What is Your Why?

09 Jan What is Your Why?

 What Is Your Why?
Isaiah 42:1-9
January 1-, 2021
Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church

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What is your mission in life?  What is it that motivates you to get up in the morning?  What are you passionate about?  What energizes you, makes you excited, is the thing you can do for hours and never tire of it?  What legacy do you want to leave behind for your family, your friends, and for the world?  

These are the kinds of questions people ask when they want to articulate their purpose and what results is often called a “mission statement.”  Businesses, of course, have them.  Google states that their mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”  The American Red Cross says that their mission is “to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”    “To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”  Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that this is the mission statement for Starbucks.

Individuals sometimes create a PMS, a personal mission statement.  Oprah Winfrey has said that she aspires to “be a teacher.  And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”  Denise Morrison, the CEO of Campbell Soup Company states that her PMS is “to serve as a leader, live a balanced life and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference.”  Then there is Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Groups whose PMS is “to have fun in [my] journey through life and learn from [my] mistakes.”  

I have to admit that I have a mixed relationship with mission statements.  On the one hand, I’ve been part of focus groups tasked with articulating a mission statement, and while the result of our work ended up stenciled on the breakroom wall or printed in the annual report, the words didn’t seem to have much real impact.  But on the other hand, I’ve also experienced what can happen when a mission statement does guide and shape both the culture and the decision-making processes of an organization.  For an individual, a personal mission statement can be enormously clarifying, a way of defining yourself and what you’re about.  It can sharpen your focus, guide your choices, and act like a compass for your life.  You might think of it as a filter that helps you discern whether that job should be taken, that new opportunity seized, or a particular decision made.  Perhaps equally important, it frees you to let go of unnecessary things that only clutter your life.  

In biblical language, a personal mission statement is really a statement of call.  It defines what God has put us on earth to do.  Another way of saying it is that it answers the question, “What is your why?”

One of the key differences between a call and a conventional PMS is that the latter is something you have to generate from within, while a divine PMS means that your own specific call is part of God’s larger mission for the world.  God provides the church with a common mission, and we discover our niche within that larger mission through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  And, if we want an idea of how this works, we need look no further than to the personal mission statement of Jesus himself.

Jesus’ PMS was embedded in him long before he was born in Bethlehem, starting with the prophets whom God used to outline the mission of the coming Messiah.  Today’s scripture lesson is the first of four texts known as the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah.  Taken together, the four lay out the agenda for God’s Servant, the Messiah.  Notice that in verse 1, God calls this servant “my chosen in whom my soul delights.”  This tells us right up front that this PMS is the result of a calling.  God’s own spirit will be upon him, empowering him to fulfill the mission which is “bring justice to the nations.”  The mission of the Servant is thus an echo of the covenant mission that God had given to Abraham, the one through whom all the families and nations of the earth would be blessed.

The justice that the Servant brings, however, will not be through force but through suffering love.  One of the primary character traits of God’s servant will be gentleness.  He won’t display enough physical force to even break a “bruised reed or quench a dimly burning wick.”  The Message translates that to mean he won’t “brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant.”  He himself will eventually be crushed but not before he completes his mission to “establish justice in the earth.”

And what does this justice look like?  It is a call to be a “light to the nations.”  God’s justice is always about setting things right, which means setting right what has gone wrong for people.  It is a mission to open blind eyes, both physically and spiritually; to liberate those who are in the prison of darkness.  In short, it is a mission to embody and live out the new creation that God is declaring.

Isaiah fleshes out this mission more specifically in chapter 61 where the parallels are obvious.  Once again, it is God’s spirit that empowers the mission of releasing captives, opening blind eyes, and proclaiming the good news of God’s new creation, the “new thing” that God is up to.  This is the personal mission statement, the call, that Jesus will live out in everything he says and does.  He will spend time among the poor, preach the good news of God’s kingdom (which is another way of saying the “new thing” God is doing), open blind eyes in more ways than one, and set people free from slavery to self and sin.

According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus preached his first sermon in Nazareth, in front of a hometown crowd.  In it, he quotes directly from the Servant Song of Isaiah 61.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Jesus finds in the words of the prophet a description of his own calling and adopts the personal mission statement of God’s Servant for himself.  

Jesus will go on in sermon after sermon to speak about the kingdom of God.  He was empowered for this mission at his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended on him and the Father’s voice declared, “this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  

From the waters of the Jordan, Jesus would go into the wilderness, where he would be tempted by Satan to abandon his calling and take the path of expedience.  But Jesus was not deterred.  Filled with the Spirit and galvanized by the Scriptures, Jesus continued to use his mission as his guiding compass.  And it’s certainly no coincidence that when Jesus calls his first disciples, he immediately begins executing his divine mission and teaching them how to do the same.  He “went through Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matt 4:23).

Jesus didn’t have to spend a lot of time coming up with his own personal mission statement, and neither did his followers.  When we look further into the New Testament, in the book of Acts, we see Peter, who crossed an entire ethnic and religious boundary to meet with a Gentile named Cornelius, proclaiming that this new relationship is the result of the mission that Jesus had given to him and his fellow disciples.

Peter acknowledges that the original mission comes from God:  “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).  Jesus executed his mission, “anointed with the Spirit and with power,” and “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed, for God was with him” (10:38).  The disciples witnessed this mission statement in action.  They were taught and schooled in it, and now the mission of God, the mission of Jesus, was theirs.  “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:42-43).

Please pay particular attention to how the mission gets transferred.  First, from God the Father to Jesus the Son through the Holy Spirit.  Then, from Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to the disciples.  And finally, from the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, to us.

If you are a follower of Jesus, Jesus’ personal mission is now your personal mission.  That sounds daunting, but you are not left on your own to figure out how to do it.  You have been gifted with skills and abilities by the Holy Spirit.  Your personality reflects the person of Christ.  Your values, dreams and passions are all useful, and not just useful but essential, to the work of the kingdom:  healing and proclaiming, liberating, and doing all the good you can.  This is the Personal Mission Statement, the call, of each and every disciple.  It’s part of the “why” that informs, engages, and empowers our faith.

But while all of us are part of God’s mission for the world, the way we live out that call is uniquely individual.  We have different talents, different skills, different ways of relating to people.  Some of us are teachers while others are healers.  Some are outgoing while some are quiet.  Some are good with their hands while others love to dig deep in study.  The kingdom of God needs us all and uses us all.  We are all equally vital and important.

This morning we celebrate one specific way a “yes” to God’s mission might look, as we ordain and install a new class of Ruling Elders.  Erika, Charles and Glenn have each heard in their own individual ways, that part of their personal mission statements includes serving God and God’s church by being on the Session where together, with other elders, they are tasked to discern the will of God for this church.  I invite them to join me now….


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