God Chooses Us FOR Something

Do y’all remember what we talked about last week?  God calling the disciples and they left their nets because we can’t carry our baggage with us on this crazy, awesome journey of being a disciple of Jesus.  God chooses us just as we are.  Remember the story at the end about Ben Hooper, we’re all children of God and we should go claim our inheritance.  Let’s continue with our Chosen Series.

Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Let us start with a definition of “talent.” tal•ent

  1. natural aptitude or skill. “he possesses more talent than any other player”
    synonyms: flair, aptitude, facility, gift, knack, technique, touch, bent, ability,expertise, capacity, faculty;
    2. a former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks.

A talent is a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years. As a result of the wide circulation of this story, “talent” came into the English language in the Middle Ages as a term for God-given abilities, “gifts and graces.”  Isn’t it fascinating that just from this biblical passage that we get the first definition from the second one.

Queen Elizabeth II says this about talent.  “I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”  So she says it’s all about working together.  Bringing all of our talents to the table.  Larry Bird, basketball player says this about talent, “A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.”  Larry Bird knows what it is to work hard.  He says you can’t merely rely on talent alone, but you have to work hard to develop that talent.  Soledad O’Brian, broadcaster, says this, “I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?”  A common theme throughout our “Chosen Series” is that fear limits us from doing what we can with the talents God has given us.

2 Timothy 1:6-14 says, “14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”  Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.  God gives us this treasure that God’s entrusted to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Do you hear that?  We’ve been given this jewel and if we hide it, just like in the parable of the talents, we will not be rewarded.  God wants us to share it with others.  God doesn’t choose us simply for the sake of choosing; being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re better than others.  When God chooses us, we’re chosen FOR something.

I read an article from Relevant a few years ago called “So You Have No Idea What Your ‘Calling’ Is.”  “Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours.  We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives.”  Have you ever felt like that?  Are you, or your children or grandchildren stuck in that uncertain, stuck place discerning their gifts or callings?  At each stage of life, we go through the same thoughts and questions, whether we’re 8 or 98.

You see the God that knit you together in your mother’s womb is calling you forth to share YOUR particular gift, your unique talents with the world.  Whether big or small, no act of love, no sharing of your gifts, is insignificant.  We’re called to be faithful and obedient.  We’re not called to be famous, to have a million followers on Twitter or have a clothing line.  Good for the people that do.  Most of us will not.  Don’t compare yourself to others because that only sets you up for dissatisfaction, envy, failure, and not to mention, it’s unhealthy.  We are each given our part to play.

1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 (NRSV) says, 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

Everyone has been given gifts spiritual and otherwise.  Ask God to help you see and know your specific gifts, those that you bring to a world full of darkness.  There’s a great explanation and test on The United Methodist Church’s website – http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/spiritual-gifts.  Take a spiritual gifts survey, ask a trusted mentor or friend what they’ve seen in your life, use your own God-given discernment and let the Holy Spirit tell you what makes you – YOU.

This next clip admittedly is from a kid’s movie, The Rise of the Guardians. Jack Frost has just been invited to join The Guardians, those who protect children, and he’s being questioned by Santa Claus.  The movie asks the question, “What is your center?” What are the things that make you – YOU? What makes me Narcie?

So Santa’s outside can be intimidating, but his center is full of wonder.

This next scene is at the end of the movie where Jack Frost defeats the villain Pitch ie. the Boogeyman.

Jack’s center is fun.  I would also say mischief making, when he gives kids snow days.  He defeats the villain with joy!  What makes you – YOU? What is your center? Why did God place you on this earth in this particular time, in this particular place? Not in a braggy, self-centered kind of way. Too much self-love is a detriment and can lead you on the path of destruction. Ie. The dark side.  Not to mention getting your head through the door.

But if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, if it feels like you’re not worthy or good enough.  If you’re feeling like the kid from Polar Express, that God forgot you when God gave out the gifts, you’re not alone.  All of us struggle with doubt and fear and dark nights of the soul.

Sudha Khristmukti’s “More Than Enough” is a poem that speaks to this.

“Something is better than nothing,” I say to myself.

