As a culture, we are inclined to search for meaning in our lives. At times that is a difficult task. You can tell a lot about people by the lyrics to their songs. The musical group Fun repeats the words, “What do I stand for?” over and over in their song, Some Nights. Another group, Supertramp, in a song called The Logical Songthey say, “Tell me who I am.” This search for meaning takes many forms. It shows up in pithy catchphrases as well, “He who dies with the most toys wins” is a popular slogan in western society. The older Biblical form of this theme is, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
We chase after status, wealth, luxury, glory, honor, youth, beauty, and pleasure. We work ourselves to death. For what? We know there must be something more than toys, success, or recognition. We look at all the stuff we have accumulated and contemplate the fulfillment we once believed those things would give us. As we look at that new prize, that new goal, which we so desperately long to acquire, we realize, even as we pursue it, that it will not give us the fulfillment we seek. No matter what we do as we try to find meaning in either our accomplishments or in trying to change the world, we are often not very successful.
Tim Minchin, the Australian comedian, actor, and musician, tells us in his 2013 commencement address at the University of Western Australia, “Arts Degrees are awesome, and they help you find meaning where there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook; you won’t find it and it will bugger up your souffle.” Why? Why does he say we have no significance? Why does he think that even service to a brother is meaningless? His position is that no matter whom we help or how much we give, our efforts die with us.
In that same speech, Minchin says, “You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough, and god it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead.”
As pessimistic as that is, recall the words of William Shakespeare, who states it more elegantly, but no more optimistically when he says:
Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It’s a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
But Jesus looks at it differently. Jesus tells us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends.” When we hear this, it can sound like humanism and we have seen that humanism has failed. What we need to understand, though, is that the One who is saying these words has already served us by giving us His life, and here is the difference: When Jesus gives, He gives eternal life. That changes everything.
Because He has risen from the dead, Jesus paid for our sins with His blood. If there were no resurrection then His forgiveness would be meaningless. But His forgiveness comes with eternal life, and that is the clue to the meaning of life. Jesus, “for the joy set before Him...endured the cross, scorning its shame.” It was His great joy to save you. And He has saved you, not just temporarily, but permanently. You have been loved from eternity to eternity. You are remembered and loved forever.
So what does this mean for us? We are eternal. Our actions matter. Jesus tells us that when we do something for others, we have done it for Him: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
You, who can do nothing to save yourself, are a powerful tool of salvation for others. Our actions are eternal because we are in the Eternal One. God does not need us, but He includes us in His actions as He saves the world. God doesn’t need your works, but your neighbor does, and God gives you the opportunity to serve your neighbor, without fear of failure or impure motives, because you stand justified - right now. You are perfect, holy, and righteous in His sight - right now. As we look at our lives and what we have done, we have no way of knowing what works were done in Christ and what works were done in our flesh, but the bottom line is—don’t worry about it... Don’t even think about it. If your neighbor needs your help, give him what he needs.
Remember that Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you...You are mine, you are safe, you are holy and acceptable to God because of me...and because of who you are, I have appointed you to bear fruit, and your fruit will endure. These things I command you so that you will love one another.”
The meaning of life is service to our neighbor and our neighbor is anyone who God puts in our path.
It feels good to do good things, and it should. God is giving us a glimpse at creation restored. No, you do not do things perfectly, but in the meantime, before you die and rise again, He is already using you here and now and He is working through you to serve others - everything we do is for the sake of our neighbor. God needs nothing from us. Our salvation needs nothing added to it. God is gracious to us and blesses us each and every day. He has made His face shine upon us and has been merciful to us so that His saving power will be made known among the nations.
Knowing Jesus and serving Him is what makes our lives meaningful. Amen.