Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Psalm 85: 8-13; Ephesians 1: 3-14
First Church of Christ, Cong’l, *******
July 16, 2006
Chosen. What a powerful word. Think about what it means to be chosen. You have been chosen. It feels grand to be chosen, doesn’t it? Well, if it’s something good, yes. Remember back in elementary school, when teams would be chosen for kickball during recess? It felt great to be among the first ones chosen; it was humiliating to be chosen last. You knew what kind of player your friends thought you were based on when you got picked for the team.
There are so many wonderful opportunities to be chosen: a part in the school play or local amateur production, class president, singing the national anthem at a ballgame, graduation speaker, prom date, friendships, relationships, the one who wants to marry us, scholarships, teaching fellowships, awards, job interviews, promotions, college applications and essays, sports and academic teams, a published book or poem. It’s thrilling when we are chosen, when we are needed, accepted, desired, wanted, required. It’s as though our purpose in life has been suddenly illuminated for that brief instant and we think “Wow, me?” or “I’m glad you finally saw the light of day!” We know ourselves to be joined in creating something special, which may not have been the same if we were not a part of it.
There are times we’d like to think that we’re important, that somehow our corner of the world hinges on our participation in it. Then we are chosen for something we’d rather not do and the measure of our importance conveniently shrinks. Sometimes our talents are matched perfectly to the chosen task; often we can be chosen to do something for which we feel wholly unqualified and we wonder just who is in charge.
When we are chosen for something in the church we oftentimes feel the latter: feelings of inadequacy, that we’re not the right person for the job, they should find someone who is more faithful, who knows more about the Bible, who is a better public speaker. We may wonder if God’s hand is really in our being chosen. What can God be thinking, asking us? What plan does God have in mind?
In today’s epistle lesson, Paul tells us that God is thinking about grace and has been doing so since time immemorial. Grace has been the plan all along. God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children though Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Even though we are made in God’s image, even though we are of God’s creation, we are in need of adoption because we rejected this image, this creation when we sinned against God and chose our own way. God gave humankind free will and we did not choose God and the way of love. But before the foundation of the world, God adopted us, chose us in Christ, even before we had an opportunity to reject God.
Any of us who are parents know what it means to choose our children, to choose that they will be ours, no matter what, long before they are born, whether they are born to us or to their birth parents. We know we will never stop being their parents, come what may.
Recently, a longtime friend of mine, Andy, wrote in his weblog about when he was adopted, or as his parents told him, chosen. He writes, “My mother explained that after the adoption process was complete (a two + year process) my parents were asked to ‘select’ their child. Apparently there were ten babies, all chosen to match up with my parents heritage, who were ‘available for adoption’ and my parents were asked to choose their first child from this group. Now, I was a goofy looking child. I was cross-eyed and had ‘creative’ hair that went wherever it wanted to. I've seen the pictures. Believe me, it's true. Goofy goofy goofy looking child. How they chose me I figured that I would never know. So one anniversary I finally asked my Mom, ‘If I was so silly looking, then how come you chose me?’ And my mother smiled and said, ‘We chose the baby that needed the most love.’” And each year his family would honor (and still does) the day that he and each of his siblings were chosen as well as the day they were born.
But not all adoption stories are so happy like my friend Andy’s. In some cases children do not attach or bond themselves readily to their new parents, no matter how much they are wanted, no matter how much they are sought after. If they are at an older age, they may be afraid that they will be abandoned again. They have difficulty trusting anyone. They believe that they don’t really belong, that they aren’t anyone’s son or daughter. They act out their anger with their parents, their siblings, their teachers, with anyone they might feel tempted to be close to. It can leave parents at their wits end, knowing they have done everything to tell their child that they love them and that they are wanted.
But we can’t give back our children, nor do we really want to. All any parent can do, when their child is in pain, whether adopted or not, is love that child even when they don’t deserve it; especially when they don’t deserve it.
It is this grace that God offers us, each one of us adopted as God’s child, as the apostle Paul puts it. And it is God who does the choosing, not us. We do not choose who is adopted, who is among the chosen; God is the chooser, the ‘decider’. And through the life of Jesus the Christ we see who God chooses: the poor, the outcast, the sinner, the weak, the forgotten, the oppressed, the meek, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who mourn, those who are pure in heart, the poor in spirit, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Jesus didn’t hang out with, or make himself out to be one of the insiders, the winners, the eloquent, the brightest, or the star. He traveled with and lived as one of the outsiders, the losers, the plain-spoken, the simple, and the ordinary.
Are we with those whom God chooses in Christ? Are we with those whom this world rejects, yet God chooses? Like the story of the sheep and the goats, about feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, as if we were serving Christ himself, we all score as goats. Even though we, the apparent insiders, live apart from those whom God chooses in Christ, still God chooses us too. Even so, God chooses us too. Not only chooses us but lavishes on us the riches of God’s grace, forgiving our sins and redeeming our lives, and calling us sons and daughters of grace. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance…so that we might live for the praise of his glory.
This kind of choosing shows us at once how insignificant and how precious we are. We are chosen not for greatness in the eyes of the world but chosen so that we might live for the praise of Christ’s glory.
Jesus the Christ is called the ‘only begotten son of God’ because he did not turn from God. He did not have to be adopted into God’s family through grace because Jesus was faithful to God and God’s way of love for all people. And it is through this Chosen One, through this particularity, that God reveals infinite grace and chooses us. When we sin, when we choose one kind of person over another; when we choose to live separate from God and God’s love and power to heal, when we behave in such a way as to think we don’t deserve love, it is especially then that God does love us and adopts us, chooses us once more to be children of love and grace.
One of the slogans of the Still Speaking campaign is: No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. We, who have been chosen by God and God’s grace, cannot deny anyone God’s choosing of them in Christ. If you’ve seen either of the ads, both are about how the United Church of Christ doesn’t reject anyone. I’d like to see an ad that shows what it means to be chosen, that illustrates the power of being chosen by God’s grace to transform lives and congregations. There are some who have suffered abandonment from the world, who have been orphaned from their family of faith, yet they desperately want to belong to a community that accepts them as they are, who would adopt them as they are, just as we, who were once orphans, who were not a people, have been adopted into this family of faith and now know ourselves as belonging to God.
In response to being chosen by God, how might we live for the praise of Christ’s glory? In your life together as a family of God, what would bring glory to Christ? Who is missing in the family of faith, the Church universal? Who are the chosen, the adopted children of God’s grace not present, not welcomed? Redemption was God’s plan all along; not just for some but for all. When we come together to worship, our gathering is incomplete. The family is not whole, thus, neither are we. For that reason, we are chosen to be sent into the world, to seek out our adopted sisters and brothers, to extend God’s grace to all people, giving the Good News that we are all children of God, chosen by God before the creation of the world. Amen.