Philippians 1:21-30

Why Am I Here?

By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now and will be forever, amen.

“Why am I here?” “What is the purpose of my life?” Dr. Seuss gives an insight:

If you’d never been born, then what would you be?
You might be a fish or a toad in the tree.
You might be a doorknob or three baked potatoes.
Worse than all that, you might be a wasn’t.
A wasn’t just isn’t. He just isn’t present.
But you—you are you. Now isn’t that pleasant?
Today you are you, and it’s truer than true
That there’s no one alive who is you-er than you.
Shout loud, “I am lucky to be what I am!
Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of gooseberry jam.
If I am what I am, and it’s a great thing to be.
If I say so myself, happy birthday to me!”

Why are you here? Because God wants you here. God has created you to be you and not somebody else. God has a purpose for you and that is to be a child of God, to have fellowship with God, to be God’s woman or man here in this place, right now. We read in Genesis:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness . . .
God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.
God blessed them.”

You are a special creation of God; you are a blessing of God. You are more than a fish or a toad or a clam, you are the very image of God. Woman or man, young or old, happy or sad, you are here because God wants you to be here. You are here because God put you here.

On the other hand, we may wonder at times what God has in mind with us. Humanity often doesn’t seem so wonderful. Read the newspaper, turn on the TV. Human beings are as mixed up as they can be. Malcolm Muggeridge looked around and commented,

“Our time is probably the most degraded and unilluminated
ever to come to pass on earth.

Science and education have promised us a brave new world,
but supermarkets, the rainbows ending at the nearest bingo hall,
leisure burgeoning out in multitudinous shining TV aerials
rising like dreaming spires into the sky,
happiness in as many colors as there are pills,
green and yellow and blue and red and shining white,
many mansions of light
and chromium ever upward.”

Then we look at pictures of the effects of hurricane and flood. People who have nothing left—no homes, no work, no hope. It is easy to find blame— New Orleans was a hedonistic city, there was environmental degradation, poor government, bad management. Yes, we can learn from disasters and plenty but what we need to learn too is our common humanity. We are human beings more alike than we are different. A familiar saying says,

“I looked at my brother through the telescope of criticism
and said, ‘How coarse my brother is’.

I looked at my brother through the microscope of scorn
and I said, ‘How small my brother is’.

I looked into the mirror of truth
and I said, ‘How like me my brother is’.”

Hear what Martin Luther says of our common humanity:

“What good comes of man?
He eats and drinks only the best bread,
wine, beer, precious spices too.

He excretes nothing but corruption,
snot, sputum, matter, sweat,
sores, pox, scruff, slough,
discharge, pus, dung and urine.

He clothes himself in satin and gold,
spreads lice, nits, fleas and other vermin.”

We wonder who we are and why we are here. Dietrich Bonhoeffer raised the question, “Who am I?” from behind the walls of a Nazi prison. He considered the contradictory answers of others in light of what he saw himself to be. To others he appeared strong, serene, self -sufficient; to himself, sick, empty, weary. But in all this, his trembling faith affirmed,

“Whoever I am,
Thou knowest , O Lord,
I am Thine.”

Even as we recognize our failings, we also hear God’s Word to us: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people . . . Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” While we were yet sinners, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. We are at the same time, saints and sinners, people who fall short of God’s intention and a righteous people for God.

St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians describes his predicament.

“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me;
and I do not know which I prefer.
I am hard pressed between the two;
my desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better;
but to remain in the flesh is necessary for you.”

Paul wondered what his purpose was, why was he still on earth when he wanted to be with the Lord. The answer he gives, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” He recognized clearly that he was here for a purpose, for fellowship with God in his life and for eternal life. You are here for the same reason. You are God’s child and God’s image. You are here to bring others to a knowledge of the truth which is Jesus Christ and to glorify God in your life.

I had lunch with one of you last week and you were telling me how you knew an old man who said he was an atheist and did not believe in the existence of God. But you told him, “You love nature and the beauty all around you; can’t you recognize the person who created this beautiful creation?” When he asked about God, you defined God as does John’s Gospel saying, “God is love.” That was a very good answer— St Augustine once defined God simply: “God is love and that is all you need to know about God.” And now you told me, this man is starting to ask questions.

It is often said that Christians are the only Bible the world will ever read. You can be a Bible for your friends and neighbors as they see your faith and life. We read in the newspaper recently how with the aging of Billy Graham, the great crusades and rallies of the past century may not continue into the future. The writer said that the way to reach people today is in a quieter way, one-on-one, letting other people know you care about them and that God cares too. Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourners magazine, uses an excellent phrase for our day: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” We are the prophets and sages and witnesses today. You are the disciples and apostles to this community at this time. You are the chosen people of God for your neighborhood or apartment or school or golf course.

Sometimes it is older people who ask me the question, “Why am I here?” Often I am asked this in the context of why they live on and on, when others are struck down in the prime of life. My wife’s grandmother died at the age of one hundred and one. She had an answer to the “Why?” It comes from our lesson today. So long as she had life and breath, she could pray. She was not intimidated by what others thought as she went to the nursing home to ask the people if they knew Jesus. Even when she could no longer teach Sunday school or serve church suppers or even contribute to the offering, she could pray. She prayed and prayed for the church and its pastors, for the sick and lonely, for those who were troubled and especially for children and young people. She was willing, even longing to go be with her Lord, but she also knew that so long as she was alive, she had a reason and purpose for living.

God doesn’t promise that following faithfully will be easy. Being God’s witness may very well produce suffering. Paul says this is God’s doing too:

“For God has graciously granted you the privilege
not only of believing in Christ,
but of suffering for him as well—
since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had
and now hear that I still have.”

We are struggling human beings. We do not have all the answers. Why should we be any different from St. Paul who admitted his own struggles. We are not called to know everything or be everything. It is enough to be who we are, the special child God created us to be. It is enough to believe and follow the Lord Jesus and to allow ourselves to be used to glorify God. Be glad you are not a fish or a toad or a clam or a ham but the person God made you to be. “Who am I?” I am God’s Child. “Why am I hear ?” To be just who I am. Amen.

Copyright 2005 James D. Kegel. Used by permission.