“Not Good Enough, but Special”

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 15, 2018

Text:  Amos 7:7-15 / Ephesians 1:3-14 / Mark 6: 14-29

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Dear Saints of Redeemer,

Travel back in time with me, if you will.  Let’s go back to our elementary or junior high school days.  Let’s go back to the playground at recess or the gym class.  You all remember the event.  It’s game time and the teacher has picked two people to be team captains.  You weren’t either of them.  The game was going to be dodge ball or some other such game.  Each captain got to pick their team members one by one, alternating between the two captains.  The best (or maybe most popular) kids got picked first.  Then the so-so kids got picked.  Last of all, if at all, you got picked.  You weren’t a first round pick.  Not even a second round pick.  Maybe not even a third, fourth or even fifth round pick.  Heck, maybe they didn’t even pick you at all.  You weren’t good enough.

Whether it’s a game at recess or gym class; or getting a part in the school musical; or being selected for that promotion at work, or being put in charge of that big project; each one of us wants to be chosen.  Whether picked for the team, picked for the play, or picked for that particular task at work, in this world, being picked says something about who we are.  It gives us a sense of identity, of belonging.  In many ways, being chosen means you’re special.  And we all like ‘being special.’

When we are not picked, when we’re left out, it implies that for some reason we don’t measure up, that we are not good enough.  If we measure things by the world’s standards, it’s easy to get the feeling we don’t make the cut.  If we cannot afford the right clothing; don’t drive the right car; don’t look beautiful or handsome enough; aren’t smart or in the know about all the latest trends, then we feel like we don’t measure up; we aren’t good enough; heck, maybe we don’t even belong.

Well, dear saints, I’ve got some bad news for you today.  You, and I, don’t measure up.  We are not good enough.  We don’t make the cut.  When we get right down to it, none of us is special enough to be chosen by God.

How do I know this?  If you’re like me…you’ve broken every one of God’s commandments sometime this past week.  Each one of us has plenty of moments we can recall when we’ve failed to live as God created us to live.  We may have a particular sin – or even many sins – we’re so ashamed of that we’ve never admitted them to anyone.  I’ve got those kinds of sins.  And I think you do too.  And those sins, separate us from God.  Make us His enemies.  Keep us out of His presence.  In fact, they prove that we are not “good enough” to be in God’s presence…let alone be chosen by Him.

But then we read the words of St. Paul in our text this morning from Ephesians.  These are words of good news!  Let’s look a few of these verses in the first paragraph.  Follow along with me and focus on who, exactly, is the subject in these verses.  Pick out who’s doing the action in each sentence:

(v 3), He has “blessed us”; (v 4), He “chose us”; (v 5), He “predestined us”; again, in (v 6), He has “blessed us”; (v 8), He “lavished upon us”; and (vs 9), He “set forth”.  Notice that in each of these verses, it is God who is doing the action.  He is doing the choosing.  He is deciding who belongs to him.  And on what basis is He doing the choosing?  It is not that we were holy and blameless to begin with, and for that reason God took a liking to us and chose us.  No, far from it!  He chose us when we had no righteousness to offer.  In fact, Paul says He chose us before we were born, before the world even existed!  God chose us, Paul says, not because we were holy and blameless, but He chose us to be holy and blameless.  “In love,” (v 5), “He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ.”  “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (v 7).  He chose us – sinners that we are – in order to make us righteous in Christ.

Why are we chosen?  God chooses us for one reason and one reason only.  Hard as it may be to believe, it isn’t your good looks or your smarts or your good deeds that led Him to choose you, or me!  Instead, he chose you—as he chooses each of us—based not on our merits, but on the merits of Christ, which are freely given to us.  Freely credited to us.  By faith, we are made His.

In Jesus—through our faith in His life, His death, and His resurrection—God loves us and chooses us.  Therefore, we belong.  He’s the captain, and He has made us a part of His team, part of His family.  And if you look in the Bible, you’ll see story after story where God chooses someone to be His, not because they are so worthy, but simply because He loves them.

In our Old Testament lesson for today listen again to the words of Amos when he had been accused of conspiring against the king, “Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, ‘I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees.  But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”’”  It was God who chose Amos.  Look at David, a scrawny shepherd boy, who later in life would have a man killed in order to steal that man’s wife.  Still, God chooses him as king, and as forerunner to Christ.  Or look at Paul himself.  Persecutor of the early believers, hands covered with the blood of the first Christians.  Still, God chooses him to be an apostle to the world.  Did God choose these men because they were so good?  No, he chose them because He loved them and wanted them to be His.

In the paragraph the precedes our Gospel lesson for today, (which was part of the Gospel reading for last week) we see the twelve disciples being sent out two by two.  Not exactly pillars of society, these men.  Still, Jesus sends them out into the world armed only with His authority.  And as the disciples go out, they do great things.  Not because they are great people, but because they belong to Him.  As Luke records this event, he tells us that when the disciples returned they were really excited about all the things they had done: demons were cast out, the sick were healed.  But Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t be so excited about the great things that they could do.  They should rejoice instead that their names are written in the book of life.  Rejoice, He says, because you belong.

I invite you to close your eyes just for a moment so that you can visualize a scene from the past.  The distant past.  A time, in fact, before time even was.  In the vast emptiness before creation, God alone existed.  And before He ever said, “Let there be light,” He chose you.  Paul says, “He (God) chose us in Him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (vv 4–5).  Before you were born—before anything was—God chose you.  That makes you special—special to Him.  He wrote your name in the book of life, for He wants you to be with Him forever.  What a source of joy!  What a source of comfort!  To know that we are His, both now and forever, solely because of our faith in Jesus.  You are that special to Him!

 Do you remember the Disney Pixar movie Toy Story?  It centers on a group of toys that belong to a young boy named Andy.  And of all his toys, Andy’s favorite is a cowboy named Woody.  How do we know this?  Because Andy has written his own name on the bottom of Woody’s foot.  It was a mark of ownership.  But we also see that it is a sign of Andy’s love too.  His love for Woody.  Later in the movie, the new toy, Buzz Lightyear, is also marked on his foot by Andy, showing that he, too, is loved.  That he, too, belongs.

In the same way, we have been marked by God in our Baptism, having been claimed by Him as His own possession.  But more than just a possession, for God’s mark also clearly shows His love for us in Jesus.  Yes, at our Baptism, as we were marked with the sign of the cross on our forehead and over our heart, and then as water was applied with the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it shows us that we belong to God, just as St. Paul wrote, “You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” (Eph 1:13–14).

Some of you may have noticed that at certain times in the worship service—during the Invocation, the Creed, or while receiving Communion—some of the people follow the ancient custom of making the sign of the cross.  The sign of the cross is a reminder of our Baptism.  For as one remembers his or her Baptism, they are reminded that they’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit, and therefore they belong to God.

One last time, dear saints, I invite you to close your eyes just for a moment so that you can visualize a scene.  This one’s in the future.  You are on your deathbed, and you know it’s almost time for this life to come to an end.  As you lay there, you think back on where you’ve been and what you’ve done.  But mostly you think about where you are going.  And a smile comes to your face… because you know.  There’s no “I hope I was good enough,” but “I know that I will be with Jesus, because He died for me and He chose me to be His forever.”

Are we good enough to be chosen?  No.  But because of Jesus, who gives us His perfection, we are chosen.  Let us therefore praise “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (v 3).  Why?  Because we belong . . . we belong to Him!

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen+

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Sermon written by: Rev. Dale O. Snyder, pastor, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Wichita Falls, Texas, for Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 28, Part 3, Year B, 2018; modified by Deacon Rex Watt.

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