Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“To the Praise of God’s Glorious Grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6)
January 5, 2020
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God has a destiny for you. Your life is not an accident. Your life is not a mistake. Your life is not meaningless. Your life is not a homework assignment. Your life is a gift from God—a gift from the God who created you, a gift from the God who redeemed you, a gift from the God who has a destiny for you.
Destiny is a recurring theme in movies because destiny is a recurring theme in your life. Why am I here? What is God’s will for my life? What am I supposed to do with my life? What’s the point of my life? What’s my destiny? Destiny is a prominent theme in some of my all-time favorite films, including the Academy Award winning 1994 classic Forrest Gump, a film saturated with the gospel. One of the themes in this film is the question as to whether your destiny is up to you or simply a matter of chance. When Forrest is in Vietnam he rescues his friend Lieutenant Dan from certain death in the jungle just before a major napalm strike. Lieutenant Dan had a lot he was trying to live up to (like some of you)—as Forrest put it in a voiceover, “He was from a long great military tradition. Someone in his family had fought and died in every single American war.” And yet in the aftermath of being rescued, Lieutenant Dan, who had lost both legs, was angry about not fulfilling what he thought was his destiny.
In an especially moving scene, in the middle of the night Lieutenant Dan drags himself on the floor of the VA hospital to Forrest’s bed, and he reaches up and yanks Forrest onto the floor and begins a tirade in an angry whisper, “Now you listen to me. We all have a destiny. Nothing just happens. It’s all part of a plan. I should have died out there with my men, but now I’m nothing but a cripple, a legless freak…You cheated me. I had a destiny. I was supposed to die in the field with honor. That was my destiny and you cheated me out of it!” He then collapses onto Forrest’s chest and sobs, “Do you understand what I’m saying, Gump? This wasn’t supposed to happen, not to me. I had a destiny. I was Lieutenant Dan Taylor.” Forrest softly replies, “You’re still Lieutenant Dan.”
Later in the film Forrest receives word that his beloved mom is very sick, and he leaves his shrimping business and rushes to his childhood home. He walks into his mother’s bedroom and stops short, “What’s the matter, momma?” His mom, always matter-of-fact, responds, “I’m dying, Forrest. Come on in, sit down over here.” Forrest pulls up a chair, sits down and asks, “Why are you dying, momma?” “It’s my time,” she gently replies, “It’s just my time. Now, don’t be afraid, sweetheart. Death is just a part of life. It’s something we’re all destined to do.” Then she smiles, “I didn’t know it, but I was destined to be your momma. I did the best I could.” Forrest reassures her, “You did good, momma.” “Well,” she continues, “I happen to believe you make your own destiny. You have to do the best with what God gave you.” Forrest leans forward, “What’s my destiny, momma?” She answers, “You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself…I will miss you, Forrest.”
And near the end of the film Forrest is at the graveside of the love of his life, Jenny, and after pouring out his heart about various things he adds, “I don’t know if momma was right, or if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I think maybe it’s both, maybe both are happening at the same time. But I miss you, Jenny, and if there’s anything you need I won’t be far away.”
And destiny is also a recurring theme in the epic Stars Wars film series. In The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Yoda warns the young Luke Skywalker during his Jedi training, “A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force, but beware of the dark side—anger, fear, aggression—the dark side of the Force are they, easily they flow—quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny. Consume you it will.” In the next film, The Return of the Jedi (1983) Obi-Wan Kenobi warns Luke, who is now a Jedi, “You cannot escape your destiny.”
And again in the most recent film, Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker the elderly Luke Skywalker in turn tells his young trainee, Rey, “Confronting fear is the destiny of the Jedi, your destiny.” And confronting her fear is exactly what Rey goes on to do, a much harder challenge than she could have ever imagined. For the sake of those of you who have not seen it, I will not give away what happens when she confronts her fear—but it is very powerful.
As you probably know, in Shakespeare’s plays destiny is also a recurring theme—from the “star-crossed lovers” of Romeo and Juliet, to the duplicity in Julius Caesar, to the murderous ambition of Macbeth—characters whose tragic destiny was unavoidable And yet in today’s passage from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians we see clearly that God has a destiny for you: “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6).
God has destined you to become his adopted child through Jesus Christ.
When we think about the destiny of our lives we often think about it in terms of “what”—what am I supposed to do? What legacy will I leave behind? What difference will I make in the world? While all that matters, biblically when it comes to your destiny the deeper issue is not “what” but “who”—and who you are destined to be is an adopted child of the living God, an adopted child of your Heavenly Father—and that “who” starting point will guide and impact every “what” connected with your destiny.
