“You did not choose me but I chose you.” Hear those words spoken to you … “You did not choose me but I chose you.” What goes through your mind when you hear the words “I chose you”? I confess on first blush it makes me feel special … really special. Being chosen really feels good doesn’t it? I know for me, being that I was always the last kid who was chosen for sports teams, it feels pretty good to be chosen. I was one of those kids when it came down to the wire, not only was I not picked for the team, the teams would walk away and leave me there! Yeah … P.E. was a personal hell for me throughout my school years. But being chosen … wanted … loved … yeah, that’s pretty special for anybody.
But if you just stay with this sense of being “special” because you are “chosen”, you end up pretty distorted. Being chosen can give you a pretty swelled head if you stay with just that part of it. I’ve met clergy who are stuck in how special they are in being called or chosen. I confess I get nervous around clergy who tell me they had a call to be a priest as a 12 or 13 year old and “never doubted” their call. They tend to be stuck in that special stage … which is called narcissism. The clergy I find most grounded and holy are the ones who struggled with their call and moved beyond how “special” they felt. They took in the full implication of what it means to be chosen. It comes with responsibilities and risks. It can be daunting and if we think we can do it alone, we will fail and it will be an epic failure. Only God can sustain us and give us what we need to live into the challenges and responsibilities of our being chosen to bear fruit that will last.
Being chosen can lead to some confusion too. One thing we often wrestle with is the fact that being chosen does not make us immune from being hurt and from bad things happening to us. The ancient Israelites learned this during the Babylonian exile when they had to wrestle with the question, “If we are God’s chosen people, how could God have let the Babylonians defeat us?” We may not face Babylonians literally, but we do face them figuratively and sometimes they are even in the Church.
This past week, many of us saw the Facebook posts about the gay couple in Orlando Florida who were told their adopted son could not be baptized at the Cathedral of St. Luke – and Episcopal cathedral. There was a great outcry about this online and this is where social media brought some positive pressure to bear to support this baby and his parents. No question this family suffered hurt at the hands of the Church whose leadership was trying to accommodate members of the congregation who disapprove of same sex relationships. The parents in question, Rich and Eric, met with Bishop Brewer this week and little Jack’s baptism will take place this summer. There have been those in the LGBT community who have asked Rich and Eric why they will have Jack baptized in a church “which has rejected you.” Rich responded in a grace filled post on Facebook essentially saying that he believes in the goodness of the people of St. Luke’s and wants to be a force for reconciliation and healing. What grace! These two dads are living the message of the cross. It would be easier to cut and run – leave that church and shake the dust. Instead, they have chosen to stay and bear fruit that will last – the fruit of healing and love.
This weekend was our Diocesan Convention and we were blessed to hear the Rev. Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms. Thistle Farms is a community of recovery helping women escape sex trafficking and rebuild their lives. Thistle Farms makes amazing products which are centered on healing – oils, candles, lotions, and soaps. These women have much to healing to do. Not only are they victims of sexual trauma, they are often addicted to drugs and, while held in virtual slavery by their pimps, they are usually the ones arrested for prostitution and serve time – victimized by their pimps and again by the legal system. Their stories are horrific. Becca+ spoke of forgiveness and how she learned it: first from watching her mother forgive the truck driver whose negligence killed her father who was also an Episcopal priest and second how she found a way to forgive the lay leader in their church who, after the death of her father, began sexually molesting her. When you hear Becca+ speak, there is no question she is chosen and is bearing fruit in her ministry at Thistle Farms. There are, however, those who relapse and go back on the street, often with tragic outcomes. Some are brutalized and even killed by their pimps in retaliation. Becca+ spoke of identifying bodies only by their tattoos. But for those who stick with the program, there is hope, healing and recovery. Their motto is “Love heals” and we saw it in action.
“You did not choose me but I chose you.” Being chosen doesn’t mean life on easy street. It doesn’t mean we won’t be hurt. Sometimes life hands you a bucket of crap. The question is what will you do with it? Rich and Eric didn’t ask to be initially rejected in seeking baptism for their son – that was a bucket of crap! Becca+ didn’t ask to be sexually abused either. And I do not believe for one minute that God caused these things to happen! If I did, I’d be preaching about a pretty sadistic jerk of a God. No, most of the bad things that happen to us are a result of living in a broken world full of sinful people who hurt each other. But that does not change the fact that Jesus chose you and appointed you to bear fruit which will last. Now, I know a little about fruit trees … they need fertilizer don’t they? So what if you take that bucket of crap life handed you and turn it over … turn it over to the God who redeems it through Christ. Turn it over, let it go, and just see what God can do with it so that you can bear fruit … fruit that will last.