Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ask the Pastor: Does being chosen mean that some aren't chosen?

This post is a response to the following question that I received in my "Ask the Pastor." box.

In the Eucharistic Prayer, we pray that, “we would live as your chosen ones” The words “Chosen Ones” implies that there are those who are not chosen. Why would a loving God not chose everyone? Why the divisive language?

Thank you for this question! To begin, you may want to read this background on the use of the Eucharistic Prayer in our liturgy, which I wrote for our April 2014 Newsletter.1 Now, on to your question.

First, I concur that being chosen does imply that there are some not chosen by God. If we worship a God who loves all people, this seems to be a pretty big problem. In one manner of thinking, it could seem that this would be like a parent, picking out one of his children to receive his affection, blessings, and care, while in essence, turning his back on his other child. While this parent may say she loves both children, and loves them equally, her actions don’t demonstrate that.

If we use this parenting imagery when thinking about God’s love, it gets further complicated by the underlying confession of many who call themselves Christian, that those who are not “Chosen” will spend their time after death in eternal torment, burning in the fires of hell. I would dare to venture that this interpretation of being chosen, and of the Christian in faith in general is the dominant view and message of Christianity in America, at least in my 36 years of life. I would also say with my whole heart, that the God that I know, the God of love and mercy, does not lovingly embrace some, and lovingly reject others. God’s love is eternal, unconditional, and for all people, no matter what.

So, back to being “Chosen”. The fact that this implies that there are some not chosen by God, is a way that we as Christians can look at the world around us, made up of many diverse religions and beliefs, and acknowledge that being a Christian, carries with it a unique identity. Having a strong sense of identity is important, because the God that we identify with has a very unique identity. God is our creator, our friend, our boundary maker, care taker, our Lord and our Savior.

Unfortunately, throughout human history, sin has clouded our vision of who God is, and the people in power get to create the image of who god is. These gods, like Pharaoh, ba’al, or money, help to keep the status quo, and perpetuate a system of society of oppressors and the oppressed.  In order to save us humans from ourselves, and to liberate us from the power of the self-serving gods we create, God “chose” the Hebrew people, and brought them to the Promised Land. God did this, so that through these “Chosen” people, and their society built upon the principles of peace, justice/righteousness, and love, all people throughout the world would see the true image of God, the author and sustainer of life, rather than the false gods, who ultimately bring destruction. Upon seeing God lived out among the lives of the chosen, the people of the world, the “unchosen” would flock to the promised land, to get to know God, and learn to live in obedience to God, so that they, like the chosen, could also live as people of abundant life.

The vision of what God chose the Hebrew people for, and what God chooses us for, is shown to us in the words of the prophet Micah, in Micah 4:1-4:
In days to come
   the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
   and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it,
2   and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
3 He shall judge between many peoples,
   and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more;
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
   and no one shall make them afraid;
   for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. 

Many years after liberating the Chosen People, God chose a woman, Mary, and God became human through her in the person of Jesus. As one without sin, Jesus, manifested in himself the image or identity of God, and he accomplished (according to Christian belief) the mission of his native people, the Jews, in proclaiming to all of creation the saving, loving, grace-filled image of God, and embodied the peaceful, just, loving, abundant, and eternal life that God has given to us.

In our Baptism, we have been given this life of Jesus Christ, and now we live as God’s chosen people. (An important note: When God chose us through Christ, we Christians did not replace the Jews as God’s chosen people. Instead, as Paul writes in Romans 11, we were grafted on to the promise given to them.) In a world that continues to sin, and wallow in the absurdity of fear, violence, greed, and self-destruction, being God’s chosen people is not a way to say that we won the raffle, rather it is a job description. We’ve been chosen to proclaim God to all people, through our love for each other, our love for all people, and our love for God’s creation. We’ve been chosen so that through us, all people may come to know God, and have the abundant life that we have been given.

Finally, we really don’t make this proclamation of who God is very convincingly. That’s why as God’s chosen people, we also come together for worship, our most important act as Christians, so that despite our sin, we may still proclaim who God is. This proclamation is most clear, when we proclaim what type of God we have when we participate in the Eucharist. We are making a statement about who God is, and what God wants from us, by the mere act of hearing Jesus say, “This is my body given for you, and my blood shed for you” and we receive this gift as One people, unified in our need for this life.

So, to conclude with your last concern, about “divisive language.” Yes, describing ourselves as chosen is divisive. God has chosen us to bring about his peace which divides great Empires, his justice which divides our oppressive social systems, and his love which divides our isolating fear. God has chosen us to proclaim that his Kingdom is here in this world, that it promises abundant life, and that all are welcome to it.

At Christ the King, we will continue to grow in what it means to be, “Chosen to Proclaim!” Thank you again, for your question!

In Christ, Pr. Mark

1 One way to think of ourselves as Christians, is that we are a People of Memory and a People of Hope.

As a People of Memory, we are called to continually remember what God has done, not just in our lives, but since the very beginning of creation. The memories that we are called to invoke and share aren’t about remembering how far reaching God’s power is, rather, these memories help us to know that all of God’s power is used on creation’s behalf.

One place that we practice being a people of memory is in the Eucharistic Prayer. In this prayer, we recite some of the great acts of God, like creating the world, leading the people out of slavery in Egypt, feeding these people manna in the desert, and taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus. All of these acts of God were done to save all of creation, and by reciting them, we recite our Holy History.

At this point, we don’t go home, but instead become an interactive Holy History exhibit, when God comes to us, feeds us, and clearly says to us; “this is my body, this is my blood, FOR YOU!” In Holy Communion, we are becoming a part of the history that has saved the world. Truly, we are a People of Memory.

The meal of Holy Communion also makes us People of Hope as well. When we eat the body and blood of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t go bad, nor is it in limited supply. Instead, this meal is Jesus’ resurrected life, and it gives to us a hope that has been, and will be, tasted and seen across time and space.

When we eat this meal, remembering what God has done, we then carry the sure hope that God will continue to do these things in and through our lives. We leave and go out from this meal as a people who save the world by forgiving our enemies, bringing good news to the poor, and giving our lives in love to all people. Truly, we remember God has saved us, and has now made us a People of Hope who share God’s salvation with the world.

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