Sermon for 6th Easter -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
You did not choose me – I chose you.
So says Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson this 6th Easter Sunday. In this text, Jesus speaks about joy, friendship and love.
These are wonderful words. And, what makes them even more wonderful is their context – Jesus is sharing these thoughts with his disciples during what we call Holy Week, shortly before he will be imprisoned, tortured and killed. And, Jesus knows this. So, what does he speak of in what we call his “farewell discourses?” Jesus speaks about joy, friendship and love! Joy, friendship and love for Jesus’ disciples and for us all.
Scholar David Lose, whose ideas helped me for this sermon, wonders aloud about the Thomas Jefferson inspired “pursuit of happiness,” words that have been part of our US history and psyche since Jefferson included them in the Declaration of Independence.
Lose notes that, since Thomas Jefferson, we have been taught to think happiness is something we should pursue. But can we do that, Lose wonders? For what is happiness, exactly? When do we know we’ve found it? And how do we go about it pursuing it?
As human beings we are notoriously bad at predicting what will make us happy. Perhaps that’s because happiness is not, finally, something you can pursue and catch and possess in the first place. Rather, perhaps happiness is the by-product of worthy activities. Perhaps happiness is the feeling you get a job well done, or from achieving a goal, or from being honest and trustworthy, or from helping someone out. In this sense, happiness is less a commodity to be pursued and possessed than it is a by-product of noble efforts or, even more, simply a gift to be received.
The same is true – perhaps even more so – when it comes to joy, the close cousin of happiness that Jesus talks about in today’s reading. One of the helpful mantras of the yoga world is the invitation and imperative to “choose joy.” I do not know about you, but I have to remind myself often of just how many times I actually do indeed have a choice about how I view something, react to something, focus on one thing or another, knowing that each of these things can be an instance of “choosing joy” over frustration, anger, hopelessness, and more.
At the same time, and in light of Jesus’ teaching here, it seems like joy is also and simultaneously beyond our choosing and comes to us as a gift. Jesus commands his disciples to remain and abide in him and his love for them. True enough. But Jesus also just plain loves them…enough to give his life for them (and for us!).
Moreover, Jesus is pretty clear that, whatever they may have thought, his disciples did not actually choose him, or decide to follow him, or consciously become his disciples. Rather, he chose them. Jesus chose them!
And this will be critically important to the disciples in the hours to come. Keep in mind that this conversation takes place on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. In just a few hours Jesus will be arrested, tried, convicted, and executed as an enemy of the state. He endures all of this in order to demonstrate the love he has for his disciples and, indeed, the profound love that God has for the whole world. But that action will not only give witness to Jesus’ love for the disciples, it will also leave his disciples feeling bereft, alone, and frightened. Which is why Jesus both urges them to abide in him and reminds them that what is more important is that they know he will abide in them.
So, Jesus tells his disciples that they did not choose him; rather, Jesus chose them.
This matters, I think, because if it’s finally up to us – to choose Jesus, to remain in him, to obey his commandments, to pursue happiness, or to choose joy – if it finally up to us, then we are lost. We simply do not do it. Maybe we cannot. We can try, and there is something valiant and noble and important about trying. But when push comes to shove, whether you’re telling someone to “accept Jesus” or “choose joy,” you may be giving good advice, but you’re not proclaiming the Gospel.
You see, the Gospel, the good news, is that God chose us. That God loves us. That God plans to use us to make this world God loves a better place. That can be hard to remember, especially after recent events in Baltimore, Nepal, and Nigeria and maybe even in our community and homes.
And, God’s choosing us is not a panacea, as if none of the difficulties of this life matter. Rather, knowing that God has chosen us, loves us, and will use us gives us the courage to face life’s challenges and renews our strength to do something about them.
Ultimately, you and I, we, cannot fix, let alone redeem, this world. That is God’s work. But knowing that God has promised to do so can provide us with the strength and energy to work to make the little corner of the world we live in a better place.
You may have heard the old story, perhaps I have even shared it with you previously in a sermon, the story of when someone is said to have asked Martin Luther what he would do if the world were going to end tomorrow. Luther is said to have replied that if the world were to end tomorrow, he would plant a tree today.
The future belongs to God and it is a gift given, like joy, to God’s beloved children. Let us live this week in that word and promise so that, while we are invited to abide and obey and choose and all of that is certainly good advice, we also hear and receive the good news that God has chosen us.
God has chosen us, once and for all times.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
God Chose Us
Sermon for Easter 6
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
May 9 /10, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California