That Blessed Dependancy

"There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him who hangs upon the Crosse…" -John Donne, "Death's Duell"

Category: Sermons

Faith cometh by hearing…

It is truly a privilege to preach every week. The opportunity and the challenge of mining the Scripture (whether a lectionary text or the next installment in a sermon series), and exploring it with the same congregation Sunday after Sunday is exhilarating. But family joys, parish responsibilities, and the need to focus on each successive Sunday’s message all mean I am not able to edit and post much of anything here on my blog these days.

Recently, though, some wonderful parishioners made it possible to record and post my sermons online, and I wanted to share this new resource. Audio recordings of my sermons can now be found here. You can also access them from the homepage of our parish website.

You will notice that most Sundays include a recording from both the 8:00 service and the 10:00 service. While I am of course working from the same material for both, I regularly make changes or add comments or asides. Sometimes the edits are minor. Sometimes they are substantial. Sometimes they don’t really work all that well, and I find myself wishing I had stuck with my original version! But I offer up both, and pray that the Holy Spirit will move in my mistakes and infelicities as much as he does in those rare times when, by God’s grace, I get something right.

May the Lord bless the preaching and the hearing of his Holy Word–most especially in the internet age!

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What are you looking for?

lamb

A Sermon Preached on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 15, 2017

By the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Rector of Christ Church, Cooperstown, New York

Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; I Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

What are you looking for?

That’s the question Jesus puts to those disciples of John the Baptist who follow him in this morning’s Gospel.

What are you looking for?

It’s a reasonable question to put to a churchful of people on a chilly January morning. No one comes to church by accident. Did you know that? You may think you’re here because your mother made you come, or because you simply show up out of habit week after week. But no one comes by accident. Whether we recognize it or not, we have all been brought here–assembled here–for a purpose. We are all here to seek, to search, and to find.

What are you looking for?

It’s a question that can, ultimately, be put to all humankind. For the truth is, we are creatures made to seek and search; to yearn and hope; to quest and to find. We are men and women made to look for something–for Someone.

What are you looking for?

The cosmos itself poses the question. This world of beauty and complexity and pleasure and delight urges us on: “Keep looking!” All the good things of this life have been given to us as gifts–as love letters from the Giver. The glories of our earth–glories given to us to explore and enjoy–are meant to spur us in our quest; to whet our appetite for their Source. We are meant to be looking. We are meant to find.

But something has gone wrong. The long story of the human race is the story of our turning away from our ultimate Destination and settling for the signposts pointing the way to him. It is the story of our turning away from the Creator to find satisfaction with his creatures.

That is, perhaps, the simplest definition of Sin. Not sins, plural: the many individual “things we ought not to have done” that you and I do each day–or the many good things we fail to do. Those are sins, plural. But Sin, singular, is the sour source of them all. It is the rejection of God for the things God has made. It is the attempt to end our seeking too soon. It is the vain effort to sate our hunger for the eternal with the temporal and the corruptible.

And corruptible they are. The good things of earth cease to be good when we make them ends unto themselves. The delights of this life become dust and ashes in our embrace when we hold onto them alone. The pleasures of existence become pain and suffering and shame when we seek them with all our heart.

What are you looking for in those corners of your life of which you are ashamed and afraid? What are you looking for in your endless seeking after wealth and worthiness? What are you looking for in your quest for status and significance? What are you looking for in your web searches and your eating habits? What are you looking for in your self-medicating and self-loathing? What are you looking for?

John knew. John the Baptist knew what he was looking for. He knew because he had been readied. He knew because he had been given the sign. He knew because he was a prophet fulfilling the work of a prophet. He knew because the Lord had told him, “The One on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

John was looking for the Lamb of God: the Creator become flesh for the sake of his lost creation. John was looking for one who would take away the Sin, singular, of the world: who would submerge the people of God in the Spirit of God so that their hearts would never again settle for anything but God. John was looking for the Anointed one who would save his people, and all people.

And when John saw Jesus he declared to his disciples: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

What are you looking for? It is here in his embrace. What are you looking for? It is found in his gift of himself. What are you looking for? He holds it out to you in his Word and his Sacraments, as he stokes and sates the hunger of his people, calling us to go beyond the gifts to continue seeking after the Giver.

