“You Did Not Choose Me, I Chose You”
Seventh Pentecost, July 15, 2012
Trinity Chapel, Kennebunk Beach, Maine
Fr. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.
Last week we looked at the nature of biblical prophecy and what Jesus meant by calling himself a prophet. We saw the prophet is as much a forth-teller as a fore-teller. The prophet confronts us with our sin and warns of disaster, if we do not repent. We looked at some of the very blunt, very judgmental, very condemnatory language of the prophets. Language such as John the Baptist used in his condemnation of King Herod and his incestuous marriage. We saw the fate of the prophets – that they are rejected, persecuted and killed as happens with John the Baptist in the Gospel before us. St. Mark is telling us that everything that happened to the prophets will happen to Jesus the prophet. And we see that the cross is the prophecy in that it is the definitive word of judgment and condemnation on the world’s sin and the human hatred and rejection of God. It is also the ultimate prophecy of mercy and forgiveness. The cross is the answer to the command of God given to the prophet Isaiah, “speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem and tell them her that her warfare is accomplished and her iniquity is pardoned.” The cross is a word which judges and condemns human evil and it is also God’s tender word of forgiveness – the Father pleading in and through the Son that his children should return home – followed up by the power of the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit which so to speak gives the ticket and the traveling money to those who are willing to humble themselves and lay hold of the offer.
There is a great mystery which in theology is called the doctrine of election. That is why some people answer the call of Jesus Christ who says, “come unto me all ye that are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” And why some do not. Some people just grow up with a God orientation. They grow up friends of Jesus. They cannot remember when they were not attentive to this word of love. Some have come to faith late. In my own case I was very receptive, very attentive when a child and then for a while grew deaf and in my college years, my ears and eyes were opened once again. Some people have always been in love with God and others knew him not and fell suddenly in love with him. Still others have had the benefit of the church, the Bible and sacraments, their whole life and though they have been sealed with the promises of God in baptism – yet they seem oddly tone deaf to the things of God and to the call of God.
Why do some respond and some not? This mystery is called the doctrine of election. Election here means being chosen, being singled out, those being called. The word church is from the Greek word ecclesia, which means the assembly that is called out and called together. The church is sometimes called the elect, those who have answered the call. You would not be here today if you were not responding to God’s word of love and his call upon your life.
Why us and not them? This mystery cuts through families. A husband heeds the call but not the wife or vice versa or a parent but not the child though they have been nurtured in the faith. At the school where I teach we have a number of students preparing for Christian ministry who are grieved that they are not able to share the joy of their calling with parents who are indifferent to the call of God.
The full answer to this mystery is hidden in the secret counsels of God. We can say two things about our calling and our election in Jesus Christ. We can know with confidence the basis of our calling and we can know the purpose – the why and what for.
Why have we been chosen and why have we answered – however imperfectly (our answer to God’s call upon our lives is always a work in progress. This is a matter of what in theology is called our sanctification). Our call and even our response to the call are in no way our doing. It is the grace of God through and through. We like Israel of old have been called to be God’s chosen people not because of any merit or good deed or accomplishment of our own but because it is God’s nature to love without recompense. Perhaps a good man will die for his friends but while we were yet God’s enemies he sought us out to befriend us. The son of God goes forth to die for his enemies.
Our calling, our selection, our election is because of grace. The incongruity of those called reveals the character of God and God’s gratuitous and unmerited love and forgiveness. Why do some respond and not others? Because God has granted us the grace to do so. This is hard to understand. Faith is both a gift of God and something which we do. We reach out in faith and make our own what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, and yet faith is a gift – God’s grace at work in us. So we could say in one word why we who are here this morning are among the elect. Grace, which is another way of saying, the unearned and superabundant love of God.
But for what purpose? What is the meaning of our election? Election has its meaning in the mission of God. God is on a mission. His mission is, as Ephesians 6:10 says, to gather up all things in Christ. His mission is to gather his warring children into one loving family and to gather together heaven and earth so that the prayer that our Lord taught us, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will finally come true.
To advance his mission God has called an elect people – an elect family, not because they are better than the other tribes and nations but so they might under the word of crucified love, by the power of the resurrection and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, live toward God and toward their fellow human beings in such a way that God’s plan to turn all his children home might go forward. We have been called by God’s inscrutable will and his gratuitous love that we might be a light to the nations – that we might “live for the praise of his glory” and touch the world with his love. There is a great old song that expresses this well, “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning”.
Brightly beams our Fathers mercy
from his lighthouse evermore,
but to us he gives the keeping
of the lights along the shore.
let the lower lights be burning
send the gleam upon the wave
some poor fainting, struggling sailor
you may rescue, you may save
Let the lower lights be burning
send the gleam upon the wave – Amen.