Tag Archives: disciples

You did not choose me but I chose you

John 15:9-17
…You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

As we push into this back half of the Easter season, we continue to be prepared by the risen Christ to be an Easter community. Now that we have lived through the Three Days, come to empty tomb, and been met by the risen Christ, God shaping and transforming us into a new creation, into a new family of faith, a community tasked with being Christ’s Body given for the the sake of the world. 

We continue hearing Jesus speak to his disciples from the moment of the last supper, words that began with the image of the vine and the branches last week. Today, Jesus is giving final instructions. Preparations for leaving. Jesus is giving his disciples and friends some last words to live by as a community. 

As the disciples eat their last meal with Jesus, and as he leaves this commandment to love one other, their whole world was changing. 

3 years prior, they had been called to this ministry by the wandering teacher and rabbi. They had followed him around Galilee as he preached, performed miracles, exercised demons and met with the crowds. But lately Jesus was clashing more and more with the religious authorities, he was talking about dying, he was describing a new future for his community of followers… one where they took on more responsibility. 

And now, now in Jerusalem, Jesus has come riding in like a king. He had been met by the cheering crowds but tensions were high. And the sentiment of the city was changing. The authorities seemed to be planing something.

This was a world of danger. This was a world of risk. And this community of Jesus’ followers was under threat. Their little community was in danger of crumbling. It would be easy to just abandon ship. It would be easy to run and hide. It would be easy to just look for themselves and run. 

This frightened and scared group of followers was who Jesus was talking to. All the talk of a command to love, the reminder that they were his friends, that they were chosen by God. Jesus was worried that his followers might crumble and fall apart under the tense pressure of Holy Week. And he was right. Judas betrayed him. The rest fell asleep in the garden, Peter denied him in the courtyard and the rest fled.

Certainly, we know what it is to live in a world surrounded by threats and danger. We know what it is to run the risk fo crumbling. 

With our communities trying to do what is best for our community and for our neighbours, we have been running the risk of crumbling. We have been in danger by forces outside of us and beyond our control. The reality of our own fragility,  the possibility that our gathering might cause sickness and death has been held up to us nearly daily for year. 

Still, long before the pandemic, churches have been facing the threat of decline, the loss of social pressures that helped folks just show up at our doors and become members. 

And we haven’t been very good at dealing with this squeeze and this pressure. We have often taken the same routes the disciples have. We have hidden ourselves away at times, we have pulled back from community when things were hard, we have even denied knowing Jesus when it become uncomfortable to admit that we did. 

And like Jesus’ disciples, we have started to crumble and fall apart. The church in our time has not always been a shining example of love for each other and the world that Jesus describes today. 

So with his disciples frightened and afraid, with the church of 2021 frightened and afraid, Jesus reminds all of his disciples what this community is about and what it means to belong to one another and to belong to God. 

As Jesus leaves these final instructions with the disciples, he isn’t scolding them for their fears and struggles of the present. Jesus is speaking about what is to come. Jesus is preparing them for a new future and a new reality. Abide in me as I have abided in you. Love each other as I have loved you. Bear good fruit, just as I have born fruit in you. Treat one another as friends, just as you are now my friends. 

And then Jesus speaks one brief and short sentence. Perhaps the most important of all the instructions:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Hear the words of Jesus again:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.  

Jesus reminds the disciples of this key and important truth of God’s mission in the world. God is the one doing the choosing. All along the way, as Peter tries to choose a different less dangerous path for Jesus. And Judas tries to get Jesus to show his true power by having Jesus arrested, hoping the Messiah will fight back and topple the Roman rule. As the temple authorities, Romans and the crowds try to gain power and control by putting Jesus, and therefore God, to death on the cross. Jesus chooses a different path. God chooses to face sin and death head on. And God chooses life. God chooses now. 

Just like the disciples, we are tempted to crumble apart in the face of adversity. We are temped  look out only for ourselves, to pull back from our sibling in Christ to protect ourselves.

Yet, in the midst of the dangers around us, in the midst of the struggles we face, the uncertainty we face, Jesus is calling us to remember who are. To remember who God has named us to be. 

Jesus is reminding us that God has chosen us, we did not choose God. God has chosen us to be an Easter people. People claimed and gathered from the foot of the cross and taken to the empty tomb. People who might want to hide away, but to whom Jesus has appeared and given us peace. 

Jesus has chosen us even in locked away homes, even when we cannot see one another face to face, Jesus has binds us together even with online worship, zoom gatherings, text messages and phone calls. Jesus makes us one body, though scattered through the shared word of Good News that we hear together week after week. 

