Read Deuteronomy 10:12-21 and John 15:12-17
One day, as Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem, where he would be betrayed, arrested, mocked and executed, two of his disciples – James and John came up to him and asked,
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Jesus told them that they had no idea what they were requesting, then he asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” James and John assured Jesus that yes, they were able.
Jesus then told them that yes, they would indeed drink from the cup from which he drank and be baptized with the same baptism with which he was baptized, “but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the other ten disciples heard this they were livid, wondering what made James and John feel like they should get special treatment. After all, Jesus had chosen them in the same way he had chosen James and John; they were among the elect, and if there was some special appointment, the other ten certainly qualified for that appointment just as much as James and John did.
Too often this is the mindset that accompanies the title “chosen” – it’s the feeling that you DID something that entitled you to BE chosen, like the bachelors and bachelorettes on the dating game; you answered the questions in a clever or appealing way, that you beat out the competition, that you have earned the status of being chosen.
But there is no mention anywhere in scripture of any tests that the disciples had to pass in order to be chosen; no mention of any qualifications to being a disciple other than the simple fact that Jesus CHOSE them as his disciples. In fact if you look at their track record after being chosen as disciples, they were all pretty obvious failures in regards to their obedience to Jesus’ commandments as well as their faithfulness to their Teacher; they all pretty much abandoned ship when the sea got a bit rough and it looked like Jesus was not going to overthrow the foreign rulers and those who collaborated with them. In fact the Bible does a pretty good job of showing us that those who are chosen are in no way different from you and me.
And what did the Israelites do to deserve the title ‘chosen’? Their only qualification was that they were descendants of Abraham, a person who did manage to obey God from time to time, but also a guy who mistreated his slaves, who even mistreated his wife, denying that she was indeed his wife when the truth might have cost him his life. And those descendents of Abraham disobeyed all the time – they were a stiff-necked people as the scripture describes them.
As far as I can see, being CHOSEN by God has nothing to do with one’s attributes. There’s no righteousness test that the chosen have passed in order to gain the designation. It’s totally God’s prerogative to choose, and from one perspective it appears that the only “reward” that comes from being chosen is suffering. Look at how much the Jewish people have suffered in the past two thousand years, particularly in the last century. And consider Jesus’ own suffering as we do every week, perhaps every day as we see the cross on our altar or on a steeple or hanging around our necks. If suffering is a big part of being chosen, do we really want to be chosen?
I have spoken to quite a few people in my career as pastor who have gone through intense suffering in their lives – physical, emotional, psychological. We don’t like it, and the suffering tests our faith in so many ways. They ask, “Why is God doing this to me?”
But in that very question, “Why is GOD doing this…” they confess a faith. And when we confess our faith, we confess the truth that we are chosen.
And once you’re chosen, you can’t be UNCHOSEN.
And you know that you’re chosen, because you’re here in church – or out there on zoom.
Everyone who is giving an ear to this message is seeking God, and God doesn’t play hide and seek with you. He’s here, and Jesus promises…
If you ask you receive, if you seek you find, if you knock the door is opened.
And once the door is opened you can’t shut it. YOU FOUND WHAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR:
Are you suddenly going to say, “I thought it was gonna be something different.”
God, I thought you were just there to do my bidding; I didn’t know I’d have to get involved in ministry. I didn’t know that part of that ministry was bearing witness to you in the midst of my suffering.
You’re chosen, and there’s no way out of it. You simply have to get used to it.
Or better yet, learn to love it!
Do you hear what Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson?
“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
What has led you to be chosen is your sincere pursuit of Truth, your honest endeavor to know the True God. And when you open that door to God, God makes known everything you need to know, and you are no longer God’s servant: YOU’RE GOD’S FRIEND! Your relationship with God has become something different and wonderful; God is no longer your invisible master; God is your ever-present friend. And the joy that you experience is a joy that you share with your new friend.
And that bond of friendship affects every decision you make. It affects every aspect of your life.
I realize that there are lots of problems with the Old Testament – that’s why I explained last week that our understanding of God is something that evolves; our understanding of God is contextual – it depends on our location in time and space.
There was a lot of smiting going on three thousand years ago, and the Israelites believed that their God was involved in all that smiting. Maybe they got that wrong.
BUT THEY DIDN’T GET EVERYTHING WRONG: THEY UNDERSTOOD THAT THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD WAS LIKE A FRIENDSHIP, AND FRIENDS ARE LOYAL TO EACH OTHER.
After Joshua leads the Israelites into the Promised Land, conquering various tribes and kingdoms, he speaks to the people and says, “Choose this day who you’re going to serve; will it be the gods of the Canaanites, or will it be the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob…Choose as you please, BUT AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSEHOLD WE WILL SERVE THE LORD.”
Joshua may have put more focus on serving than on loving, but he’s expressing a need to choose to commit to the one true God
BECAUSE, as text tells us,
“…the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
While a lot of other nations worshiped gods of nature, gods of fertility, gods of agriculture, gods of war and gods of power, THE ISRAELITES WORSHIPED A GOD OF LOVE AND JUSTICE.
They didn’t get the love and the justice RIGHT all of the time, but neither do we.
AND THEY LATCHED ON TO SOMETHING TRUE AND SOMETHING WONDERFUL:
GOD IS LOVING ABOVE ALL ELSE.
And when they discerned that, THEY WERE CHOSEN…
Because they knew that God, in his great love, would want all of his children all over the world to be just as loving as him.
And if you know that, then you are chosen. And there’s no going back.
CHOSEN-NESS IS NOT AN HONOR: IT IS A PRIVILEGE THAT COMES WITH UNSURPASSED JOY AS WELL AS RESPONSIBILITY
My Christian friends, I know that there are plenty of folks in this world who claim to love God, but don’t in fact know the truth about God’s love. They go through life hurting others as they hurt themselves. THAT’S WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT THAT YOU RECOGNIZE YOUR CHOSEN-NESS, EMBRACE YOUR CHOSEN-NESS, AND RUN WITH IT IN GREAT JOY!
Right now we’re few in number, but with the proper level of zeal we can change the world, staring with our own hearts, then moving on to our church, then to our neighbors and our community. ACCEPT THE FACT THAT YOU ARE CHOSEN, AND KNOW THAT THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN LIVE YOUR LIFE ABUNDANTLY IS BY EMBRACING THAT TRUTH.