Do We Choose Or Are We Chosen?

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August 26, 2018. Do we choose or are we chosen? Pastor Stephanie tackles this theological puzzle today, as we as a congregation find ourselves between pastors and the Transition Team is meeting for the first time.


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Do we choose or are we chosen? Perennial question. I will admit that right up front this week, I tried to choose another theme out of the lectionary passages for worship today. But where we are landing just kept coming back to me. It seemed too complicated to deal with in such a short time. So I tried to push it off to some other day, and I could never feel really good about choosing something else. So here we go. You see I find myself in that line of theological thought which insists that God chooses us long before we ever give a thought to choosing God.


And yet, in both the words of Joshua today and in the words of Jesus in this week’s gospel, we are given the matter of choice. Will we go forward, as Joshua proposes, and serve the Lord who has faithfully brought us this far in safety and care? Or, will we let our wandering hearts give in to other idols that vie for our attention and devotion? Will we follow the crowd that looks at the curious teachings of Jesus and the cost of discipleship and say, “That’s too much for me,” and back off? Or we will line up with Peter, who sees the cost, yet also sees the incredible value of following Jesus, and choose to line up behind him? Actually, I wish it were easy to choose God’s ways once and for all, but really we get to choose over and over again. Or, should I say that we see how we have been chosen already by God, and we see the results of that over and over again throughout our lifetimes? Who is doing the choosing?


Volumes have been written, and centuries of debate have been spent on trying to figure out this theological puzzle. See why I did not want to address this in 10 to 12 minutes? So, when faced with such puzzles, I say use narrative whenever possible.


I have to say that when I look back over my own life as objectively as I can, it appears to me that a whole lot of time, choices that I think I made were pretty clearly mine. But maybe I wasn’t really the one choosing. Maybe I was being guided into a choice. Here’s an example: a few years ago, I received an invitation to work as the Coordinator for Adult Discipleship for the Reformed Church in America, the partner denomination to the ELCA, in which I was ordained as minister of word and sacrament. I thought I had chosen to accept that call. In that role there was one persistent theme that tugged at me. As I thought about what was the one key piece that holds all of discipleship together, one theme kept appearing: abiding in Christ, and Christ abiding in us.


In our gospel reading today Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” That is not an unusual phrase in the Gospel of John. In fact, the intimate connection between God and people abiding in each other is all over the place in John’s gospel. “Abide,” for those of you who don’t use that word too often (perhaps we don’t daily) means to remain in, to stay deeply connected with one another. Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you. Apart from me you can do nothing.” Then he explains in John 15, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” And throughout the gospel we see these phrases: “Abide in my love,” “Abide in my word,” “The spirit abides in you,” and on and on. So to abide in or dwell in the living bread is what strengthens us to continue to choose whom we will follow. Because when we dwell with someone, we get more deeply acquainted with that one’s nature, character, and dependability. So all of those abiding teachings became the lens through which I thought about, and taught about, discipleship from then on.


But was I choosing this as a life and work theme, or was something else at play? Thinking back, it was inevitable. The silent retreats I felt drawn to attend, the people who stretched my view and practice of prayer, the sabbatical Phil and I took that deepened our practices of the inward journey into abiding with God. All of that had come before, and all of it had shaped what was now so obvious to me as the key thing to be emphasized. So I wonder, did I choose this or was it chosen for me?


Well, Christ Lutheran Church, you have entered into a very unique time. You are at a crossroads between settled resident pastors. In this past week, the new Transition Team has met for the first time under the capable leadership of Pastor John Mann. This team will be periodically engaged with as many people as possible in this congregation in a process of discovery. As a church in the coming months, you’ll be looking back at what has been shaping your life together. And as you do, certain themes are bound to come into focus. These will help you as you choose some aspects of the future you believe you are called to pursue.


And as you abide in Christ together, you will wonder, “How much of this did we choose, and how much of this has been divinely chosen for us?” It seems to me this is what Simon Peter found himself struggling with, as Jesus questioned him as to whether he would choose to go away or stay and abide with Jesus. I hear, in Peter’s response, a statement that there really is no choice at all for him, even though others have clearly chosen not to follow. “Lord, to whom can we go?” he says. “You have the words of eternal life.”


Can you imagine some of Peters thoughts though? “Yes, I did choose to follow you Jesus. But wait, you chose to call me first? But I did say ‘No’ to my fishing business, where I was a leader, and decided to be a follower instead. Then again, you chose me to be a follower and leader. So it’s still been your choice all along.” Ah, the nuances of faith issues. I expect in the end, it is perhaps some of both, interplaying. We are both guided by God, who has chosen to love us, and we are asked to choose to respond with commitment and gratitude. Indeed, it goes without saying that out of great love, God has chosen us all. And yet at the same time, I believe that you and I and we as a church are called to choose every day whom we will serve.


For a while, God did choose to abide with us. You and I are still called to choose how we will live in response. When the joy of realizing that God abides with us even more intimately than we know how to abide with God, then every day can be a fresh new discovery of that grace.




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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, RCA