Hope Gives Us Purpose

[This sermon was given at Avenue United Methodist Church on December 20, 2020. You can listen to the sermon here and watch on our Youtube Channel.]

In 2004, I led a mission trip to Paraguay, where we had the opportunity to assist in constructing a new church that was being built in a small village outside of Asuncion. There are many stories to tell about the entire trip, but there was one conversation with a friend and missionary, Andy Bowen that has always stayed with me. As we sat in his home one night, we asked Andy what the prospects looked like for the children and teens who hung out at the construction site. Andy shared that the prospect was not great. Education was not a priority. Many of the young girls would end up in relationships that would leave them with children. Marriage was not a priority- so the woman would find a partner to assist them financially with no long-term commitment. They would eke out a living doing what they could. Then Andy said, most young people here cannot dream of a different life because they have not seen that a different life is possible. The cycle of poverty would continue.

When I was a child, I had big dreams. I wanted to be an astronaut. That dream ended when the Challenger exploded. I wanted to play baseball in the Major Leagues. That dream ended when my senior season of college ball unsurprisingly came and went without a phone call. I think most of us have dreams for our lives- or did have dreams for our lives. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to accomplish something great or something helpful to humanity. We are taught in our culture to leave our mark. Often, our dreams end up looking like empire-building as we shine a spotlight on ourselves.

I need to dream, and being part of something bigger than ourselves is about purpose. We want to know that our lives have purpose and meaning. We want to know that we are not an accident. We want to know that God has a plan for our lives. We want to do something significant but wonder if we are big enough to do it.

When we read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke, it is striking to look at Mary in relation to the story’s grandeur. Mary was a nobody. She was from the backwater town of Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town outside of the larger village of Galilee. It was near a common trade route but not real affluent. Some commentators have said that archeological studies have shown that 200 people may have lived in Nazareth around the time of Jesus. The little town I grew up in had 200 people in the town proper- so I know what a small backwater town looks like.

Mary was engaged to Joseph, a local carpenter. The marriage was likely arranged. She could have been as young as 12, and Joseph may well have been ten years older than her. By all accounts, they were poor. When they took Jesus to be dedicated at the Temple at eight days old, they could not afford a lamb and instead offered a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons.[1] What sort of dreams might have Mary have had for her life? Perhaps the greatest dream would be to get married and to make out a living with her husband and future children. Nothing wrong with a dream that is grounded in reality.

Then an angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, and Mary’s world was turned upside down. Mary, who was young, poor, a woman- which was not a good combination in ancient times, was said to have found favor with God. Gabriel that Mary would conceive and give birth to a son and who will be named Jesus.

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his Kingdom will never end.” [2]

I imagine that Mary raises an eyebrow at this for several reasons. She is a young and poor girl from a backwater town, and her son will be called the “Son of the Most High” and will have a kingdom that will never end? Then there is the whole “How can this be since I am still a virgin?” Mary is not filled with doubt- she is curious about the divine possibilities presented to her. She knows how biology works. When the angel Gabriel explains how all of this will take place, Mary responds:

“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” [3]

The Greek word translated as “servant” really means slave. A slave is someone who is completely surrendered to their master’s will. Mary has heard about God’s great plan for her life and surrenders to God’s will. Mary knows that she is God’s servant and will allow God to work in and through her as God wills. Mary, the young girl from Nazareth, will be the mother of the Messiah.

Hope gave Mary Purpose. It was a purpose that was greater than herself. It was a purpose and meaning that Mary could have no way of even dreaming before encountering the angel, Gabriel. Hope took Mary from the backwater town of Nazareth to her name being on the lips of Christians throughout the last 2000 years. There is nothing about Mary’s life that screams that she is a good fit for the calling. But God takes care of whatever limitations that Mary had in order to use Mary for greatness.

God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called. What I mean by that is that if God calls you to do something for the Kingdom, then God will give you the giftings that you need to go and do it. We may have a dream or a calling that we believe is from God to make a Kingdom difference in the world that we live in-, and maybe we are apprehensive. We might be tempted to saying something like, “Who am I to do something like this?” We may think that we are a nobody. But if God calls us to something- God will give us what we need to accomplish it. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges or hard work. Mary was called to be the Mother of Jesus, and all other people saw was a pregnancy before marriage- which was not socially acceptable. The looks and the whispers had to be challenging. Joseph was going to divorce her if it weren’t for an angelic vision. Mary had challenges. Mary had limitations. But God knew Mary, called Mary and gave Mary everything that she needed for the tasks of raising the Messiah.

Hope Gives Us Purpose.

There is one thing that Mary had to offer God. Her availability. Mary had a willing heart. She could have laughed at the angel. She could have said, “No way, God. I’m too insignificant.” She could have run away. Instead, Mary surrendered to God’s will. Mary made herself available to be used for something great.

I believe that since we are created in the image of God, that God has created each of us with a purpose and a calling. Because we have been created with a purpose- life is not meaningless or empty. Hope Gives us a purpose. For some of us, that calling and purpose are clear. For others, it is not always evident what that calling may be. God has given you a purpose. Often, that purpose and calling are aligned with our passions and the things that give us energy. God uses our passion and the things we are interested in to guide us on how we can engage in the work of the Kingdom. God gives us gifts and talents in order to do the purpose and calling that we have been given.

When it comes to fulfilling our purpose and calling- the thing we have to offer most is our availability. When we completely surrender to God’s will and make ourselves available- God uses us in ways that we may have never dreamt of.

We’ve already mentioned that beginning January 3rd that we will enter into a congregation-wide 20 days of Fasting and Prayer. Our focus will be on our purpose and calling as a church- and as individuals. As we hear from God, we will be challenged to surrender ourselves to God’s Will and making ourselves available to God. I want to encourage you to wrestle with what you are passionate about and how that passion can be joined together with your Christian faith. In this time of waiting- we have Hope that God will give us a new/renewed purpose.

If you are wrestling with purpose and meaning in your life- remember that God knew a nobody like Mary. God showed favor in her life and chose her to change the world. God knows you and I and chooses to use us and to use the church to take part in God’s redemptive plans. God uses us in the mess that often accompanies our lives when we make ourselves available. In our availability- we can know and share the love of God through Jesus to the family, our friends, our community, and our world.

Hope Gives Us Purpose. Let us pray.

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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