Still another voice persists:

“Will my gift, which appears so meager, count amidst this sea of other offerings?” I ache with doubt. And yet I saw how my leaking faucet filled a bucket last night. One drop at a time. More isn’t always the most, and less isn’t always the least. Approachability. Availability. Dependability. Listening ears, understanding heart. Words of encouragement, being present   when it matters most. Selflessness and the gift of self. If the smallest act to even one life becomes significant enough, it might just make a world of difference. The endless possibilities lie with the One who can use the whole of what we think is merely a mite, a part. Here and now, if we simply present whatever we are, whatever we can, and whatever we have, somehow it would be more than enough, more than worthwhile.”

I promise you that if you ask God, seek God with all of your heart, God will answer you. If not, come see me, and we’ll pray together and ask God to help you to see, know, and feel God’s great love for you. Frederick Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” You don’t have to figure everything out now. It’s not a snap your fingers sort of thing. It’s a journey. It’s a process. There’s no pressure but as Mother Teresa says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” We can ALL l do small things throughout the day, throughout our lives with great love.

We can also use our good treasures that God gives to each of us for the world.  I prayed over the stars you can pick up as you come forward for communion, I also put some on the back table as you leave.  These stars are symbols to help you remember to discover or fully claim who you are called to be and what you are called to do.  Your stars that you pick up represent the gifts and graces you have been given as well as a tangible reminder of the hopes, dreams, and passions as you envision your gifts being used to bring about the kingdom of God.  To help you see that you’re enough. Help you see you’re worthy to approach the throne of grace with confidence. You see these stars symbolize our lights shining collectively in the world. When you claim your talents for God, God is faithful and will multiply them in ways that we can only imagine.  It makes the light brighter, stronger, more full. These are not gifts to hoard; they are gifts to share with the world. Like “This Little Light of Mine” says, don’t be hiding your light under a bushel because the world wants and needs to see your light.

3 Simple Rules: Stay in Love with God

We continue today in our series on the “3 Simple Rules,” the guidelines for living the Christian life in such a way that we will actually be changed by God’s grace.  Remember the image we’ve been using: if our sin and spiritual failures are like stumbling and skinning our knees, then we aren’t interested just in a faith that’s like a million band-aids; we’re interested here in a faith that invites us to grow into our spiritual legs so that we fall down less in the first place, so that, by God’s grace, we mature into being able to walk and maybe even run with God. So, the last two weeks we’ve looked at what it means to “Do No Harm,” and then to “Do Good.” That brings us to rule #3 which we’re going to translate a little, but first let’s look at the original text from back in the day:

General Rule #3

“Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:

  • The public worship of God.
  • The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
  • The Supper of the Lord.
  • Family and private prayer.
  • Searching the Scriptures.
  • Fasting or abstinence.

These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.”

So the third rule is to attend upon the ordinances of God or, you could say, to observe the spiritual disciplines that help you abide in God.  Bishop Ruben Job, who wrote the book that inspired this series, describes rule #3 this way: Stay in love with God. Stay in love with God. For John Wesley and the Methodists, a list like this, these sorts of things, were the tools of intimately relating to the Lord. They called them the “means of grace” because they’re gifts from God, for the people of God to apply, and God promises that when we put ourselves wholeheartedly into these things, we are guaranteed to meet God’s grace there. God is just waiting there, if only we come looking. So, the Methodists said, let’s go looking, weekly, even daily, through spiritual practice like this.  Seek God.

Psalm 105:4 says, “4Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.”  If you have not struck up a conversation with God in a while, do it.  I watched the movie The Shack a couple of weeks ago with my parents and I love how the little girl calls God “Papa.”  I don’t think that that would come authentically out of my mouth, but I love the intimacy.  If you’ve not been active in your relationship, it’s going to be a little awkward at first.  There will be starting and stopping, but keep trying and practicing.  Spiritual disciplines are simply about practicing our relationship with God, cultivating it.  It may be like going a first date.  One where you have one of your friends call for what is an “emergency” when conversation breaks down.  Push through.  Persevere.  The conversation, the dance, the relationship IS worth it.  You may be thinking, “It’s easy for you, Pastor.  Sure!  But I don’t have time.  I don’t even know how to pray.  I don’t know see God and I don’t even know if I trust God.  God is an unfair and unjust God.  God doesn’t care about me.”

As Matthew 7:7-11, “‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Seek – find.  Ask – it will be given.  Knock – door opened.  God is a good God.  God loves each of us with an abundant love.  There is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  As Harry said last week, Jesus wiped the slate clean of any of our wrong doing and we are stamped Child of God.

