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Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 10, 2020 –Fifth Sunday of Easter
Jesus was chosen and precious. Peter writes to us today that he was the cornerstone laid down in Zion by God.
The work was laid out there before him. It was a daunting task. An impossible task. But he did it, and because he did not count being one with God as a special privilege…but as a sacred duty…his name has been praised over every other name by more people in more countries for more centuries than any other… and still is.
Peter writes to the Apostles and us this morning to tell us that we have been chosen, too. We have come to believe in a good man who did an amazing thing and saved more people from the world…from death…from themselves…than any other.
I think about this question of being chosen from time to time. It seems presumptuous to me in a way, to think that God would have some great work for us and that just because we were born in the right place at the right time we were special.
We can fall into the trap of thinking it is all going to be easy and nothing but good things will happen to us for the rest of history. We don’t have to work at it. It is ours without any strings attached.
Leaning too far into that sense of privilege makes us self-satisfied…less alert…not curious enough about who we are and where we are and what might be asked of us…or why.
Being chosen, it seems to me, is not like winning the lottery and living all the days of our lives in ease and comfort. With the freedom Jesus has given us comes a great responsibility.
He was chosen and precious for a great work. But his greatness was not in the good outcome. That is just evidence of his greatness… greatness beyond greatness.
His greatness was in his willingness to accept the task that lay before him…a task that only he could perform…that only he has done…and he could only perform it if he gave up everything to do it.
It’s being chosen as a result of the choices we make as Christians that that sets us apart…and prepares us for moments like…well…like the one we find ourselves in every day…and today.
It’s by believing in the goodness of God as shown in the life of Jesus Christ that we prepare for the moment…whatever it is…when it comes.
We might fall short or fail on our way to that moment. Look at Jacob and Paul and Rahab. We might have done something better along the way…here and there. Look at Jonah and David. But here’s the test… and the only test…when the time comes will we accept the calling we hear?
Franklin Roosevelt spoke to a nation that had seen a lot of hardship and had endured it for a long time. Some of his programs had better results than others but he was able somehow…maybe because he knew hardship first hand…to inspire hope in hard-pressed people.
In 1936 he spoke to the challenges and the hope of the day at the same time.
“There is a mysterious cycle in human events,” he said. “To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”
Maybe we do, too.
Abraham Lincoln saw the cause of the war evolve from saving the Union to ending slavery. He sought one goal, but by 1862, he found himself being called to serve the immortal cause of freedom rather than the need to save government of the people, by the people and for the people.
He said that is seemed like he was at the center of a storm. As he felt the frustration of many disappointments early in the war, he also saw that it was not for him to choose the battle. The battle had chosen him.
He said that he had come to see himself as “an instrument of Providence who had been placed on Earth, in the center of this war, for God’s own purposes.”
And he did not flinch at the burden of his calling. He moaned. He was the most reviled President in American history. He could not sleep. But he journeyed on.
By the end of the war he had grown so thin that he looked like a skeleton in his clothes. Even then, he was able to speak with malice toward none and charity for all.
Much was expected of his generation of Americans and he willingly accepted his calling to his rendezvous with destiny…even though he could not foresee where it might lead or what it might be.
The outcome was very much in doubt for both of these Presidents, and for St. Peter, too, but they all accepted the burden…not seeing the honor…and committed their spirits, as our psalmist puts it in our Call to Worship this morning…into God’s hands.
Jesus repeated those words from that psalm…committing his spirit into God’s hand…from the cross. Stephen follows him…offering his spirit into Jesus’ hand…even asking that his executioners be forgiven… as he is being stoned to death this morning.
And so what does this all mean for us today? How can we commit our spirit into God’s hands?
I answer that question with a question: What choice do we have? At Gettysburg, Lincoln put the choice this way: We can nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of humankind.
That was true then and there…for his generation…and it is true here and now…for ours.
What is it going to be? To my generation…our generation…more has been given than to any generation in the history of the world.
Now…we are discovering…much is being expected. It is not just this generation of Americans, either. It is this generation of humankind.
We now have a problem that no one person can solve…no one nation can solve. We finally have a challenge that is so great that we can only overcome it together.
I think I have heard the phrase “we are in this together” earlier and more often than any description of the difficulty we all suffer through today. It is as true and as practical description as any.
We can object and say it’s someone else’s fault that we are in this problem, but that gets us nowhere…and the most encouraging thing I have seen in the last few weeks is that the people have taken the matter into their own hands, realizing that they cannot delegate the responsibility for their well-being to any government or institution at all hours of the day. Even shy people find themselves getting up and doing what needs to be done.
I spoke last week about the ways our little church has responded to our common situation. Who would have guessed? I suspected what happened could happen… because I know how you are…that we would reach out to help who we could, when we could, in all the ways we could and where we could …but I did not presume it.
You seem to have understood… without being told…that you were chosen and precious…that together we could become chosen and precious…if we remembered all that God has given us…in Jesus Christ.
It was your nature…part of your DNA…just how you are. And I give thanks to God for your witness in my life…and in my community… and in the world this hour.
We have a lot of stuff, to be sure… blessing upon blessing…but more than that we have a great tradition as Americans…as the New World…to be grateful for. To us much has been given…and of us much is expected.
It is not for us to question Life about our present hardship. We don’t instinctively thank life for the bounty we enjoy.
It is life that is asking us what it is that we will do now. It is life that gives us the power to think…to wonder…to hope…and to serve.
It is not for us to ask…but to answer.
Jesus tells us this morning that “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”
It seems almost sacrilegious of us to think that we can do more than Christ could do, but these are his words…so maybe it is sacrilegious for us to not believe it…and disobedience to not try to do it.
The days are long but the years are short, so let us devote ourselves to doing what we can…like so many who have gone before us…who have shown us that it is not physical power but spiritual power…belief in something that is greater than we are…that gives us the grace to become something more than we have ever been…more than we are now.
The more difficult the task, the sweeter the victory, and let us give thanks for the task…for the calling …for the faith that God in Jesus Christ has shown in us…to bring us to this day and through it.
Let us offer ourselves to God, to build with us and to do with us as God wills. May God relieve us of the bondage of self that we may better do God’s will. May God take away our difficulties that victory over them might bear witness to those we might help of God’s power and God’s love and God’s way of life. May we do God’s will always.
Let us only ask: O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.