“What are you looking for?” Christ Jesus asks it of you, today, as he asked it of those disciples of John long ago. And as he invited them, he invites you too. Stretching out his arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross, the Source and Summit of all our longing bids us, “Come and see.” AMEN.

 

The Devil is in the Details

leonart_bramer_circumcision_christ

(“The Circumcision of Christ”, by Leonaert Bramer, 1631.)

A Sermon Preached on the Feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, January 1, 2017

By the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Rector of Christ Church, Cooperstown, New York

Texts: Exodus 34:1-8 ; Philippians 2:9-13 ; Luke 2:15-21

May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

There’s nothing worse than the day after Christmas. Even if you’re not a kid anymore–and many of you haven’t been kids for a long time–December 26th is a day of deflation and disappointment. After all the build-up, all the excitement, all the anticipation that finally culminates in the glory of Christmas Day, you wake up the next morning and find that everything is dull and ordinary again. The candlelight services are over, the glorious concerts have been sung, the gifts have all been given and unwrapped, and now we’re back to normal life. The holy and extraordinary yields to the mundane and the everyday.

Indeed, it might even be worse for grown-ups. We’ve been through it all often enough before to know that the change back to dreary normalcy is inevitable. It’s this way every year. And that sure and certain knowledge even starts to invade our sense of the holy and the extraordinary. We find it harder and harder to enter into the mystery, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the little niggling things intrude on us again–and even make us doubt whether anything special ever happened in the first place. Sure, the church looks lovely when we all kneel by candlelight and sing “Silent Night,” but Christmas dinner still has to be prepared. The details still have to be attended to and, as we say, “The Devil is in the details.”

Thus deflated and disappointed and facing again the demands of the ordinary do we gather on this New Year’s Day. Our carols and Christmas decorations tell us it’s still Christmastide, as indeed it is for a full Twelve Days. But if we’re honest, we know it doesn’t really feel like it. We have already passed from the holy and extraordinary to the mundane and the everyday.

And that’s precisely what this day is for. Today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. It sounds rather grand when we put it like that. But it isn’t. This is an extraordinarily ordinary feast.

Didn’t you hear the drudgery in our Gospel passage this morning? The shepherds who have heard something wonderful–these shepherds to whom the Angel of the Lord appeared, around whom the glory of the Lord shone, who stood “sore afraid” while “peace on earth and goodwill towards men” were proclaimed to them–go and see the glorious sight. They worship at the manger with the Child’s mother and father. They proclaim the Good News about the boy to everyone they meet.

And then…they went back to their sheep! “The shepherds returned, praising and glorifying God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” They returned. After everything they’d experienced that night, they went back to the smelly old sheep on the hillside. And there in the dreariness of the everyday they continued to praise and glorify the God who had called them out of their work-a-day dullness–and who brought them back in safety to it.

Or what about the end of our Gospel passage–the scene that gives this day its title? “When the eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus.” For us, the scene is fraught with wonder and beauty and grace. The name of Jesus is holy and sacred beyond measure. Were you impressed by all that? Don’t be.

While a circumcision may have been a remarkable event in the life of an individual family, it is actually a routine and ordinary thing. (Though I suppose one oughtn’t to say that to the one actually being circumcised.) It’s a great event focused on the plain and ordinary details of life. Circumcision brought Jesus–and every baby boy born into a Jewish household–into the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses. And what were those commandments for? Yes, they guided a faithful Jewish man through the great questions and challenges of his existence. But much more, they shaped and sustained the faithful Jew in the normal living of his daily life. The commandments weren’t simply for the extraordinary and the holy. They found their fullest expression in the everyday and the mundane–the profane, even, when we consider how many of the commandments in the Law of Moses dealt with daily activities and functions not usually discussed in polite society.

And even the name of Jesus is downright ordinary! While it has existed in many forms and variations, it is simply a version of the name “Joshua.” It was borne by several figures in the Bible. It was a normal Jewish name of that time and place. I can assure you that there were at least three other Jesuses in the little Hebrew school in Nazareth in 10 A.D. It was a common, everyday name for a common, everyday boy.

All of this is what makes this day extraordinarily ordinary. And it’s why this feast is such an important part of our Christmas celebration. Already in these glorious Twelve Days, we’ve contemplated the wonder of the Incarnation: the astonishing love made clear when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And today we see just how thoroughly he dwelt among us. We see just how far he was willing to go to be with us. He accepted a lowly name in a lowly family. He submitted himself to the Law in his waking and in his sleeping and in his normal life. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us–in all of our boring insignificance, our unremarkable normality, our everyday grind.

