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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lessons on Chosenness

 The Very Rev. Sylvia Sweeney     7/15/12
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

     Imagine for a moment what it would have been like…perhaps you were a merchant, a seller of cotton cloth, or a slave who toiled in the service of a Roman aristocrat.  You might have been a woman with no rights of property or of movement, or an orphaned child struggling to survive on the streets.  Somehow miraculously you came to hear the story of Jesus and no matter who you are, what station in life, what past sins you’ve committed, what shame or humiliations you’ve born, you have been brought here to the waters of baptism.  You have washed and prayed and fasted in preparation for this moment when you would enter the living waters, cross over from death to life, be anointed with oil in the sign of the cross, and promised that with this water and this marking you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.  Forever.
     You hear said over you and in praise of God this hymn of praise and blessing from Ephesians that declares to you…you who have known so much sorrow, lived through so much pain, suffered such shame, committed so many deeds you now regret with all your heart….You who had no family or station in life and you who gave up family and station to come to these waters.  You have each and all been chosen.  You have been adopted.  You have found a place of home and belonging and sanctuary here in this holy community with these holy people.  You too have been chosen to be a holy child of God destined to help fulfill God’s dream of peace, of healing and reconciliation not just for yourself but for the whole world.  Imagine in that moment with the water and the oil, and the bread and the wine.  With the circle of love and acceptance and belonging closed around you and encircling you….imagine what it means to hear, “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance.  In him you also were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance!”
     What do you do with that?  What do you do with the promise of your own chosenness?  What do you do with an outrageous, enormous, extravagant, magnanimous inheritance of profound blessing placed into your hands simply for the taking? 
     Holy Scripture is of course an answer to just that question.  It is the unfolding story of how over and over again human beings who had been chosen and blessed by God chose to respond to their own chosenness.  We see it with Adam and Eve, with Cain and Abel, with Abraham and Sarah, and with the Israelites brought out of Egypt.  We see it in the kings of Israel and in God’s chosen prophets.  We see it in John the Baptist’s response to God’s call and in Jesus’ response following his baptism. 
     Today’s lessons are all three stories of what God’s fascinating cascading cast of characters have chosen to do in response to their own chosenness.  Shall we take a look together?
     To recap. David recently of sheepherding fame gets chosen by God through the prophet Nathan to be the heir to the throne of Israel.  Returning from battle and crowned king he decides to set up his own royal capital in Jerusalem for strategic reasons and decides to move the ark of the covenant to the capital to cement the importance of this new center in the eyes of the people.  So he gathers together 30000 of his finest, his chosen warriors and together in celebration and praise they carry the ark of the covenant—which you all know about from Indiana Jones movies—from Hebron to Jerusalem.  And chosen, royal David, but recently of sheepherding fame, joins in the festivities, leads them in fact…taking off his royal robes and dancing for all his worth in the ecstatic dervishes of his Bedouin community wearing only an apron ..totally to the chagrin of his royal wife Michal, youngest daughter of the now deceased King Saul, who finds his cavorting almost naked with soldiers and peasants, even if done in religious ecstasy as vulgar and pedestrian and ill becoming the king of an important land.  But David has not yet been co-opted by his own power and is still respectful of his chosenness and responds to Michel that there is no more fitting response to this blessed station in life than pure unrestrained open hearted, life filled, love filled, baring all, praise of God.  (If only David had remembered all that down the road..but that will come on later Sundays in later lessons with different wives. ) Some scholars suggest that this moment is a turning point in the relationship between David and Michel and by either David’s design or God’s design, Michel’s pretentious, haughty, privileged, elitist response to this moment guarantees the end of blessing for her life and the end of the line of Saul because she for whom David was willing to kill 100 Philistines as a bride price bears no children for  David.
+Lesson One on Chosenness
     The appropriate response is open hearted gratitude and when you stop being grateful and start expecting or demanding that you be chosen….you’re pretty much promised the blessings will evaporate…So never, ever take an upgrade for granted.
+Lesson Two on Chosenness
     When what is in your heart is love and gratefulness there’s no such thing as over sharing.
+Lesson Three
     If you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.
+Lesson Four
     When God gives you meat and bread and cakes with raisins…share them with everyone else so everyone can come to the party.
     And now we press on…
     As the story goes and today is not the day to poke holes in the historicity of this story as Mark has told it…Herod has not only been given the royal life…he has also been given a holy prophet to help guide him through that chosen life.  But just because there’s someone to tell you how to respond to chosenness doesn’t mean you’re smart enough to listen to them when they’re talking to you.  So Herod takes his own personal prophet and puts him in jail with the hope that that will silence him.  Why you would want to silence someone you truly believe, as Herod does, is telling you exactly what God wants from you is unclear to me….but I think it has something to do with taking one’s chosenness as a right not a gift.
+Lesson 5 on Chosenness
     When God offers help, take it! In whatever form it comes.
     So John the Baptist is in jail because as the story goes, Herod has stolen his brother’s wife which is not an activity God condones in anyone but most certainly not in kings or tetrarchs and John is not keeping the secret.  And here a new scantily clad (we can only assume) person decides to dance for the sheer joy of it—namely Herod’s daughter.  Herod who has already shown himself to have little regard for his own blessed state is so enthralled by her enchanting gyrations before his esteemed guests that he offers her anything --up to half his kingdom. 
+Lesson 6 on Chosenness
     Don’t squander what you’ve been given because once you blow it, you never get it back.
     But here’s where we see again that just because you’re chosen doesn’t mean you’re wise.  Salome who has won through her artistic prowess the prize of a lifetime, wastes her inheritance, an inheritance which she has no right to because of her gender, but which she has indeed been offered none-the-less…she wastes her inheritance on a petty, foolish, ego driven vicious act of vengeance. 
+Lesson 7 on Chosenness
     When we have been chosen and the gifts are laid into our hands, there is nothing that prevents us from using them for evil instead of for good.  Our own greed, our own pettiness, our own self centeredness, our own lack of self-respect, our own vindictiveness, our own short sightedness…they don’t disappear because we’ve been chosen.  And it is only when we look to our own best selves and listen deeply for the Spirit to show us the better way that we find out what it truly means to live our lives as the chosen ones, the royal priesthood, the Holy, beloved, graced, and blessed people of God.
     I think we’d all like to believe that we’re more like David than Michel, more like John the Baptist than Herod or Herodias or Salome…but the test of that is in our choices, in the way we live our lives, in the voices we heed, in the dances we dance, and in the rewards we long to receive for our efforts. 
+And the last Lesson on Chosenness from Ephesians?
     If you want to make it count.  If you want it to last.  If you want to know what it is that was placed into your hands and on your forehead and into your heart at your baptism.  If you want to know what God has done for you, then live every day as a chosen one of God giving away as much as has been given to you…And in the sharing and the giving your inheritance will be not only realized and preserved, but multiplied.
     “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance.  In him you also were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance!”

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