Do I Choose or Am I Chosen?

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
John 6:56-69

“Choose this day whom you will serve…” — Joshua (Joshua 24:15)

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life”                                          — Simon Peter (John 6:68)

“Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”                                            — Jesus (John 6:70)

First a disclaimer: I find my home in that line of theological thought which insists that God chooses us long before we begin to give thought to choosing God. And yet. In both the words of Joshua today and in the words of Jesus in this week’s Gospel, we are told it is ours to choose.

And yet again, I have to say that as I look back over my life, it appears to me that a whole lot of the time the choice was pretty clear. As though it wasn’t really mine to choose at all.

On this steamy Saturday morning in August, I found myself driving past cornfields on my way to run errands. I was taken back to a similar drive shared with my dad some thirty years ago. We were driving east on Route 38 between Rochelle and DeKalb here in Northern Illinois. The purpose of our errand is long forgotten. This moment I still remember:

He was driving. I was looking out over an endless sea of green: corn and beans in patchwork, flourishing in this richest of farmland. I sighed and said, “I think this is the most beautiful place in the world.” He nearly drove off the highway as he jerked his head to look at me. “Really?” he asked. “Really!” he exclaimed. It occurred to me then that his sense of beauty had been shaped by another ocean entirely: one that was blue and gray and capped in white and was and is as endless as these cornfields in Northern Illinois appear to be.

My point is this. I can no more help loving the sight of lush green fields than my dad could help loving the sight and sound and smell of the ocean. It was never really a choice for either one of us. To this day, for all of my appreciating the beauty of ocean and mountain and dessert, this is it for me, for this is what shaped me. This is still home.

So I ask, did I choose it or did it choose me?

Or this. I was a freshman in high school. My best friend talked me into trying out for the volleyball team. Now I am not at all certain I had ever laid eyes on a volleyball before. Remember, this was back when competitive athletics for girls was still quite new. More than that, I have never been very athletic. As a child I would have been described as ‘bookish.’ Then (and yes, still today) I loved most of all the interplay of words and ideas and how they shaped stories. And yet, I said yes. I tried out for the team.

I made the team. My friend did not. I expect I was chosen for my sheer grit. I tried to make up for lack of skill with just plain hard work. However, my athletic career was doomed from the second day of practice when I went to set the ball and sprained both of my thumbs. Though they kept me on the team for three years, I never got my confidence back. I spent most of the time on the bench — more and more terrified that they might actually put me in to play and then what? Finally at the start of my senior year I decided that particular anxiety was not worth it. I chose to put my time and energy into my place on our Speech Team — spending many an after school hour discussing the issues of the day with my coach and developing my file of newspaper and magazine clippings so as to be ready for Saturday meets where I competed and did pretty well in extemporaneous speaking.

Oh yes, I made a choice. And yet? I had no natural athletic ability. My gifts for reading and thinking, reasoning and shaping positions had been nurtured and developed for years already by then.

And so I ask again, did I really choose or was I chosen?

And finally this. Like many of you who will read this, I grew up in the church. My folks took me to the font when I was but a couple of months old. Sunday morning in the 1960’s and ’70’s in my family was only for worship and Sunday School. I was sent to church camp, went through confirmation, and was encouraged and invited into leadership at a very young age in the congregation I called home. In the end, I chose, I suppose, to respond to a call to full time ministry. But my sense is that I was chosen long before I ever packed up my yellow Dodge Colt and drove to Luther Seminary for summer Greek in the summer of 1984.

And so once more I ask, did I choose or was I chosen?

It seems to me this is what Simon Peter finds himself struggling with today as he hears Jesus’ demand to choose. For he responds by saying there really is no choice at all, even though others have clearly chosen not to follow. And as Jesus points out, the twelve were chosen, yes. But one of the twelve chose another way.

So I expect in the end it is perhaps some of both. Indeed, it goes without saying that out of great love, God has chosen us all. And yet, at the same time, you and I are called to choose every day ‘whom we will serve.’

And so I am called to wonder every day as I begin a new day:

  • Will I choose to live in kindness or will I let old hurts taint my responses to those around me?
  • Will I close my office door or will I respond to the cry of pain in the outer office? Or on the other end of the phone line? Or in our neighborhood and beyond?
  • Will I work for justice in the world or will I cower in my fear that I might offend?
  • Will I entrust to God a portion of what I have been given or will I hoard it all away in fear?
  • Will I begin and end my day in prayer or will I try to go it alone?

And on and on…

Oh yes, with Joshua and Simon Peter we do choose ‘who we will serve — who it is we will follow.’ This being so, I thank God every day that God made the ultimate choice for me first. Because of this, all of my choices every day are made under a benevolent cloud of grace.

Indeed, we have before us now a central question for people of faith and so it is so vitally important to keep it before us. For while God did choose us, you and I are called to choose how we will live out the joy of having been so chosen. Shall I, shall we, live it in hope and love and promise? Or shall we not? Either way, what will that look like?

  • Do we choose or are we chosen? What do you think? What stories from your own experience shape your thinking on this?
  • What does it look like to ‘choose’ to serve God in the day to day? What choices are you faced with even now?

One comment

  1. Hobbes says:

    This is the fundamental premise of cognitive therapy: you may have been born with the genetics for depression but . . . you do make a choice on letting the cognitive distortions your brain presents you taking you down. It is a struggle to see that a choice is present but it is . . . even though I do have the genetics from my mother and grandmother. See David Burns or Aaron Beck./

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