Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Your Eternal Superlative” (Ephesians 1:3-6)
July 15, 2018
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Today I am preaching on your eternal destiny.
As a kid perhaps you were asked this question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I was really young I wanted to be a fireman. I had a toy firetruck complete with a folding ladder and I would pretend my action figures were trapped in a burning building (the living room couch) and I would pull up the toy firetruck, unfold the ladder and bring them all back to safety. A few years later, like most of my friends, I dreamed of being a professional football player on the Washington Redskins like one of my childhood heroes, the legendary Hall of Fame running back John Riggins.
High school yearbooks often include senior superlatives for both the present and the future—present superlatives like “Best Looking” or “Best Sense of Humor” or “Most Athletic”—and future superlatives like “Most Likely to Succeed” or “Most Likely to Be a Millionaire” or “Most Likely to Travel the World.” After many years of pastoral ministry I think it would be fun to include more realistic superlatives like “Most Likely to Have a Midlife Crisis” or “Most Likely to Get a DUI” or “Most Likely to Marry a Gold Digger.”
Some people know what their earthly destiny is, like Bono, the lead singer of U2. Last month I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, which includes a theater that plays concert footage. When I was there they were playing footage of U2’s 2009 hit “Magnificent”, a worship song in which Bono sings:
I was born to sing for you
I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to…
Only love, only love could leave such a mark
Only love, only love can heal such a scar
(From their 2009 album No Line on the Horizon)
When you were young and people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you say? When you were in high school, regardless of whether or not you were labeled with a senior superlative, how did you see your life unfolding? As you look at your life now, some of you may have reached where you thought your destiny would lead, while others of you may have had unexpected events that have left you wondering if you ever had any destiny at all.
While there are some people, like Bono, who know why they were born, when it comes to their earthly destiny many who have shared with me in pastoral counseling would identify with the sixteenth century French writer Jean de La Fontaine, who quipped, “One often meets their destiny on the road they took to avoid it.” Or perhaps when it comes to your earthly destiny you can relate to what the rock band Talking Heads sang:
You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
(From their song “Once in a Lifetime” on the 1980 album Remain in Light)
One of the recurring themes of the classic 1994 film Forrest Gump is the theme of destiny. Early in the film Forrest as a young boy asks his mom, “What’s my destiny, Mama?” She replies, “You’re gonna have to figure that one out for yourself.” Later in the film Lieutenant Dan, who thought he knew his destiny of dying in the glory of battle, instead finds himself having lost both his legs. Forrest, who was wounded while rescuing Lieutenant Dan, is with him in a VA hospital. In the middle of the night Lieutenant Dan reaches up and pulls Forrest off his bed onto the hard hospital floor and begins ranting about his foiled destiny:
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! Look at me! 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! You understand what I’m saying, Gump? This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me. I had a destiny.
Late in the film Forrest says his beloved Jenny, “Jenny, 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.” Whether you relate to Bono or La Fontaine, or to the Talking Heads or Lieutenant Dan, or maybe Forrest Gump, today’s epistle lesson from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians contains very good news about your eternal destiny:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 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 (Ephesians 1:3-6).
This passage is a loaded with high octane gospel. Regardless of the choices you have made, some of which may have permanently impacted your earthy destiny, your eternal destiny is based on the choice God made when he chose you “in Christ before the foundation of the world.” God has destined you to be adopted as one of his children. Why? Because God wanted to do so—or again, as Paul wrote, because of “the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.”
Elsewhere Paul similarly wrote to the Thessalonians about their eternal destiny, “God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). God has chosen you and destined you to eternal life. At the Last Supper Jesus could not have been clearer about this when he said to his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
I have experienced this in my own life. After I realized being a professional football player was not in the cards, I unexpectedly felt called to the priesthood when I was in sixth grade. I actually wrote about it in a “What I Want to Be When I Grow up” essay that year. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cole, my favorite teacher ever, scribbled a note to my parents on the top of that essay along the lines of “I encourage you to pay attention to this because in my many years of assigning this essay I have never had anyone write about wanting to be a priest.”
I held on to that desire to be a priest until my senior year in high school when I got into serious trouble at the little private school I attended, and I was expelled. My senior year was a total nightmare, and my senior superlative was a unique one: “Most Expelled.” I went away to college still thinking about the priesthood but feeling like I was damaged goods and therefore disqualified. I thought I had forever ruined what I had thought would be my earthly destiny.
But over the course of many years God brought much healing in my life, and because God is a God of grace, because God is a God of second chances (and third chances, and fourth chances, and all the chances you will ever need) I was eventually ordained a priest after all. And along the way I learned that I was by no means the only person who had considered themselves damaged goods and therefore ruined their earthly destiny. There are actually a lot of people in that club; it’s a very, very big club.
Yes, your choices impact your earthly destiny (you know that), but when it comes to your eternal destiny, God’s choice overrides your choice. You did not choose God, but God chose you “in Christ before the foundation of the world,” God chose you “according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” Your eternal destiny is one of eternal life through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In Article 17 of the Thirty-nine Articles, the sixteenth century distillation of Anglican Church doctrine, we read this:
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation (BCP 871).
This idea of predestination makes some people uncomfortable or even cynical—like it makes no difference what choices we make because we are all puppets on puppet strings controlled by some universal puppeteer. There is even a theological tenet, supralapsarianism, held by some that God intentionally creates some people in order to damn them eternally to God’s glory. But this does not line up at all with the gospel set forth in today’s epistle passage, upon which Article 17 is based. Anglican scholar John Rodgers observes:
There is no teaching of predestination to hell in Article 17 or in Scripture. Hell is a destiny mankind has chosen for itself in the Fall…To teach that God created persons in order to condemn them, so as to have occasion to reveal his justice, is foreign to Scripture, dishonors God, and is a false doctrine. Predestination to life…is good news for sinners (Essential Truths for Christianity 337).
Jesus’ earthly destiny was one no one would have expected for the Son of God, whom you would think would have been destined to grow up in unimaginable privilege and receive the best education in the world and be a mighty military leader who would lead a successful revolt to free Israel from their Roman oppressors and then have a successful political and philanthropic career.
But Jesus’ earthly destiny did not include any of that. Jesus spent his time with sinners—damaged goods who thought their bad choices had ruined their destiny. About his earthly destiny Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
On Good Friday Jesus did not avoid the road to Calvary. Even as the world chose to crucify him, Jesus chose to forgive, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). His disciples were heartbroken, “This wasn’t supposed to happen.” But it was supposed to happen. Jesus’ earthly destiny was to die on the cross for you, not only to forgive you for all the wrong choices you have made, but to ensure your eternal destiny of eternal life and eternal love “according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.”
Regardless of how your earthly destiny goes, even if like Lieutenant Dan you have experience things that were not “supposed to happen,” even if your choices leave you as damaged goods, your eternal destiny has been secured by the One who chose you “before the foundation of the world.” The scars of the Risen Jesus attest that “only love could leave such a mark…only love can heal such a scar.”
In other words, God has given you your eternal superlative: “Most Loved.”