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Beliefs to Believe In: I am Chosen
JEREMIAH 1:4-8, JOHN 15:12-17
On my way home the other afternoon, I stopped on Middlefield Road in front of Walter Hays School while a boy run out in front of me to retrieve a ball. Several boys were playing ball on the small paved area in front of Walter Hays, right along Middlefield, while the large grass area lay empty. The grass area would have been a great place to play ball, but they evidently preferred the small paved area where the ball could easily be fouled on to Middlefield! Kids! They love to improvise, which is, you must admit, an admirable quality. By the way, for Principal Jones' benefit, this was after school!
Anyway, the episode started me reminiscing about childhood softball games, how games are organized and teams chosen. Do you remember how it feels to be chosen, and how it feels not to be chosen, or chosen last? When I was young I dreamed of being a pitcher in the worst way, and I was! I was among those who were chosen last, just about when the captains had to start choosing the girls! It was really humiliating when some girls were chosen before I was chosen. By the way, in Family Camp we bypass the painful trauma of choosing by using Curt Gleason's computer. Curt has designed a software program that selects the teams. Now when a team loses, it can blame the computer! We also use the Height Method for choosing. We line up by height and then count off.
You macho athletes probably don't know what it's like to be chosen last. Let me describe the trauma. The best players, or at least the loudest and most aggressive, get to be the captains. The rest stand there with their chests out, muscles flexed, trying to look very athletic with an expectant look on their faces. The more outgoing types wave their hands and shout, "Choose me!" The rest of us try to look hopeful. And then the choosing begins. The team captains' eyes roam around the group, catch my eyes, and then move on. There is pain in being ignored. There is pain in realizing I'm not very athletic, and humiliation in realizing that the others also know it. Then, when there are few left, and they have to begin choosing girls, one of the captains says, "Oh, I'll take Doug!"
Such are the dynamics of choosing! Let me tell you today, with great joy and enthusiasm, you have been chosen. You have been chosen by the greatest CHOOSER of all. The Lord chose you even before you were born. The Lord said to Jeremiah in 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you." Imagine! Your birth was not an accident; the Lord wanted you to be born. And, God does the choosing, not you. In the Gospel lesson read this morning, Jesus said to his disciples, "You did not choose me. I chose you." Can you believe, dare you believe you have been chosen by the greatest Team Captain of all?
I am preaching a series of sermons to call our attention to the basics of our beliefs. In the final analysis, we are aliens on this planet, strangers in a strange land. In order to live confidently, successfully, with direction and purpose, we need to know and believe the foundational beliefs. The sermon this morning interrupts the traditional list of beliefs, creeds we call them. This sermon series follows the traditional outline of creeds, like the Apostles' Creed, except for this sermon. I have inserted this sermon between the Trinity and the Church because we in this generation are having particular difficulty with self-image.
Perhaps it was easier to live in previous generations. People had roots in their families and in their communities. They knew who they were, they had status and recognition. Others knew their names, respected their families. They knew their place. Today, especially here in the Bay Area, it is all different. There is high mobility, frequent job changes, children are uprooted, the culture is changing so rapidly it is no longer a "Christian" culture, destructive chemicals and drugs are widespread, the future is uncertain. In such a climate, children, youth, and adults are having difficulty knowing who they are, where they belong, how they fit, why they are here.
I believe the destructive use of drugs, the increasing suicide rate among youths, the increase of mental illness have a root cause in poor self-image. When a person thinks she is worthless, helpless, always chosen last, no good, she will act that way, and usually in unproductive, self-destructive ways. In theological terms, this is sin. Sin is the state of being estranged, separated from God and from oneself. The gospel speaks directly to the condition of sin.
Hence, the simple series I am preaching is directed to our self-image and our group image as a church. Memorize, believe and hopefully experience the creed we are saying together: GOD MADE ME, JESUS LOVES ME, THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS ME, I AM CHOSEN. If you understand those words, believe them, and act on them, you will have a strong self-image, and no thing and no one can stop you. You can even be chosen last on a softball team, and it won't affect your self-confidence, sense of worth and purpose. What does it matter if your peers don't choose you when God has chosen you.