The Devil is in the details. And because of Christ Jesus’ conception, and birth, and circumcision, and naming, God is in the details now, too.

That’s not normal! The God we human beings expect is the God Moses met on Mount Sinai. He’s the God who threatens anyone or anything who comes near the mountain. He’s the God whose face cannot be seen, lest the one who sees it perish. He’s the God whose Name is too holy to be spoken. He’s the God who gives his Law in power and majesty and awe. He’s not supposed to become subject to that Law, in a frail human body like mine! He’s not supposed to bear a common name that can be called to come for supper, just like yours! He’s not supposed to be present in ugly, ordinary details of lives like ours.

And yet this day tells us that, in Jesus, our God is present in the ugly, ordinary details of lives like ours. In Jesus, our God does bear a name that can be called on in the most desperate, most pointless prayers. In Jesus, our God has taken on a body that hungers and thirsts and suffers and even dies–just like mine and yours.

How changed is our everyday life, now charged with the glory of God! How transformed and transfigured are our goings and comings, our waking and sleeping, our family life and our work life, our time on the roadways and our time in the grocery store, our loving and fighting and eating and drinking–our living and our dying. For there can be no mistake: God in Christ Jesus is there with us, in all of the ordinary things of life, calling us to new hope, new holiness, new birth.

St Paul told the Christians in Philippi, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” and if he stopped there, it would seem that he left them with little to go on in their everyday lives but drudgery and duty. But Paul did not stop there. He continues: “Work out your own salvation…because it is God who is at work in you.” The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us, and by his death and resurrection he is now not simply among us but within us. “God is at work in you.”

Beloved, we stand on the brink of a New Year filled with a few cosmic challenges and a thousand tiny frustrations–a year filled with wondrous hopes and daily disappointments. Go forth, into the thick of it, knowing that our God has claimed it all as his own. He is Lord of the heights of Sinai, and he reigns in your daily existence. He is the God who made the heavens and the earth, and he is the Christ who has descended to the deepest depths of pain and suffering. He sustains the universe by his mighty, outstretched arm–and he is at work in you, revealing even greater measures of his power and his love. AMEN.

“Marley was dead: to begin with.”

Since taking up my duties as Rector of Christ Church in Cooperstown, New York, I am sorry that I have not found much time to update my blog. I hope very much that that will change in the New Year. But even so, on this Fifth Day of Christmas, I wanted to share my sermon from Christmas Eve.

God bless you in this holy season and in the year to come!

cole-angel-shepherds

(“The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds”, by Thomas Cole, 1833-34. The sudden in-breaking of the Angel Gabriel into a dark, dead scene perfectly expresses the unexpected arrival of life into our world and our hearts.)

A Sermon Preached on Christmas Eve, 2016

By the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Rector, Christ Church, Cooperstown, NY

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

“Marley was dead: to begin with.” That’s how Charles Dickens opens his well-loved story A Christmas Carol. “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Most folks probably know the story these days through a movie or television adaptation. I must confess a certain fondness for “A Muppet Christmas Carol”, though that is probably not considered the most faithful interpretation.

But whatever version you may know and love, they all begin with that same odd, unsettling, downright creepy opening line. “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Who starts a Christmas story by talking about death?! It’s crazy!

But Dickens does it for one very important reason. He tells the reader, “Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” If we were not quite certain that Marley was dead to begin with, his appearance in the tale would not astound or surprise us.

And by beginning in the way he does, Dickens accomplishes more than merely weirding out his readers—though he does do that. By beginning with death, Dickens makes sure that the eventual arrival of life astonishes and delights us all the more. By beginning with death, Scrooge’s transformation from a miserly old grump—or, as Dickens calls him, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, covetous old sinner”—into a warm-hearted, generous, loving friend, can be seen for what it really is: a journey out of death into life.

So why am I telling you all about the beginning of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at this late hour on Christmas Eve when you could just as easily be home right now, sitting next to the fire with some high-octane eggnog, watching your favorite movie version—or, even better, reading the original book? Well, it’s because the story we tell tonight in Church bears a striking and significant resemblance to Dickens’s classic tale. There are no bah humbugs, no ghosts of past, present, or future, and no huge turkeys. But just like A Christmas Carol, the Christmas story we hear tonight begins with Death.

