I have been living in these words for days… wondering about what it means that we are chosen first. And while no metaphor fully works for the call that is placed on our hearts, our lives, by Jesus now, I find myself returning to old stories of being ‘chosen.’ Wondering at how they might speak even to this ultimate ‘being chosen’ we hear of now.
When I was 14, my best friend talked me into trying out for the volleyball team with her.
Now mind you, I was not then and I am not now what anyone would call a gifted athlete. On the other hand, what I have always had was the drive to put my head down and work hard. Even then, what I lacked in skill, I tried to make up for with effort.
So it was that we went to the bulletin board that early September day to see who had made the cut. Imagine my chagrin when I saw my name on the roster where hers was not. Even so, I expect my future with the team was made clear when on one of the first days at practice I went to set the ball and found the tears springing to my eyes with not just one but two sprained thumbs. I was always skittish after that, focusing my energy on digging the ball from my knees and perfecting a decent serve.
Even so? By the time I was a junior, I was sitting on the bench. When it came time to go to practice my senior year, I quit.
I was chosen, yes. But not really. Or was I?
And a parallel story with a different outcome.
My sophomore year in high school, I took the required speech class.
Now I was a shy kid and never really wanted to be the center of attention. Unbidden, though, the teacher saw something in me and invited me to join the forensics team. It took us a year to find my niche, and by the time I was junior I was coming into my own. Among those young people, I found community. In the practice and the presenting, and with the attention of a dedicated coach, I honed skills which not only played a huge part in a college scholarship, but which I use to this day.
Chosen, again, and this time in a way that seemed to make sense. And which, in the words of Jesus now, ‘bore fruit,’ if you will.
And yet I think back to those early years playing volleyball and I cannot help but wonder now if maybe I played a larger part on that team than I could have known then. Not everyone can be a star on the court, but if I were coaching I would also want on the team those kids who just worked hard and who helped uphold standards and build community in ways that the others perhaps were not called to in the same way. I do wonder now what I would have done differently if anyone had ever bothered to tell me that.
Jesus speaks to us today of our being chosen and appointed with a purpose which is about bearing fruit that is reflected in our love for one another. And Jesus makes clear today that it is not about our having chosen, but it all begins and ends in his having chosen us.
- And this is not a having been chosen because there are only so many slots on the roster to be filled.
- This is not having been chosen because one particular set of skills is being sought.
- No, this is not the kind of being chosen because one coach or another is being held to a winning standard and so needs to fill the team with the most talented players.
- Rather, this being chosen is for something a whole lot more consequential than any of that. This is being chosen for the sake of living into sacrificial love with and for one another.
And everyone, literally everyone, is chosen for this. Which means everyone is part of bringing alive the vision that Jesus calls us to now. Not only those at center stage who may usually get the attention. But all of us.
Indeed, any one of us who have ever pastored a community for love know the gift and wonder and power of those living this out who often go largely unheralded, except by those who are built up by this generous, often sacrificial love:
Like the ones who during this time of necessary physical distance, kept sending notes, kept making phone calls, kept preparing and delivering care packages for those suffering from the virus or who were, in one way of the other, on the front line of battling it.
Or the ones who wrote a note of thanks for efforts shared and who soon will be back in the pew still holding the community in prayer (as they have all along) and joining their voice in with the song of others.
Indeed, all those who do the many small things which add up to big things, often behind the scenes all the time, contributing to build up a community where love is known and love is shared in light of Jesus’ choosing of us all. (You can make your own list here…)
Oh, my high school metaphors are entirely to small to begin to get at the ‘being chosen’ we hear and receive in Jesus’ call for us today. And yet it is also so that for me at least, many experiences of ‘being chosen’ later in life get muddled up in my mind in terms of whether I contributed in some way to being so chosen.
Those first ones, though? They came from outside, largely unearned, mostly unexpected. Perhaps not unlike the way in which Jesus chose his first followers and all who have come since.
- So it is today that I am thinking about what it means to be so ‘chosen’ by Jesus with all of its gift and responsibility. I have taken a look at this through some of my early experiences of being ‘chosen’ to other perhaps more ordinary ‘calls.’ What experiences have you had of being ‘chosen?’ How do they help you understand (or not) the ‘choosing’ Jesus does today?
- I am considering now how the ‘choosing,’ (the call, if you will) changes over time and space. For instance, I found myself in conversation with a beloved family member, also a pastor, who finds herself now ‘being chosen’ to be an activist for racial equity in ways she never was before. To be sure, I have found myself on a parallel journey with hers. How has your understanding of what you are ‘chosen for’ in terms of ‘loving one another’ changed over time? What has contributed to that shift or growth in understanding?
- It is so, isn’t it, that we are ‘chosen’ to different roles over a lifetime, although all in service of the same end: bearing the fruit of love. As you look back, how has that evolved for you? For what do you sense you are being chosen now? Might these same questions be asked of the larger Christian community in which you serve?
- Finally, there are those among you now who work with children and young people. Just imagine how your voicing their ‘being chosen’ matters. Consider how much it means when you support them in their calls. Know that it changes lives. At least I know it changed mine.