Sunday, July 19, 2009


(Last week I was headed off for church camp with my 9-yr. old daughter and pressed for time. This is a sermon from three years ago that I edited and reworked for this church with their needs in mind. It seemed like the right message that was needed. Thanks again to Andy at Improbable Bostonian for his adoption story.)

Psalm 85: 8-13; Ephesians 1: 3-14
******** United Church of Christ
July 12, 2009

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 or some other game 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, graduation speaker, prom date, friendships, relationships, the one who wants to marry us, scholarships, teaching fellowships, awards, job interviews, promotions, work projects, college applications and essays, sports and academic teams, even something as simple as being asked to help. It can be 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. And then we are chosen for something we’d rather not do and our 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 just like that: 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 reject this image, this creation when we sin against God and choose our own way. God gave humankind free will and humankind 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.

A longtime friend of mine, Andy, wrote in his weblog about when he was adopted, or as his parents told him, when he was 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 honors 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 may have difficulty trusting anyone. They may believe that they don’t really belong, that they aren’t anyone’s son or daughter. They might 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 his or her 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. 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 and lived as one of the outsiders, the losers, the plain-spoken, the simple, and the ordinary.

Indeed this church is a community of those whom God chooses. But sometimes you may be wondering for what God has chosen you. What does God have in mind for you? Perhaps, when considering what is going on in your own life, and then taking into account the pain of transition, it may feel more than overwhelming. I have a plaque hanging in my kitchen that says “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish she didn’t trust me so much.”

Back when my children were little, there were times it was very painful for me to be in church. I wanted to be preaching, serving Communion, visiting folks in hospitals and nursing homes and in their own homes. I did not want to sit on the bench; I wanted to be in the game. It was painful for me to put aside one calling that gave me joy in order that I could give all of my time to another calling that gave me joy. I know that sounds selfish, to want both. But I believed then that I had been called to do both, that both were my life’s work and to not be able to do them both felt like a half life. Yet I knew I could not do both justice at the same time either. It felt like a trap.

I was mad at God, that God would call me to ministry and to motherhood—two things that turned out to be mutually exclusive in my life. How could God do that? Why did God choose me for this? I felt as though I had lost not only my vocation as a minister but I also felt my faith in God slipping away. And it was then I realized that I had chosen this life. I was the one who chose to say ‘yes’. I was the one who chose to go to seminary, to accept a call at a church in Ohio. I was the one who, when the feelings of wanting to be mother called to me with a fierce desire, convinced my husband the time was right. I was the one who, through tears and much struggling and prayer, asked if we had the means for me to stay home with our new baby.

God does indeed choose us for salvation, for grace, for holiness and for blamelessness, but I don’t believe God chooses us for suffering, sacrifice, pain or struggle. I think life happens. I think human beings make billions of choices each day, some of which affect only ourselves, most of which affect countless others. We make choices about what kind of person we want to be, what’s important to us, what our needs are, our wants, our desires, our hopes, our wishes, our dreams. We make choices about who we want to spend our lives with and who our friends will be. We make choices that concern our family, our friends, our church, our faith, and that neighbor that Jesus spoke of. We make choices about justice and giving and right living. And then we live the life that comes from those choices.

God is there so we don’t have to do it alone, so we don’t have to live with our choices without grace and forgiveness, without unconditional love and the guidance for right living. God is there so that when we look like a fool in the eyes of the world, in God’s eyes we are a fool for Christ. A sucker for Jesus.

God has chosen us, chooses us now and will choose us…forever. But each day we must decide if we’re going to choose God and God’s ways of love and mercy, of faithfulness and right living. Each day we choose how much we can handle with God’s help. There are days it feels like too much and we back off from our relationship with God—because not only does God give extravagantly, God also asks a great deal from us. And this time of transition may feel like to some as though God is asking one thing too many.

So I invite you to choose, to adopt God’s grace and mercy in this time of uncertainty, to choose the light at the end of the tunnel than the present unknown, to choose the new life that is to come after this brief time of giving birth, to once again choose this wonderfully goofy Church that needs and reveals God’s love so much.

Thanks be that God has adopted all of us, chosen all of us and named us as holy and precious. Thanks be that God invites us to be a part of the family of grace, that we might make God the chosen and precious One of our lives. Amen.

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