Are You Chosen? Am I?

Are You Chosen?  Am I? The difficult line in John 13, in Jesus’ words after he has washed his disciples’ feet is: “What I say is not said of all, for I know the kind of men I chose.”  Right after that, he hands a morsel dipped in wine to Judas and tells him to be quick in what he is about to do. This idea of being “chosen” by God has deep roots and many examples in Scripture. Isaiah has God fondly refer to “Israel, whom I have chosen” (44:1).  Peter calls his early Christian readers  “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, …a people [God] claims for his own” (1 Peter 2:9).  There are detailed, exciting and deeply emotional stories of people being chosen to carry out God’s plan of salvation.   Think of the people chosen for the covenant relationship with God: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.  Sometimes they had their names changed: Abram to Abraham; Jacob to Israel.  If you were chosen, your status would be passed on to your children.  There are careful records of genealogies to show who this favored status included. Think of the choice of Moses to lead the most portentous deliverance in history; or how about the choice of his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam?  Think about the call to Samuel and the Judges, and Samuel’s anointing of that great King, David, son of Jesse.  Women figured into the plan as well: Sarah and Rachel and Ruth and Deborah just to name a few. Then there were the prophets, with some pretty dramatic choices in Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah.  How about the choice of Job to be tested by the Accuser to the depths of his being?   In the New Testament, we have Zachary’s story and Elizabeth’s and Mary’s and Joseph’s, John the Baptist’s and Jesus himself.  In his time, Jesus chooses his disciples and apostles.  After his death, they chose Stephen and the deacons, and Saul—sprawling on the ground, unable to see, the voice of Jesus ringing in his ears–got chosen in spite of his venomous actions toward Jesus’s followers. Are WE chosen?  By whom and for what?  Do we want to ‘be among their number, when the saints go marching in’ to eternal life and happiness?  In his “priestly prayer,” was Jesus talking about US when he said: “For these I pray—not for the world but for these you have given me, for they are really yours” (John 17:9)? Don’t we imagine that we are chosen for some special purpose, some special mission?  Isn’t Paul implying that the Corinthians are chosen because they have different gifts, each one a benefit for the community (1 Cor. 12)?   Don’t we imagine...

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From Rape to Murder: 1 Kings 18:17-40

1 Kings 18:17-40 We went to a memorial service recently, of a beloved widow who lived a full life, but died rather suddenly.  Each of her four children spoke.  They all told different stories.  Although there were commonalities, each adult son or daughter had his or her own perspective on what was an important memory.  It took all four to  round out the picture of who this person was. And so we get to this difficult passage from the First Book of Kings.  According to the book itself (First Second Kings were obviously one book broken into two scrolls), the authors had various sources, like a preacher giving a eulogy, who interviews surviving family members, but may also look at the internet or at church or community news articles and archives.  Sources for the Books of Kings were the Books of the Annals of the Kings of Israel and the Annals for the Kings of Judah.  Then there were the Book of the Acts of Solomon and sources dealing with the “Elijah Cycle” and the “Elisha Cycle,” Isaiah, and other prophets. The children at the memorial service were making a point with their stories—they were giving evidence that a very good woman had lived and had done much to improve this world.  Similarly, the authors of Kings, according to the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, “selected, combined, and arranged the written and oral traditions of Israel and Judah to express their theological understanding of their histories” (p. 479). We can imagine someone preaching a eulogy from the theological viewpoint that “everything has a purpose,” or—as one of my Spiritual Reflections on biblicaljoe.com is titled: “There Are No Coincidences.”  Indeed, that reflection, written some years ago, refers to this very passage in the First Book of Kings! What’s difficult about this passage, of course, is not that Elijah—God’s favored prophet—causes fire to come from heaven and consume an offering that has been doused three times with water—but that he has the crowds who then come to believe that his God is the “right” God, bring him the 450 prophets of the “wrong” God so that he can slit their throats.  –A mass murder, right there in the Bible!  –No moral comment, no justification offered, no sanctions afterward…all dead. What are we to make of this?  It was a time when the theological understanding was that illness and disease were the consequences of sin; epilepsy was a sign that you were possessed by a demon; blasphemy was punishable by death, and there was no greater crime than infidelity to the “right” God.  There was no separation of church and state.  Infidels did not deserve to live, especially since they were spreading the...

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