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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

July 8, 2018

 Chosen and Sent: The Only Way to Live

2 Samuel 5:1-7, 9-10; Mark 6:1-13

            Imagine what you would be feeling this morning if your name was Brett Kavanaugh, or Amy Coney Barrett, or Thomas Hardiman, or a small number of other short list candidates for one of the most sought after and prestigious positions in the land: Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  I have always been interested that William Howard Taft hated being President.  His lifelong goal was to be a Supreme Court justice, and it was the happiest day of his life when Warren G. Harding named him to United States Supreme Court in 1921.  It was the second happiest day of his life, when he left the White House, never to have to be bothered with the headaches that presidents must endure.  A choice is about to be made in our land, and only one person can be chosen.  The stakes are high for each of these individuals.  That is the nature of the way people make choices. 

            We all know what it feels like to be chosen in this world, and we all know what it feels like to be overlooked or not chosen.  I still remember what it felt like to be chosen to be the candidate to be your Pastor, not once, but on two different occasions, five years apart.  I also remember what it has felt like any number of times to be told by a church, “We love you, Todd, but you are not our final choice.”

            When I was a sophomore in high school, I spent a summer working out with one of my best friends, a guy named Bill Danvers, who played on the line for our high school football team.  I was a wrestler, and played baseball.   I have no idea why I was running with him, except, when you are a teenager you do what your friends want you to do.  Four or five days a week, we would show up at our high school, and run on the track.  One day I came off the track and was approached by George Anderson.  He was the coach of our soccer team, and the baseball coach at my rather mediocre public high school.  He said, “Aren’t you Todd Jones?”  I said, “Yes, Mr. Anderson, I am.”  He said, “I have been watching you run all summer while I am teaching summer school.  Have you ever thought about playing soccer?”  I had never played the game in my life.  He said, “I think I could turn you into a decent mid-fielder.”  And in fact, Mr. Anderson almost managed to succeed in that task.  (He still had my rather anemic athletic ability to contend with!)  But I still remember to this day how incredibly special I felt to be chosen, wanted, invited to be a part of something by someone I admired.

            Today we have two very different Biblical texts, Old Testament and New Testament, that meet around the notion of the God who chooses.  This God chose David to be King.  And Jesus chose twelve very mixed men to be His disciples, His closest followers, indeed, literally, to carry on the future mission of the church.

            David was not a very likely choice.  When Samuel comes to anoint a king, Jesse sends seven other of David’s brothers first as more likely candidates to be chosen by God to be king.  We are told by Samuel that God looks not on outward appearances, but God looks upon the heart, what is inside, who the person truly is.  We are told a few times in the scriptures that the Lord “was with David.”

            In our New Testament lesson, Jesus returns to His hometown of Nazareth.  For a more complete reading of this same encounter, look at the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel – they almost threw Jesus off a cliff after they chase Him out of His hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  His own people in His own town, that probably was largely made up of His own extended family members, rejected Jesus.  They hinted at scandal when they said, “Is he not Mary’s son?” as if somehow there is something questionable about the gossip around His birth in Nazareth.  In Mark’s Gospel, though, we learn right from the start that Jesus has already been chosen by another.  Jesus is chosen by God in baptism.  Do you remember what the voice from heaven said in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus was baptized?  We are told that “the heavens were ripped open,” and “the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove,” and the “voice from heaven said, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.’”

            This rejection, this not-being-chosen, does not deter or dismay Jesus a single bit; indeed, nothing in this world possibly could have.  Jesus’ chosenness, His calling, came not from anything in this world, but from God, His heavenly Father.  The Bible runs against the grain in many ways of the way we speak and think about our lives in America.  We are prone to say, “My life is mine to do with what I will.”  We use the phrase “my life, my home, my job, my wife, my children, my friends,” as if somehow we possess these gifts.  But the Bible brings us up short.  Remember what it says in Psalm 100?  “Know that the Lord is God.  It is He that made us, and not we ourselves; we are the sheep of His hand, the people of His pasture.”  In Biblical anthropology – that is, the Biblical way of looking at what it means to be human – the question of human identity must begin with God.  We belong “not to ourselves, but to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”  Our lives are not our lives, no matter how often we call them that.  “We belong body and soul, in life and in death, not to ourselves, but to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

            Jesus chose the twelve – I think for all the Gospel writers – symbolic of the church to be the new Jerusalem, the new Israel, the new people of God.  The choice of the twelve is in many ways the signal that God in Jesus Christ chooses us.  Remember what Jesus said in the fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel?  “You did not choose me; but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”  Presbyterians call this the Doctrine of Election.  Karl Barth said, “Election is the sum of the Gospel.”  That is to say, God is a God who in Jesus Christ chooses us, chooses to be God-with-us and never wills or wants to be God-apart-from-us or God-against-us.  We are not only chosen by God, we are also sent.  Jesus said we are sent to bear fruit that will abide.  I take that to mean we are to live fruitful lives; we are to make a difference in this world with the one life that the Lord God by grace, and out of love, has given us to live. 

