John 1: 35-42
I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone to hear that I have never been particularly sporty or athletic. One of my abiding childhood memories was the horrendous, humiliating experience of waiting to be picked for football matches. All the best players would be picked straight away, but I inevitably always seemed to be the last person chosen. And then I was usually put either into goals or defence, the two positions no one else wanted.
The experience of not been chosen, of being overlooked, ignored or rejected, because you're just not good enough, or you don't have what it takes, can be a deeply painful.
This week I was reading an article about the experience one man who in 2009 was made redundant after the charity he worked for ceased operating. Although this man is highly qualified, he has not been able to find work. In the article he describes the crushing experience of what it is like to get one rejection letter after another. He writes "I stopped keeping or counting the 'thanks, but no thanks' responses to job applications. Each one had pushed my morale lower and lower, threatening to wipe out any sense of self-worth that was left."
Not being chosen can really hurt.
In my talk this morning there are two points that I want to make:
- Jesus chooses us
- Jesus changes us
JESUS CHOOSES US
In July I wrote an article for the Walsall Advertiser in which I said the important question isn't only about whether we believe in God, but also whether we know that God believes in us. Following the article I received a letter from a lady, which I shared with the church a few weeks ago, in which she wrote "I too thought that if there is a God, he wouldn't want anything to do with me."
I think many people feel the way she does, they imagine that if God was picking his perfect team, they would be the ones left standing on the sidelines, unwanted, and unchosen. But the message of the Bible, and the message of the Christian faith are about how much God really does love us, and care for us, and how he chooses us.
We see this in our Gospel reading, in which Jesus chooses his first disciples.
Normally only the very best of the best were chosen to be become a disciple of a rabbi. This would have happened after many years of intense study, during which time the students would have been expected to memorise the entire Old Testament. And then the rabbi would only choose those people who they thought had what it takes to not only learn from them, but to become like them, so only the best of the best were chosen.
But the people Jesus choose to be his disciples weren't the best of the best. They were very ordinary people, fishermen, take collectors and even radicals – not people who had devoted many years to studying the Bible, not the people you may have expected Jesus to choose.
To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter's Carpenter Shop
From: Jordan Management Consultants
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.
The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.
It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new venture.
Jordan Management Consultants
So why did Jesus choose such an unlikely bunch of people to be his disciples, people who clearly didn't make the cut? The reason is that by choosing these people, Jesus demonstrates that his movement is for everyone, it's for rich and poor, old and young, men and women, educated and uneducated. This is a movement for anybody and everybody. Jesus calls us to follow him.
Elsewhere in the Bible Jesus says – "You didn't choose me, I chose you." In Jesus' day rabbis didn't choose disciples unless they believed these people had what it took to do what they do, and to become like them, because that's what a disciple ultimately wants, to become like his master, to do the things his master does. This is important because Jesus chooses us, which means that he believes that we can become like him, we can do the things he does. This is very important because it shows us that it is not just about whether or not we believe in God, but about knowing that he believes is us… in you… in me. Jesus chooses us to come and follow him, and in doing so, become like him and experience life in its fullness.
JESUS CHANGES US
The second point that we can draw from this reading is that knowing and encountering Jesus changes us.
After meeting Jesus for the first time, Andrew, and the other disciple, who most commentators believe to be the apostle John, the man who wrote John's Gospel, go to Simon, Andrew's brother and say to him "We have found the Messiah". And they brought Simon to Jesus. On seeing Simon Jesus says "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).
Names in the Bible are extremely important, because your name conveys an important message about who you are. Jesus renames Simon, which means 'To hear or to be heard' to 'Peter' which means 'The rock', and he says "You are Peter, the Rock on who I will build my Church.". And in that very instant Simon's life was changed forever.
How would you feel if you were Simon? Imagine that you are standing before Jesus, looking into the eyes of God, who looks right into your very being and declares what you will become.
Jesus saw not only who Peter was, but who he would become. Because although Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter, over the next three years of Jesus' ministry Peter was far from being "rock-solid". Peter made all sorts of mistakes, even denied knowing Jesus and abandoning him in his greatest hour of need. It wasn't until much later, after Jesus' resurrection, and the day of Pentecost that Peter became a solid "rock" in the days of the early church.
When Jesus looks at us, he sees not only who we are, but also who we can become. And it is through walking with Jesus, learning from him, spending time with him, that we are transformed and become like him.
I want to finish with this reflection, entitled 'The Touch of the Masters Hand' written by Mrya Brooks Welch.
It was battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
Hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile.
"What am I bid, good folk", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three",
From the room far back a grey haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet,
As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.
"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."
And many a person with soul out of tune,
All battered and scarred by sin,
Is auctioned cheap by the thoughtless crowd just like the old violin.
But the master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul, and the change that is wrought by the touch of the master's hand.
Oh Master I am the tuneless one, lay, lay Thy hand on me. Transform me now, put a song in my heart of melody, Lord to Thee.