Ouch! Such scathing words! These words do not come from the mouth of a mother or father frustrated at the wrong being done by their children. These words are not the scolding of an old schoolmaster seeking to subdue students into obedience. No! These words come from the Original Parent, the Lord Almighty. They are the words of God spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. These words are found in Holy Scripture: Jeremiah 4:22, extracted from one of this week’s readings, Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28. This is the assessment of the Israelites who have once again found themselves in the proverbial bad book, the bad book of God.
Are these words merited? Well, if they are the words of God, they must be, wouldn’t you say? But humour me for a moment: here is a people who had drifted from their Maker, the One who had called them a chosen people, set them apart, and established with them a covenant. Here is a people who continued to stumble, transgress, err, slip up, and just downright misbehave. They disregarded the foundation of the law that they had been given: to have no other gods but God, Yahweh, who brought them out of Egypt. Here is a people who had been warned that they served a jealous God and that they and their children would be punished for having other gods before the one true and ever-living God. Here is a people who had found a way to draw these blistering words from the mouth of God who was ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Exodus 34:6). In short, here is a people who had set themselves apart from their purpose.
Are we in a similar position? Are we in a place where we find ourselves stumbling – individually and collectively? Individually, we find ourselves chasing after other gods, don’t we? We thirst for more money, power, sex, unbridled freedoms and indulgences, and recognition. We stumble from job to job, relationship to relationship, pillar to post making the same mistakes, holding on to the same dysfunctional behaviours, mindsets and attitudes. We stumble, we fall, we get up, we don’t dust ourselves off and we continue along the way, carrying all the burden and grime that has stuck to us along the way. And then, at the end of it all, we wonder why we find ourselves in the same position – the same hurts, disappointments, feelings of emptiness and anger.
Collectively, in our societies, the experience is no different. After all, if at the individual level there is deep brokenness, and the leaders emerge from the people, the ills will persist, just on a grander scale. To name a couple, with far-reaching and enduring effects: acts of ethnic discrimination have persisted over the centuries – from the African Slave Trade to the Holocaust to Apartheid to human trafficking to discriminating against refugees on the basis of their country of origin. Political, economic, religious and gender-based persecution and discrimination continue.
In short, like the Israelites, we have become desolate – as individuals and as societies. Such desolation is the consequence of a people who have gone adrift from their purpose, from their true calling. The fruitful land has become a desert and our cities have lain in ruins. Sounds apocalyptic? Well, separation from purpose does take us there. Sounds extreme? Well, the Israelites were called by God to walk in step with the Master. They repeatedly fell out of step with God and this was God’s warning: ‘[…] The whole land shall be a desolation […]’ (Jeremiah 4:27)
So, what is purpose? Purpose is walking in step with God. It is what we are all called to, from the moment of our birth and solidified through our baptism which is our formal admission into the family of God, the Body of Christ and an inheritor of God’s eternal kingdom. Purpose is accomplished through whatever we do in life – as a parent, a friend, a son or daughter, in our job, at school and in our communities. Purpose requires us to undertake whatever our mission – as a teacher, a police officer, a student, a person in business, a priest, an astronaut, a scientist, an economist – in a way that gives honour and glory to God. So, as a student, we are to apply ourselves diligently to our studies and classes; as a teacher, to embrace the role that we have been given to help in the growth of another person; as a parent, to be ever grateful for the blessing of a child, and to train our children in the way they should go. As husband and wife, to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ and so husband, to love your wife as Christ loved the Church and as wife to be subject to your husband as you are to Christ (see Paul’s exhortations regarding the Christian Household in Ephesians 5:21-6:4). Think for a moment what this call to purpose means for you where you are: doing the job you do, in the family in which you are, among the friends that you have. Think for a moment, are you glorifying God in your pursuits, in your words, deeds and thoughts?
So if purpose is walking in step with God, what does it take for us to arrive at God’s purpose for our lives? Simply: the guidance of the Holy Spirit. How do we tap into that guidance? Through prayer – habitual and focussed conversation with God – where God speaks and we listen, and where we speak as God listens. We get to purpose through diligent study of Holy Scripture which reveals the heart of God. That revelation comes through the action of the Holy Spirit. We get to purpose through action for, after God has spoken, God requires us to act – to do as God has commanded. How do we discern that? By the power of the Holy Spirit. How do we accomplish what God requires of us? By the power of the Holy Spirit.
Without prayer, the study of Holy Scripture and action in faith we cannot arrive at our God-ordained purpose. If we do not arrive at our God-ordained purpose, we drift aimlessly through life producing fruit that cannot last. For those of us rolling around from job to job, relationship to relationship, or one course of study to the next, even house to house, do you get the picture? Without purpose, our life experience is like that of the lost sheep – vulnerable, aimless, and exposed to the predators around us. Without purpose, we are as unfulfilled as the lost coin – hidden from the world and not realising our true potential. An even worse proposition, without purpose, like Paul before his conversion, we persecute the people of God either actively by attacking believers, or passively by not contributing to the building up of the Body of Christ.
‘Without me, you are nothing.’ words that seem harsh. Words that come not from me but rather through me from God. Words that, unlike what they seem, are not harsh, but are words of love from the One who is love and therefore ‘merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. These are words which beckon us to our purpose for in purpose we are united with the One who sustains us to run with perseverance the course that is set before us, whatever be our course. ‘Without me, you are nothing’: words from the One who is The Way, calling us to the path where we find purpose so that we can be something, the very thing we were created to be. And when we realise that purpose, we will find everything that we desired, we find our all. ‘Without me, you are nothing’: words that come to us from the Paraclete and the one who accompanies us on our pilgrim journey.
Friends, let us journey to purpose together and declare: