For This I Was Born
Some years ago a Methodist minister visited the slums of London. He was so moved by the poverty, filth, hunger, depravity, so taken by the needs of the people that he dedicated himself to "the service of those sick souls." His decision to serve the poor changed his life and had far reaching ramifications. That London Methodist minister was William Booth, and his decision marked the beginning of the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army has served the poor for generations providing food, housing, clothing, and general assistance. After the Salvation Army movement had spread to several countries, General Booth was asked, "What is the secret of your success?"
It would have been interesting if someone had put that question to Jesus. "What is the secret of your success?" The Scripture Lesson this morning is from the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Pilate wondered why Jesus had incurred the wrath of the local authorities. Pilate couldn't understand the accusation. Pilate asked Jesus if he considered himself to be a king, but Jesus said, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."
The secret of Jesus' success is he knew why he had been born. Jesus knew why he had been sent to this earth. Jesus knew what was his mission and purpose, "to testify to the truth." John tells us earlier in his book, 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." In John 14 Jesus described his mission as, "I am the way, the truth and the life." Jesus knew he had been born to testify to the truth, and he was willing to commit himself to his mission, to the reason for his birth, even if it meant his death.
The apostle Paul also had a keen sense of mission and purpose. Paul knew why he had been born, and he set about to do it, regardless of the consequences, even though it also cost him his life. You have to admire Paul. This small, sickly hero of the faith suffered beatings, imprisonments, stonings, emotional stress, bickering and squabbling churches, shipwrecks, debates, interrogations by kings, but he never gave up. Why? He knew why he had been born. In I Corinthians 9:16, Paul wrote, "Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." Necessity is laid upon me, for this I was born!
Why were you born? Why are you here upon the earth at this time? Many people never ask this question of themselves, or if they do ask it, they find no answer. The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung said, "The central neurosis of our time is emptiness." Emptiness, no purpose, no goal, no sense of mission, no reason for their birth. Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees said, "If you don't know where you're going, you're likely to end up someplace else!"
Why were you born? Are you satisfied with the answer you have been giving yourself to that question? Look at it this way. If you should die tomorrow, would you be proud of what people say about you, or the meaning of your life the pastor might summarize at your Memorial service? The famous poet, Anonymous, has written:
There are a lot of men who creep
Into the world to eat and sleep,
And know no reason why they're born
Save only to consume the corn,
Devour the cattle, bread and fish,
And leave behind an empty dish;
And if their tombstones, when they die,
Were not to flatter or to lie,
There's nothing better can be said
Than that they've eaten up their bread,
Drunk up their drink, and gone to bed.
The meaning of their lives is to consume, to eat, drink and go to bed. Born to consume, born to devour the natural resources, what a reason to be born! Is that all there is? Is all that you are here for is to see how many clothes you can horde in a closet, how stylish you can dress, how many fancy cars you can store in a garage? Were you born to consume? Why were you born? If you don't know the answer to that question, don't despair. We are not born knowing the reason for our birth. Discovering why you were born is a long process. Few great persons knew in advance what their mission was.
Discovering why you were born begins with needs. General Booth, who started the Salvation Army, saw a need. He saw poverty, and he gave his life to serving the poor. For this was he born. The desperation of the poor, the alcoholics and drug addicts, touched his heart. He was filled with compassion and decided to do something about it. He didnít close his eyes. He was not afraid to become involved. He saw a need and he acted. When you open your eyes to the world, when you are sensitive and alert, there are needs, challenges calling you.
What if General Booth had chosen not to get involved? What if he had chosen security and financial well being instead of risking his future? What if he had let himself get bitten by the bug of apathy and complacency? We would never have read his name. He would have sunk into oblivion. There would be no Salvation Army. But, General Booth saw a need, and he chose to get involved and do something about the poor.
