God has a dream for each of us. From the moment we are formed in the womb, God knows us, names us and creates us in God’s image to glorify God. In this morning’s passage from Isaiah the prophet proclaims, “while I was in my mother’s womb, He named me…and he said to me,’ you are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” In the book of Jeremiah, God tells the prophet, “before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” And St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians declares, “But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me.”
As we read these various statements, it’s easy to assume John Calvin was right in teaching his doctrine of pre-destination, but our experience tells us,life is not that simple. God did not create us as mere puppets to be controlled by a divine puppeteer. Instead, God created us in God’s image, and gave us free will, the ability to choose between God’s dream for us and our own dreams. The story of Genesis exemplifies this. In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve to live in perfect harmony with God, God placed them in the Garden with only one command, to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But the serpent was seductive, and beguiled the two with the promise of being just like God. The promise and temptation to be like God was too great for Adam and Eve as they turned their backs on what God wanted for them and choose their own path of disobedience and sin.
In both the call of Jeremiah and Isaiah, despite the intimacy with which God speaks to them, both offer resistance to God’s request for their lives. Both are overwhelmed and “fearful’ of what God is asking them to do. “Jeremiah protests that he is just a boy and therefore too young. Isaiah argues he does not know what to say. In each situation God has to persuade the prophet to accept God’s dream for their lives. In the case of St. Paul, it is only after Paul is blinded by the risen Christ that he is willing to leave behind his life of persecuting others to become the premier evangelist for Christianity.
Like Jeremiah, Isaiah and St. Paul, God has known each of us and formed a dream for us before we were created in our mother’s womb. And it is our life’s journey to figure out what God’s dream for us is and to live into it.
Discerning God’s dream is not easy. We live in the midst of the great cosmic battle between God and Satan. St. Ignatius taught his followers that at some point in our lives we must choose between the two great standards or armies of the universe. The first is that of Christ and the second, that of Lucifer, the devil. The choice he tells us is difficult to make. Satan, he says, is seductive and beguiling. He tempts us with wealth, power, and prestige. In a few weeks’ time, we will hear how bold Lucifer can be when he tempts Jesus in the desert with wealth through food, power by offering him all the nations of the world and ultimately divinity itself by encouraging Jesus to fall from the top of the temple tower.
Becoming part of Satan’s legion is hard to resist, his seduction begins subtlety as he offers us what we want and desire. The initial offerings are innocent as he ensnares us through what become our addictions. During the fourth century, St. Augustine taught that the scales of evil are stacked against us as we are born into a cloud of sin making it hard, if not impossible, to differentiate between good and evil. And I have often taught that nothing is innately good or evil until it becomes an all-consuming addiction.
The call to Christ’s legion often seems less attractive. The offerings of Christ are counter intuitive to our wants and desires. In order to fully make ourselves open to the dream God hold for us, we must first accept a position of spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is a total detachment from worldly realities such as riches and prestige. Spiritual poverty is the complete giving of ourselves and our lives over to God.
The benefit of choosing Christ over Satan is perfect freedom. . . .freedom from the chains of sin; freedom from the worries of what we hold most dear and the ability to trust more fully in God’s willingness to care for us. Choosing Christ over Satan leads to wholeness, despite our physical brokenness, and fulfillment despite our emptiness.
In this morning’s Gospel we heard John the Baptist proclaim on two occasions that Jesus is the Son of God. According to Luke’s Gospel, God formed John in Elizabeth’s womb to be the prophet, the harbinger, or the one who announces the arrival of the most high. John took this role seriously as he accepted a life of both spiritual and physical poverty. As the unique prophet he was, John gained great prestige and notoriety throughout Israel and Judea. To declare Jesus to be the messiah, the anointed one, must have been a bitter sweet moment for John. On the one hand, there was the joy and satisfaction of knowing he had completed what God had called him to do. On the other hand, however, this also meant with Jesus at the forefront, it was now time for John to fade into the background, and if not for Salomé, into historical obscurity.
Based on today’s Gospel, this was a transition that came both easily and naturally to John. As he declares Jesus to be the Messiah, he, in essence, relinquishes what was perhaps his greatest possession, his disciples, and hands them into the arms of Jesus.
Through the centuries those who have committed their lives to the teachings of St. Ignatius have lived with one simple motto in mind, “all for the greater glory of God.” When we choose to stand behind the standard of Christ and to live into the dream God formed for us in the womb, we ultimately give our lives to the greater glory of God. Isaiah and Jeremiah choose this when they accepted their calls as prophets. John the Baptist consummates his commitment to the greater glory of God when he releases his disciples into Christ’s care.
As I think about those we have come to venerate as the Saints, I realize it was their ability to give all to the greater glory of God that unifies them as a group.
As I look at the lives of the saints from this perspective, I realize sainthood is not the result of patience or intelligence as St. Peter is sure to remind us. Nor is sainthood based on diplomacy or physical prowess as St. Paul certainly lacked these things. Instead, Sainthood is found in those who were able to recognize and accept the dream God created for them, were able to commit to it, and to live into this dream for the greater glory of God.
This week may we come seek to understand God’s dream for us, and to devote our lives to the greater glory of God.