Sermon: “I Chose You” (May 10, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“I Chose You” (John 15:16)
May 10, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Do you remember what it was like in elementary school when they would pick teams at recess or P.E.? Everyone would line up against the wall of the gym or on the playground or by a field and each team captain would make their choice, one at a time, until the last kid was left standing—and technically that last kid was actually not chosen, but simply joined the team whose turn it was to “choose.”

For some of you those memories may be good ones, especially if you were a gifted athlete and chosen early. If you were among those kids chosen in the middle, you may not have any memories of this at all. But if you were chosen near the end, or the last kid standing, well, those memories are not so fun.

Each of us longs to be chosen—and throughout our lives this longing never goes away. We want to be chosen by a college for admission, chosen by a supervisor for a promotion, chosen for inclusion in the “in” crowd, on and on it goes.

This is the case with romantic love too, isn’t it? Each of us longs to be chosen—as Elton John sings in his 1992 hit The One:

All I ever needed was the one
Like freedom fields where wild horses run
When stars collide like you and I
No shadows block the sun
You’re all I’ve ever needed
Baby, you’re the one (the title track of his 1992 album).

And yet people chosen later or not chosen at all often prove to be the ones who should have been chosen earlier.

For instance, consider when the following Super Bowl winning quarterbacks were drafted. In the 1956 draft 199 players were chosen before Bart Starr, in the 1979 draft 81 players were chosen before Joe Montana, in the 2000 draft 199 players were chosen before Tom Brady (let’s put “Deflate-gate” aside for now), and in the 2012 draft 74 players were chosen before Russell Wilson.

Or consider famous authors whose works were initially not chosen by publishers. Margaret Mitchell was rejected by 38 publishers before Gone with the Wind was chosen for publication. J. K. Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before her first Harry Potter novel was chosen. (Can you imagine being one of the publishers who did not choose J. K. Rowling’s novel? Oops…). James Joyce’s famous short-story collection Dubliners was rejected 22 times before being chosen—and of the 379 copies sold in its first year James Joyce purchased 120 of them.

The varsity basketball team at Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina cut a sophomore named Michael Jordan. The University of Southern California School of Theatre, Film, and Television opted not to choose an aspiring director named Steven Spielberg for admission. You get the point.

Throughout scripture we see example after example of God choosing people who were used to being rejected. In the Old Testament (1 Samuel 16) the prophet Samuel was led by God to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to anoint the one God had chosen to be the next king of Israel. Samuel arrives and gathers Jesse and his sons together. Seven of Jesse’s sons line up and one at a time Jesse presents each of them to Samuel, while Samuel is trying to discern whom God has chosen to be the next king—and each time Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one.”

When Samuel discerned that God had not chosen any of them, I imagine it became rather tense and awkward. Then he asked Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” Listen to Jesse’s response, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” Jesse had not invited his youngest son to the sacrifice, and even then he would not even say his youngest son’s name—and apparently not one of Jesse’s other seven sons mentioned their youngest brother either. Samuel commands Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

Later this rejected shepherd boy named David arrives, and sees his father and brothers all standing with Samuel as he walks up to them. God tells Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one,” and scripture tells us, “Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:12-13). The shepherd boy, who was used to being rejected, was chosen by God to be king.

Maybe some of you, in one way or another, have had to do deal with the pain of not being chosen—perhaps not being chosen for admission to a college you really wanted to attend, or not being chosen for a job for which you applied, or not being chosen by someone with whom you had fallen in love. Perhaps some of you know what it is like to be the last kid picked for the team, or perhaps some of you, like David, have been rejected by your own family.

There is good news in today’s gospel passage. Jesus is speaking with his disciples at the Last Supper and says to them, “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16).

Jesus’ choice of disciples, who were reclining with him in that upper room at the Last Supper, does not include those who would have been considered obvious number one draft picks in Jesus’ day. Jesus had not chosen the successful or influential or powerful or beautiful or strong or brilliant. Instead, Jesus chose the likes of a tax collector named Matthew, a political extremist named Simon, a teenager named John, an outspoken fisherman named Peter, and a future traitor named Judas.

Little did these disciples know at the time the impact they would have on the world for the gospel—and in God’s sovereignty, all of them, even Judas, later proved to be the right draft picks. And what is true for the disciples is true for all of us in the church—as Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1:26-29).

We are just like those Corinthians, and yet Jesus has chosen us anyway—as Paul also wrote, this time to the Ephesians, “(God) chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3-4), or as Peter put it in his first letter, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9).

“You did not choose me but I chose you”—Jesus’ words are comforting for those not used to being chosen—and his words are also comforting on another level.

Albert Camus (1913-1960), the Nobel Prize winning author and philosopher famously stated, “Life is the sum of all your choices.” In his absurdist novel The Stranger the main character, Meursault, is awaiting execution for murder. After venting all his anger about the absurdity of the human condition to a Catholic chaplain, Meursault ponders the meaning of the choices we make:

“From the dark horizon of my future a sort of slow, persistent breeze had been blowing toward me, all my life long, from the years that were to come. And on its way that breeze had leveled out all the ideas that people tried to foist on me in the equally unreal years I then was living through. What difference could they make to me, the deaths of others, or a mother’s love, or his God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to ‘choose’ not only me but thousands of millions of privileged people” (The Stranger, 1946 Vintage Books edition, translated by Stuart Gilbert, 152).

Certainly there is an element of truth to Camus’ words, “Life is the sum of all your choices,” but the reality is that we often make wrong choices. So is that all there is? Think about your life for a minute. What choices have you made that you are so glad you made, and what choices have you made that if you had to do it all over again, you would definitely not make again?

In the Old Testament there are verses about choosing to serve God, as Joshua exhorted Israel, “choose this day whom you will serve…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15)—those are words of law. But interestingly enough, in the New Testament there are no such verses. In the New Testament this idea of our choosing to serve God is flipped around—“You did not choose me,” Jesus says, “but I chose you”—those are words of grace. And that means that while of course the choices you have made, continue to make, and will make in your life—right or wrong—matter and have consequences, your choices will not determine the sum of your life…not by a long shot.

There is another choice that actually determines the sum of your life.

In the 2000 romantic comedy The Family Man Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni play Jack and Kate Campbell, a married couple in their late thirties living in New Jersey with two young children. The family is happy there but Jack cannot stand his job, and so he has decided to take a higher-paying and more prestigious job in New York City. Kate has mixed emotions about relocating to the city, but there is something greater that motivates Kate, as she reveals to Jack:

“You know, I think about the decision you made. Maybe I was being naïve, but I believed that we would grow old together in this house, that we’d spend holidays here and have our grandchildren come visit us here. I had this image of us all gray and wrinkly…and me working in the garden and you repainting the deck. But things change. If you need this, Jack, if you really need this, I will take these kids from a life they love, and I’ll take myself from the only home we’ve ever shared together and I’ll move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you. I love you, and that’s more important to me than our address. I choose us.”

And the good news of the gospel is that Jesus has chosen you.

Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper—“You did not choose me but I chose you”—are his words to you.

Jesus has chosen you to be on his team.

And in his death on the cross Jesus, who like David was a rejected shepherd from Bethlehem, atoned for all the wrong choices you have ever made.

You are the one Jesus died for, because he loves you that much.

This means that at the end of your life you will find that the sum of your life is not the choices you made, but the choice Jesus made—the choice Jesus made to choose you and give you eternal life.

Amen.