Chosen at COTV: What’s our Job as a Beacon of God’s Love?
Turn from the world and be embraced by the love of Christ.
Like lost children, we seek our true home.
Know that God loves us and desires our salvation.
Our lives are in God’s hands; we are God’s people.*
I am part of the current book study which my dad, Dr. Clarke Chapman, is leading this summer on Wednesday nights, from Pennsylvania courtesy of modern technology! The book we’re reading and talking about is Chosen? Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. It looks at many layers of scripture and how it was written, at the Israel of the times in which those scriptures were written, and the Israel of today. It also talks about God being “smitten” – or essentially “being in love” with the Israelites – and that this can’t really be explained by anything the Israelites did to merit God’s love – pretty much like falling in love for any of us. There might be reasons, but there isn’t really an explanation for why you might fall in love with one person instead of another. It also talks about how being “chosen” brings responsibility along with any special consideration or regard from God.
This has made me think a little bit about our role here at COTV as a “chosen” community – and thinking that – at least I hope a little – God is “in love” with the Church of the Village. And that would mean we are “chosen.” I sometimes think of COTV as a “special” or “chosen” congregation in a few ways:
- In the United Methodist Church, we are Protestants descended from the revolution Martin Luther began in Germany in the 1500’s against injustices by the Catholic Church at that time – the 500-year anniversary of the beginning of this struggle just passed.
- As progressive Christians, we are descended (among other sources) from the revolution Martin Luther King Jr. began here in America in the 1960’s against injustices by our own culture and government at that time – some of which we know still continue today – and the 50 year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder will be next year.
- In today’s culture and climate, I think about COTV as “chosen” today in the here and now of 2016 in New York City, in America, in the world – trying our best to “live out” a multi-cultural community.
Our COTV mission statement says we strive to bring about love, justice and courage – that we as a church family strive to be diverse racially, economically, culturally, politically… so we think of ourselves, in a way, as “chosen” to live out in the world an example of progressive, radically inclusive Christianity. In the politically charged climate of this election season – in the American culture of today – with all the real, substantive progress made since the days of Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King Jr. – what are we here at the Church of the Village “chosen” to do and to be?
If being “chosen” means being special to God, what kind of responsibility does that give us in how we act that out in the world? If we are “chosen,” are others “un-chosen?” As we struggle to build a sustainable community – and we are not there yet – if we fail, are WE then “un-chosen?”
Here are a few thoughts from the book by Walter Brueggemann. He writes: “Is the claim of Chosenness revocable?… Is that chosen status unconditionally given and therefore assured, or is it conditional and therefore revocable?” The book then mentions Exodus 19:5 as an example of this:
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine….
The “IF YOU OBEY ME FULLY” part jumps out at me… IF “you keep my covenant… THEN you will be my treasured possession.”
Pastor Elyse preached at worship a few weeks back about the fact that when each of us affirms to ourselves “I am a Child of God,” the flip side of this assurance from God is that God also affirms that ALL OF HUMANITY are Children of God – those we don’t like, don’t agree with – those who worship in different faith traditions or who will vote for a different presidential candidate.
Another quote from the book about this thought says:
“…the good news concerns the reach of God’s promise beyond Israel for the sake of other peoples. It is that admission of the Gentiles – those who do not qualify under the Torah (five Jewish scripture books which are in our Christian Old Testament) – as a part of God’s people that is a distinguishing mark of the Christian movement as distinct from Judaism. One can, moreover, see at the edge of the Old Testament an inclusion of other peoples in the sphere of God’s attentiveness…the prophet (Amos) names ancient Israel’s two most immediate enemies, the Philistines and Arameans as recipients of God’s deliverance.”
Now the book also talks about how you can “cherry pick” scripture to support almost anything – and the prophet Amos says other stuff that is exclusive about Israel being chosen BUT the book goes further to quote from the book of Isaiah 19:24-25, where “an oracle imagines a time to come when other peoples…will share in that status as the chosen”:
“On that day, Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying ‘Blessed be Egypt, my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel, my heritage’.”
I find myself feeling and knowing contradictory things at the same time:
- I know I am a Child of God – and that I have done nothing whatsoever to deserve this status (kind of like the Prodigal Son in the parable).
- I know everyone else on this planet is a Child of God – no matter what faith tradition (or lack thereof) she or he practices – as Pastor Jeff said from the pulpit a few weeks back.
From these feelings – my hope is that we at the Church of the Village are a small, tiny part of God’s plan to break down walls in the world – to keep widening the circle of “chosen” to include more and more of the “un-chosen.” Our small human efforts to worship, live and love with people who are not the same as ourselves – while of course being exactly the same as ourselves as Children of God with families and histories and dreams and problems – our struggles are a little shard of God’s vision for ALL of humanity to be together in God’s Love and God’s Light.
The book talks about how being “chosen” is, in a way, a burden – or an ordeal – because as people “chosen” by God we have a responsibility to live up to God’s standards. This makes me feel that our job at the Church of the Village is to keep doing our best to live out radical inclusivity. And to feel that our “chosen” status – while a responsibility – gives us the strength to do just that. It’s not easy. It’s not neat. We’ll make mistakes and fall short – but we have each other, and we are chosen – together – and for this moment, that has to be enough.
Reflect on the words of Deuteronomy 7:6
For a holy people art thou to Jehovah thy God; on thee hath Jehovah thy God fixed, to be to Him for a peculiar people, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the ground.
from Young’s Literal Translation (which I chose because it describes the ‘chosen’ as ‘peculiar people’ which I think applies to COTV!)
And on the words of 1 Peter 2:9
You, however, are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart: to sing the praises of the One who called you out of the darkness into the wonderful, divine light.
Sisters and Brothers – as Children of God, let us go out today and be ‘peculiar people’ who sing the praises of the One who called me and you and who calls all – who calls us out of the darkness into the wonderful, divine light.
*Prayer adapted from selections on the Ministry Matters website: http://www.ministrymatters.com/
Book quotes are from Chosen? Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Walter Brueggemann, ISBN 978-0-664-26154-2