10 May 2015
Sixth Sunday of Easter
with Canon David Stranack
‘You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ John 15.16.
I remember when I was at school, we seemed to play a lot of sport. Cricket in the summer, football or rugby in the winter, and before we began a game the teacher would choose two boys to be captain of the teams; usually they were the two who were very good at sport. They would then take turns to choose team members. It all seemed a very fair way of organizing things unless, that is, you were one of the last to be chosen for it meant you were considered among the least useful members of the team and I often experienced that.
One year however I realized that there was a shortage of hokers in the scrum. For those of you who haven’t played rugby the hooker is the little fellow in the front row of the scrum who has to hook the ball back with his foot.When I was about 14 I realized that I was, at that time, shorter than most of my contemporaries and could possibly get a place in a school team as a hooker. And so for one term I surprised myself and my family by actually playing in the school’s third 15 rugby team.But I always remember those other occasions when teams were being chosen for a game and when I was one of the last to be chosen.
In the Gospel reading we heard how Jesus chose his followers: ‘You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’.
We today are his followers. We today have been chosen to serve with him in his team. We did not choose him, no, he has chosen us. This last week we have heard quite enough about choosing who to vote for in the General Election. With Jesus things are reversed. We do not choose Jesus. It is not we who put an X next to his name; rather it is Jesus who chooses us and puts his cross next to our name.
God loves us; God loves each of you so much that he chooses you. He longs for you to be part of his team.
A lot of people talk about choosing to be a Christian or not, as if the choice was theirs. The choice is not ours; it is Jesus who chooses us. Jesus says, ‘You did not choose me but I chose you.’
We are asked to respond to his call by saying whether or not we want to be part of his ministry and have a relationship with him. So do we accept his choice of us or are we going to let his invitation slip us by? If we say ‘Yes’ to Jesus then he can do great things for us. He can do great things in us. He says of those who are chosen that they are ‘appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’. When we say ‘Yes’ to Jesus he gives us his love and grace to bring great results.
Also when we are chosen to be followers of Jesus we enter a new relationship with him. He said to his disciples: ‘I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends ‘.
In Old Testament days it was counted a great honour to be called slaves or servants of God. Moses, Joshua and king David were all called the ‘slaves of God’ (Deuteronomy 34:5) (Joshua 24:29) (Psalm 89:20). St Paul also was proud to call himself a slave (Titus 1:1). But Jesus has called us to a far greater privilege: we are to be his friends and friends of God. We need not feel we are far off for we have immediate access to the presence of our friend and in the Lord’s Prayer we are able to address the Almighty God as ‘Our Father’.
We are not like someone who only gets a rare glimpse of the king; we are able to enter into his presence whenever we want. He has chosen us to be his friends. Because Jesus is alive he is not a theory or an idea; he is a person. We need to talk to him and make friends with him. There is that well known hymn ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’. This reminds us of the importance of prayer. Whatever troubles or worries we have, if we are weighed down with sorrow or overwhelmed with loneliness we are to ‘take it to the Lord in prayer.’
This Sunday is also called ‘Rogation Sunday’ an occasion when many churches ask for God’s blessing on the crops, on the fields, on the work of farmers and on those who work on the seas. Today’s Gospel reminds us of the need to pray. Jesus said that ‘the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name’. In other words when we pray prayers that are in tune with the loving ways of Jesus then God will answer that prayer.
Of course in our human and fallible way we do not always know how best to pray but a prayer said in faith will be answered, sometimes in ways we do not expect or understand, but God can help us to trust him and trust his ultimate desire for our good.
So Jesus invites us to talk with him as we would talk to a close reliable friend. Servants and slaves lived lives that were separate from their master but as friends we are invited to be close to our Lord. And Jesus adds, that he calls us friends ‘because’ he says, ‘I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father’. As his friends, we are privileged to know and understand the true nature of God and to know something of God’s truth. We are therefore privileged to understand something of the spirit of God.
As Jesus said, ‘a servant does not know what the master is doing’. All he has to do is to obey commands, to obey rules. And that was the way in Old Testament times when the people of God were subject to the law. But as St Paul tells us we are children of the Spirit and no longer slaves of the law.
He writes in Romans 8: 14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
So we are joint heirs with Christ. We are called to be his friends and to work with him. And in that fellowship with Jesus he wants us to have the same fellowship of love with one another. ‘This is my commandment,’ he says, ‘that you love one another as I have loved you.’ We are chosen for love. The word Jesus uses for love is the Greek word agape -which refers to faithful and constant goodwill.
If we regard a person with agape, it means that no matter what that person does to us, no matter how he treats us, no matter if he insults us or injures us or grieves us, we will never allow any bitterness against him to invade our own hearts, but will regard him with that constant goodwill which will seek nothing but his highest good.
That is the quality of love that Jesus calls us to aim for. That is the quality of love that God has for each of us and the kind of love we see in Christ Jesus’s way of life.Jesus helps us to be aware of the love of the Father. He gives us his own love. What greater love can he give us than laying down his life for us? Jesus demonstrated his deep love for us on the cross. Now we are called to respond to this love by loving him. Also he has chosen us to love one another in the same way as he loves us. ‘This is my commandment,’ he says, ‘that you love one another as I have loved you.’ As members of Christ’s team we are to love and support one another, encourage and help one another in the name of Christ. That is what he expects of us. And then he adds, ‘You are my friends if you do what I command you’.
This Thursday is Ascension Day when we recall that Jesus returned to heaven. St Luke tells us that when he left them 40 days after Easter they returned to Jerusalem full of joy. Now you would think that they would be very sad to see him leave them but no, they were full of joy. This was because they had grown in trust; they believed his promise that he would send the Holy Spirit. They knew that their master and friend would always be present with them, and that he would be with them to the end of time. We too can trust him and know that we, through faith, are chosen as his friends and that he is with us in spirit for evermore. So in his name and in his strength and filled with his love and grace we are, as he said, ‘appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.
So let us think about our calling as his disciples of today when we come later to sing our offertory hymn ‘I the Lord of sea and sky’. In that hymn there is the question: ‘Whom shall I send?’ And then we shall sing in the chorus, ‘I will go Lord if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart’. Let us pray that that may indeed be true for us all and in our prayers let us pray that we may be filled with his spirit and that we may be true friends of Jesus and indeed true friends with one another within the love and service of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.