It might feel like it is all we can do but crumble in face of a third wave, more lockdowns and a promises end of the pandemic that just doesn’t seem to be getting closer. But Jesus’ disciples have been here before, they have faced all but certain ends to their community….

And the risen Christ has carried them through. The risen Christ has called them from their hiding places, locked doors and graves. This God of New Life that knows and claims us, binds back together in love. Not a commandment to follow, but a naming of the thing that holds us together. God’s love for us, and our love for each other. 

Today, God reminds us again, when we most need to hear it: You did not choose me, but I chose you.

We do not like living by faith

GOSPEL: John 1:43-51
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

One of the images of modern life that I often come back to is one that I heard during a radio interview with an Old Testament professor. He was describing his cancer diagnosis and how that impacted his self-perception. He said that before his meeting with his doctor that this life – the plans and dreams that he had – was loud and filled the sky. The things, ideas, and feelings going on around him  filled the airspace and the sound space of his conciousness. 

But when he left his doctor’s office after receiving his diagnosis, it was like the soundtrack to his life had been turned off. There was deafening silence. He felt small and alone. 

I can’t help but think we are all going through something similar. The soundtracks to our lives have been turned down or off. The plans and dreams that we had have been made small or erased completely. Before March of last year, our worlds were full of long term plans. From school years and retirement dates, to vacation plans and economic forecasts, to hockey season predictions and election cycle prognostications. We had plans big and small, and we were in the habit of making long-term projections and casting forward visions. 

Now, it is hard think more than public health order restriction cycle ahead. Our plans are for a few days or weeks at a time, and always with the caveat that things may change.

And nearly a year into living a life of small short terms plans, I have been reminding myself that for most of human history, people have lived this way. Living in crisis or under oppression has a way cutting plans short, of making the future hazy and uncertain. 

Last Sunday, we transitioned out of the Christmas season into the season after Epiphany. We began with the Baptism of Jesus and we will continue for next few weeks having pieces of Jesus’ ministry revealed to us, preparing us for Lent, Good Friday and Easter. 

Today, as we hear the story of Philip and Nathanael’s call to follow Jesus there is a familiar open endedness to it all. *We* might know how the story of Jesus and his disciples goes from here, but we also know that Philip and Nathanael don’t have a clue of what they are getting into. 

Philip and Nathanael’s call story is different than that of the others. Those fisherman: Peter, James and John who will leave their boats next week; they are jumping at the opportunity of a lifetime. The are leaving a life of hard labour for the opportunity of being the student of a Rabbi. 

But Nathanael and Philip, this is what they are hoping for. Philip reveals to us that he is a student searching for a teacher when he quotes the prophecy of scripture, something only a student of religion would know. Then Jesus identifies Nathanael as one too when says, “I saw you under the fig tree.” A colloquialism indicating a place of learning, as Rabbis often taught their students under the shade of a fig trees. 

Being the follower of a Rabbi in first century Israel wasn’t an invitation to a life of vagrancy that we might imagine. Rabbis were well respected members of the social structure, and learning the scriptures from a well respected teacher was a gateway into the religious system of the day, the group in power and control over Hebrew society. And being chosen by a Rabbi to follow was like winning the lottery, only the best and brightest were invited to follow. Maybe Philip and Nathanael imagined becoming Scribes or Pharisees, positions of power and privilege in the world. 

And yet, Jesus is also somewhat unknown and unconventional. He is identifiable as a Rabbi, a teacher of the faith, but he is also new to town, he just shows up and call followers. And as Jesus finds Philip and Nathanael, they find themselves following a Rabbi as they dreamed, but maybe not as certain about how this would turn out.

In fact, as the three talk it becomes clear that these two followers in search of a teacher haven’t a clue of what they are getting into. 

Likewise, we find ourselves in a similar moment. After 10 months of living small lives, we too are at a moment where we might not be too sure of what we are getting into. Our futures are uncertain, vague and hazy. 

It is a feeling we don’t like. In fact, if this year has revealed something about us, it is that we DO NOT like living by faith. 

We have been asked to trust our leaders, trust politicians, public health officials, scientists and business leaders. We have been asked or forced to cancel our plans, pull our life plans and habits back, and trust that everything will be okay. 

And it is clear that many of us do not like this at all. People have complained, protested and resisted. But even those of us who have kept the rules are probably growing quite weary of it all. 

And then you would think that as people of faith, as church folk, we would be used to the idea of trusting and living by faith that God will see us through, even when we don’t know where we are going, whether it is safe and how we are going to get there. You would think that as all of society is asked to live by faith, that people of faith could show a good example… but many of our siblings in faith have been quite the opposite. 

We too simply do not like having to trust. We want to know where we are going, we want to protect ourselves, we want to hold the map. We want to be in control of the process, to be the ones making the decisions. 

And so in 2021, and maybe more than ever before, this story of Jesus calling disciples, asking them to trust without knowing where they are going and where this is all headed… this story is uncomfortable for us. Uncomfortable for us a a society, for us a individuals and especially uncomfortable for as faith communities… especially as faith communities living with loads of uncertainty long before the words pandemic, Coronavirus, PPE and social distancing were ever introduced into our daily vocabulary.

But Jesus knows that the solution to Philip’s and Nathanael’s desire to control their future isn’t more control, more knowledge or more power. 

Jesus cuts through their anxiety and uncertainty to provide the thing that they truly need. 

The moments go by so quickly the are easy to miss. 

Jesus finds Philip. 

Jesus sees Nathanael. 

Before Philip could figure out his own way. Before Nathanael could ask his questions. Before they wonder and worry about what is coming next and where following this unconventional Rabbi would lead them.

Jesus does the knowing and the finding. 

Jesus figures out God’s way to these two disciples. Jesus makes the journey to them, knowing who they are and knowing where they need to go. 

And for all Philip and Nathanael’s desire to know their future, to know their path, to control how they will get where they are going… it is being found and being known that breaks through their hesitancy. 

When Jesus finds Philips and invites him to follow, Philip cannot help but excitedly go and tell Nathanael. 

When Jesus reveals that he has known Nathanael, who he is, his hopes and dreams, his fears and wonderings, all by simply seeing him under the fig tree…. Nathanael confesses that Jesus is God’s son. 

Because the solution to their anxiety and fear about the future… the solution to our anxiety and fear about our future is not control or knowledge. 

The solution is being found by the one who holds the future in their hands. 

The solution is being known by the one who will walk with us wherever we end up, wherever we go. 

For you see, being found and being known is exactly what God has been doing with us since the beginning. Just as God declared Jesus a beloved child last week, God declares the same with us. 

Our fears for the future are met by the God who finds us and knows us. The God who brings us into community, into God’s very body, into the community of the faithful.

As we sit in this post-Christmas New Years 2021 moment, with so many of the promises of something better in 2021 being dashed already, with fear for what comes next, with a weariness of living by faith…

God continues to do what has always done. 

Jesus finds us in the waters of baptism.

Jesus finds us in the word and prayers and hymns that proclaim God’s love for us. 

Jesus finds us no matter where we are, no matter where we worship, no matter how alone we feel. 

Jesus knows us in our siblings in faith. 

Jesus knows us intimately and fully, and declares that we are God’s children, we are God’s beloved.

Jesus knows us our story and brings us into God’s story. 

Jesus shows us that God knows our way even when it is unclear to us.

Jesus reminds us of the God who knows our past, our present and our future. 

And Jesus join us in the uncertainty that we are living through, and declares that no matter what comes that God’s plan for us is new life. 

On this second Sunday after Epiphany, when it is clear that all of our hopes, dreams and plans for the future will not come to pass as we imagined. 

Jesus finds us and Jesus knows us. 

And Jesus invites us again into God’s future. A future that might be hazy and uncertain and unclear to us, but a future that belongs to God. And even when we tired of living by faith, Jesus reminds that God continues to have faith in us. 

Amen

And Jesus said to the disciples…

Mark 9:38-50

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. …

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Read the whole passage)

We are slowly but surely winding our way through the last parts of Mark’s gospel for this year. Only a couple of months to go and we will conclude Mark. And this long season of green and Mark are not easy. Mark does not gently guide us into stories of them Kingdom, Jesus doesn’t give the disciples a break and neither does Mark give those of us reading his gospel a break either. 

Today is another example of the disciples getting it confused… just as they did last week and just as they will next week. 

But the story today comes to us in a little different manner. Most of the gospel is a direct speech from Jesus, rather than a narrated story. And it is from the details of Jesus’ words to the disciples that we can unpack just what is going on. 

John the disciple begins by reporting that the disciples had stopped some people from using Jesus’ name to exorcize demons as if the disciples are thugs protecting the reputation of a crime boss… and Jesus isn’t impressed. 

And Jesus said to the disciples:

“So we need to talk. I know this is a confusing time for you and you aren’t exactly sure what this whole being my follower thing is all about. But lets take a step back and calm down for a bit. I get that you want things to be orderly among my followers and that you want to protect me and my reputation. But seriously, if someone out there is doing good works in my name, do you think perhaps that they might just be on our team? Do you think that they might be helping us bring the Kingdom near? They aren’t standing in our way, they aren’t hurting our cause, so lets give those folks a break. “

And Jesus continued,

“But of course this goes deeper than that. Of course this is about standing in way of people encountering the Kingdom, blocking those who need to hear about my Father’s love for them. Again, I know that you feel like you are just trying to make sure I don’t look bad, and that no one abuses the power of my name and that people come to me in an orderly fashion… but those concerns and those behaviours miss the point of all of this… the point that I have been trying to drive home every time we stop somewhere to tell people about the Kingdom of God. So we need to chuck those impulses… the Kingdom doesn’t need gatekeepers and guardians, the Kingdom needs greeters and servants, proclaimers and announcers. So every time you find yourself wondering just how things ought to go… how people ought to behave… how people ought to fall in line… check yourselves and remember the Kingdom, not orderliness, is most important. So it might be crazy, and chaotic and messy but that is okay. Don’t worry about bringing order to the Kingdom, just worry about bringing the Kingdom near… “

And then Jesus spoke to us:

“And you all… I know that this is a confusing time for you as well. Things sure have changed in the world and in the church. I know that it feels like all the things you know and that you were taught about how church and being disciples ought to be about are no longer providing answers for what comes next for you. I know that your future, your present even, can feel chaotic and uncertain with no clear path forward…  

But you have heard how my disciples long ago had this habit of grabbing onto the wrong details and losing sight of the main purpose. In fact you know that being on the wrong page was sort of their thing… I would tell you not to make the same mistake, but I have been watching my church for 2000 years, and just like disciples, it is a hard lesson to learn. But let me try offer another reminder… things that are different from what you know are nothing to be feared. There are lots of different ways to go about the mission of the Kingdom, my Father has room for all kinds. 

So don’t take that stuff about cutting off your hand or foot or tearing out your eye literally. Instead, remember that making room for those around you to encounter the Kingdom is the goal… not setting up stumbling blocks to prevent change and difference. 

This is not what you wanted to hear, but things are going to keep being chaotic for a while to come… in fact, you are often going to feel like all the things you were taught and that you know about faith, about being the church and the things you understand about God will not feel like they are giving you answers about what to do next and what this chaotic time needs of you. 

But that is okay, because there is something else I will remind you of.”

And then Jesus turned to his disciples and started talking about salt:

“Let me give you an example. Imagine that you are salt… that important part of life in our world. The thing that the Romans pay their soldiers with, the thing that we use to maintain our roads, the thing we use to preserve our food… Imagine that you are that thing, but that you stop doing your job. 

What good are we then?

Don’t worry about how things go, don’t worry about whether there are others doing deeds of power in my name, don’t worry if there are differences out there. 

Remember who you are. 

Remember who my Father has named you to be.

Remember that you are part of my Father’s Kingdom now. 

It is because of my Father’s Kingdom that I have come to you. That is why I have called you. We are bringing the Kingdom near to all creation. Proclaiming the Kingdom of mercy, bringing healing and reconciliation exorcizing demons for the Kingdom. And if others are doing the same all the better. Don’t worry ‘how’ it happens, concern with yourselves that it simply happens at all.

But it is WHO I have called you to be that matters”

And Jesus looked the disciples square in the eyes and said, “And I have called you from death into new life… and I have claimed you as my own. You are my disciples, my salty disciples that my Father is using for the work of the Kingdom in order that the world may have new life.”

And then Jesus says to us,

“And you, you my beloved children, you are salt too. The salt of the Kingdom. 

I have called you and named you as my own. Named and claimed you for the Kingdom in the waters of baptism. Just as I will name and claim Ezra today. And so when you are grasping for something to hold onto in this chaotic time — remember that I have always been holding you, holding you as my own, holding since before you were born and from moment you were first washed in these very waters. 

When you don’t have the answers and it feels like all the things you thought you knew about being my followers don’t seem to help… 

Remember who you are, remember who I have named and called you to be. 

And even when you come thinking that you know your own name – whatever name the world calls you. When you come thinking that you are defined by the job you do, or the address that your mail is delivered to, or the places you drive in your car, or by the amount of money you spend at the mall, or by the votes you are thinking about casting in the next election, or by the TV shows you never miss and sports teams whose jerseys or hats you own…

Remember that your name to me is beloved. 

Remember that my Father is the one who has known you from before time began. 

Remember that you true home is in the Kingdom of God. 

Remember that is the Word that you hear in this place defines you. 

Remember that it is this table of bread and wine where your family welcomes you. 

Remember that this Body is where you belong and this Body is will always hold you.

Remember that I have called you to be my disciples, and that even when you forget that what that means…

That I have not and will not forget you and who you are.