I think we place our human hang ups on God.  We think God’s a punishing God, keeping a record of wrongs.  We think God is a genie God, a wish fulfiller.  God cannot be boxed in.  God is Yahweh, the Great I Am.  In our Monday Small Group we are reading Bob Goff’s book Love Does and he writes, “I used to think God wouldn’t talk to me, but now I know I’m just selective with what I choose to hear.”  So clean out the ear wax and hear the words of God.  “I love you.  You are bought for a price.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made for a purpose.  Nothing will ever separate you from my love.”  And if you live knowing that?  Nothing can stop you from radiating God’s love to everyone you meet.

Now, the thing is, you may have a hard time connecting to “stay in love with God” with a list like this. They can feel like spiritual chores, or eating our spiritual broccoli, and your love relationship with God can feel like rules and regulations, or something wild and personal and free.   The thing about spiritual disciplines is that they depend on your perspective.  They can either leave us feeling words like, “Boring. Difficult. Unattainable. Guilt” and, in our minds, we relegate spiritual discipline and holiness to only the few, aged maternal or paternal saints who are one-in-a-million Christians, the exception to the rule. Or we look at them like getting to know a friend better or cultivating a relationship with the lover of our souls.  We need to rest in that knowledge and form a core and center in it.  If we lead from our cores, if we act out of our cores, if we live in the live and grace of God that emanates out of our pours…than we will truly take this world by storm and bring God’s kingdom to earth.  If we abide in the vine our core…

John 15:1-11

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he pruned to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Stay in love with God.  Abide in God’s love so that your joy may be complete.  If we keep our eyes and ears open, and our hearts, there’s a lot to this specific way of abiding, and if we’re brutally honest, some of the things that make it most special are the same things that, on occasion, make it really difficult.

First, not all of us at any given time like the idea of being pruned. Even metaphorically. In verses 2 and 3, Jesus describes how, with him, we’ll be pruned and cleansed, and it’s actually the same Greek verb both times, repeat after me: katharos. Katharos. A good English connection is catharsis. A catharsis is an expression of emotions that leaves us feeling deeply relieved. So, for instance, an ugly cry from time to time, whatever inspires it, that physically just cleans out your sinuses and emotionally unloads your burdens; that’s cathartic. Funerals are some of our biggest occasions for catharsis, to get everything out, and start to heal. This is the root of what Jesus says God the gardener does for us as branches in the vine: God prunes, gets the burdensome stuff out, purges the stunted growth, and leaves us whole by doing so. Great news, right?

Unfortunately, not all of us like to be pruned, we don’t always like self-denial, the idea of sacrificing things we’ve grown attached to. We look at God and say, “Can’t I just keep that one part of that one branch? I’ve gotten really comfortable with it. It’ll hurt if you remove that. Can’t I just send out a new branch in that direction, ‘cause I want to do that.” And pretty soon we’re a lot less like a fruit-bearing vine than a wild kudzu – more concerned with consuming in all directions than flowing with full life. Are you familiar with feeling that way? It’s why abiding is tough.

Second, not all of us at any given time really appreciate feeling tied down. Not only are parts of our lives open to pruning when we abide with Jesus, but he also says that we’re confined to the existence of branches. Now, again, sounds pretty great in a sense. Being intertwined with the Vine means having direction, having something to guide us. If you’ve ever ridden through a vineyard, these big gnarly stalks are usually carefully staked in, and supported on trellises, and there’s twine and gear everywhere to keep the branches properly placed to maximize production. It’s this big network of spider-web growth, orderly and efficient, and awesome. Even more, how awesome is it that Jesus is basically saying we get to live off his abundant, true life? Like, the very sap and richness and nutrients of God Almighty flows through the Vine directly into us. Really cool.

What some of us also hear in there is that abiding in the Vine means none of us gets to be a stand-alone plant. Nobody gets to be a towering trunk all on our own. We might start to fear that we won’t get to control our own destiny; or make our own decisions; or be creative and original. What if we won’t get to stand out from everyone else, or take credit for our own glory, or enjoy the spoils of OUR victories? Pretty soon we feel an itch to be, instead of a fruit-bearing vine all “tied up in knots,” a majestic oak that stands alone and knows no bounds. Are you familiar with any of that feeling?  It comes natural. It’s why abiding is tough.

