Third Sunday after Pentecost / 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 / Chosen
For those of you who are new here in the sanctuary and those who are joining us from abroad, you may not know this, but down in the boiler room of St. Mungo’s, there is a vault. I go down there from time to time when I am stuck on a sermon or when things have not gone well and I am feeling bad about things.
The boiler room is also where we keep the Ghosts of all the old ministers. Naturally, from time to time, I run into St. Mungo’s favourite pin-up, Peter Brodie, and he always has some funny story to tell me.
Contained in the vault are not very fancy things, Actually they are mundane things, easy to overlook. I went down there this week, trying to get some ideas about what to say to you all this morning. The vault is not very hard to find if you are serious about finding it. It’s not too hard to open because it’s got no lock on it. It’s not very big. Nothing much to look at. And this week, it was just about Communion deep. It still contains some wonderful WORDS like:
Stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks.
Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.
You know, old words like that. Old words from the past that so many people today think are useless.
So I dug in there and the first word I pulled out this week was: CHOSEN. I wasn’t sure what I could do with that so I went a second time [Dive in MOTION] and do you know what the word was? You will not believe me: The word was Irn-Bru. You’re joking.
For those of you listening from abroad, Irn-Bru is a Scottish carbonated soft drink, often described as “Scotland’s other national drink”. I wonder what the other sister drink could possibly be. Hmmm. Irn-Bru is my favourite elixir that always indicates that I have returned HOME. It is produced in Westfield, Cumbernauld, by A.G. Barr of Glasgow. Did you know? I was just in Cumbernauld on Friday for a wedding reception.
I officiated the wedding of Blair Campbell and Helen MacLachlan. For those of you who do not know, Blair is Billy and Marie Campbell’s only child and son. One of our elders, Beatrice, who had watched the wedding ceremony online, wrote to me, “Saw Helen and Blair’s wedding on YouTube. They are so much in love.” Yes, I know. I was there.” I also have never seen a more nervous bridegroom. It gave me a thrill on Saturday morning when I discovered that Helen is now Helen Campbell on Facebook. By my troth, a good name. She chooses to call herself Mrs. Campbell. Chosen.
But first a story I heard. I remember a wise old preacher man tell this story when I was just a boy. It’s just a story, but I gave it a name when I was a boy. I called it Christ’s Choice. I don’t why I called it that but the story has a wife, a husband and 3 little ducklings. Maybe Oprah will make it famous one day.
It was Sunday morning. A fierce storm raged outside. the weather was fierce. Not fierce-mild. But fierce-fierce. The rain was now crashing into things sideways. Something we here in Scotland know nothing about. The wife would take the car but she still had make it TO the car so she put on the wellies, raincoat, the waterproof hat, the works.
She turned other husband and said, “Would you like to join me and hear the new minister preach?” “If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all.” the husband replied. He had gone nearly a full Scottish breakfast minus the black pudding and now the blood was draining directly to his stomach. The fire place was roaring – a real fire place, a true luxury of any modern-day household – was roaring and he was feeling drowsy. It was not long before he was dozing.
The husband was startled awake to find 3 little Ducklings making loud, shrill, whistle noises tapping at the glass door of the conservatory [TAPPING NOISE]. That high pitched squeak, the sound they make when alarmed that cuts through everything- like an oboe can cut through an entire orchestra, high above the loudest bellowing or trombones or the mighty trumpets. Think of Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’, III. Adagio.
The ducklings were thumping into the glass. There they were- hopping about with their mother nowhere in sight. The ducklings were terribly confused and lost in the storm and their fluffy fuzz coat was soaked through and through because they had not yet grown their waterproof feathers. They were desperately seeking warmth of their mother.
The ducklings were zigzagging this away and that. If they were left in this storm, they would surely die. The husband threw on his waterproof jacket and opened the glass conservatory door. He did not love God but he did love animals. All Things Bright and Beautiful – he remembered now from his Sunday school days.
He threw open the door and tried to corral the ducklings into the conservatory. But the duckling were too confused, too startled, too scared and zigzagged farther away. He tried making quacking noises but this backfired and the duckling hopped away in the other direction. Nothing was working and the husband too was now soaking through and through.
“Oh, if only I could only become one of them” he thought to himself. “Then I can keep them from dying in the storm!”
Just then he heard, piercing through the wind and the rain and the panic, the old bell of the church as it began to ring, pealing through and cutting through everything like an oboe. It was noon. And that is what the bell knew how to do each and every hour. And that old bell began to toll. You know. Boom…Boom…Boom..
Oh, if only I could only become one of them … But I’m sure it’s just one of those minister’s tales. If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all.”
Why was David chosen and not the other brothers? I don’t know. No one knows. Only God knows. The Scots may not understand fully but they fully accept that what’s for you will not go by you. Destiny. Fate. Fortune. Providence. We see it since the beginning of the Bible. Cain and Abel. Esau and Jacob. Joseph and his brothers. King Saul. Now King David. Chosen.
