Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chosen. Period.

Commenting on Mark’s Gospel (8:27-38), Tod O.L. Mundo offers this reflection:
Are we able to recognize the people through whom God is working in the world? God worked in the person of a tiny Yugoslavian nun ministering to the poor in Calcutta. God inspired a nominal member of the Nazi party in Germany to save the lives of 1,300 Jews in the heart of the Third Reich. God sent a German doctor, religion scholar, and musician to set up hospitals in the heart of Africa. God inspired former slaves and other abolitionists to set up the underground railroad to help Southern slaves reach the freedom of the North. There are many, many others who are not as well-known who have also obeyed the voice of God and transformed the world around them. Peter recognized in Jesus a man who was more than just a prophet, someone who had been anointed by God. But despite his discernment of God's guidance, he was unprepared for the full mission of Jesus. ‘What do you mean you have to die? That's crazy!’ Peter saw God at work, and rather than fall in step with God's divine plan, he succumbed to the temptation to try to manipulate God's will to match his own. Perhaps Peter dreamed of a revived nation of Israel, free from the Romans...’You don't understand,’ Jesus said. ‘Following me is not about what you get, it's about what you give.’ ...Jesus told his followers they would have to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow him. Because of Jesus' death on the cross, the image of the cross has been central to Christian theology from the very beginning of the church, but imagine the impact Jesus' statement would have had on people prior to his crucifixion. "What did he mean," the disciples might have asked one another, 'take up your cross'? Surely he was speaking metaphorically!’ Well, yes and no. Jesus was speaking of a life of self-sacrifice, a life of service, a life of demonstrating mercy, and these are all figurative examples of taking up one's cross. According to church tradition, however, all the original disciples, except for John (and Judas Iscariot), suffered violent deaths on behalf of the faith, many on crosses, so the metaphorical sometimes became literal. If following Jesus has the potential for such pain, what are the rewards? ‘Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’ There is no life that is more meaningful than one that is dedicated to God and to doing God's will. What God did through Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, Albert Schweitzer, and Harriet Tubman, God is doing today through many people around the world. Do we have the discernment to recognize God at work? Do we have the courage to join the struggle to bring about the kingdom of God?” (Tod O. L. Mundo, The Saturday Night Theologian, 2009)
Isaiah’s passage (50:4-9a), the third of the so-called Songs of the Suffering Servant of God, might better be seen as the “Servant’s Song of Confidence in God”: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word...he wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” Living a life dedicated to “the struggle to bring about the kingdom of God” begins first with recognizing that God has chosen me, then freely opening myself and allowing myself to be taught, shaped, formed as God wants, enabling me to speak words, which, sustained by God, lead to actions touching the lives of another for good. 
This is a passage, along with today’s other Scriptures, about one called to be God’s disciple, about the spirit in which one answers that call, and about what it is which enables one to follow through and do what God asks. It’s a statement, really, about faith, an unshakeable setting of one’s heart on God who alone is the Sustainer and Enabler of everything we say and do. Such faith is persistent, radical and obedient. It’s belief which sets God, like an unmovable rock, at the center of one’s life; which brings us to sit at Jesus’ feet and let ourselves be taught; a faith willing to stand with Jesus, in his power alone, when the confrontation, contention, and shame come, as surely they will to ever true servant of God.
James, in the second reading (3:1-12), makes us aware of the difficulty of being chosen servants of God, and just how fragile our faith can be. Perhaps our greatest struggle is carrying out what we pray for in the Prayer after Communion in Holy Eucharist, Rite II: “Send us...into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”  James cautions us of the dangers of double-mindedness.
He impresses on us the tremendous responsibility of being given “the tongue of a teacher... to sustain the weary with a word”. He acknowledges that all of us make mistakes, that it’s a rare person who can control “the whole body”, particularly by the human tongue. He uses several images of guidance: mouth bits and bridles to guide horses; and small rudders navigating large ships through strong winds.
The tongue, it seems, though a small member, has immense power: for good, certainly, but also for immense evil and harm. “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by one can tame the tongue -- a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” With the same organ of speech we bless and praise the living God, and with the very same tongue we disrespect, demean, even, at times, curse our sisters or brothers who are made in God’s image and likeness! This election season 2012 is probably the ideal time to tune in and experience the reality of what James means! And we all stand at least somewhat guilty, I suspect. “My brothers and sisters,” James says, “this ought not to be so.
In the Baptismal Covenant, which we repeat several times a year, we give our pledge to believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, and in God the Holy Spirit. We commit ourselves anew each time to “persevere in resisting evil...[to] repent and return to the Lord”. We promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”, no exceptions, just as we do for ourselves; to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. If we’re serious about this Covenant, we understand that what we’ve been chosen for by Christ is to do exactly what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel: set aside our own preferences, take up the cross which falls to our lot every day, and follow Jesus in trust, wherever he leads us. In a symbolic, but very real way, we agree to lose our life for Jesus‘ sake and the sake of the Gospel, in order to possess the fulness of life which he offers us. “...who do you say that I am?” and “what are you willing to do?” in light of that.
In a similar, though no less real way than the Servant of God in Isaiah and the disciples in the Gospel, you and I have been chosen in Baptism to be God’s faithful servants, taught of God that we “may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” It may be, probably is, uncomfortable for us. We may even resent it, fight it, pretend that it’s not true, or run away from it. It doesn’t matter. You and I are chosen. Samuel K. Davis puts it this way:
Think your way back now,
to when you were no longer little,
and not yet grown up -- 
  to when you were in between.

Time after time,
back then,
you heard that word
  Choose partners --
  Choose captains --
  Choose up sides.

Sooner or later
that innocent little word
  became painful
  and humiliating.

Remember not being chosen?

-- or being chosen last?
  Everyone waited
  for the other side
  to take you first.

Everyone politely
  that it didn’t matter.
  But there was a
  in your heart
  that it did.

They were picked;
you weren’t;
  and that mattered
  and that hurt.

The story of Jesus
says something very simple.
  It says
  the simplest,
  clearest thing 
  that anyone can ever say
  or ever hear.

It says
you are chosen.

 Now and always,
  whoever you are,
  whatever you are like,
  wherever you go.
  You are chosen.

Not chosen
Instead of someone else,
or in front of someone else.
  And not chosen
  because you are better
  or stronger
  or wiser.

You are simply

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff!

I'm reminded of Julian's "The soul can do nothing but seek, suffer, and trust."