Throughout our lives we ask the question, What gives my life meaning? All the answers we give ourselves seem to fit three categories: What I do. What others say about me. What Ive been able to accumulate.
We are proud of our work and our accomplishments. They give us a sense of value. We are often governed by what others say about us. When they say good things, we feel good. Our culture encourages us to think of our value in terms of what we possess. We even assign a dollar amount to express our net worth.
When our life comes to an end, we leave each of these behind. They become unimportant. Just ask people who have had a near death experience. They will tell you that the things they thought were important, in the end were not. These witnesses tell us what they discover is that the relationships of love they have make life meaningful.
In the creation story, God looks at everything he made and said, It is good. That declaration includes each of us.
In the beginning our value is by declaration: You are good. At the end, we find relationships of love are what fulfill us. In between we get confused, thinking accomplishment, praise and positions give us value.
Jesus turned each of these evaluations upside down. In one gospel story, Jesus sent 70 disciples ahead of him to prepare his way. They returned with a glowing report of their accomplishments. Although Jesus was pleased with their work, he told them, Dont rejoice in that. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. In other words, life has meaning not because of what you do, but because of who you are.
Jesus warned his followers not to get caught up in status and power. He told them, Do not be like the nations of the world. Their leaders order people around. If you want to be great, be the servant of all. In other words, your status, what others think of you, is not what makes life meaningful.
A rich man asked Jesus, What must I do to inherit eternal life? You could read the question, What must I do to have the most meaningful life? Jesus told the man to go and sell what he had and give it to the poor. It wasnt merely a test. It was a direct answer to his question. Lifes meaning is not contained in your possessions. Break your attachment to the illusion that possessions bring meaning.
Being, relationships, love these are the things that make life meaningful.
Bob Flaherty is pastor at Newberg First United Methodist Church