It pains me to say this but in a significant way the Christian Evangelicals are not very far from being correct when they say Trump was chosen. He was. I don’ like it but he was in a significant way. But what does it mean to be chosen? Answer: Irn-Bru
So what’s it like? What do you mean? So what does it taste like? It tastes like Irn-Bru. What colour is it? It’s orange. So does it taste like Orange Fanta? It tastes like Irn-Bru. Surely it must taste LIKE something. Yes, It tastes like Irn-Bru.
Do you all know what I am talking about? I know you know what I am talking about. No other carbonated fizzy drink in this world tastes like Irn-Bru. Yes, it shares some common denominators. It’s liquid. You drink it. But it is singular. It stands alone. distinctive. Uncommon. Unique. Nothing else in the world tastes like it. So what is the secret Ingredient? I don’t know but those who do know, could tell you, but then they would have to kill you. Are you thirsty yet? Now some of you will go to the shop and buy Irn-Bru after church. Tell them I sent you.
There are many moments when we stare into the vast night or even an opalescent sky of summer, overwhelmed by things and ask “Does anyone up there care about me? I know, in the grand scheme of things, I am just one person, one name, one matter that will fade to black. But what if anything, is beyond the Alloa sky?
So often, we struggle in vain to be remembered in our singularity. To be recognised for who we are. But so many aspects of life conspire to make us feel insignificant, un-chosen.
If David is CHOSEN then surely everybody else was not chosen. Rejected. Cast off. made redundant. discarded. unwanted. Abandoned.
Yet into this we hear the words of John 3:16 once more. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Beyond the Alloa sky: the answer. The Son. The Son who comes to us as a child, a baby, brother, as Saviour. Jesus saves. Jesus chooses to save us. Jesus saves.
Henri Nouwen, blessed be his name, writes: “the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.” The powerful cure to this problem of self-rejection is the truth that we are God’s beloved, we have been chosen by Him. That HE has “noticed me in my uniqueness and has expressed a desire to know me, to come closer to me, to love me.”
When we begin to reclaim our chosenness “we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness.” God is the infinite giver. God is the only one who can give without loss. Henri Nouwen reminds us of this awesome truth that God chooses us in our uniqueness: “Instead of making us feel that we are better, more precious or valuable than others, our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosenness of others. That is the great joy of being chosen: the discovery that others are chosen as well.” Each one of us is singular. Uncommon. Unique. Precious because we are unique. Unique because we are precious. When this realisation comes to us, to some often, to others seldom, it still feels like a brief brush with eternity.
Perhaps the assault on the nobility of old words like Chosen is the result of the sheer explosion of words. It is estimated that the English language contains some 600,000 words. By comparison, Elizabethan English had about 150,000, and the King James Version of the Bible contains only 6,000. We have words for things that were unknown a century ago: Selfie, Unfriend, Crowdfunding, Hashtag, Glamping, Emoji, Cryptocurrency, Bromance.
The most unfortunate side-effect of all this is that many of us have become hard of hearing. We learn to filter out words that are not necessary to our lives the same way we learn to sleep in a house next to the Airport or a church whose bell tolls every hour.
But a word like CHOSEN is a simple, basic, tried and true WORD yesterday, today, forever.
For our chosenness, found ONLY in the all SURPASSING beauty of CHRIST, will not put us to shame!
I stand here to tell you that you are chosen because that’s what the Bible tells me to do, and Jesus promises that The gates of hell will not prevail against it.
The great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, was asked by a student once, “Professor, do you think that the way God has revealed himself in the Christian religion is superior to that of other religions?” Barth replied, “No because God has not revealed himself in a religion, but in the Son.” The Son. God comes to us as the chosen Son.
It is in our very nature to be chosen as it is a child’s nature to walk. As a minister who has been chosen, I believe that Jesus too chose to be one of us, to enter into the muck of life, to suffer loneliness and all those things that make us human. But there is something terrifyingly true and comforting all at once about this strange existence.
Many people have dreams but I have an obsession. It is called the Christ, Jesus. I need more than a teacher – however, wise, however inspiring. Like all of you, I need more than powerful deity. I need someone who loves me even when I can’t live his way, when I don’t even want to live that way. I need someone who cares for me and this whole lost world enough to hang on a cross to OPEN a way beyond my selfishness, fear, self-righteousness, ambition and my unforgiving heart. I need a presence, a Living Lord, someone who will go through times of suffering with me and lead me through to the other side. I need someone who will feel my pain. In short, I need a SAVIOUR who constantly chooses me INSPITE of me.
Chosen. I think we might start using this word again. Chosen. I sense it really might be TRUE.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.
13 June 2021