When I work on a Sunday sermon, I spend the whole week reading the lessons. Usually, though, after one time through I pretty well know what I'm going to preach about that week. The rest of the time I find myself reading those lessons through with that one idea in mind. But then, a funny thing happens.
Not all of the time, but fairly often on Sunday morning, in the middle of the service, as I read the lesson, I read something that I missed all week. It's not that I didn't read that part of the lesson, of course. It's just that my initial idea so restricted my field of vision that I basically miss entire verses of the lessons. When I read them in church--seemingly for the first time--my mind wanders: "Where has that been all week? Why didn't I preach on that?"
This week was one of those weeks. Actually, it's kind of fun--to see if I can still say the words I'm supposed to be saying but also thinking my way through a hypothetical sermon in my head. Usually, though, the busyness of Sunday means I forget about that little kernel--maybe to pick it up three years later when the cycle comes back around or maybe to leave it behind forever. But then every so often...
I get another chance. Sometimes that same lesson shows up in the Daily Office for that week, and God gives me another chance to preach on it. Or, in cases like this one, one of the lessons I read during the week is close enough to the nugget I left behind that it brings me right back to that moment of wondering "what if" I had preached on it instead.
In the middle of Sunday's gospel lesson (John 15:9-17), Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." Chosenness. What does it mean to be chosen by God? And then I read today's lesson from the NT (Ephesians 1:1-10) and I get the chance to revisit that whole concept.
Usually, I think of faith as choices I make. Will I believe in God? Will I accept his offer of salvation? Will I follow him as a disciple and serve him as my Lord? Will I answer his call? That's how the whole Baptismal Covenant is framed--around questions about choices. "Will you...respect the dignity of every human being?" Well, with God's help I will. Youbetcha.
But Paul and Jesus both give us an idea that is fundamentally different. We don't choose God. God chooses us. How totally and completely different is a faith that is built not on the choices of its adherents but on the choice of the supreme being? God chooses us. That's where it starts--not with our decision to follow him, but with his decision to choose us as his beloved.
Stop worrying about whether you make the right choices. Start believing that no matter what you decide, God has already decided to love you. Begin with your chosenness, and let your discipleship grow from that.
(It would have been a much better sermon, anyway.)