Do you remember, when you were a little kid in school, out on the playground for recess or PE, and you were playing a team sport? And do you remember the playground politics involved in picking a team?
There would be captains (usually the best players/natural leaders) who would chose the teams, one person at a time until everyone was picked. And unless they were forced to do otherwise, by a teacher or a coach, the captains would typically choose the best player first, and gradually work their way down to the `weakest links.’
Do you remember the looks on the faces of the kids who were picked last? Do you remember the pain and the shame in their eyes to know that all of their classmates and all of their friends considered them the least desirable player? Do you remember those kids? Perhaps you were even one of those kids yourself.*
I remember the first year I played biddy basketball on our church league. I think I was about six or seven years old.
I dearly loved basketball, but I was half the size of anyone else on the team. I made up for it, though, by being twice as slow as everyone else. I remember spending most of that first year cheering on my teammates from the bench.
The next year, however, my Dad became the coach of our team. Dad made sure that everyone on the team got a chance to play, at least for a few minutes. We probably had the worst record in the league that year, but everyone had fun. No matter the size or level of skill, Dad saw the potential in each player.
Whenever I was on the court, you would find me running behind the pack. There would go the two teams with the basketball, racing down the court. And here would come little Tom trying to catch up. There would the others running back up the court. And here would come Tom bringing up the rear. It was pitiful.
Then, one game, something happened to change the game forever (at least for me). Somebody knock the ball out of somebody’s hands and it came flying back to half court, where I had just arrived still trying to catch up. I grabbed the ball and looked up to see nine other guys stampeding toward my position. Out of sheer survival instinct, I think, I started running away from the pack and toward our own oal, half dribbling half chasing a nearly out -of-control ball, until I got under the basket. Whereupon I blindly threw the ball upward.
To everyone’s surprise – mine included – the ball went in! Alleluia!
This rather impromptu play happened a few more times over the next few games, until coach started using it as a game plan strategy (at least for me).
It was, “Derry, you bring in the ball; John, you bring it down to mid court, pass it off to Bobby, Bobby drive to the basket. Tom, you lag behind a bit and pick up the ball if it gets sent your way.”
“No problem Dad . . . I mean coach.”
I was finally part of the team. I had a place and a purpose. No doubt, I confess, in large part because my father was the coach. That year was the height (no pun intended) of my basketball career.
There’s something special about being chosen.
I’ll bet that most everyone here today has felt, at one time or another, like we’re not good enough: We’re too small, too slow, not smart enough, or handsome or pretty enough. And, no doubt, we have all sometimes felt like we were unworthy to be called a Christian and part of a sacred community.
But God sees the essential goodness within us. God made us and knows about all the gifts and talents he’s given us. God knows what makes each one of us so very special.
And God can see potential in us that, lots of times, we can’t see in ourselves; or have trouble having faith in.
But most of all, I believe, God chooses us simply because we are God’s own children; he loves us and has purpose for us in life and a place on his team that no one else can fulfill.
No one else can take your place, because there is no one else in the world like you.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he has chosen them.
“You did not choose me. But I chose you.” It was Jesus who chose his disciples – who picked out his team – not the other way around.
And there’s something very special about that.
It means that Jesus choose us as well.
And it means that we are here by accident or happenstance. It means that we each have a place in this faith community and a special purpose in God’s plan. When Jesus says that he choose us, it means that this is now a new community created by Jesus, a new family of God; a new expression of God’s kingdom in the world.
It means that God sets the agenda, God makes the plans, God calls the plays. And God sent Jesus to the world to recruit us to be part of the team.
And our team motto is Jesus’ charge for us to Abide in Love, just as he abides in God’s love and God’s love in him.
Jesus teaches us that central thing that holds the team together – the thing that gives us this sense of blessed community; of holy community in Christ’s name – is love.
Love is what marks us as a blessed community; that we are all equal and equally loved by God, and so each of us is special, invaluable and irreplaceable.
And when Jesus tells those he has chosen that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his or her friends, he is telling us that self-sacrifice is the ultimate and purest expression of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ; and thus should be the same kind of love we strive to show one another.
So when we remember that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; let us remember what it is we are set aside for. Let us remember that the power of God’s love is given to us for a purpose.
For we are, indeed, chosen. In Jesus Christ.
(*Sermon starter sparked by John V. West)