St. James’ Episcopal Church Jocelyn McWhirter
2 Pentecost, Year B
June 3, 2018
Did you know that one of the keys to health and happiness is having a sense of purpose?
That’s right. Just having some idea of what our life is all about, having some goal that we want to accomplish and then working towards it, improves our overall well-being.
Here’s what psychologists are saying:
- if we have a sense of purpose, our brain works better
- we take better care of ourselves
- stressful situations don’t make us as anxious
- we sleep better
- we live longer
This is especially true when we have a self-transcendent purpose – that is, a purpose that shifts our focus from ourselves to the world around us.
- a self-transcendent purpose helps us to persist in accomplishing our goals
- because we know that what we’re doing matters
And, just in case we’re wondering whether we might be too young or too old to benefit from having a sense of purpose, let me say that the benefits of a purposeful life have been confirmed for people of all ages, from youth through mid-life into old age.
I have personally benefited from having a sense of purpose.
- it all started 15 years ago, when I was on the vestry of a large church in the western suburbs of Philadelphia
- I had been working with the youth group leaders, facilitating a process of creating a mission statement and then aligning their activities with their mission
- doing what will accomplish their mission; not doing what won’t
- then I attended the vestry retreat, where the guest leader worked with us in creating our own personal mission statements
- I had never thought that I could have my own personal mission statement
- but I found the idea really attractive, and helpful to me at the time
- my oldest child was about to graduate from high school
- I was approaching a turning point in my career
So I reflected, and prayed, and wrote a mission statement, which was more or less this:
- to develop myself spiritually, emotionally, socially, and professionally,
- and to help other people do the same
- it was pretty much what I’d already been doing, and it is still my mission today
- and it gives me a strong sense of purpose
- it’s also helped me to establish my priorities
- doing what will accomplish my mission; not doing what won’t
- saying “yes” to some projects and “no” to others
I’m not on to something new here. People’s sense of purpose and mission may be a recent subject for psychological research, but it’s an old phenomenon. So old that it’s in our Old Testament reading for today.
In 1 Samuel 3, Samuel finds his purpose. God gives him a mission.
- and that is to be a prophet
- Samuel is going to connect people with God by speaking God’s word to them
- his experience teaches us 5 things about discerning our own mission/purpose
For one thing, in order to discern our mission/purpose, we need to be in the right place.
- the boy Samuel lived in the shrine at Shiloh
- “tent of meeting”; “the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was”
- housed the Ark of the Covenant = God’s portable throne
- Samuel was close to God
Second, we need quiet.
- in Samuel’s story, all the worshippers have gone home and it’s time for sleep
- Samuel’s TV is off and his cell phone is powered down
- nobody is asking him to fetch water or trim the lamps
- and, since it’s quiet, Samuel can hear God’s voice
Third, we need help.
- How can we recognize God’s voice? How do we know it’s not our imagination?
- The priest Eli helps Samuel figure it out.
- Maybe our priest or a spiritual director or companion can help us figure it out.
Fourth, we need to listen.
- Once Samuel realizes that God is calling him, he tunes in. He pays attention.
- “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Fifth, when God gives him a mission, Samuel pursues it even out of his comfort zone.
- it can’t have been easy for Samuel to tell Eli that he and his family were doomed
- Samuel is just a boy, boarding with Eli at the shrine
- he depends on Eli for food, shelter, and protection
- he is understandably reluctant to give Eli the bad news, but he does it anyway
- he has to trust in God for the outcome
I think we can discern our mission, or gain a sense of God’s purpose for us, either as individuals or as St. James’ Church. And I think Samuel shows the way.
- by staying close to God
- by taking some time to be quiet
- by consulting with a spiritual director or a priest or our canon or the bishop
- by listening to God
- by pursuing the mission that God gives us, trusting in God for the outcome
So speak, Lord. Your servants are listening.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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