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Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter

Sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter

CHOSEN AND APPOINTED

Pastor Michael Jarick

        I’ve got a jar with me this morning – an empty jar – which I’m using to represent God, the God who created the world and us, who loves us, who sent Jesus as our Saviour. Now if God is represented by this jar, then I am going to use this lid to represent us. The two go together. We belong to God, and God belongs to us.

        So, I’ll put the lid on the jar…Ah! There’s a problem. The lid doesn’t fit! What can I do?...  I’ve got some other jars here. How about I find another jar that fits my lid? Let’s try this one….close, but not quite the right fit! What about this one?... Nope! That jar doesn’t fit my lid either! Here’s another jar. Let’s see how this one goes!... It fits!

        So now I’ve got a lid and a jar that fit. But there’s a problem! Remember that the original jar represented God our Creator and Redeemer. Because we didn’t quite fit that jar, the way we solved the problem was not to change the lid, but to look for a different jar.

        And that is what actually happens in real life. Many people in Australia have some sort of idea of God. They may not have defined how they understand God, but nevertheless they believe God exists. Maybe God is some sort of white-haired figure in the sky. They go about their lives, but then something happens that doesn’t fit their vague concept of this kindly old man in the sky.

        Perhaps they’re feeling unwell. After a while they see the doctor, but the tests don’t reveal anything. They don’t feel any better, and one day a different test reveals very bad news. Or maybe they are unexpectedly laid off work, and paying off their mortgage is going to be very difficult. Or maybe their friend is killed by a drunk driver.

        They think, “Why me?... What have I done to deserve this?” Then the God they have only a vague idea of starts to get the blame. “Why did God allow this to happen?... I’m not a bad person…. It’s not fair!” These are exactly the sort of questions people often ask when they face difficult situations.

        And do you know what’s interesting? It’s not only unbelievers and agnostics who put these questions to God. After all, the Psalms are full of such questions.  I think that our questions are a reflection of our nature as spiritual beings. We seem to have a built-in sense that there is a reason for what happens in life.

        Very few people in my experience, apart from perhaps some nihilist philosophers, would accept that there is no reason for anything that happens, that everything is just random luck in a universe that neither knows nor cares about anything.

        So, while these questions are asked of God by people who don’t believe, as well as by those who do, the difference is that believers like the psalm writers –  when they are demanding answers from God – go on to reflect how in times past their God had heard their cries and answered their prayers. They ask their questions and look to God for the answer.

        It is natural and acceptable that we have questions when disaster strikes us. The danger starts when we have no understanding and trust in how God has provided for us in the past. Then we are likely to form a negative view of God as uncaring and helpless, or we may even look for another God, one that matches our ideas and beliefs about life.

        Thus, we have a tendency to want to choose the sort of God that suits us. For instance, some people want a God who will not tell them what to do, one who does not have any standards for how life is meant to be lived. In my opinion this what motivates some of the aggressive atheists today, such as Richard Dawkins. They are following the belief that humankind is at the centre of the universe, and that we are only answerable to ourselves.

        Some people want a God who will allow them to make up their own rules. As long as you try to live a good life, as long as your mates reckon that you’re a good bloke or woman, surely God doesn’t expect anymore than that!

        Surely God doesn’t expect me to be nice to my revolting neighbours with their loud music and delinquent kids? And no one could be expected to forgive that so-called friend who spread nasty rumours about me all around town! As for those figures I fudged on my tax return, well, everybody does it, don’t they? What’s the problem?

        Other people want a God that doesn’t expect followers to be loyal and faithful. This is the God that you love with part of your heart and mind, part of your body and strength. This is the sort of God you have around when it suits. This little God can be squeezed into a little corner of our lives, and can be dragged out from time to time when the need arises.

        We don’t need to give him any time on a Sunday. We don’t need to read his Word, because we learnt all that stuff in Sunday school. We don’t need to talk to him in prayer, thanking him for our blessings and asking for his guidance and forgiveness. But it’s OK to call on him for help when you’re really desperate and everything else you’ve tried has failed.

        When we look for the sort of God that suits our lifestyles, that fits our way of living and our beliefs, then it’s like choosing a bottle to match our lid. The whole thing is completely the wrong way around. We cannot choose a God in the same way we stand in front of the ice cream section in the supermarket, and think “Vanilla or Cookie Dough? Maybe Chocolate?

        Listen to what God says in John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit.” Jesus speaks these words to his disciples. In ancient Israel, a promising student of the Torah would look at the respected scholars of the day and consider which of them he would follow. Once he had made his choice, he would ask that rabbi if he could follow him and learn from him.

        Jesus reminds his disciples that it was he who found them when he met them mending their fishing nets or sitting in their tax booth and said to them “Follow me.” You did not choose me, but I chose you.

        If God is the jar, and we are the lid, we cannot choose a different jar to suit us. Instead, God is the one who chooses us to fit him. God makes the decision not according to who we are, but according to who he is, that is, loving and merciful, righteous and holy.

        When we want to change gods to fit our understanding or what we think we need, we lose the real God and his desire to bless us. We might be getting a neat fit, but it’s with the wrong jar.

        Jesus says he chose and appointed us to bear fruit. We might think that the choice was ours, that along the way we made a personal decision to follow Jesus and accept him as our Lord and Saviour.

        That’s an illusion that arises from our ego and pride. The Bible identifies us as by nature spiritually blind (1 Cor 2:14), spiritually dead (Eph 2:1,2), and enemies of God (Rom 8:7). We don’t have the sight, the life within us, or the will to choose God. What we might consider to be the exercise of our free will is actually the result of the Holy Spirit changing our hearts of stone to hearts of love.

        God chooses us, and the Holy Spirit works in us to make us more like Jesus. To continue my original image: the jar changes the lid to make it a better fit. I referred last Sunday to the fruit we are to bear as described in Galatians 5:22. I’ll list them again “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control.”

        The fruit we are appointed to bear is fruit “that will last.” I interpret that to mean that the spiritual qualities themselves will produce fruit in the world. When we show love to our revolting neighbours and to the friend who betrayed us, then we are playing our part in the great commission Jesus gave to the Church to go and make disciples.

        When we tell people about Jesus and when our lives bear the fruit of the Spirit, then the fruit that is produced will last into eternity as people get to meet Jesus, and who go on to follow Jesus and to bear fruit long after we are dead and gone.

        It is folly to think that we can make God in our own image, to suit our own interests and desires. We did not choose him. He chose us and appointed us to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. What will be the fruit that you leave behind? Amen.

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