Maybe you didn’t notice it. I’ll admit, it’s not very obvious. If all you know about this story is what you just heard read from Luke’s Gospel, you might even think I’m extremely confused to claim that there’s anything about death in it at all. I mean, aren’t we here to celebrate a birth?

But did you hear in our First Reading what the Prophet Isaiah said many centuries before the birth of Christ? “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” Now we tend to focus on the light, and that’s good. But what was that darkness? Who were those people dwelling in a land of shadows?

Or were you listening when Isaiah talked about “the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders”? Before we can understand the freedom he’s celebrating, we have to ask: What was that burden? Who put that bar there?

Or did you wonder why, in the midst of all that beautiful stuff about light and freedom and the child who is called “wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” there was that one odd and ugly line about “the boots of all the tramping warriors, and all the garments rolled in blood,” being “burned as fuel for the fire”?

Or did you hear the hint of a warning in St Paul’s Letter to Titus, when he writes about God who “gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people”? Did you consider what the iniquity from which we are being redeemed is? Did you ask why we need to be purified in the first place?

Or even in St Luke’s great story about the birth of Jesus, did you listen when the Angel told the Shepherds just who this child was? “For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior…” Why did the Shepherds need a Savior in the first place? Why do any of us need a Savior? What are we being saved from?

“Marley was dead: to begin with,” said Charles Dickens. “The world was dead: to begin with,” says the Bible.

The Good News of Christmas begins in the same strange, unsettling, even creepy way that Dickens’s classic story begins. It begins with death. Not just the death of some old money-lender named Marley. But the Death that looms over all people— the Death that looms over all creation. The Christmas Gospel, the Christmas message, begins with this announcement: “We were dead, to begin with.”

Perhaps that seems to you a preposterous and unbelievable claim. But consider what we’ve seen of the power of death this year, and this holiday season. Terrorist attacks in Christmas markets, a never-ending crisis in Syria, violence and crime in our own cities, and in our towns, and even in our villages. Consider what we know of the problems of addiction throughout this nation and even in this community. Consider the death of civility that we all witnessed in the election cycle just concluded.

When we are not able to quiet our fears of the future or satisfy our own longing for security, we feel the power of Death. When we cannot buy enough or own enough or give enough away to protect ourselves from the changes and chances of life, we feel the power of Death. When we finally face the awful fact that our lives are not our own, and we see that we have been walking in darkness and dwelling in a land of deep darkness, we see that we have been living under the reign and power of Death.

That hard truth must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the wonderful Good News we have heard this night.

For tonight, the Angel of the Lord speaks again to each of us, just as he spoke to the shepherds twenty centuries ago. He speaks to ears like ours, that have grown deaf with straining for a word of hope. He appears to eyes like ours, that have grown dim with watching for our redemption. He calls to hearts like ours, that are heavy with all the hatred and bitterness and tragedy and violence we find in our world. He brightens minds like ours, that cannot figure a way out of all our troubles: the troubles we have caused for ourselves and the troubles thrust upon us unfairly and unexpectedly and without a way out.

To us the Angel Gabriel speaks, and says,

“Fear not. For though you were dead in your sins and trespasses; dead in the things that took you far from God and that broke your bonds with other people; dead in your words and in your deeds; dead in your waking and in your sleeping; dead in your hardness of heart and your brokenness of will—Though you were dead, fear not. God has acted. For unto you is born this day a Savior. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The trappings of violence will all be rolled up and destroyed. The threat of judgment has been averted. The promise of the prophets has come true. Not just to save you from the final threat of ultimate death, whenever it may come, but to raise you from the gloom of living death to true life right now—to set you free from the burdens of your oppressors, and to break the bar of tyranny laid across your shoulders by your own drives and desires and appetites and anxieties. Fear not. For unto you is born this day a savior which is Christ the Lord.”

We were dead to begin with, but through the Birth of this Holy Child, life has broken into our world.

We were dead to begin with, but God in Christ Jesus has come to make us alive again.

We were dead to begin with, but the life and death, and resurrection of the child born in Bethlehem has shattered the power of death and risen us to life.

