05/06/18 – Chosen

CHOSEN

May 6, 2018
6th Sunday of Easter
Psalm 98; Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

If you’ve been to a restaurant recently on a Friday night and seen a parade of teenagers in fancy dresses and tuxedos, you know it is prom season. In the past few years, there has been an increasing trend in making the prom invitation a dramatic event. Pizza deliveries with “Prom?” spelled out in pepperoni slices, special-order Chinese fortune cookies with the all-important question inside, Starbucks drinks with the question written in marker on the cup – these are for the teens with limited funds and imaginations. Scavenger hunts are popular if a prospective date is more industrious. And, if money’s no object, there are service providers who charge as much as $400 to create an unusual prom invite scenario. One would hope the inviter is certain the invitee will say “yes” when opting for a very public setting. Rejection is painful enough for a teenager without an audience. It feels great to be chosen, unless of course, you aren’t, or if the one who chooses you isn’t the one you want to choose you.  The one doing the inviting takes a risk.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16)

God took a colossal risk with humanity. God chose us but also gave us free will that we had the power to choose God and make God’s joy complete. According to the Genesis account, it did not take long before the first humans chose to disobey God when tempted to be like God. God chose the Hebrew people, but time after time they chose false idols, and world powers and pleasures, thereby rejecting God. Again, and again, God chose leaders who chose not to be obedient. And, God chose prophets who did not want to be chosen but chose to be obedient.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

Our reading from Acts marks what we might call “The Gentile Pentecost.” According to Luke, the author of Acts, the pivotal point for the early Christian Church was Peter’s encounter with Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile. The verses read this morning are final words of a sermon Peter preached at the home of Cornelius in Caesara. Immediately after Peter finishes his sermon, he baptizes Cornelius and all those present from his household. This act marked the beginning of the mission to the gentiles.

Peter’s understanding had been that Jesus, a Jew, was sent to God’s Chosen People and them alone. In the first chapter of Acts we read that on Pentecost, a Jewish festival, Jews came to Jerusalem from every nation to which the Jews had been dispersed. Then and there they received the gift of the Holy Spirit Jesus had promised his disciples. But, God wasn’t finished. Peter and Cornelius were led to meet following a series of dreams and visions. Peter realized that God meant for the gift of the Son and the Holy Spirit to be given to all – Jews and non-Jews.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

God’s spirit is greater than our expectations. With the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, the excluded became the included. The ones that were deemed outside of God’s family became God’s children. This should not have surprised Peter. Look back to those who Jesus befriended, sinners and Samaritans, poor folk and prostitutes, tax collectors and ten lepers, and the list goes on. Jesus didn’t hang out with the “in crowd,” he brought the unchosen into his circle of love.

In our reading from John’s gospel, Jesus refers to his disciples as friends. In the age of Facebook, the word, “friend,” has been reduced to denote relationships built on nothing but words and images passed around the Internet with people we may never have even met. We might “like” what someone posts without knowing anything about them. Friendship is not personal. The love Jesus spoke about, “agape” love is deeply personal. To love someone is to be willing to sacrifice for another.

As we have read in previous weeks in both John and First John, love is at the heart of friendship. The Greek word translated here as “friend”, literally means “loved ones” (Interpreter’s Bible) To love someone is not the same as to like them. Jesus said: “I have called you friends (loved ones) because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

“As the Father has loved me,” Jesus says, “so I have loved you,” Jesus says these powerful words in his Farewell Address on the eve of his crucifixion. He will demonstrate this love when he submits to pain and death on the cross. Rather than a gruesome reminder of Jesus’ torturous death, John tells us the cross is the sign of Christ’s love for us. Jesus explains: “No one has greater love than this, that you lay down your life for your friends.” This cross reminds us that there is no length to which God would not go to embrace us in love. There is nothing that God wouldn’t do to save us through love. What greater comfort do we have? What greater comfort can we give to those we believe there is no hope or purpose for their lives, for those beaten down by oppression or rejection, believing themselves to be among the unchosen?

“You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

Our scripture readings today tell us we demonstrate our love for God with obedience. In the era of “#MeToo” that sounds oppressive, even dangerous.  To submit to abuse in a job or a marriage is not the biblical concept of obedience. One who demands obedience by threats and intimidation is abhorrent to God because it born neither out of love or justice. It is exploiting the vulnerable rather than protecting them. Jesus explains that our obedience is not like that of a servant but as a friend, “a loved one.” This kind of obedience is born of love, not fear or punishment or promise of reward.

A unique feature of John’s gospel is there is little ethical or moral instruction such as you find in the Synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. There is not a Sermon on the Mount or on the Plain, not a lot of teaching parables. For John there is one law, one command — to love. (Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year B, p.265)

“For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. Jesus

instructed his disciples: love one another as I have loved you.”

A tall order, to be sure.

Jesus explains that we can love by abiding in him. How do we do that? By abiding in his love.  Obedience to God comes from love and love comes from obedience. Still a mystery? The key is that we are chosen, and not by any quality or action on our part. That is John’s gospel in a nutshell. We can risk love, even when we receive no love in return. We can risk being Christ’s disciples in a hostile world because we have a safety net – God’s love.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

The Word of the Lord.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois