Sermons

Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

 

There is a scene in the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” that is notable both for its acerbic writing and the stoic performance of it by Meryl Streep.

 

For those of you who may not have seen this movie, Meryl Streep plays the Editor-In-Chief of a major fashion magazine -- think Vogue or Cosmopolitan.  Anne Hathaway plays a young, aspiring journalist who takes a job as Streep’s assistant. She has no interest in the fashion industry, she is simply getting her foot in the door so she can move on to what she really wants to be doing.

 

Early in the movie, Anne Hathaway is called into Streep’s office to take notes while they make decisions about an upcoming photo shoot.  Hathaway sees them compare what look like, to her, two identical belts. They are unable to make a decision because to them, they are “so different.”

 

Hathaway laughs, and apologizes explaining she’s still learning about “all this stuff.”

 

There is an icy silence followed by a monologue by Streep that outlines the process by which Hathaway came to be wearing the very sweater she has on.

 

Streep’s monologue ends with, “it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

 

Hathaway is silenced.  She is a strong, independent person with a clear sense of where she is and where she is going.  The idea that anything in her life, even her choice of sweater might be dictated for her and not an act of self-determination is something she resists and rejects.

 

Few of us like to think of ourselves as pawns in someone else’s game, whether it be the fashion industry or any other.  The complicated conversation about privilege often gets stuck in this very place. Those with privilege like to think it came from hard work and self-determination.  Those without it know too well that there are larger forces at work than sheer will or, as Elise put it last week, grit.

 

In his farewell discourse to his followers, in the midst of all this talk of abiding and loving, Jesus drops this bomb:  He says to his followers, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

 

 

I wonder how many of his followers had a reaction like Anne Hathaway’s.  How many of them thought, “wait, I remember putting my net down and following, leaving my home and family and following.  It was I who chose to follow Jesus, not the other way around.”

 

After all, how could Jesus choose people he didn’t know, choose people who he hadn’t vetted, whose skills or capacity to follow him he hadn’t considered?  How could God choose with such reckless abandon?

 

But Jesus tells us that’s exactly how God chooses.  With abandon. In the reading from the Book of Acts, we hear that the Spirit fell on all who heard the word.  Not only on some, not only those who asked the Spirit to fall on them, but on all.

 

In your relationship with God who, do you imagine, is choosing whom?  How might it change your relationship with God to imagine God choosing you;  to imagine it was God who brought you to this place, and not your Google search;  to imagine it is God who is the start of all of our longings, our questions, our doubts and our seeking?

 

God says to each of us, “I chose you.”

 

In our prayer, when we are able to pray, we often imagine it is we who initiate that time with God.  We chose to set the time aside. We chose to start talking with God. We choose to pray.

 

But Jesus suggests it happens differently.  It is God who chooses us. It is God who brings us to prayer.  It is God who starts the conversation. Our prayer, whether private or corporate worship, is actually a response to a conversation God has already started.

 

What if we started our prayer with “Thanks for calling?”

 

A mentor of mine reminds me all the time that priests are called to the parishes we serve as much for their own salvation as anyone else’s.  But I remember submitting my paperwork. I remember choosing to accept the call from the Vestry and search committee.

 

The Gospel reminds me, though, that anything I did, or you did, in the process of our coming to be with one another, was a response to God choosing us, and then us saying yes to God’s invitation.

 

The rational self-deterministic sides of us will bristle at this suggestion.  It is easy to veer into an abdication of our role in God’s invitation. It sounds like puppet-string, clock-maker theology.  That God controls each move we make, each choice a pre-determined step in a future not of our own making.

 

And I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying.  There is a second half to Jesus’ formula. Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  But the fact that they are with him to hear him say that to them means that when God chose them, they said “yes.”  I no longer call you servants, but friends. Servants lack choice, friends accept the bond of relationship offered to them.

 

“I chose you,” Jesus says, “and you said yes.”

 

There is nothing about the crowd gathered around Jesus that isn’t equally true for this crowd gathered here.

 

You did not choose God. God has chosen you.  The Spirit has fallen on you. God isn’t interested in your qualifications, your spiritual history, how many times you’ve said “no” in the past or how many times you will say it in the future.

 

God will keep choosing you.  The Spirit will keep falling on you.

 

God might not have chosen the sweater you are wearing, but if you think you are exempt from God’s love, outside of God’s mercy or undeserving of the abundant Spirit of God, think again.

 

God chooses us with reckless abandon, in hope and with love.

 

If you came here hoping to start a conversation with God, imagine you came here in response to a conversation God has started with you.  

 

And I’m not just talking about the first time you came here.  I mean every time you come here. Every time is a response to God.  Every time is a “yes” to God’s choosing.

 

Every time you see the beauty of a sunset, it is a response.  Every time you think to pray, to yell at God, to ask God for something, it is a response.

 

You did not choose God.  God chose you. Thank you for saying yes.  

Amen.

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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