Monday, April 29, 2013

We All Long to Feel Chosen (Easter 5C Sermon)

What follows is my (very rough) manuscript for a sermon I preached yesterday at Saint Peter's Church where I serve as Vicar.  It's primarily on the appointed 1st Reading for the day, Acts 11: 1 - 18I'd love to hear your feedback.
We all long to feel chosen. We long to feel chosen by others, even at a young age… we stand awkwardly in line at recess, praying that we’re not chosen last or not chosen at all for a sports team. And we don’t like to admit it, but that feeling never goes away… we want to be invited to happy hour by our coworkers, or phoned by an old friend, perhaps we want to rock an audition and be selected for the lead role in a performance or perhaps we simply want to be welcomed home at the end of a long day by a familiar face. We all long to feel chosen by others, we long to be included, and often for good reason.

On an even deeper level, we long to feel chosen by God. And no matter how hard we try to do otherwise, we can’t help but look to all sorts of things to indicate that God has chosen us. Whether it’s a great job, a great family, a vibrant social life or a great home, we can’t help but struggle and pray for such blessings, and often with good reason. We all long to feel chosen by others; we all long to feel chosen by God… we all long to feel chosen.

Looking back on what we know about his life, it’s easy to see that Saint Peter longed to feel chosen too, and often with good reason. In fact in today’s story from Acts, we find Saint Peter confronting everything he ever knew about chosen-ness in the previous chapter’s scene of how commanded by God, he spoke and then broke bread with Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles and how in turn, those Gentiles received the Holy Spirit. Peter reacts in shock to God’s command, and the disciples react in shock to Peter’s report, with good reason… Peter wasn’t just breaking antiquated dietary laws of Jews not eating with Gentiles, or non-Jews, here. Following Alexander the Great’s conquest of Palestine and the subsequent forced adoption of Greek culture a few centuries earlier, maintaining strict religious customs was a central way of insuring that Jewish culture, that Jewish identity, that the Jewish people themselves, would survive foreign domination. To insure that God’s chosen people remained a people at all, strict lines of who was in and who was out needed to be enforced.

As Peter discovered though, God was doing a new thing in Christ, and the Spirit was moving to make it happen. Ya know, in just a couple weeks it’ll be Pentecost, a festival that in its Christian incarnation celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles early on in the Book of Acts. But there are a number of Pentecost moments in the Books of Acts… in Acts 8 the Samaritans, even though they were descendents of the northern tribes of Israel considered impure, receive the Spirit. Later on in that chapter, an Ethiopian eunuch studying the book of Isaiah is baptized by Philip and receives the Spirit of God too. But in today’s passage an even more amazing thing has just happened, as Peter experienced not just some people, but in fact all peoples of all nations being brought into God’s ever-expanding covenant. It’s not that there are no longer a chosen people, but rather that all of humanity, in all its diversity, is chosen as well.

So what could all this Holy Spirit stuff have to with us today, in this time, in this place, in this city? Well, I propose that we can figure that out in only two steps: So step one: let’s reread the part of today’s passage where the disciples respond to Peter’s story: “When the disciples heard this, they were silenced. And then they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’ To put it simply, the disciples exclaim: “God has even chosen the Gentiles…” And then step two: fill in the blank, fill in the word ‘Gentiles’ with whatever words describe you in your situation: God has chosen even the lonely. God has chosen the addicted. God has chosen those who have made horrible mistakes. God has chosen the unemployed, the homeless, the destitute and the bankrupt. And God has especially chosen the oppressed of our society… those bullied kids never picked for the sports team… those folks still stinging from irresponsible news reports about “a dark-skinned man” in the aftermath of the Boston bombing. God has especially chosen those rejected by their families and their communities because of who they love and those who many of our political leaders still choose to label illegal. God has even chosen you, no matter who you are or what you are experiencing. God has even chosen you, to love you and bring you into Her ever-expanding covenant. God has even chosen you. My sisters and brothers, we all long to feel chosen, and in Christ, we all are. Amen.

Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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