July 11, 2021 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL
Amos 7, 12-15 + Psalm 85 + Ephesians 1, 3-14 + Mark 6, 7-13
Choice is a big deal these days, and a lot people seem to be very concerned about protecting their rights to choose. The consequent hysteria that this causes has led to a great deal of conflict. It seems to me that this fuss over choice is at the root of the abortion crises, the challenges over sexual identity, who may receive Communion, and perhaps even over voter’s rights, and countless other hot-button items that are driving us apart, making us unable to tolerate opinions that differ from our own, and turning ordinary decent people into fanatics who would choose to destroy another rather than understand and make a friend.
Choice is the issue that the Word of God puts before us today with a strong and clear reminder that before we make choices, God makes choices. Forgetting that God’s choices come first leads to chaos. Failing to acknowledge choices God has made will set us at odds with God’s Will and God’s plan.
Amos was a prophet chosen by God. He did not choose to be a prophet. Living at a time of extraordinary prosperity of Israel, and living at a time of great corruption and crushing poverty, he started out by condemning Israel’s neighbors. Everyone cheered. Then when he condemned the crimes and injustice of Israel, it didn’t go over very well. Just like those living at the time, we like to enjoy our success, and we don’t like to face our sinfulness, especially if it produced our success. Amos was attacked by the High Priest and the King. They told him to get out. He told them that he was just a man involved with livestock and fruit trade who spoke because God had chosen him. He was thrown out, but today, we know who Amos was. We know his name, and we’ve just listened to him again. I would bet that there are not five people in this church who know the name of the king against whom he spoke. So much for fame and power.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds anyone who listens that we ought to be praising God for the blessings we have received. Nowhere among those blessings is economic prosperity listed. The blessings are spiritual, and the first among them is the fact and the truth that we are chosen people. We are chosen to be holy, he says, and without blemish. We have been chosen, says Paul, and we exist for the praise of God. That’s powerful stuff and high expectations to which most of us have not paid enough attention.
Chosen to be “holy” does not mean chosen to be “pious.” What is holy is something set apart or different from this world. When God chose us to be “holy” there was no plan to take us out of the world, but to make us different within the world. A question arises: “Are we different?” “Are we making a difference?” In Jewish sacrifices, to be worthy of being offered to God an animal had to be certified by inspection to be unblemished. People chosen by God have to be certified not just respectable. They are worthy by their perfection. They don’t just meet human standards, but rather the standards of God, and they do this by living in his love.
One of the tragic things about our times is that so many people perceive life as mindless and meaningless. For that reason, so many young people choose drugs, alcohol, and suicide. Nothing in the media, in school, or among most of their peers prepares them to seek life’s meaning. They see nothing worth dying for. If there is nothing to die for, then there is nothing to life for. As a result, too many people look at their future and think of how they are going to make a living rather than think about how they will live their life. It isn’t just young people trapped in that pit. Even those of us in the last half of our lives might reflect carefully on why, how, and for what reason we have been chosen to live this long.
Jesus choose those disciples and sent them out to provide the world with a meaning to life, with hope to a fragmented world, and to restore God’s creation which has been in such chaos to order and beauty and peace. They went two by two, not alone. They were to go simply to present the meaning to life that Jesus proclaimed: conversion of heart and a radical reorientation. Suddenly life is not just a stumbling walk to death, but rather an intense loving service to others on behalf of God.
Chosen by God, chosen to be holy, chosen to be unblemished, we might all do well to quite fussing about our choices and get on with the purpose for which we were called into life and chosen by the great gift of our faith to make life’s meaning known, protected and treasured. Facing that mission, we can do no better than simply throw up our hands and say: “Come, Holy Spirit” and then get on with it.