            The Presbyterian faith talks about this as “the election of God’s people for salvation and service.”  We are chosen in Jesus Christ, through baptism, to be recipients of the grace of God.  But we are also chosen for service, to live lives that give glory to God and that make a difference in the world.  As Kody said in his children’s sermon, David was sent to be a shepherd king, a different kind of king than Saul had been.  The disciples were sent out by Jesus “two by two” to preach Jesus’ message and to call people to “repent” – to turn around their lives, or to change and live their lives in a Godward direction.  I love the way Mark puts it: “And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.”  They did, in other words, the work of Jesus.

            I just read this past week, Jon Meacham’s new book, The Soul of America.  He tells of much that took place at key times in our nation’s life, where we struggled as a nation between what Lincoln would have called “our better angels” versus our lower natures.  Meacham talks about what took place on March 7, 1965.  John Lewis went to seminary here in Nashville at the American Baptist College.  He grew up the child of a sharecropper on a poor farm in Alabama.  He believed that God had chosen and sent him to be part of a movement to change this nation’s practices towards people of color.  He was one of the leaders of the lunch counter sit-ins that took place here in Nashville in the early 1960’s.  (I have not been to it yet, but I am thrilled that Woolworths has been restored and reopened as a way to remember how important that event was towards Nashville living into its “better angels” as a city.)

            On March 7, 1965 John Lewis was at the front of a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  A police officer approached them, and holding a billy club, told them to stop, and for them to disband.  Lewis was deeply committed to nonviolent social change, so when the policeman began to club him over the head, knocking him to the ground, fracturing his skull, he kept trying to walk, and not to retaliate.  He writes years later: “At the moment when I was hit on the bridge and began to fall, I really thought it was my last protest, my last march.  I thought I saw death, and I thought, ‘It’s okay.  It’s alright.  I am doing what I am supposed to do.’“

            John Lewis understood his life was not his own.  It was given to him by God; he was chosen and sent.  He understood then, as he understands still, that he was given his life to serve, to make a difference.  I do not agree with John Lewis about everything that he believes we need to be, but he is unfailingly gracious and honors the dignity of people of all colors, of all creeds, of any political persuasion.  I want to be the kind of man that John Lewis is in our midst. 

            The Sunday before his own death, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke as well about how we are all of us chosen and sent by God.  He preached on a Palm Sunday at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  To a packed church King said, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny….  For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.  And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.  This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”  We are in this together.  And as Jesus’ children, we are all of us chosen, precious to Him, and sent to serve Him and to live to God’s glory.  In Jesus Christ God has chosen us, and He sends us out into the world to live lives to the glory of God.

            Do you remember the 1981 movie that won Best Picture in the Academy Awards?  It was called, Chariots of Fire.  It told the story of Eric Liddell, who would win a gold medal at the Olympic Games running.  Eric Liddell was the child of a Church of Scotland missionary to China, and with his sister Jenny he was studying at Edinburgh University’s New College Divinity School – one of my alma maters – to prepare for a life of missionary service.  But Liddell also was running, and had this dream of running in the Olympics, representing his nation.  Standing on Arthur’s Seat, his sister is telling him, “Forget about this running; you’re called by God to serve Him in China.”  He says, “Jenny, God made me fast, and when I run I feel His glory.”  That is what it means to be alive, to spend your life for the reason it was given to you by God, and to feel God’s glory as you reach for the person Jesus has called you to be.

            Who and what did God make you to be?  When you find and reach for that person, I promise you, you will feel the glory of God.  In Jesus Christ God promises always to be with us.  And even better, in Jesus Christ, God promises always to be for us.  And best of all, in Jesus Christ, God promises to go out ahead of us and to meet us in every tomorrow that we shall ever face.  You are chosen and sent by God.  It is the only way to live.

                                                                                    Amen.

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