May 6, 2018

CHOSEN TO BEAR GOOD FRUIT

John 15:9-17; I John 5:1-6

“You did not choose me but I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”  I assume that all of us like the feeling of being chosen—whether that means being selected to be on the team, being accepted into a school to which you have applied, or being hired for a job that you want.  By virtue of our baptism in the name of Jesus, we have been chosen, called, and appointed to be disciples of Jesus, our Christ, as Jesus says today, for the purpose of going and bearing fruit, specifically good fruit that will have a lasting and life-furthering impact on the world.

All of this theology is well and good in theory, except for the fact that this concept of being chosen by God also has been used throughout the centuries as a way of establishing a position of superiority over other nations, other races, other genders, and other religions.  Take for example the reading from Deuteronomy 14 that states, “You are a people holy to God who has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be God’s people and treasured possession.”  Today, many Zionists are prone to grab hold of this declaration with all their might in order to justify all that they are doing to extricate the Palestinians from the land that they believe God has given solely to them.

Our own nation is grounded in a similar theology in which the Puritans fled from England and came to this new land that many of them saw as the new Israel which would become the chosen nation of God in which God would create new heavens and a new earth and the people would establish a city on a hill as their new home of privilege, prosperity, and peace.  When the colonists won the Revolutionary War, many religious people concluded that this victory actually confirmed that America was God’s chosen nation, and this conviction gave the settlers all the more justification to clear their land of “those savage natives,” who were considered to be heathens and sometimes less than human.

Although this perspective of being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation, as described in the first letter of Peter, continued to raise its ugly head throughout the era of slave trade and the enslavement of those dark-skinned bodies from another continent, many of the evangelical churches in the United States reached the height of patriarchal domination when they set out to Christianize the world in the late 1800’s and early 20th century.  Wrapped up in this effort was an attempt to bring democracy, ala capitalism, to the rest of the world and to get everyone to learn to speak English, which supposedly was God’s chosen language for the world.  By this time, what has become known as American Civil Religion was well engrained into our culture, and, despite early efforts to keep the church and the state separated from one another, many evangelical churches were doing everything in their power to unite the church and the state under one umbrella of nationalism.

With the onslaught of World War I and World War II, this marriage of the cross and the flag took on a whole new meaning, and set the stage for the mid-1950’s which became known as the Golden Age of American Civil Religion when once again the privilege of white men who professed to be Christians and were English-speaking became more visibly apparent as the ones chosen by God to govern this land.  Despite all of the efforts and progress to the contrary during the past several decades, this dynamic persists to this very day in so many ways as has been demonstrated by the most recent outpouring of a huge segment of white evangelical Christian men who are concerned about the prediction that by 2044 the majority of people in this country will be non-white, possibly causing us to forfeit our chosen nation status.

“You did not choose me,” Jesus said, “but I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, good fruit that will be lasting and life-furthering.”  I don’t know what seminarians are studying or discussing these days about being a chosen people, but when I was in seminary, the focus of our conversations about being chosen by God had to do with what is known as “the elect”—those who are chosen by God to get into heaven after they die.  I assume that we all know that salvation probably is not limited only to the 144,000 souls mentioned in the Book of Revelation.  However, based upon Calvin’s interpretation of selective passages in our Christian scriptures, God has predestined some people, known as “the elect,” to be saved, which leaves everybody wondering, “Am I one of God’s chosen ones who will receive God’s eternal salvation?”

Somewhere in my musings long after seminary, I finally realized that being chosen by God in my baptism had nothing to do with guaranteeing my place in heaven and had everything to do with being a chosen disciple of Jesus in the here-and-now, and how I would decide to fulfill this role and responsibility in my life here on earth.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” Jesus says, “and I have appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that is lasting and life-furthering.”  If we return to the passage in I Peter and read verse 9 of chapter 2 in its entirety, we will hear a similar charge.  “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation, God’s own people in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Jesus Christ who called you out of darkness into the marvelous light of God’s salvation.”

There is nothing in being chosen by Jesus that gives us the authority to lord ourselves over others, to presume that we are superior to others, or to dominate and control other people in our lives.  The Apostle Paul addressed this assertion about as clearly and as succinctly as possible when he wrote to Jesus’ disciples at Colossae, and said, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other.  Above all, clothe yourselves in love, which binds everything together in complete harmony.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were chosen and called in the one body, and be thankful.”

Sometimes I am very grateful for having been chosen by Jesus to be on his team, to be educated and guided by the Spirit in his way, and to have the privilege of following along his path of bearing good fruit that will last.  I say “sometimes” because at other times I am terrified out of my mind for what it means to be chosen, called, and appointed by Jesus as one of his disciples.  When I take to heart the testimony and witness of Jesus that caused him to be put to death on the cross, I know that I am not willing to take up my own cross in the same way.  Even though I have been chosen by Jesus to be on his team and be a part of his beloved community known as the body of Christ, I strike out so many times every day because I am afraid to go all the way in following Jesus. Does that make me a hypocrite?  You could say so.  However, I would rather think about this dynamic in terms of being a sinner like everyone else who is need of God’s forgiveness.

Isn’t this one of the main reasons why we come to this table so often to eat this bread and drink from this cup?  Here is where our failures to be and do what Jesus has chosen, called, and appointed us to be and do are forgiven so that we can walk away from this table with a clean heart and a right spirit to go out once again to bear good fruit that is lasting and life-furthering.  Such is the vicious cycle of our humanity, especially for those of us who were chosen, called, and appointed by Jesus in our baptism to be his disciples.

So what do I do?  I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, evangelical, straight, male disciple of Jesus who is privileged in this life to be a citizen of this country that we know as the United States of America.  Here is where I have been chosen, called, and appointed by virtue of my baptism in Jesus’ name to give testimony and witness to Jesus, and to proclaim the good news that he spent his entire ministry, and, as far as we know, his entire life proclaiming and demonstrating until his life was taken from him by those who were too threatened by his words and deeds.  All that I can do under these circumstances is to give my life over to the grace of God, and trust that God’s Spirit will continue to give me the faith and courage to speak and act in a way that is more reflective of and consistent with Jesus’ way rather than the way of this world, and especially the way of our domineering, self-serving, and violent culture.

“You did not choose me,” Jesus reminds us today in this holy meal, “but I chose you and I have forgiven you so that you are free to go forth and bear the good fruit that I have called and appointed you to bear—fruit that will not just be a band-aid solution to the woes of this world, as good as they may be, but fruit that also will have a long-lasting effect in bringing about the beloved community of justice, peace, and freedom for which I so ardently advocated until I took my last breath and gave my life over to the God whose Spirit guided me throughout my entire life in the way of truth.”  Would that we would be able to live even a fraction of our lives in this way of truth—Jesus’ chosen way of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience grounded in God’s eternal love.  Amen.