2nd Sunday after Christmas (B)
January 3, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
I don’t know how many of you have fond memories of gym class, I do not, and what I hated most was choosing teams. Two students are named captains and they take turns picking others to be on their teams. You know how this went, right? Players were chosen solely on how good they were. The good athletes were chosen early, the not so good ones were chosen last. Looking back, while I don’t think I was that bad, the captains had a different opinion. The bright spot in all this was that eventually I would be chosen and I couldn’t be kicked off the team. I may not have been good, but they were stuck with me. As the skill level increases from high school to college to the pros so does the competition, and coaches are forced to make hard decisions about which players they think will help them win. Staying on the team though is no guarantee. When a player can no longer contribute, they’re cut, they’re kicked off the team.
Paul doesn’t talk about football in his letters to the churches, although if he did, there’s no way he’d be a Green Bay Packer fan; he’d probably be a New Orleans Saints fan. Still, he does talk about being chosen, chosen by God. And this sounds like good news, right? Sure it does, but is it actually good news? If you can be chosen by God, do you also run the risk of being cut from His team? If a coach has no reservations about cutting a player who isn’t helping the team, why would God? And let’s be honest for a minute, your performance leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, have you ever helped God win anything? Like a nervous kicker who keeps missing field goals, you miss the goals God set before you. He tells you to run one play and you run another. You fail Him by not beating Satan and his temptations. You bicker with Him and complain He isn’t listening to you when you’re the one playing the game. As Saint James says, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). And all these sins, all the offenses against God give Him a good reason to cut us, or even not to pick us.
This last week, a quarterback was kicked off the team because he broke rules, refused to listen, and made the team look bad. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last. Players who make their teams look bad are usually out of a job. So, what about you? Have you made God look bad? Sure, you have. You can resolve to do better; to read the Bible and pray more, to come to church and to control your foul language, to stop whatever other sinful behavior you enjoy, but how quickly do you break those resolutions? Pretty quickly, right? Should God cut you? Probably? Most definitely?
Here’s another frightening possibility: how do you know that God even choose you? You don’t really know for sure, do you? What if you work really hard, give it your all, do everything you can to make God happy and when you die you learn He hadn’t picked you? That’s a depressing thought, isn’t it? The whole concept of choosing can be discouraging and frightening, because to not be chosen means that someone didn’t want you. You’ve lost.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be chosen for a completely different reason than your skills? I know it wouldn’t work for football teams to have players who are likeable but who can’t run or catch. You’ll never see a coach’s five-seven, one-hundred-and-twenty-pound son playing in the Super Bowl because he loves his son; that doesn’t happen in the real world. God though, while He works in the real world, His ways are not real-world ways.
God chose you for one reason only. He loves you. Paul writes in Ephesians 1, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” God didn’t choose you because you’re a good person. I’m sure you’re a good person, but your sin makes you not a good person, and yet God loves you anyway. He didn’t choose you because you can contribute something to help Him win. He didn’t even choose you because He saw something in you that He could use if only He gave you a little training. It doesn’t get any clearer than this: He loves you. That’s why He chose you.
Think about it for a second. What can you possibly give Him to make Him love you? Is there anything you can do earn His love? Nope, not a thing. It’s out of the question. Remember, you’re sinful. You act out against God doing what He says not to do and not doing what He tells you to do. And that’s our natural inclination. Still, He loves you. He chose you because He is love, not because you are loveable.
Did you catch when Paul said that God chose you? Listen to Paul again: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Before the foundation of the world! Can you believe that? Before anything was made, before the Sun, the moon, the stars were created, God chose you. He’s known you forever and He’s wanted you forever! It’s hard to believe that you don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. We love something because it makes us happy or there’s something in it that makes us love it. That’s not the love God has for you. Paul also writes in 2 Thessalonians, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you.” As John says elsewhere, “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).
The way God chose you differs from a humanly choosing is that you’re not chosen to be on Team Jesus. Teams cut those who fail to produce and fail to help the team succeed. Even though you fail to produce every day, even though you fail to do what you’re supposed to do, Jesus will never kick you off the team. You will never be cut off from God because you’re in Christ and He’s in you and not only that, He’s also chosen you by putting His name on you with His blood. Paul writes, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” Through the forgiveness obtained for you through His death, which is the greatest display of God’s love, you are chosen, and you remain chosen by God. Nothing can ever undo what Christ has done for you.
But it still doesn’t answer the question of how you know that you’ve been chosen by God. How do you know you’re really on the team and it’s not a cruel joke? How do know that you’re not going to be cut from the team? You’re baptized! You’ve been washed in the blood of Jesus as it comes to you in the water and God’s Word. Paul says, “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” Your faith is the proof that you’re chosen. Don’t look at your feelings and don’t look at how well you perform what God demands. Don’t examine your faith to see if it’s strong enough for God. Look to your baptism. Look to the cross that was put upon your forehead and your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. By the way, this is another reason that making the sign of the cross is a good practice – it reminds you who you are – a child chosen by God and this choosing can never be undone.
In the original Greek language, today’s Epistle is one long sentence. Two hundred plus words connected with commas, semi-colons, and dashes. This isn’t because Paul had a poor Greek teacher, instead it’s because the Epistle isn’t just a bunch of verses. It’s a prayer of thanksgiving to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sings praises to God and he does so in almost one long breath. God richly blessed Paul by choosing him, so Paul must thank Him. God has done the same things for you, so praise Him in all you do, Paul says that we’re praising God’s glory. And where do you see God’s glory in your life the most? In yourself, in how He has chosen you, not for any other reason, but that He loves you.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen