You did not choose me, – said Jesus – but I chose you.
Which is not often how we think of our faith. We like to think that we choose whether or not we believe, whether or not we come to church. …. how we live our life. Jesus said : You did not choose me, but I chose you.
We are, of course, surrounded by the illusion that we can choose whatever we want. Advertising and marketing is based upon freedom of choice – choose me, buy me, take me … just do it …… Choice gives us a sense of power and control over our own lives, over our own destinies, and perhaps even over the lives of others – if we think that we are the ones doing the choosing. We choose what we want, and we choose what we don’t want. And yet Jesus said : You did not choose me, but I chose you.
Of course many choices are an illusion. There are very many parts of our life over which we have no choice at all. We were not able to choose where we were born – with all the obvious advantages and disadvantages that brings. We did not choose how intelligent we are or our temperaments or our inclinations or our health. We did not choose our parents – or our brothers and sisters, our upbringing, and throughout the world people do not choose the wars and the conflicts and the epidemics that go on all around them. You did not choose me, but I chose you
And as we get older we are not able to choose how we grow old. – whether we fall ill or not, whether we get a disease like cancer or not. We do not choose whether or not we come into money. There are very many things in this life that we do not choose, rather, they seem to choose us. You did not choose me, but I chose you.
And even after four and a half years in Montreal people still ask me how and why I chose to come to Canada. The simple answer is that I did not really fully choose to come here either. In some sense here chose me. I felt called and drawn. There was a sense in which the cathedral parish profile and the job specification called me, chose me – as if God called me. Christ Church Cathedral chose me, I did not choose it. You did not choose me, but I chose you
Which may leave us all feeling a little powerless in the face of the great changes and chances of this fleeting world, and in the face of the inscrutable nature of Divine Providence, or – on the other hand – it may be a source of great comfort to us. For a sudden diagnosis of a dreadful illness or a sudden blessing cannot be our fault if we did not choose it. Our place in life, our education, our background do not make us any better or any worse than anyone else – if we did not choose it, if it was just a gift. I was born a white English male, others are born black, or asian, some born with a perfect body and some with bad eyesight. These things chose us, as it were – we did not choose them. You did not choose me, but I chose you. – and yet they make up an important part of who we are.
And so what of our Christian faith? Did we choose it or did it choose us?
It is so easy to read some parts of St John’s letter as if he thinks that some people are just better than other people because they have made the right choices in life, because they have chosen the right faith. ‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God’
That little verse sounds so much like ‘Everyone who does not believe that Jesus is the Christ has not been born of God’
But just because a positive sentence is true does not always mean that the negative sentence is true as well. Everyone who believes that the colour Green is the same as the colour brown is colour blind, but that does not prove that everyone who believes that the colour Green is not the same as the colour brown is not colour blind – they might still be colour blind – just in a different way ! You did not choose me, said Jesus – but I chose you.
And if God chose you, then you might begin to wonder – why? Why me? you might ask. What for? you might ask. Why have I been given this blessing, this burden, this responsibility – to be chosen to love God, to love my neighbour, to be a disciple of Jesus – Why should I have been chosen to believe – when I could just be getting on with my life?
But being chosen is not an unusual idea in our Bible. The Jewish people were the chosen people – but not because of anything they did – just because of where and how they were born.
It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors: Deuteronomy 7: 7-8
In other words, in the words of Jesus : You did not choose me, but I chose you.
So being chosen by God to be Christians in Montreal – just as the chosen people the Jews were once the chosen people in Israel – is a wonderful gift, a precious gift – we are born of God.
We have not earned it, we have not deserved it, we might not even want it all the time, – but we cannot escape it. You did not choose me, but I chose you.
And how do we know that we have been chosen? – how can we be sure? St John tells us that we know because God has put love into our hearts : a love for God, a love for one another, a love for doing the right thing, – a genuine, loving, real desire to do good, to help other people, to serve them, to listen to them, to care for them. – a love which is just there, – sitting inside us and driving us to do more – an irritating, pesky, life-giving love which we just cannot do without – a gift to us from God. You did not choose me, but I chose you.
We know that we love the children of God, – writes St John – when we love God and obey God’s commandments… When we feel that strange love for God burning within us, even when we have not looked for it and do not know what it means, – when we feel that strange desire to do what is right and just and true – even when we are tempted to do what is wrong, then we find ourselves loving God and obeying God’s commandments and because we love God and obey God’s commandments ..then … We know that we love the children of God
You did not choose me, but I chose you.
And so the question remains – – why me? why us?
And the answer from St John is a bold one – he doesn’t pull his punches – the answer is so that we can conquer the world. – nothing less.
for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.
Not our faith in God of course – our weak and fragile faith, which sometimes believes and sometimes does not – not that faith – but God’s unwavering constant faith in us. – the God who chooses us because this is the God who truly believes in us…. God’s faith in all creation – God’s faith that it can work, that it can be saved, that the evil systems of the world will be conquered.
God believes this so much that the Son of God became a part of it in the person of Jesus. – You did not choose me, but I chose you. – I chose you, I chose your world.
I chose you when I created the world – in the first place – and I chose you when I made you to be the person you are. I chose you when I sent Jesus to live with you and among you, and I chose you when I called you here this morning with your own peculiar, wonderful, mysterious, extraordinary, eccentric, unique collections of gifts. I am a God who chooses : You did not choose me, but I chose you. – and why did I choose you, – says God – I chose you because I believe in you. – I suppose God says : I believe in what I made.
I created in you a heart filled and overflowing with love : – enjoy your heart.
I appointed you to go and bear fruit from that heart – fruit that will last –
Go and enjoy bearing fruit.
and I am giving you these commands – not so that you may feel guilty or bad – but so that you may love one another. ….. so go enjoy loving one another –
I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another
And I have faith in you – That is why I chose you.
Sermon by J. Paul Kennington