To understand and assimilate what I am saying this morning, let's take a different approach, and use the psychologist Herbert Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. He says we are motivated by needs on five levels. When our needs are met on one level, we are no longer motivated by them. Then we proceed to the next level where we are motivated to have those needs met. The first level is the physical where we need food, water, shelter. Babies live on this level. Their only interest in life is to be fed, changed, and kept warm. When they are hungry, their needs are not being met, and they will let you know about it in no uncertain way. They are motivated by physical needs. Many of the homeless live on this level. Their day by day motivation is to find food, and shelter for the night.
The second level is safety. When physical needs are consistently being met, then a person is motivated to find safety, a sense of security, a job, a home. There is a great deal of insecurity today. Countless families and individuals are one pay check from the streets. If they lose their job or become ill and lose one pay check, they can't pay rent and are out on the street. They are motivated by the need for safety and security. We helped start and support the San Jose Family Shelter for the purpose of helping such families secure temporary housing, job training, and assistance in finding work and housing. The mission, the purpose, of this ministry is directed to the first and second level of Maslow's needs: physical and safety.
The third level of need is social, the need to belong, the need to feel part of a team, part of a family, part of a church. Many teenagers live on this level. For many of them, they can't see or worry about their future, what they will do, why they need an education. They are not motivated by what they want to be when they grow up; they are motivated by the need to belong. When they have no church youth group, they join gangs, or organize packs. Finding friends is their paramount motivation.
Perhaps the majority of the adult population also lives on this level, trying to find a place to belong, a group to belong, some place, somewhere they are important. If you live on this level, if you are motivated by the need to be a part of something, to belong, let me tell you: God made you. We know God in three ways called the Trinity. The first way we know God is as our creator, our maker. God created you and chose you. This fact is dramatized, symbolized and sacramentalized through baptism. You belong to God. You belong to God's family, the church. If you don't belong to a church where you can become involved and find your place with brothers and sisters in Christ, I invite you to join our church as several did this morning.
The fourth level is self-esteem. When your physical, safety, and social needs are met, when you know where you belong, then you are motivated by the need for self-esteem. In theological terms, you need salvation, redemption. We know God the Trinity first as the Creator, and secondly as the Redeemer, the Son of God, God who came in the flesh as Jesus. Jesus died for you that you may be redeemed, that you may be saved from a poor self-image. Jesus loves you so much he gave his life for you so that you will no longer look upon yourself as worthless, helpless, hopeless, good for nothing but to be chosen last! Your self-esteem is built on the knowledge and the experience that you are redeemed, saved, born again by Jesus Christ. God made you, so you are not junk. Because Jesus Christ saves you, you are a worthwhile person. You are intelligent, able to think for yourself, able to make decisions, able to take charge of your life. If you live on this level of need, seeking a sense of self-esteem, motivated to become a worthwhile person and contribute to society, then I invite you to accept the gift of salvation which is offered you through Jesus. You have been chosen to belong to Christ, and to be his disciple.
The fifth and final level of need, according to Maslow, is self-actualization where a person is motivated by the need to be the best he/she can be at what he/she is doing. In theological words, a person is motivated at this level to be all God intends him/her to be. On this level, you will know God the Trinity in the third way as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sanctifies you, consecrates you, helps you to belong to God wholly, completely, without reservation, without inhibition. Day by day you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit and grow in maturity, wisdom, and service. In the gospel lesson from John, Jesus told the disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, but friends." Do you know Jesus as friend? Are you on speaking terms? Jesus went on to say, "You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit." Achieving self-actualization is a life of service, doing God's work, using your gifts, talents, skills, abilities you were endowed with through God's creation of you, using them to the full extent of your ability to do God's work wherever God leads you through the Holy Spirit.
You are chosen, chosen by the Great Chooser. You were born for a purpose. You belong to Christ. Let us say together the creed we are compiling. Memorize it, teach it to your children and grandchildren. GOD MADE ME, JESUS LOVES ME, THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS ME, I AM CHOSEN.
On which level of need are you this morning? Do you long to belong somewhere? Are you struggling to find just who you are and where you fit? Then, claim your creation. God made you to belong to him. Claim your baptism, and if you don't have a church home, join our church. You are chosen!
If you know where you belong, are you struggling with self-esteem? Do you think too poorly of yourself? Then, accept the gift of salvation. Jesus died for you, gave his life for you that you may be saved from sin, and sin includes a poor self image! You have been chosen!
If you know where you belong, have been saved and know that you belong to Christ, are you seeking self-actualization, to be the best you can be? Then, accept the gift of sanctification. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which God is waiting to give you.
How do you receive? Ask.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris