Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL
Acts 10, 25-26, 34-35, 44-48 + Psalm 98 + 1 John 4, 7-10 + John 15, 9-17
There are four words that emerge from this text that when spoken to us ought to stop us cold in our tracks and bring about the most profound change in our sense of who we are and our behavior. Yet my bet is that most of you do not know what those four words are because we have the a habit of listening to the Word of God and hearing the things Jesus says from outside as a spectator or like someone who is listening in. The consequences of taking that position in regards to the Word of God are devastating. Perhaps the condition of our world today not just with regard to violence but also with regard to the hopeless poverty that leads to so much violence comes from not knowing, believing and understanding those four words. For the Word of God to be effective, to be alive, and to have its saving effect there must be a personal relationship, and upon that relationship rests the power of the Word. When that relationship is realized, something happens, and none of us are spectators in the saving plan of God any longer.
Today we are still in that upper room, and it is still the night before Jesus Christ was betrayed, handed over, and abandoned by his so-called friends. He has spoken to them and their relationship in terms of sheep and shepherd; in terms of vine and branches. Now he speaks in terms of friendship and love inviting them to discover and share what he shares with his Father. They don’t get it yet, because they have not yet recognized their need for it. They think their friendship with Jesus is all about what he can do for them, and how he will restore the power and prestige of the Jewish people. They are impressed by the healing, the feeding, the promise, and the opportunity being his friend offers them, and so they have chosen to follow him. So they think until they see where that will lead and what it will mean. Then they are out of there! So much for their choices.
Not until they have disgraced themselves, doubted, hidden, and run will they begin to hear and understand those four words that will transform them, empower them, and make something of them other than simple ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners. He has spoken of this before, but they did not yet understand. He spoke in parables about guest invited to banquets, he found them mending nets, collecting taxes, sitting under shade trees, drawing water from wells, sitting in synagogues, and his first message to them is summed up simply in four words. He speaks in this church today to a people who are often here to get something, to ask for something, or to fulfill what is commanded by the law. He speaks to sinners, cheaters, and liars, to those too busy to give more than an hour or some extra change, and to people who have excuses galore for not conforming to the word and the life he offers. To us all he says again those four words.
I have chosen you. Proclaimed in this church within this liturgy, these are not words spoken to the twelve apostles a long time ago. They were once, but if that was all there was to it, there would be no point in repeating or remembering them. These words were not spoke to give that group some special authority. These words were spoken for all time and for all people who like those apostles gather around a table sharing bread and wine broken and given to us as the Body and Blood of Christ. These words are still spoken directly and specifically to you and to me. We are chosen, you and me. There is no time to say, “who me?” or “Later, I’m too busy.”
Being chosen is an extraordinary experience when you get right down to it. I live with the experience of being chosen by the church, by God, by men and women who have chosen to trust, listen, confess, follow, and rejoice with me. Most of you have been chosen by someone who wanted to spend their entire lives with you, and we have all been chosen by just enough people to discover the beauty of real friendship that leaves us to wonder how and with great joy find comfort in the peace it brings.
We have been chosen. Believing and understanding this changes everything about us. It means that no matter what we have done or what anyone else thinks of us, we are chosen by God and there is a purpose and something to do as a chosen people. There is peace to bring. There is forgiveness to offer. There are hungry people to feed, and lonely people to embrace. There are naked people to clothe. People imprisoned to visit. There is mercy to share, and joy besides. This truth which we proclaim today, this Word of God spoken to us gives us reason to rejoice again not just because Christ was raised from the dead, but because we who have been dead in our own self-pity and sinfulness have been chosen. It ought to feel like winning the power-ball jackpot, and we ought to look like that family many of us saw on TV last week whose horse won the Kentucky Derby. Joy and excitement ought to mark us even more because having been chosen by God has greater promise and more reward that we can ever imagine, but imagine it we should because he has called us his friends.