O come, all ye faithful! Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Hark, the herald angels sing: “Glory to the newborn king!” For we who once were dead have now been made alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

“I choose you!”

raisingthewidowsson

(“Jesus raising the youth of Nain” from the Evangeliar Ottos III, circa 1000 A.D.)

A Sermon Preached on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 5, 2016

By the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston, Trinity Cathedral, Columbia, South Carolina

Texts: Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Well the great season of decision is over!

Obviously I’m not talking about the election, which promises to continue to grind away at our faith in American democracy for months to come.

No, the season of decisions and choices that I’m talking about had mostly to do with our graduating high school seniors. After years of work, months of writing applications and compiling resumes, and weeks of waiting for acceptance letters, the time to decide finally came just a few months ago.

Would it be Wofford, Clemson, or Carolina? Sewanee or Stanford? Davidson or “Dubyuhnell”? Harvard or Yale? Of course, in those last two comparisons the correct choices are BEYOND OBVIOUS. But even sure and certain knowledge didn’t lessen the difficulty of deciding!

Now those of us who are of riper years know that the decisions of whether and where to go to college are neither the last nor the most important choices that a person will make. We know well what our young people are just learning: that life is an endless succession of choices. And all of us, young and old together, know from experience the undeniable truth that in our culture, choosing is cherished.

Look at the enormous variety of shops and restaurants in Five Points, or the Vista, or at Sandhills. Consider the bright, gleaming aisles of Whole Foods, or Publix, or Bi-Lo. All the cheerful variety and frenzied advertising of American life serves to prop-up and reinforce the same basic notion: to choose is to have power. To choose is to be in control. To choose is to be free.

This common devotion to choosing and choices was on my mind this week as I reflected on today’s Scripture lessons. I want to focus our attention on two stories. The first is from St Paul’s miniature autobiography found in the first chapter of his Letter to the Galatians. The second is an episode from Jesus’ earthly ministry recorded in the seventh chapter of St Luke’s Gospel.

Both of these stories describe the transformative power of an encounter with Jesus. Both speak of the unexpected, un-hoped for ways that God can change a life, or indeed restore a life. And both of these stories are utterly devoid of any suggestion of choice.

Did you catch that?

Look again at our Gospel passage. Look at who speaks in our lesson. So often, the healing stories of Jesus seem to happen because someone makes a choice. Someone chooses to reach out to touch him. Someone’s friends pull up the roof over Jesus’ head, and lower a sick man down in front of him. Someone in the crowd cries out: “Lord, heal my son!” “Master, save my daughter!” “Teacher, let me see again!”

But in our Gospel this morning, there are no questions. There are no requests. There is no pleading in this brief passage. There are no options here–no choices given.

Jesus, coming up to a city called Nain, looks and sees the suffering of a mother who has lost her only son. Jesus looks and sees the desperation of a widow who has lost her only hope for survival. Jesus looks and see the hopelessness of a woman for whom all choices, all options, all earthly possibilities now point only to degradation, and darkness, and death.

And looking upon her, Jesus has compassion for her. “Do not weep,” he says. He doesn’t ask, “What would have you me do for you?” He doesn’t ask, “Do you wish for me to help you?” He doesn’t even ask, as he does with Mary and Martha when he raises their brother Lazarus, “Do you believe in me?” He says simply, “Do not weep,” and he reaches out to stop the funeral procession. Life Incarnate steps suddenly into the path that leads to the grave, and the son of God commands the widow’s son: “Young man, I say to you, rise!”

No questions waiting for an answer. No options to decide between. No choices at all.

Just the power of God to bring hope to the hopeless; to bring wholeness to the broken; to bring life to the dead; to make a way where all human wisdom and every human wish could find no way at all. Just the voice of Jesus saying to the dead man, “I choose you to be a sign of my power over death.” And Luke tells us that the people there present gave glory to God for what Jesus had done.

Now on the surface, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians seems to be all about choices. The Christians of Galatia were believers living in central Turkey. They were Gentiles–folks to whom Paul preached on one of his extensive missionary journeys around the Mediterranean world. From what he writes, it seems that the Galatians received his initial announcement of the Good News with joy and great excitement.

But in Paul’s absence, the Galatian Christians ran into some difficulties. Another group of teachers and preachers cam along, and the began to tweak the terms of Paul’s original message. These new teachers placed before the Galatians a stark choice: either the Gentile believers had to undergo circumcision and accept all the dictates of the Jewish law, or they could no longer claim to be followers of Jesus, the anointed savior of the Jewish people.