Last, when it comes to abiding in the Vine, a more elusive truth is that not all of us always want to be fruitful.  We don’t always feel like it, don’t always think we’ve got it in us, don’t always appreciate the pressure of bearing fruit. But Jesus makes no bones: why does God prune?  What’s the end-goal of my life flowing through you? So that produce comes forth.  Not what you used to do.  Not the result you got 10 years ago.  I’m here living in you NOW.  Just open your eyes to the possibilities and don’t live in the used to’s of your past.  If we open our eyes to the unimaginable things God wants to do through us, then what can we not do?  What is our limitation? Again, it can sound like the glory of glories that the Lord of Heaven and Earth chooses to use humble old us to accomplish amazing, eternal, life-saving, earth-changing feats of power and love. But as soon as we admit that we have the capacity to bear much fruit for God, all of a sudden it makes me wonder: “So where is all the good fruit then? Why does it seem like I’m not seeing any? What, instead, am I wasting my time on selfishly? What other priorities are driving my life? What if I just don’t feel like dealing with other people sometimes, or putting myself out there, or going out on the limb (vine humor), or doing it all over again? What if I can just never believe that somebody like me could ever do anything to seriously contribute to what God’s doing?” And pretty soon, rather than abiding in a fruit-bearing vine I’d much rather be, say, a nice, self-contained little cactus. Unassuming, inwardly-focused, good to go unto my own survival, sure a little bit prickly but, hey, now God won’t need to worry about expecting anything from me. Are you familiar with any of those ideas, those feelings? Anybody else ever have a little cactus in’em? It’s why abiding is so tough.

What I’m saying is that, for everything that makes a relationship with Jesus sooo good, so unique and powerful and one-of-a-kind on earth, so life-giving and glorious, there’s something that rubs against our sinful nature. There’s a natural drawback, hesitation, and even a sense of “let me run in the opposite direction.” I think these are the same reasons why the spiritual disciplines, the means of grace, as beautiful, powerful, and life-giving as they are, are usually described as confining, boring, and impossible to attain: because they are the ways that we know how to abide, and abiding is tough for our human nature. We would sometimes rather do a thousand other things than these; we’d rather get to these things last if we have time; we’d rather choose all sorts of artificial substitutes over these things, in order to feel like we get to grow what we want to grow, the way we want to grow, as selfishly as we want to do it. Sometimes, the “disciplines” we have to stay in love with God just aren’t that attractive to the part of us that is rooted in the world, but there’s freedom in that as well. Bob Goff writes, “The cool thing about taking Jesus up on His offer [to abide in him] is that whatever controls you doesn’t anymore. People who used to be obsessed about becoming famous no longer care whether anybody knows their name. People who used to want power are willing to serve. People who used to chase money freely give it away. People who used to beg others for acceptance are now strong enough to give love. When we get our security from Christ, we no longer have to look for it in the world, and that’s a pretty good trade.”  That is a heck of a trade.  Not to get our value from the world.  Knowing and trusting God to give us the only value we need.

Y’all, as we close today, this passage isn’t supposed to be bad news. To the disciples’ ears, shortly before Jesus’ death, these words were meant to offer the hope of how they would get to remain in relationship with their beloved Lord and Master. Just listen to how Jesus wraps up in verse 11: I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” The same is true for us. We know that when we pray, when we worship publicly, when we study scripture, when we fast and abstain, we have a chance to meet God, to know God, to be in love with God, and to stay in love. In these practices, God’s pruning helps us slough of the dead things that are draining our life; growing in Christ our Vine means living into holy design; and bearing fruit means taking part in the Lord’s redeeming work. As one of the three simple rules, abiding through the spiritual disciplines, means we are going to work on this together.  The mighty redwood trees of California’s Sequoia National Park are the largest life-forms on Earth; yet it is a rare thing to see a redwood standing alone. This is because the roots of the Sequoia do not extend deep into the earth, as most tree roots do; they snake along just beneath the surface of the soil. So shallow are the redwood’s roots that, when a tree is young, it is easily toppled by the wind.

The redwoods that survive — and that grow to such astounding heights — are the ones whose roots intertwine with those of other trees, forming a great interwoven mass of support. The storms that bluster their way through the valleys of the Sierra Nevada can work no harm on those trees: for they stand strong and tall together, in community.  We will walk with each other spurring each other on to good works.  We will stand stronger together because we are going to create a firm foundation as we all seek to abide in Christ.  We are asking and seeking to become more faithful followers of Christ and the Spirit of Christ will abide in us as we abide in him.  Praise be to God.