Once again, this week, we encounter a word from scripture that should be in our vocabulary. This time, because it describes you and me: “Chosen.”
“For you are a holy people and God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people…”
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”
The department head was a wise, friendly man. One day, a young staffer sought his career advice: "Sir, What is the secret of your success?"
He said, "Two words."
"And, Sir, what are they?"
"But how do you make right choices?"
"One word." He responded.
"And, sir, What is that?" "Experience." "And how do you get Experience?"
"And, Sir, what are they?"
Our western culture is enamored with choice. It is as if we idolize choice, the more the better, it is my choice! I choose what I will do, whom I will do it with, where I will live, with whom I will associate.
It is a blessing when we find ourselves with the ability to make choices, to choose and decide for ourselves and yes, to learn from wrong choices.
Yet we so adore the “blessing” of controlling our own lives and making our own choices, that we can forget scripture is not describing our future, as in “you will have choices,” rather scripture is describing the present reality of a past act, “you are chosen.”
Dictionary: “Having been selected as the best or most appropriate.”
The “best,” or “most appropriate.” Hmmmm.
Over and over scripture speaks of the chosen. Yet it can be dangerous to think of being a chosen people, being the best or most appropriate. Jim Jones in Guyana and David Koresh in Waco both claimed to lead “the chosen.”
So what does it mean to be the “chosen” God’s “chosen?”
Our whiteboard grace answers to that question this week included “the elect,” “special,” “cherished,” “responsible.” And some smart aleck asked, “Like an adult!”
St Bonaventure wrote: “…the world makes its choices in one way, Christ in another.” Which is to say, when you look at the people “chosen,” in the bible it tells us it’s no easy thing to be chosen of God. For Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Jacob, Ruth, Jeremiah, Mary, Peter and Jesus, being God’s chosen does not mean doing well. It does not grant access to all the answers. It means contending with hard questions, thankless tasks, and usually a harrowing journey, which in Jesus’ case leads to the cross.
To consider the chosen in scripture is to come to grips with the reality that God’s definitions are not exactly dictionary definitions. Few, if any save Jesus, on the list of the biblical chosen, would qualify as “the best.” They are not chosen for their previous virtue, wealth, skills, or good looks. They are fallible human beings. Being chosen then means not what God sees as “best,” but as “most appropriate,” for God’s purposes.
Kathleen Norris tells the story, after years of being away from church, of the day she joined the church. A day like today, when the session received new members.
Before the service, the new members gathered with the session elders. There was one elder Norris didn’t like much, Ed. In fact, most folks didn’t like Ed. Ed was ill-tempered and grumpy all the time. He was known to be a gossip. He was small-minded and petty.
Before the session met, the pastor had asked Ed to formally greet the new members. As the meeting started, the pastor turned to Ed, who stood awkwardly in front of the group. He cleared his throat and then mumbled, “I’d like to welcome you to the body of Christ!”
The minister’s jaw dropped open. So too, Norris’. No one had ever heard Ed speak like that before. He spoke truth, power. Like distant thunder the words proclaimed what Jesus himself declared: “You did not choose me, I chose you.” At that moment Norris felt the awesomeness of what she had undertaken, she was joined, not to a church, but to the body of Jesus Christ himself, the Savior.
Ed had captured what it means to be chosen. As part of the body of Christ, we are a sacrament. Our sacraments - baptism and Eucharist - reveal God to us and the world. Our word wall response that mentioned “responsibility,’ got to the heart of the matter, as chosen we have a responsibility. Our task is to reveal God, through our words, our actions, our lives, our relationships. To reveal God’s love to the world. The task of the chosen is to feed God’s love to the world.
Norris had struggled for years with faith and what it meant to believe. She concluded her story saying that after gossipy, small-minded Ed’s words, she went into the church service with shaky knees. As she wobbly went to the front of the sanctuary to join the others becoming members that day, her eye caught another’s. She saw the disbelieving and unwelcoming expression on the face of a younger woman. A woman who Norris knew had opinions diametrically opposed to Norris’ Her mind’s first reaction was to consider the old western movie cliché, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” She wanted to turn around and flee the disapproval. To be nowhere near someone like that. Someone so “un-like” her.
Then it struck her, she couldn’t flee because she had been welcomed into the body of Christ. And that community was big enough for the both of them, because Christ had chosen Ed, Norris, and a disapproving church lady.
The other day, one of our volunteers, reflecting on the word wall asked, “well, who are the chosen?” “You are!” I told her.
And you, and you, and you, and all of us.
You may have chosen to get up and come to church this morning, that’s your choice. But greater than that, God chose you, you did not choose God. And God’s community is big enough for you and me. It is big enough for those we despise, and those who despise us. With all our faults, all our failures, all our scars, all our unhealed wounds, God has chosen us.
In a culture that idolizes choice and control, one thing is clear about God’s chosen, it’s a done deal. You are here, you have been chosen. The task then is how we the chosen will reveal God to another.