The Galatian Christians were distraught and confused. Must they really choose to become Jews before they could become Christians? Must they really first decide to be disciples of Moses before they can decide to be disciples of Jesus?

Paul addresses the Galatians’ difficult choice in an unexpected way. He doesn’t attack the Law of Moses. He doesn’t tear down the Jewish traditions. Instead, he tells them his own story. He writes, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Now consider for a moment what the Apostle is saying here. Saul of Tarsus had been a zealot. Saul had been a fanatic. Saul had been a violent persecutor of the Church, and a devout follower of all the traditions of his ancestors. He knows every jot and tittle of the same Law that the Galatians are now being told to obey.

What could so thoroughly transform someone like Paul? What could make him decide to leave all that long legacy behind him? What could make him choose to begin to build up the very thing that he once tried to tear down?

Paul’s answer to that question is simple: he didn’t choose it. God chose him. God, in his providence, set Paul apart “before [he] was born, and called [him] through grace.”

The Risen Jesus, appearing before Saul on the road to Damascus, looked and saw a man made blind by his hatred. The Risen Jesus looked and saw a man puffed up by his own zeal. The Risen Jesus looked and saw a man consumed by his passions and certain in his own choice–his own decision to destroy the Church of God.

And the Risen Jesus looked and saw beneath and behind and in spite of all that, a vessel God had chosen–a tool God had set apart–for the building up of his Church. And so the Risen Jesus, looking upon Saul, claimed him, called him, chose him.

No questions waiting for Saul’s answer. No options for Saul to decide between. No choices at all.

Just the power of God to bring light into darkness; to bring holiness out of hatred; to give power where once there was only pride; to make a way when all human wisdom and every human wish sought to take another way–to choose a different, darker path. Just the voice of Jesus saying to Saul, “I choose you, to become my servant Paul–a sign of my power to change lives, and a servant of my Gospel.” And Paul tells us that when the churches of Judea heard of his transformation they gave all glory to God for what Jesus had done.

Beloved, today in Scripture we have heard a great and troubling challenge to our culture’s cherished notions of choice. Today, in spite of all the external voices calling us to consume and all the internal anxieties driving us to decide–in spite of all the false gods of commerce and culture commanding us to choose–the Word of God confronts us with a startling paradox: true freedom comes not in choosing, but in being chosen.

That’s the meaning of grace. That’s the great challenge and the great promise of our Scripture today. That’s the great challenge and the great promise of the Gospel at all times. For the Good News is that our God has not abandoned us to an endless array of choices. But he has chosen us.

In the birth of Jesus Christ, God looked upon a lost and broken creation and declared, “I choose you!” In the life and ministry of Jesus our Lord, God walked amidst hopeless, helpless, desperate humanity and announced, “I choose you!” In the death of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary, God himself was lifted high in self-giving love over a dead and dying word and proclaimed, “I choose you!” And in the shattered darkness of the empty tomb, standing over the broken gates of Hell, free forever from the bonds of Death, God himself calls a new creation into being and declares again, “I choose you!”

“I choose you!” says the Holy Spirit of God in every baptism and confirmation. “I choose you to be my own forever: washed, renewed, restored, and sealed.”

“I choose you!” says Jesus our great High Priest in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. “I choose you to draw near with you emptiness, to draw near with your hunger, to draw near with your hands and hearts uplifted, and to receive from my fullness, to eat from my table, to be knit to me forever.”

“I choose you!” says God our Father, as we are sent back out into the world. “I choose you to be my adopted daughters and sons; my children of grace and favor; my new creation born of my own perfect will–bought with the blood of my Son, and alive by the breath of my Holy Spirit. I choose you to go into my world as restorers: to rule and serve all my creatures; to raise up the things that have been cast down; to renew the things that have grown old; to proclaim and announce that I am bringing all things to perfection by him through whom all things were made. I choose you!”

No questions. No options. No choices. Just the power of God to make men and women like you and like me into his sons and daughters. Just the voice of Jesus calling to each of us. “I choose you to be mine, forever.” And as it was long ago, so may it be today: that all who hear this word give all glory to God for what Jesus has done.

AMEN.