When my brother lived in New Mexico, his work commute was a full hour each way. When I asked if he wouldn’t rather find a job closer to home, one that wouldn’t gobble up ten hours a week of his precious life, he said he didn’t work where he did because it was conveniently located. He worked where he did because he was well compensated. He worked where he did so that he could support his active, pricey lifestyle.
That’s not my motivation, I told him, something he no doubt already knew. There’s no weekend long enough and no paycheck hefty enough to provide what I crave. I do what I do so that I might be of service to others.
Our conscious decisions, our habits, our priorities, even our lives as Christians are all founded on “so thats.” Ask Pete Loncar about his birding trips and he’ll tell you his “so that.” Ask Charlie and Nancy Henry what motivated their move to Montrose and they will tell you their “so that.” Ask Pam Neary or Joan Dilts why they worship with Community Spirit and they will each tell you their “so that.”
If we were to stand outside the Post Office tomorrow and poll people about why they are Christians, we would get all sorts of answers. If the tables were turned and we were asked the same thing, what would we say?
One of us might respond by saying “I’m a Christian so that the love Jesus shared with the world might flow through my life and into the world.”
Someone else might say, “I’m a Christian so that the kingdom Jesus said was close at hand draws just a little closer.”
“I’m a Christian so that peace might prevail on earth.”
“I’m a Christian so that my life might have meaning beyond my earthly achievements and worldly acquisitions.”
I don’t know about you but I’m not a Christian so that I can be rewarded with heaven. I’m certainly not a Christian so that I can belong to the world’s largest religion. Nor am I a Christian so that when I listen to Christian radio I can understand all the references.
For each of us being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, involves a “so that.” A “so that” which then informs our priorities, our practices, even the places we go and the ways we spend our pesos, our money.
Last week during our congregational meeting and again in my follow-up letter, I quoted one of Jesus’ “so thats.” In John’s gospel Jesus puts it this way: “I came so that you might have life and have it abundantly.” This abundance isn’t an end in itself but comes with a “so that” of its own. Jesus invites us into abundant life so that we might go on to do even greater things than he himself did.
These intertwined “so that’s” informed Jesus’ decisions and his movement in the world. His “so thats” pointed him toward some people and opportunities and away from others.
Jesus’ “so that” made certain things wildly appealing and other things not—as when a miraculously fed crowd wanted to crown him king and Jesus promptly made himself scarce. Jesus’ aim was not that; his “so that” was not to garner worldly power but rather to inspire wholehearted love of God, neighbor, and self.
If Jesus had his “so thats,” God did too. Even those who aren’t Christian are more than familiar with the verse that points to what one gospel writer understood to be God’s great motivation: “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son….”
It’s a “so that” we know so well we may miss it. But think how different our faith would be if we thought God sent Jesus for a different reason—“so that” we might know God is male or so that we might have somewhere to go on Sundays.
In our lesson from James this morning, we get a glimpse of another one of God’s “so thats.” This time it’s a “so that” for a community of Christians.
Let me refresh our hearing. James writes: “Every generous act of giving…is from above, coming from the Source of light, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of God’s own purpose, God gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we could become a kind of first fruit of God’s creatures.”
James continues: “Be doers of the word, not merely hearers….” Why? So that we can make God happy? So that we can receive James’ undying praise? So that we can stay out of trouble and make a good impression on others?
Not according to James. He encourages us to be doers and not merely hearers of the word so that we can be the living gifts God created us to be. So that the world might be blessed by our willing, spirited participation in the life and love into which God has called us.
James was hoping and praying that the “so that” which was so plain to him would be obvious to the community he was addressing. Not so that they would stroke their chins and say “You’ve got a point there, my guy.”
No, James wanted that community to internalize this “so that.” He wanted them to feel it in their bones so that it would shape their actions and attitudes as followers of Jesus. So that their doing, whatever that might be, would have a powerful impact on the world.
Christians have many “so thats” in common. We also have “so thats” which reflect our settings and circumstances. Being able to verbalize these is fundamental.
But being able to put our “so that’s” into words is just the beginning. We need—no, make that deserve—we deserve to feel our “so thats” beating within us.
Because this is where we find the energy, courage, and time to put flesh on the bones of our “so thats.” This is where we find the creativity, passion, and means to manifest our “so thats.”
Anyone who has ever made a New Years resolution knows the difference between a “so that” rooted in the mind and a “so that” founded on something deeper.
In his gospel, John speaks of Jesus’ presence in our midst as a reflection of God’s “so that.” God so loved the world that…
What about us? What about Community Spirit Church?
God called us into being so that…? “So that” what? So that the people of St. Paul Episcopal Church would have like-minded company in that spacious building of theirs? So that we could worship in the round in a light-filled space? So that…what?
I’m not being flip; I’m sincere. And I’m sincerely inviting us to reflect deeply, to reflect together, on the “so that” God had in mind when God first created us and as we journey together in faith.
Why? Why did God’s Spirit hover over our waters and call us into being? For what holy, distinct purpose? For what particular witness and work?
On Tuesday nights through September, I’ll be hosting an exploration of Robin Meyer’s book, The Underground Church. We could be reading any number of fabulous books on a myriad of topics.
But I have chosen this one so that we might be helped to see how similar we are to the early church and from this come to better understand—and internalize and then be energized by—the “so that” God had in mind when God created this church. A “so that” God is still investing in.
We exist. But more than this, we exist “so that.” So that those who have been hurt by the church might find healing in our midst. So that those who have outgrown their faith have a safe, supportive community to support their explorations. So that no one is left to feel that they are beyond God’s reach because of who they love or how they live. So that. So that. So that.
Just as a bell went off when we gathered to name ourselves, just as a collective “yes” washed over us when the word “Community” met the word “Spirit”, so too with our “so that.”
We do not exist so that a pastor can remind us why we exist. We exist so that what God envisions for us is felt by each of us. So that from this shared sense, this collective understanding we are filled with energy, enthusiasm, and confidence. Filled with a longing, an ache to be who we have been created to be so that together we might …
Let us pray together:
Look upon us with kindness, O God. Look upon us with delight.
Just as you brought forth Jesus so that the world might know the fullness of your love, just as Jesus walked this earth so that we might experience an abundance of all the right things and join him in sharing this abundance, just as James helped his community grasp how their existence served a great and holy purpose, so move among us that we might feel in our bones the “so that” you brought us into being for.
Grant us all we need to listen for and be claimed by our holy, distinct purpose. And then grant us the zeal, the capacity, the confidence, to be the people you have called us to be.
All this we pray trusting in your great and unchanging faithfulness. Amen.