When I stand before God at the end of my life,
I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left
and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’ - Erma Bombeck
For the record, this wasn’t a sobbing kind of cry. Instead it was one of those gentle boo-hoo sessions that just sneak up on you when your heart is both happy and sad at the same time. Has this ever happened to any of you? Oh yeah? Has it ever happened to you while you were watching sports highlights on ESPN?
After 20 great years, 5 championship rings, 2 Olympic gold metals, and 7 MVP awards, Kobe Bryant retired from the Los Angeles Lakers, and from the NBA. He went out in style: 60 points on 50 shots and one last win over the Utah Jazz. It was a bittersweet, joyous occasion, whether you are a fan of his, or not.
Some of you already know that retiring from anything is often bittersweet. Saying goodbye to something you have known, or that has defined you, for so long, gives way to freedom, but can also be very challenging.
For example, when I left advertising, I was ready to pursue something new. While a part of me still longed for the creative challenge, my heart wanted and needed more fulfillment. And here I am today...sharing it with you.
I admit that this is, so far, the hardest job I’ve ever had. But it’s also the one job that has brought me the greatest joy, because what I do is more than a job. It’s a new life. Think about it, I get to pray at work and talk about God without worry that I am that weird Jesus freak everyone tries to avoid. (Well, some of you avoid me for other reasons now). Each day that I punch the clock, brings me a little closer to God, growing my faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ. To live my faith out loud is a happy side effect.
Research suggests that there are not a lot of us who can claim to have joy in our work. A Gallop poll found that 70% of Americans either hate their job or are not engaged in their work. With so much of our life dedicated to our jobs, don't you think joy and purpose should be a top priority? But somehow we have forgotten what it takes to find it.
Interestingly, research indicates that 90% of millennials would rather give up a higher salary in return for a job that gives them joy, and enables them to give back to the greater good. While this generation may have faults of their own, they seem to have the right priority when it comes to living as God intended us to live.
For many retired people, the struggle to find joy is different. They have worked hard to get to this point in their life. Yet 40% of all retired people suffer from depression – triggered by feelings uselessness or insignificance, believing that they have nothing left to contribute to the greater good of the world. How quickly we forget the greatest boss of all, God, has given us a job with worthy and meaningful purpose. A new kind of life, that begins with Jesus.
The last few weeks of the Easter season, we’ve looked at the subject of joy through the lens of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. With our mnemonic for Joy, we have focused on putting Jesus first and others next. Today Paul turns to ‘You.’ And by you, I mean each one of us, both as individuals and as a church. So let’s talk about "you."
Paul suggests that one of the major reasons for our loss of joy is due to the fact that you and I are not living up to, or rightly living out, the great potential of joy that God has given to us. So far, Paul has encouraged you and I to conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of the gospel. And still we have trouble living out our life as Christ lived: in perfect obedience and self-sacrificing for others.
Paul is reminding us of our job. And telling us to get to work. More specifically, to “work out your own salvation.” This is not Paul suggesting we work our way into God’s grace. Instead he is telling us to work out what God has already given us through the work that Jesus did on the cross. Your faith in Christ doesn’t mean you can sleep in or take an early retirement. It means you have to get up and punch the clock for Christ.
Jesus does not spend a bunch of time calling you and me to sit around arguing our opinions about who is the greatest shooting guard in NBA history (Jesus knows it's Kobe Bryant). The gospels clearly teach us that Jesus calls us to act. And to act with purpose.
In John’s gospel he says, “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” Jesus' job has results, as well as meaning and purpose. His life was spent working out what God called him to do. You and I have to take the gift of our salvation and put it into productive use. It’s only when we live short of all that God has given to us that our joy is short lived. We have to work out, what God has worked in.
Kobe Bryant, worked out constantly to stay at the top of his game, and had a successful career as a professional athlete. Working to keep his body conditioned and in optimal health, so too do we need to constantly work on our spiritual health and wellbeing. Our workout begins by imitating Jesus- by putting the needs of others before our own, our spiritual muscles begin to grow as well.
Yet many of you still remain unsure about your ability to do the job that God is calling you to do. Some of you have gone as far as ignoring your call. I get it, I did it for years. But when we do that, we choose to live without true joy in our hearts. Denying our true self and as a result, denying God. Such is the case of some men at the temple who are either unsure of who Jesus is or are purposefully refusing to accept him.
They say to Jesus, “If you are the Messiah tell us plainly.” But the trouble is Jesus instead answers them metaphorically, describing himself as shepherd, telling them that he has already told them what they want to know. Through his works, in his healing, feeding, and caring of others, he showed them. The men have trouble seeing and believing Jesus because they have put themselves first, above others and above God. They don’t understand that Good Shepherds are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep.
As people who desire to imitate and walk in the footsteps of Jesus we are called to lay down our lives for others. Henri Nouwen writes, “In extreme circumstances this might mean dying. But in a daily work out of our salvation, it means we must make our own lives – all our sorrows and joys, despairs and hopes, our loneliness and experience of intimacy – available to others as sources of new life and joy.”
As Jesus points out to the men in the temple, his identity cannot be reduced to a job title. It has to be experienced. The early church grew exponentially because they experienced Jesus firsthand or through the works of the Disciples. God has commissioned you and me, the church and body of Christ to carry on this legacy.
When speaking of her own life, Erma Bombeck said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’”. Kobe did this. He left every last bit of himself on the hardwood floor at Staples Center. Likewise, Jesus left every last bit of himself on the hard wood of that old rugged cross. And now, you and I are called to give it our all, to punch the clock for Christ.
It’s in our selfless actions towards others that we become more like Jesus, who through his works of salvation was raised up and became one with God. Like Jesus Christ, we too will find our truest joy being one with God. In doing the work of Christ, we are allowing God to work through us. And when God works through us life's most difficult challenges can be overcome. We don't dwell in darkness...but shine like stars in the sky.
Like a true champion, we do not celebrate this joyous victory alone. You and I do it together, with God in us and around us, with the Spirit of Christ guiding us. We do it side-by-side with fishermen and housewives, who first took up the call. We work alongside the blind and the lame and criminals, lawyers, tax collectors, politicians, prostitutes, lepers, drunks and druggies, with the saints and the suffering, and even retired ad-men and b-ball players.
Together in the name of Christ Jesus we, you and I, find and celebrate the truest of joy, because through him God pours out his all-in-all, with great abundance, to anyone and everyone, who faithfully seeks redemption, and desires to be one with God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God. One love. Now and forever, Amen.
Bible. Philippians 2:121-18; John 10:22-30 (NRSV).
Cook, John, ed. The Book of Possitive Quotations: 2nd Edition . Minneapolis: Fairview Press, 1993.
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church, 2014.
Mahan, Michael. "How to find more meaning at work." Relevant, Jan-Feb 2016: 38-39.
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Nouwin, Henri. Bread of Life. New York: Harper-Collins, 2007.