We see this clearly in the baptism of Jesus Christ, which will be the gospel reading next week. Jesus Christ’s baptism was not so much about “what” he was to do in his ministry as it was about “who” he was, and is, the Son of God:
When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).
“This is my Son, the Beloved,” God spoke from heaven, “with whom I am well pleased.” This was before Jesus preached any sermons, before he told any parables, before he performed any miracles, before he healed any lepers, before he walked on water, before he raised the dead. When it came to Jesus’ destiny every single “what” stemmed from whom his was, and is, the Son of God. And it is the same for you. God destined you for adoption as one of his children through Jesus Christ. A child of God, a child of your Heavenly Father, is who you are destined to be. This is good news especially to those who have father issues, good news for those wounded one way or another by the patriarchy, which is most people.
A couple years ago I had the privilege of leading a breakout session at a Mockingbird Conference at Calvary/St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York City. The title of the breakout session was “Grace for Those with Father Issues, or Grace for Those with a Pulse.” Some attendees were the most accomplished and talented people you could imagine, with Ivy League degrees and lucrative careers, consummate overachievers with lots of “success” related to all the “what’s” of their perceived destiny. And yet many were sitting in that breakout session crying—some actually sobbing—because the Holy Spirit was moving and the reality that each and every one of them was a beloved child of their Heavenly Father began to sink in. Those who had been wounded by their earthly fathers—abandoned, or abused, or neglected, or overlooked, or ignored, or told that they were a mistake, or constantly compared unfavorably with other kids—those who had spent their whole lives unsuccessfully trying to earn love their earthly father’s love—were dissolving into tears because the truth of the unconditional love of their Heavenly Father began to seep into their wounded hearts, the truth that they were destined to be a beloved child of God began to connect with their actual life.
What is true for them is true for you. God has destined you—each one of you, no exceptions—to be an adopted child of God. Why would God do this? Because God wanted to—as we read in today’s passage, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” At the end of the day, the one who determines your destiny as a child of God is neither you nor your earthly parents, but God—who wanted to do, and did do so, through “his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” God gave, and still gives, you “glorious grace” in Jesus Christ, “freely bestowed”, freely given with no ulterior motives, no strings attached, no catch. When we talk about grace, which we do a lot here at Christ Church because the grace of God is the heart of the gospel, we are talking about God’s unconditional, one-way love for you. In his 2007 book Grace in Practice Paul Zahl describes this:
What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of lovable … Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures… Grace is one-way love (36).
And this grace—this “glorious grace”—of God “freely bestowed” on you ensures your destiny as a beloved child of God—now and forever.
When it comes to your destiny perhaps some of you here today can relate to Lieutenant Dan—you have been wounded or experienced something that has left you saying, “This wasn’t supposed to happen, not to me.” But regardless of what has happened in your life, your destiny of who you are, and who you will be, remains the same—“You’re still Lieutenant Dan”, a beloved child of God.
Or perhaps some of you like Rey from the Star Wars films are in the midst of confronting some fear in your life—fear of failure, fear of being found out, fear of your past, fear of your future, fear of not being accepted into the “right” college, fear of what other people would think of you if they knew the real you, not the social media image you project. Or perhaps some of you can relate to the breakout session attendees whose overachieving efforts to achieve their perceived destiny still left them longing to be loved by their earthly fathers. Either way that is exactly where God’s unconditional love connects with your actual life, God’s unconditional love that scripture assures us heals the wounded and brokenhearted and casts out all fear. God really knows the real you, and God really loves the real you more than you could ever imagine.
On Good Friday Jesus, the Beloved Son of God, faced his greatest fear—his passion and death, of which he was so afraid that as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before the capillaries in his sacred head burst and blood mixed with his sweat and streamed down his sacred face. On Good Friday Jesus walked down the path to Calvary as the dark side of humanity unmercifully and unceasingly poured out its anger, fear, and aggression on him. Jesus was destined to die for you, and he did because he thought you were worth it, and still does. And on Easter Sunday Jesus rose from the dead because that was also part of his destiny. Yes, Forrest Gump’s mom was right, “Death is something we are all destined to do”—but Jesus’ resurrection means your death will not be the end of your story, not at all. Your salvation, like your life itself, is a gift of God.
God has a destiny for you—a blessed destiny, an eternal destiny—to be a beloved child of God through Jesus Christ, to the praise of God’s glorious grace.