Sometimes the call is so strong, it is thrust upon you. It grabs you. In fact, as I read history, greatness is something that was thrust upon people. The key was is in their response. William Booth was captured by the cries of poverty. The John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts is a fascinating place. I was struck by a Kennedy quote. He was asked, "How did you become a war hero?" Kennedy replied, "It was involuntary. They sunk my boat." No one decides ahead of time to be a war hero. It depends on the circumstances, and, decidedly, it depends upon the response. According to Gore Vidal in his novel, Empire, Abraham Lincoln once said, "I do not act. I am acted upon."
Martin Luther lived at a time of tension between Papal rule and local authority. Because of his theological belief in the primacy of Scripture and his deep conviction of everyone's right to the Bible and to God, coupled with his courage to resist the Pope, history concludes Martin Luther was born for the Protestant Reformation.
John Wesley had a spiritual experience of the grace and love of God. He began to share it gladly with the people, especially the common people. When he was refused permission to preach in his boyhood church, he stood on his father's grave in the church's cemetery and preached. The people came and the Methodist movement was born. The Methodist movement was his not by design, but by a combination of circumstances, and history concludes John Wesley was born to found the Methodist Church.
Abraham Lincoln was president when the nation strained to the breaking point. Because he was committed to the preservation of the union of these great states on the basis of the abolition of slavery, and had courage, faith and stamina, history concludes Lincoln was born to free the slaves.
Rosa Parks' feet hurt. She had worked long and hard and was tired of being ordered to stand in the back of the bus so a white person could sit down. She resisted. Because she was committed to common sense with a conviction of right and wrong, focused in her tired feet, history concludes Rosa Parks was born to launch the Civil Rights movement.
When you see a need, especially when that need grabs you, you discover why you were born.
A word of caution: donít have unrealistic expectations. Donít think you have to be perfect. Donít let mistakes, errors, even failures throw you. Too many young people today have unrealistic expectations laid upon them, either by their parents, their school, their friends, or themselves. When they canít measure up, they often withdraw, or turn to drugs or violence.
Last week Fred Trevino drew a lesson of hope from baseball. Baseball fans are great optimists, believing that "this may be the year." I also like baseball because the greatest hitters in baseball fail two out of three times! They make mistakes 2/3 of the time. Either they miss the ball and strike out, or they hit the ball to a fielder who puts them out. But, the great hitters donít give up because they flop 2/3 of the time! Where would Mark McGwyre and Sammy Sousa be if they had given up when they made an out? Awards are given to failures who donít quit!
4) Back to General Booth. When he was asked, "What is the secret of your success?" Booth answered, "I will tell you the secret. There have been many people with far greater abilities, far greater opportunities, but my secret is that God has had all there was of me to have." General Booth saw a need, his heart was touched by poverty, and he totally committed himself to doing something about it. No doubt his Methodist colleagues thought he was crazy, giving up his ministry to risk everything he had in the slums. But, God had all there was of him to have. And history thrust greatness upon Booth.
When God has all of you there is to have, youíre in for a great adventure. The reason for your birth changes as circumstances and needs change. Right now, I believe I was born to be the interim pastor of this church. All that has gone before prepared me for this ministry. Not that I am perfect, or even the best, but I keep swinging even when I strike out, even when I make errors.
30 youths are being confirmed this morning. What an amazing group!
30 youths are making a public statement to be disciples of Jesus. At this time in your life, I believe you were born to be the best students you can be, to prepare yourselves for the future. I also believe you were born to be role models in your school. Schools are full of youths who are discouraged. They need to see Christians who donít cheat, smoke, drink, use drugs, or engage in sex. They need to see a better way to live. Many of them need friends like you to support and encourage them. Imagine what God can do on school campuses with Christians like you.
Imagine what great adventures God has in store for you throughout your lives, as you follow Jesus, as you give God all you are and have.
Have you given God all of you there is to have? Is Jesus first in your life? Will you follow him? If you have not made that decision, will you do it now? For this you were born.
ã 2001 Douglas I. Norris