Today we are going to be concluding the sermon series, "What's Next?" a series that has been focused on this particularly challenging question:
How do we discover purpose and direction in life when everything we used to use as a guide to doing just that has changed?
I'm going to make a bold statement that I know might be a bit controversial... are you ready?
Things are kind of messed up in the world right now.
I know, I know... you're shocked by this. Sorry to say something so provocative on Sunday, church.
Actually, that's a Captain Obvious moment if there ever was one. We all know that things are messed up. And all you need to know about just how messed up things are is by the number of conspiracy theories that are abounding in our society.
You've all heard about the Flat Earth Society---people who believe that the earth is actually flat and that there is some kind of dome over it, and that we might be some kind of experiment for an alien race or something...
Well, now there is a Hollow Earth Society--an ever-growing group of people who believe that the earth is hollow inside and that there are cities, an inner sun, and indeed a whole civilization living below us. Jules Verne was right!!
Then there's Elvis. Not too long ago a video surfaced that was purported to be of Elvis. It got over 2 million views, and there is even a doctor who claims he treated the King a few years ago.
There's also a significant group of people who believe that Prince Charles is actually a vampire. You can research this yourself if you want. The evidence is compelling.
But then there are the conspiracy theories that are a bit more serious in nature, and ones that seem to be spreading even more rapidly in our current context.
Researches indicate that 1 out of every 3 Americans believe that China manufactured the COVID virus and unleashed it on the rest of the world either intentionally or by accident.
Recent surveys have indicated that as many as 4 out of every 10 people believe that there is some truth to the claims by the Q-Anon theorists that there is a satanic cult made up of Democrats and Hollywood elites who are trafficking in children.
And lest we all get sanctimonious about how we are above all of those things, I also read this week that 5 out of 10 of us believe or at least one conspiracy theory.
But right now there are so many at once, right? What is happening?
As it turns out, during times of upheaval and uncertainty these kinds of theories take hold and spread faster than normal. So they are in a way a by-product of our context. But it's hard to pin down the kinds of people who are susceptible to them.
The New York Times reported recently on an Emory University team of psychologists who studied the psychology and sociology surrounding conspiracy theories and why they spread.
“With all changes happening in politics, the polarization and lack of respect, conspiracy theories are playing a bigger role in people’s thinking and behavior possibly than ever,” said Shauna Bowes, a research psychologist at Emory University who led the study team. “And there was no consensus on the psychological bases of conspiracy beliefs." - NYT, Sept 28, 2020
In other words, "Things are kind of messed up." That's why.
The question that we have before us is how do we fix this? How do we change a world gone mad? Can we? Is it possible for us to change or is it an exercise in futility?
Here's the good news. Despite all of the things that are messed up, here are some things we can hold on to...
Hope is timeless. Positivity is transforming. Kindness is contagious.
And we can leverage these eternal truths by tapping into something amazing within each of us: A belief in the divine purpose we all share to do good in the world. And for those of us who follow Jesus, that means that we do everything that we possibly can to embody Jesus to the world.
Here is what I want you to know today, and it's the one thing that will punctuate everything that we talk about today:
You Have Eternal Purpose.
Our guide for today comes to us from Paul's letter to the Ephesians chapter 2 verse 10, which reads like this:
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
This verse is part of a letter that was written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus that he founded during one of his missionary journeys to what is now modern-day Turkey.
Ephesus was a jewel of a city, enjoying royal patronage because of their massive statues dedicated to the Emperor, the enormous temple to the goddess of fertility, Diana, a library that was one of the great wonders of the ancient world...
Paul accidentally caused a riot there...
This letter was most likely a cyclical letter, which speaks to the universal kind of message that it contained for Christians in the first century. The last lines of the letter may have been penned specifically for that church.
Ephesians then really becomes a letter for Christians in all spaces and times that are troubled and chaotic.
The problem that Paul and a lot of the early Christians had was that they had expected the return of Jesus to earth, and the full revelation of the kingdom of God---any moment. But the longer they waited for the world to be made right, the more they began to realize that there were bigger things afoot, and they had a unique role to play in what God was ultimately doing in the world and in history.
The question that seems to permeate much of Paul's writing is "How do you work to change an Empire?" What can you do when you are powerless in the eyes of the world? Other than constant calls for unity among believers, Paul also believed that change was possible because God had given God's people divine purpose---a purpose that was glimpsed through Jesus, and meant to be carried out by those who claimed to follow him.
Basically, Paul wanted those reading this letter to know this:
When you realize that you have divine and holy purpose to be a change agent for good—you also discover that you have all that you need to make it possible.