Pick Me!

Apr. 10, 2016

Acts 9.1-7; Rev. 5.11-14; Jn. 21.1-19

When I was a kid, we played sandlot baseball almost everyday in the good weather of summer, with about 15 or so kids of various ages that lived in our neighborhood. There was a procedure to choosing the teams. Two captains would stand facing each other and one would toss the bat to the other with the handle up. And from that point, each captain would place a hand above the other, until the top of the bat handle was reached. Then the one who could grip the top of the bat without losing a grip on it had won the right to pick the first player. It was our version of a player draft. As each player was chosen they would come and stand behind their captain until all the players had been chosen. Of course, it was an honor and a bragging right to be chosen first and it was likewise an embarrassment to be chosen last...or not at all. We soon discovered that other things in life follow a similar a pecking order. For example, there was religion. In Kentucky where I grew up you were either a Baptist or a Catholic.

Growing up in the Baptist Church, we were fairly certain that salvation was pretty much ours to be had and although others could hope for it, it not a sure thing by any means. It seemed an easy thing to figure out at the time...because we knew that us and ours were already climbing the latter to heaven, but we weren't so sure about the other religious groups, or if they even knew there was a latter to climb. There were some particular tests of the validity of others' claims to sanctification...for example, was their baptism an immersion or were they just sprinkled? I heard a story of a young man who had gone with his church down to a creek for a baptism and after witnessing this event he decided to baptize all of the new litter of pups that the family dog had just birthed. He was dunking them one after the other, until he got a strong objection from one of the dogs as it nipped him on the hand when he tried to force it under the water. Shaking his throbbing hand he told to indignant dog, "OK, I'm only going to sprinkle you and let you go to hell!" Other religious groups faced an uphill challenge. The state of peoples' souls in other religious practices was precarious at best, but we also knew everybody who didn't attend our church was definitely in a dicey spot. It was like not being picked in sandlot baseball.

For some things, it's good to be picked and for other things, not so much. It's a good thing to pick out the right numbers in the lottery; it's not so good a thing to be picked out of a police line-up! At the end of the world in the rapture, some Christians believe that God will selectively whisk away those believers who are selected to avoid the suffering of the last times, while others will be subjected to the whole bloody, messy ending of the world. (It's a belief that was only promulgated in the early 20th century, but it's out there. It reflects the blood thirst of some who believe that those who disagree with them, just can't get it bad enough.)

This brings me to some of the most poignant stories in the New Testament. We heard them today. Saul...whom we call Paul...what a very unlikely choice to serve God's purposes for the salvation of humanity. He had persecuted the church...but God chose him nonetheless. The Book of Revelation presents an image of all the myriads of myriads of angels and elders selected to worship God around the throne in heaven. What a vivid and vital image of heavenly places. But then in John's gospel we have this motley crew of disciples who had witnessed the preaching and miracles, the death and the resurrection of the Lord and here they are back doing, what they used to do before the Lord called them...they went back to fishing! I know there are some who consider being in a boat on the water a holy avocation and that it's a sacramental rite to share some Buds with some buds, but that wasn't the calling of this group of disciples! They had been told by the Lord, "Go to all the world with the good news about the risen Lord!" But these guys were just fishing! It reminds me of the bumper sticker that warns, "The Lord is coming soon...Look busy!" It wasn't the calling for which they had been selected. Old thoughts and practices die hard.

When Peter realizes that the one on the shore was the Lord, he leaped into water and swam ashore. And there in the company of the Lord he received his final lesson about what he should be doing. The Lord asks him, "Simon, son of John, do your love me?" And perhaps because the Lord knows that our habits and our foibles die hard, the Lord asks him again, "Simon, son of Jonah, do your love me?" In the third asking, the message finally sinks in...that he is not a fisher of fish, but a fisher of men and a shepherd of souls whose job is to tend, feed, and nurture God's people so that they can believe in the Lord of life.

The good news is that you have been chosen. But it's not a popularity contest. The wonderful thing about this team that we're on, by being chosen, someone else did not have to be replaced or booted off the Christian team. Our selection just makes you or me members of a team that is more gifted and more diverse.

It helps to remember that the Greek word for "chosen" is εκκλεσια...it's the root word behind our English word "eclectic" or to be selective. We often forget that the word for the "church" in the NT is the same word. So, we members of the church are those who have been chosen. Today we are so consumer minded, I often hear people say that they are "shopping" for a church, but God has already called us out of the world and brought us into his church and the way we accept that call is by being baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. That makes us a part of the body of Christ and members of each other. We become part of the household of God and we are brothers and sisters to each other. We're chosen, we're on the team...but performance isn't how well we swing the bat, but rather how patiently we tend, feed, and nurture the others given into our care. Amen.

The Reverend WA Ray St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS