The text for today’s sermon is taken from John 15:9-17.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember what it was like growing up in Connecticut. I lived in Welles Village, a low income housing project, where there were lots of kids like me growing up. I had my own group of friends – Nancy Roach, Jeannie Sherman, Karen Fink, Sandy, Shirley, and a number of others. As spring came, and as weather permitted, we would gather together to play games. Sometimes those games required individual competition, like marbles and hopscotch, jump rope and red light. Some games like 500 Scatter and baseball required teams. We didn’t have much in the way of organized sports back then. So if we did play a team game, it was when equipment was available and it involved everyone in the neighborhood whom we could convince to join us. And we used whatever we could find to mark plates for baseball and boundary lines for other games. We never played on a regulation field.
I usually hated the team games. It wasn’t that I was bad at them. I could catch and throw, run and hit, as good as almost everyone else. But, you see, I was chunky and looked clumsy, and that made me the person that captains fought over having on their team – for I wasn’t the star player and even though I played as hard as everyone else and did better than some of the others, neither team wanted me. As teams were chosen, noses twitched as people glanced in my direction. The whispers against picking me for the team shattered my ear drums as the captains, my friends and playmates, fought over who was going to get stuck with me that day. So, the team picking process meant being a leftover, the person chosen last.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the feeling of being unwanted and worthless, the feeling of not measuring up, of not being as good as everyone else. I remember what it was like finding out that giving my best was never enough. I had to be better than average to be considered a little below average. So you can imagine what a thrill it was to me the first time I was not the last one standing on the sidelines when the teams were picked. What a thrill it was to me when someone really wanted me to be part of their team. In that one moment of time, the discouragement of the past was wiped away as hope for the future flooded my being. In that moment, I felt that I was no longer a burden. I was someone who had something to offer, and I was wanted. I was chosen.
Now, even if you have never experienced the dread of the team picking process that I experienced in my youth, we can all agree that there is something special about being chosen – whether it’s being chosen to be on a team to play a game, or selected to fulfill a special task or to receive an award, or being chosen by someone special to be a life-time partner and companion. It makes us feel good to know that someone sees our potential, recognizes our gifts and talents, wants us to be with them, or simply loves us for who we are. There is nothing quite like those words, “You are chosen.”
“You are chosen,” Jesus says to his disciples before his death. “You are chosen.” It takes little imagination for us to feel the well-spring of joy that those words must have brought to the disciples. They were words for them to savor, to hold close, and to remember during the times of discouragement and pain.
“You are chosen,” Jesus says to us. These words are for us to savor, to hold close and to remember. Each of us has been chosen to be part of God’s team, not on the basis of who will we be or on what we will do, but on the basis of whose we are. We belong to God. God created us and made each one of us special.
How different God’s choosing is different from the team making process of my childhood! God chooses us even if we are far from the ideal candidates on the outside. God chooses us and in so doing God makes us special and endows us with the gifts that we will need.
“You are chosen. You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus said. You did not have to be at the right place at the right time in order to be chosen by Jesus. You didn’t have to earn the right to be chosen. You didn’t have to prove yourself to be the better candidate – for you have been chosen, not on the basis of our own merit, but by the will of God.
“You are chosen. You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus said. It may sound strange for me to admit that I didn’t choose to be a Christian. I was chosen before I had the ability to gather knowledge about the religions of the world. My spiritual journey might seem more interesting if I could tell you that I become a believer only after a long torturous process of reflection, investigation and study. But I cannot claim this. I am here only because God did not give up on me. And my involuntary placement among those who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior doesn’t bother me one bit. We, Americans, often exalt freedom of choice. We like to think of ourselves are independent, self-made men and women who are who we are because we decided and chose to be that way on our own. So it’s not surprising that many think that faith really isn’t our own unless they found it all by themselves, on their own, without help. And yet there are so many things in our lives over which we have no choice. Our name, our family, our traditions, even the basic components of our looks, comes to us from others. We are who we are by grace rather than through our choice.
“You are chosen. You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus said. You have been selected to be part of God’s team. As part of that team, you can be assured that you will not face the problems of a cruel world and a heartless system which rejects some and embraces others. You have been eternally chosen for a relationship of mutual love and friendship with our God who will not abandon you. God chose you for this relationship before you were a twinkle in your parent’s eyes.
You are chosen, not of your own will, but of the will Christ, to receive the benefits of God’s love. But you have been chosen, not only to receive the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, but to spread that love abroad in your relationships with others. Because God’s love is working in you, you can dare to follow the example of Jesus’ love in service to others. As part of God’s team, we work together in bringing God’s grace to the world.
“You are chosen,” Jesus tells us. May we embrace these three words and find in them joy for living and power for serving. For Jesus has chosen us. We did not choose him. He has chosen us to be part of his kingdom forever. Alleluia and amen! And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.