Sermon preached on Sunday 9th May – Easter 6 based on the Gospel, John 15:9-17
May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’
What does it feel like to be chosen? Well looking back on those days at school when you all stood in a line in a PE lesson and two of your classmates had to take it in turns to select their ‘teams’ and you either had to be very good at sport or very popular, and you could see the level of both criteria dwindling as you still stood there till the bitter moment of being the last one standing, so not technically even chosen, just making up the numbers, it wasn’t really something you really knew about!
Of course, you knew the hurt of not being chosen, but today we hear Jesus confirming that the diverse and disparate group of people that he had gathered together were not there because they had chosen to follow and believe in him, but that he had chosen them, and in doing so he was continuing a long tradition that we can see throughout the bible and throughout the history of the church. Unlikely people chosen to accomplish extraordinary tasks.
The fact is God does not play favourites among his people, however, through the Old Testament we are made aware that God does designate the Israelites, the antecedents of the Jewish people as his ‘chosen people’ as they were the ONLY ones at that time to obey him in lieu of other gods. In Deuteronomy (7:6) it says, ‘For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.’
However, with the coming of Jesus, that specific favouritism was, if not to be laid aside, was undoubtedly to be extended to a wider group. Instead, being chosen was to be based on faith, not on genealogy, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him’ (Romans 10:11-12)
So why would he choose you or me? Maybe some of us might be extraordinary and totally obedient to God, but I would suspect that the majority of us are pretty ordinary and fall short some of the time, yet God still chooses us; and thus, it has ever been.
If we go back to Genesis, we can find many examples of ordinary people being chosen by God for extraordinary tasks, people like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, but perhaps the most surprising at that time is the story of Joseph, the one with the multicoloured coat, beloved son but hated brother. Who rose from captured slave, unjustly accused prisoner to Pharaoh’s right-hand man, who helped Egypt prepare for a great famine. Why? Well God had a plan for Joseph, as he told his brothers when they were reconciled, ‘Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today‘. Joseph was chosen by God to preserve God’s chosen people.
We can then fast forward to Moses, whom God also chose to preserve his chosen people, and to free them from slavery in Egypt. Unwillingly abandoned as a baby, then brought up as a prince by Pharaoh’s daughter; as a young adult he saw his people being beaten, and retaliated by killing an Egyptian and had to flee to Midian until he was chosen by God to confront Pharaoh and lead God’s people to freedom. An unlikely choice, who stumbled over his words and needed his brother Aaron to speak for him, but who turned out to be the perfect choice, because God intended it to be that way.
Perhaps though one of God’s most astonishing choices was David, a talented poet and musician, slayer of giants (okay that’s pretty amazing) but an adulterer and inciter to murder who became a great leader; but most of all, a man after God’s own heart. Chosen by God to be king.
God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved
And of course, we mustn’t forget people like Mary, a young teenage virgin from a small town, who would become the mother of God’s son. Such an unexpected choice. But Mary had a remarkable faith, an open heart, and a willingness to do whatever God asked of her. She turned out to be the perfect choice, but only God could have known that.
There are countless examples in scripture of people being chosen by God, who had no other real qualifications, except that they were selected by God for these tasks, and the same was true of Jesus’ choices of his disciples. Fishermen, tax collectors, political activists and a suspected thief, not a religious leader among them. No experts in God’s teachings, no scholars. If anyone were asked to pick a team to plant a new church nowadays, I don’t think these would be the professions that would feature high on the job specification. Yet for the disciples they had one thing going for them, Jesus chose them.
And they needed to be reminded, when full of fear, anxiety and confusion after Jesus’ arrest, of that conversation in that upper room; of his command to love one another and to remain in him; and the fact that Jesus chose them. They didn’t choose him. He chose them – those particular people, after prayer and discernment, to continue to bring his love into this world, and to bear his fruit, fruit that will last. They may not have felt particularly qualified to do this, or very confident that they could pull it off. Except for one very important thing: Jesus chose them.
How many times, I wonder, would they need to come back to that assurance? The times when they were ignored or laughed at, hated and persecuted, imprisoned and some of them were even killed? How many times did they remind themselves that God’s own Son chose them, and he chose them for a reason?
The disciples were chosen by God for a particular purpose. But they’re not the only ones. The fact is each and every one of us has also been chosen by God for a particular purpose in this world. We know this because as Paul tells the Ephesians, we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world; and to the Colossians, we are ‘God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.’
Of course, we all have our moments of doubt. Moments when we wonder what on earth are we are doing with our lives; what are we really here for; and it’s good to sometimes ask ourselves these hard questions. Because if we dig deep enough, we will hear those words that God’s people have heard from the very beginning, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you‘. We have been chosen to bear the fruit of God’s love in this world, and to bear it in a way that no one else can.
And what an important time it is for us to bear the fruit of God’s love in this world. We can keep reminding ourselves it’s been a tough year, how our world has changed forever by the pandemic; the economic challenges, the rise in mental health issues, and a decrease in hope for our future. but perhaps you and I have been chosen by Jesus, for just such a time as this. Our world needs healing. Our world needs hope. Our world needs to be reminded of God’s love for us all.
If ever there was a time for the church to be the church, it is certainly now. And we are the church.
The words that Jesus spoke to those first disciples, he speaks to every one of us today: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit.’ So may God bless us and help us as we step out in confidence to bring the light of Jesus into our world, and to bear the fruit of his love. Amen