[Jesus said:] “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”John 15:16
“You did not choose me,” Jesus said to his disciples in today’s gospel reading, “but I chose you.” And it’s true. Jesus chose his disciples. And when he did, he was continuing a long tradition that we see throughout scripture, and throughout the history of the church, of God choosing unlikely people to accomplish surprising tasks.
I want to share a few examples of this with you this morning. And as I do, I want you to be thinking about how God has chosen you, too; and of what that might mean for your life of faith.
Chosen by God: Joseph
Let’s go back to Genesis. There are many examples of people being chosen by God for surprising tasks, people like Noah, and Abraham and Sarah. But the example I want to share with you is that of Joseph. One of Jacob’s twelve sons, and the one that Jacob loved most. The one with the coat of many colors. The one the other brothers hated so much that they sold him to some people headed for Egypt.
Joseph unexpectedly became quite successful in Egypt, and after a long journey with many twists and turns, including time in prison after being unjustly accused, Joseph became second only to Pharoah, and helped Egypt prepare for a great famine. Why? Well, God had a plan for Joseph. As he explained to his brothers,
“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”
Joseph was chosen by God to preserve God’s chosen people.
Chosen by God: Moses
Fast forward to the time of Moses, whom God also chose to preserve God’s chosen people, and to free them from slavery in Egypt. Moses, of course, should have died as a baby, along with all of the Israelites at that time. But his mother placed him in a papyrus basket and entrusted him to God by sending the basket down the river. Pharaoh’s daughter spotted the basket, and rescued the baby, and he grew up in Pharaoh’s household.
After he had grown up, he saw his people being beaten, and retaliated by killing an Egyptian. He fled to Midian, got married and became a shepherd. Until God chose him to confront Pharaoh and lead God’s people to freedom. An unlikely choice, if there ever was one, but who turned out to be the perfect choice, because God made it that way.
Chosen by God: David
And then there’s David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, and the least likely to be anointed king by Samuel. But he was a small, mighty warrior who killed lions and bears defending his sheep, and who would kill Goliath, too. A poet and musician who became a great leader; but most of all, a man after God’s own heart. Chosen by God to be king.
Chosen by God: Mary
But let’s not forget people like Mary, the young virgin from the small town of Nazareth, that no one would have expected to become the mother of God’s son. Such an unexpected choice. But Mary had a remarkable faith, an open heart, and a willingness to do whatever God asked of her. She turned out to be the perfect choice, but only God could have known that.
I could go on, of course. There are countless examples in scripture of people being chosen by God, who had no other real qualifications, except that they were selected by God for these tasks.
Chosen by God: Jesus’ Disciples
Jesus was continuing a long tradition, started by his heavenly Father, of making surprising choices to do God’s work. And the disciples were no different. Fishermen, tax collectors, not a religious leader among them. No experts in God’s teachings, no scholars. If anyone was asked to pick a team to start the church, the disciples would not have even made the Junior Varsity, or the practice squad. They only had one thing going for them: Jesus chose them.
There in that upper room, right before Jesus is arrested, I suspect that Jesus could see that they needed to be reminded of this. That he chose them. They were all scared, anxious, confused. They knew that one of their own had just left to betray Jesus. They heard Jesus say that their leader, Peter, would soon deny even knowing Jesus.
Jesus had commanded them to love one another, reminded them to abide in him, told them that he would be leaving soon, to prepare a place for them. They really didn’t know what to think of any of this. They needed to remember that Jesus chose them. They didn’t choose him. He chose them – those particular people, after prayer and discernment. To continue to bring Jesus into this world, and to bear his fruit, fruit that will last.
They may not have felt particularly qualified to do this, or very confident that they could pull it off. Except for one very important thing: Jesus chose them.
How many times, I wonder, would they come back to that assurance? How many times would they remind themselves that they didn’t choose Jesus; he chose them? When they were ignored or laughed at? When they were hated and persecuted? Imprisoned? When some of them were even killed? How many times did they remind themselves that God’s own Son chose them, and he chose them for a reason? Jesus chose them and entrusted them with his mission, to go and bear the fruit of the kingdom. And he promised that as long as they would abide in him, they would do just that.
Chosen by God: Us …
Those disciples were chosen by God’s Son for a particular purpose in this world. But they’re not the only ones. In fact, if scripture tells us anything, it is that each and every one of us has also been chosen by God for a particular purpose in this world.
In Ephesians, for example, Paul tells us that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world for a particular purpose, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. In Colossians, Paul tells us that we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.”
And how about First Peter? When Peter, that unlikely leader of the apostles, tells us that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” Chosen by God to proclaim God’s mighty acts. Chosen by God – hand-picked you might say – and appointed to bear the fruit of God’s love in this world.
… In Baptism …
The truth is that each of us, when we were baptized, were plucked out of that holy water, and chosen by Jesus to bear the particular fruit that only we can bear, to do the particular task that only we can do. We did not choose this, but Jesus chose us and appointed us for this holy task.
We all have our moments, of doubt, of course. Moments when we wonder what in the world we are doing with our lives; what on earth we are really here for. At least, I hope we do. I hope that we get real with ourselves in that way. I hope that we sometimes go below the surface of life to ask these hard questions.
But if we dig down far enough, if we ask these questions persistently enough, we eventually get to the bottom, which is the very words that we heard in this reading, the words that God’s people heard throughout scripture and throughout history. Joseph, Moses, David, Mary, Peter, you, me. Told by God over and over again that we have been chosen:
“You did not choose me but I chose you.”
We have been chosen to bear the fruit of God’s love in this world, and to bear it in a way that no one else can.
… For Such a Time As This
And what a time to bear this fruit. What an important time for us, as God’s chosen, to bear the fruit of God’s love in this world. It’s been a tough year, has it not? Our world has been forever changed by this pandemic. But it’s also been a year with many other challenges. Economic challenges, political division, a rise in mental health issues, and a decrease in hope for our future.
Do you remember Esther? The young Jewish girl in the Old Testament, who was chosen by God to save God’s chosen people from being killed by the Persian king? She is chosen by the king to become his wife and the queen. Why? In her cousin Mordecai’s words, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
Who knows? Perhaps you and I have been chosen by Jesus, to be his disciples, for just such a time as this. Our world needs healing. Our world needs hope. Our world needs to be reminded of God’s love for us all. And who knows? Perhaps we have been chosen for just such a time as this.
If ever there was a time for the church to be the church, it is certainly now. And we are the church. We are the ones that, for whatever reason, God has chosen for this task. We are God’s surprising choices to accomplish this unexpected task, of bringing healing and hope to our post-pandemic world.
The words that Jesus spoke to those first disciples, he speaks to every one of us today:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”
May God bless you and help you to bring the light of Jesus into our world, and to bear the fruit of his love. Amen