You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15:16a)
Jesus is very clear. He chooses his followers. Following Jesus begins when Jesus calls us. Our identity as Jesus-followers and as Jesus-following communities derives from being the chosen. Being a vital congregation boils down to learning to be who we really are: the chosen.
Our role is to take hold of the identity that Jesus himself has given us. And Father Bill’s role as Rector of Redeemer is to help you all remember who you are.
|Domenico Ghirlandaio’s “Calling of the Apostles”|
So let’s take a look at just what it means to be chosen by answering three questions:
What about us leads Jesus to choose us?
For what purpose did Jesus choose us?
What difference do the chosen make in the world?
In the 21st century Western world we think of two ways to be chosen: selective criteria and caprice.
Admissions offices and personnel departments select candidates on the basis of the standards they set.
You become a student at Harvard by knocking the top out of the SAT, climbing to the top of your academic class, accumulating a gaudy list of prizes and awards, and serving in leadership roles in every conceivable form of extracurricular activity.
Apple hires and promotes only the most capable and accomplished people. Drive, desire, and creativity are important, but they must have led repeatedly to tangible results.
In other words, people are chosen because they are special, even superior to others.
This is not how Jesus chooses. He does not measure us by our achievements or even by our potential. Jesus’s choices embody grace. He chooses us because of who he is, not because of who we are.
|Soichi Watanabe’s “Jesus and Zacchaeus”|
Some interpret this to mean that Jesus’ choice is capricious. It’s as if the chosen have simply won the celestial lottery. God has no standards. He simply chooses some and passes others over. It’s luck of the draw. There is nothing special about you if you’re chosen. You’re just one lucky dog.
But there is nothing capricious about Jesus and the choices he makes. His ways are paradoxical, but they have a relentless logic about them. Jesus’ selection process goes something like this.
His standards are high, infinitely high. He requires complete, unwavering devotion to God and utterly selfless service to other people. In other words, no one meets his standards.
Now here’s the paradox. Jesus chooses precisely those who fall short of his standards. If by your own steam you cannot love the Lord with all your heart at every moment and love even your most annoying neighbor more than your own life, then you’re in.
So long as we think we have something to offer Jesus to win his vote, we just don’t get it. When we see that we have nothing to offer and we offer it, that is when we receive everything. We receive mercy.
Jesus’ mercy defines who we are. Everything we do as followers of Jesus is a response to the mercy we have received from him.
Our response to Jesus’ mercy brings us to our second question. For what purpose did Jesus choose us? Some Christians assume that Jesus chooses us for heaven and hell. Jesus’s choice is all about eternal gate-keeping after we die.
But if we take Jesus at his word, we see that the eternal life he offers–the life for which we are chosen–begins right here on planet earth. As Jesus puts it, he appoints us to bear fruit. And not just any fruit. By following Jesus, we will bear fruit that endures.
We will turn to the nature of that fruit when we address the third and final question. But for now, let’s look at the act of bearing the fruit. Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us.
|Claude Monet’s “Apple Trees in Bloom at Giverny”|
Love is not merely an affection. It is a direction of our whole being. Jesus teaches us to devote our lives to following him, to abide in him, to allow him to consecrate even the smallest moment of our everyday existence with his presence.
With each situation we encounter and every person we meet, in the ordinary routines we repeat and the unexpected challenges we face, we can respond to Jesus’ mercy.
Instead of building a resume or pursuing our own agenda or securing our own comfort or seeking an entertainment, we can give thanks for Jesus’ mercy by doing the good we can do. You see, the world teaches us to reap the available value from every situation. Jesus shows us mercy so that we have value to add to every context we inhabit.
Bearing fruit means to allow Jesus’ love to flow through us in a way that makes the world more than it was when we found. it. This is not our accomplishment. As Jesus says just before the passage we heard in tonight’s Gospel, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We bear fruit because Jesus’ own life flows through us.
Jesus-following communities bear love fruit. In short, that is the answer to the third and final question. What difference do the chosen make in the world?
Jesus teaches us to love one another as he loves us. In other words, he calls us into communities. He has called you–the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer–to be a community saturated by his love because you abide in him together.
Put very simply, you all just keep encountering Jesus in this place. That encounter leaves a mark. And there is something oddly, powerfully attractive about that mark.
The rest of the world can see that there is something different about you. Yes, there is something different about each of you as individuals, but that’s not what I have in mind here. There is something different about this group of people called Redeemer.
In your being together you have something that others do not have. But they would like to have it. They hunger for it. And when you are open and welcoming, when you go out to where they are and don’t just wait for them to stumble into your midst, they can bit by bit begin to share in what you have.
This is the fruit you have been sent to bear. By being Redeemer you bring Jesus to the world.
Father Bill is being installed this night as your Rector. He will help remind you that you are the chosen, that Jesus is in your midst. He will encourage you to bear the fruit of love that is your high calling.
But in the end this is something you can only do all together. Together you can remember who you are. You are the chosen. You are Christ’s beloved. And in your togetherness, you will bear the fruit of Christ’s love.
This sermon was preached at the Celebration of New Ministry for Father Bill Easterling and Redeemer Episcopal Church in Ruston, Louisiana, on September 20, 2012.