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“Chosen” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  Today I have accomplished something which I have been intending to do for five years or more.  It isn’t accepting new members — that is something I am always delighted to do, and I’m grateful that it happens more like twice a year.  Here’s what I have finally accomplished: I am preaching on a text about fishing and fisherman the day after the Fish Fry!  Usually preparing worship resources and getting ready for the Fish Fry happen in separate compartments of my brain, and it isn’t until the week of the Fish Fry that I think — aww, preaching about Simon, Andrew, James and John would have been perfect for Sunday.  Of course, it is an extra bonus that we accepted new members and have the opportunity to reflect on discipleship and the vows which each one of made at our baptism to follow Jesus.

Something I regret that I can’t share with you today is a video resource.  Diane Lund spent some time this past week checking copyrights and licensing, and we can’t show it on our LiveStream broadcast, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway.  It’s from a series called The Chosen, which I heard about from Deb and Mike Kauffman.  Here’s how Wikipedia describes the series:

The Chosen is a drama series created, directed and co-written by American filmmaker Dallas Jenkins. It is the first multi-season series about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Jenkins, the series’ creator, wanted to create a series about Jesus that could be “binge watched”,[1] and hoped to distinguish the new series from previous portrayals of Jesus by crafting a multi-season, episode-based story.[2] Jenkins’ intention was not only to dig deeper into the people who encountered Jesus and to see Jesus through the eyes of those who met him, but also to show him in a way that is more “personal, intimate, immediate.”[3] The series portrays Jesus “through the eyes of those who met him”.[1]

I haven’t exactly been binge-watching, but I am through Season 1, and will be starting Season 2 shortly.  Although the story is familiar to me, I love being introduced to Jesus through the eyes of his followers.  This is a personable Jesus — he smiles, he laughs, he teaches children, he dances at a wedding.  But even more compelling for me is how this series fills in the back stories of Jesus’ followers.  These histories and conversations are mostly not in the biblical record, but they are part of the story.  The message which I take from that is that if we are followers of Jesus, then our personal history is part of the story, too.  We, too, have been chosen by Jesus, and our work is to understand and accept that calling, and figure out how being part of Jesus’ ministry changes us.

I don’t want to put any of our new members on the spot, but I think I can safely use myself as an example.  No one comes to be a follower of Jesus without a struggle.  If you were baptized as an infant, that struggle happened after your parents made a decision for you.  If you were baptized as an eight-year old, a twelve-year old, or a forty-year old, that baptism marked the beginning of a journey which is still happening.  I was born into a family in which participating in church was assumed.  I’ve shared previously that my mother had a drug problem: she drug us to church every Sunday — if my mother ever hears this on our LiveStream, I am in big trouble. Going to church was a formational experience for me, and one which fewer and fewer children and young adults are getting; but discipleship is more than that.  Discipleship is responding to Jesus’ invitation to “Follow me,” and no one — not your parents, not your grandparents, not your friends — can answer that invitation on your behalf.

In the gospel of Matthew, the verses which Joe Kohler read this morning describes the calling of the first disciples as an event.  It had to be: there was no ongoing Christian tradition for these fishermen to be a part of.   They were all Jewish, of course, and would have been familiar with prophecies about the Messiah and the salvation of Israel.  Jesus makes them no promises — he just says, ‘Follow me,’ and they do.  Why were these fisherman chosen?  God only knows.  We don’t know if they were good people; we’re not even told if they’re good fisherman.  They’re certainly not educated, and possibly not even literate.  What did Jesus see that made him think these guys would be disciple material?

In The Chosen episode where Jesus calls the fishermen, Simon has been fishing all night and caught nothing, and at Jesus’ direction he puts out and hauls in a huge catch.  When they get to shore Simon falls on his knees before Jesus and “What do you want from me?  I will do anything you ask.”  And Jesus says, “Follow me.” And Simon says, “I will.”  And that response is my favorite part of the series so far.  Simon’s response isn’t recorded in Matthew or any other gospel account, but here’s the thing — it isn’t Jesus’ invitation which makes us disciples, it is our response.  The invitation is out there, for everyone, whether they have heard it or not.  None of us been chosen because we’re such darn good fisherman, because we work so hard, or we are so educated, or we’re so ethical, or whatever.  What makes us disciples is our willingness to say, “I will,” when Jesus invites us to follow him.  And then we have to back it up with action.  None of us knows what that is going to look like.  These fishermen may give us some idea, but our story is our own story.  Here are some things you can probably expect if you say “I will”: you will be called to go places you did not expect, and places where you may not feel comfortable.  You will have to put up with people you might not like.  You will have your assumptions challenged.  You will feel unprepared.  You will learn to know Jesus. You will be changed.   Here are some things which will probably not happen: you will know all the answers, life will be simpler, you will stop making mistakes.

Being chosen and saying “I will” might sound like it makes our lives more complicated.  I think that’s true, certainly in the short term.  Walking away for your boats and what’s familiar is not easy.  Maybe it wasn’t that dramatic for you — or maybe it was life-changing in a different way.  Walking away from behaviors or addictions or prejudices may be even more significant, and a lot more difficult.  The reason to follow Jesus is not just for some eternal reward, but because of the way it changes our lives and changes our world right now — on earth as it is in heaven.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, Jesus has chosen you to follow Him, and you have the opportunity to respond, “I will” — not just one time, but every time you are reminded that Jesus loves you and has chosen you.

I was asked a while ago by a visitor if we do altar calls in this church.  I think I responded, “Not very often.”  I have, and maybe you have too, experienced altar calls as manipulative, or a way to pressure people into a commitment which they might not otherwise make.  Altar calls may be especially uncomfortable for shy or quiet people who don’t like to draw attention to themselves.  But I want to lead you in a prayer of commitment, or re-commitment.  I have been blessed to witness the commitment that so many of you have made to Christ and his kingdom, and the work which you do through this church in Christ’s name.  I am not making assumptions about the state of your heart.  But I know for myself how important it is to be reminded that I am loved and chosen, and that I have been called and will be equipped for the work of Christ.  So I would invite you to pray with me, and I will leave some moments of silence for you to bring your own story to this story and the story of how Jesus Christ is still about the work of healing and transforming our lives.

Will you pray with me? 

Christ Jesus, I come before you in prayer with the conviction that you love me and can change my life. You know the worst things I have done, the things of which I am most ashamed.  I lay those things before you now.

I believe that you have chosen me, you have welcomed me and called me your own.  Nothing I have done or can do will change that.  You know me, and have chosen me.  Not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am.

I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  That you lived and died for my salvation and the salvation of the world.  I believe you were crucified, suffered, and died for my sins, and that you were resurrected on the third day. I believe that you were with God in the beginning, and will be with God for eternity. Whatever lakeshore I am standing or kneeling or have fallen on, I believe that You have chosen me, I have been given the choice to follow you.   The choice to follow you is one I can make any time, any day, every day.  I pray that you would give me the strength and the courage to say, “I will.”  I will today, I will tomorrow, with God’s help, I will.  Amen.