning. And yet there has never been a time when more attention has been given to the search for meaning. Personal development, motivational speakers and life coaches are all the rage. They help us discover our dreams, identify our gifts and set our goals.
But being successful and discovering your life’s purpose, are not necessarily the same thing. The lives of many successful people echo those sad words of King Solomon; the wisest and most successful of all Israel’s kings, who wrote: “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…”
I’ve often reflected on some words attributed to a little-known missionary, who, after a lifetime of service amongst a primitive jungle tribe, said: ‘Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn't really matter.’
The point is we were made for something bigger than the fleeting and soon-forgotten successes we so often aspire to. And today’s reading from the opening words of Ephesians speak powerfully to this. Essentially, it is saying that we were made by God to love God and to fulfil God’s purposes. To put it even more succinctly, we’ve been blessed in order to be a blessing; and it’s in only in this that our lives find meaning.
‘God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…he chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight… he made known to us the mystery of his will—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ…he has chosen us in order that we, might be for the praise of his glory.’
These words tell us that long before time began, we existed in the mind of God, and we were created to possess every spiritual blessing we need to live out his love in this world.
What could speak more powerfully to us of our own personal significance than the Bible’s saying that we are a chosen people? created to reflect God’s love in this world and to be God’s companions for eternity. You can’t go higher than that!
To really understand what all this means, we can’t do better than remember one of Jesus’ timeless stories. He once likened God to a wealthy man who went on a journey after having entrusted his property to his three servants. To one he gave five thousand silver coins, to another two thousand and to the third one thousand; ‘to each according to his ability.’
The story then goes on to describe how the first two used what they’d been given and by smart trading doubled the value – the 5000 became 10,000 and the 2000 became 4000. Whereas the third servant just dug a hole and buried his 1000 coins.
On the master’s return they were called to show what they’d done with what they’d been given. The two who had doubled the value of what they’d received were equally commended, whereas the third one was condemned, not for having lost what he’d received, but for having done nothing with it.
The point of the story is not that God prefers those to whom he gives greater responsibilities, but that God expects each of us to use and make the most of what we’ve been given. Those amounts of silver refer to the abilities, gifts and opportunities that God has given to each of us. Though we are not equal in what we’ve received, God expects us to be equal in the effort we expend in using them. The only condemnation is for those who don’t even try. Use it or lose it. That’s a basic principle of life.
Anyway, this brings me back to the title of this sermon: Blessed to be a Blessing, and to the text it is based on. The opening verses of Ephesians reminds us that we are people who have been blessed with immeasurable spiritual blessings – blessings meant not only to enrich us, but also the world around us: ‘God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…he chose us before the creation of the world… that we might be for the praise of his glory.’
And part of this spiritual blessing is that we – each and every one of us – has our own unique calling in life. The big question is how we discover what our call is.
I believe that’s part of a lifelong journey in which new insights and opportunities are given to us as we respond faithfully to the ones we’ve already received. But essentially, it’s the point where our abilities, opportunities and passion meet.
And, as is clear in Jesus’ parable of the three servants, the reward for the servants who proved faithful in using what was entrusted to them was that they were given even greater responsibilities; whereas the one who buried what he’d been given lost even that. It is as we prove ourselves faithful in the small things that God entrusts us with greater things; and this is a process that will continue on into eternity.
But at the heart of it all is that awareness of how blessed we are and that we are called to be a blessing. That’s what brings meaning to our life. That’s what tells us that in the grand scheme of things our existence matters. And that realisation is the one thing that ultimately enables us to overcome the universal problem of low self-esteem. We are called of God. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing, and as we discover and live out our unique calling, blessed is what life becomes. Reflecting on this early this morning, my mind went back to when I was serving as Deputy Command chaplain at the army’s Land Command and the crisis in East Timor (Timor Leste) erupted and led to the biggest operational mobilisation since Vietnam.
Part of my task was to ensure chaplaincy support was there for the deployed forces and to provide pastoral support to those chaplains and their families.
By and large they did a great job – as did the whole ADF during that operation; but a number of them came back emotionally and spiritually traumatised by things they’d seen – things related to man’s devilish inhumanity to innocent people – a trauma that was exacerbated by a feeling of total helplessness.
I remember talking to one older chaplain, a godly man with years of experience, who told me that the effect of it all was causing him to doubt the reality of his faith. Too many hours spent listening to the anguish of young men and women who had witnessed things no one should have to see had produced in him that secondary traumatisation experienced by those job is to care for the traumatised, compounded by a feeling of utter helplessness.
One morning an Australian policeman came to see him and in the midst of their conversation he blurted out what so many of us feel when confronted by disaster: Where was God when all this was happening?
My friend said: ‘all of sudden, the words came out of my mouth without me realising what I was saying, and I said: “He was right there in you and in what you and your colleagues did.” He was referring, of course, to the costly intervention that eventually brought peace to that troubled land.
And perhaps that is a message to us today as we ask the same question: Where is God in all this tragedy? God is in the heroic and selfless response of so many ordinary people who, in so many ways, are doing what they can to stand with those whose lives have been devastated.
In this time of catastrophe – as in all scenes of life - We are God’s eyes to see, God’s hands to do and God’s heart to feel – until the rain starts to fall again.