On What it Means to Be Chosen
October 15, 2023
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the
land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
Matthew 22: 1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying,
‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The title of today’s sermon is On What it Means to Be Chosen.
The parable we are offered is the third one in a set of three that we have been working our way through. Following Jesus’s entry to Jerusalem on a donkey, he goes to the temple, drives out the moneychangers who are taking advantage of the poor, and then stays in the temple for two days, preaching and teaching and raising hell. Today’s parable is the final one in the series of three. All three parables have had a similar message that Jesus is seeking to impart to the temple priests: Wake up! You are pawns of the Roman Empire and more concerned with your own welfare and positions of power while the people you are called to serve are suffering greatly…suffering from unfairly high taxation and the poverty that follows in its wake. Meanwhile, you are safe and secure and well-fed in your temple compound, rubbing elbows with the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
Friends, the characters change over time, but the similar narrative is repeated over and over again: those in positions of power lose sight of the wellbeing of those whom they are employed to serve. Every now and then, though, there are those in positions of power who do wake up and speak out. Suheib Hassan Yousef is one of them. Suheib is a Palestinian who had been living in Turkey as an employee of the Hamas organization, the same organization that carried out the horrific attack on Israel last week. Suheib worked for Hamas and enjoyed an opulent lifestyle, along with many other government employees who were paid, at least in part, with taxpayer’s money. Suheib is quoted here in the Washington Post: “In Turkey, Hamas leaders live in fancy hotels and luxury towers, their kids learn at private schools, and they are very well paid by Hamas. They get between four and five thousand dollars a month, they have guards, swimming pools, and country clubs. When I lived in Turkey, I was shocked by the behavior of the Hamas members. They ate in the best restaurants, in places where one course cost $200,” he said. “A family in Gaza lives on $100 per month.” *
Four years ago, in the summer of 2019, Suheib boarded a plane for an unnamed south-asian destination. He then began to speak out about the Hamas, calling Hamas a “racist terror organization that is dangerous for the Palestinian people.” Suheib is in hiding because his father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, is a co-founder of Hamas. Suheib is not the first son to wake up and defect. His older brother, Mosab, saw the harm Hamas was perpetuating and he worked for the Israeli secret service for ten years; he even helped to organize the arrest and incarceration of his father.** These two sons, even though they were in positions of great power, influence, and prestige, woke up and realized they had to make a change. Both have been publicly outspoken against the hatred and violence that Hamas employs.
I offer you this story, Friends, as a reminder that amidst all the corruption and violence in the world, there are people every minute of every day who are waking up, deciding to change their ways, and deciding to live more in alignment with the love we call God. In our reading today, Jesus is calling for this same caliber of change as he spoke in the temple just days before his death. His spirit is calling us, still.
It can be difficult to hear Jesus calling over the cacophony that is our culture in 2023. We are not unlike the wedding guests who were invited to the celebration but were too busy and too distracted with other matters to attend to. I often choose to be busy and distracted by other matters, so much so that it can be easy to dismiss the messages that call me to other tasks, tasks I would just as soon avoid, difficult tasks like seeking to heal some of the hurt I have caused in my lifetime, or figuring out how to address the injustices I witness in the world. There are a plethora of options at hand to distract myself. I can pack my schedule at work, I can focus on other
people and the choices they make instead of scrutinizing my own. If I don’t have enough worries and fears of my own, there are plenty to be found in the news, available now 24 hours a day. The force of goodness within me that I call God could be speaking loud and clear but it can be difficult to hear over all the background noise of my own worry and fear.
Worry and fear can blind us to the presence of God, the presence of love, in our lives. We heard this morning the story of the Hebrew people who, in their fear and anxiety, fashioned a golden calf as a god they could see with their own eyes. I imagine it was a great comfort to them and at least a temporary distraction from their current predicament. Today our golden calves come in many forms and our worship of them will seem just as ridiculous to generations in the future, generations who will wonder why profit margins mattered more than people, and why political jockeying mattered more than paychecks for government employees.
The force we call God is calling us to a new way of being, Friends. It begins with inner changes that will manifest in outer changes. An outer change is what the King was looking for in his guests. The most disturbing part of this parable is the banishment of the guest because he was
not wearing a wedding robe. I did some research about the original word, enduma, which was translated to mean “wedding robe.” It means no such thing. Enduma means “to put something on.” The King was not asking for something elaborate, but he was clearly expecting something, something a little different, perhaps, some kind of obvious, outer change. When questioned by the King, the guest is speechless; he has nothing to say. Nothing at all. The King orders him bound and cast into the weeping, gnashing, darkness.
How this is like the Kingdom of Heaven, I have but one guess: God invites us, we go, but we offer little more than our presence. We go to God, but we do not make any obvious refinements, no apparent changes. Sometimes when God speaks to us, we do not respond; we are speechless. We do not speak up, not for ourselves, not for others, and that, my Friends, is when we stand at the threshold of the weeping, gnashing darkness that sounds a lot like Hell to me. Our hands and feet might as well be bound if we are, in all practicality, ineffectual. We can spend a lifetime there, close to God but not really moving closer, not really changing, not really putting anything else on, not really speaking out, not really making a difference, as if we were bound.
God is inviting us; God is calling us. Remember here that God is Love. Love is inviting us; Love is calling us. If we hear, if we answer, if we go, we must show our willingness to change and be changed. We can seize our power to speak and speak not only for ourselves, but for those whose voices have been suppressed for far too long. They are the same populations as in Jesus’s day: the minorities, the women, the poor, the disabled, the “others” who, for various reasons, are different from the majority. Jesus gave his voice to those who were pushed aside, those who
were hushed, those who suffered from economic and social injustice. Jesus raised his voice for them. This sounds more like the Kingdom of Heaven we should be striving to create.
There’s just one last part of this scripture I’d like to explore. It’s the very last line: “many are called, but few are chosen.” This is an ominous ending to a difficult story. Many are called but few are chosen. The Concordance helps to clarify the meaning of the Greek word used in this particular verse. The original word translated as “chosen,” is eklektos, which means “out from and to.” (Sounds like a train wreck of prepositions…out from and to.) There is a subtle and crucially powerful distinction here that I hope I can convey, because to me, it makes all the
difference. Jesus says, “Many are called but few are chosen;” many are called but few move out from and to. God calls many, but few move out from their former way of being and to a new and different and closer-walk-with-God-way of being. Any why do so few pull it off? (you may ask). I think it’s because we are blessed, and cursed with free will, or what the United Church of Christ calls “soul freedom.” If, how, and when we choose to follow the example of Christ is our own individual journey, free from dictates of the church. God doesn’t need puppets on a string; God needs living, breathing, acting, speaking beings that can facilitate change in a world that is desperately in need of Love. We are called to choose that Love in hundreds of instances every single day. Do we choose Love? Do we choose God? Or do we choose something else? Many are called, but few are chosen. So I have to make the choice to move from old ways to new ways. From not-quite-loving to total-and-transparent loving. From giving begrudgingly to giving wholeheartedly. From standing speechless to speaking out. In so many ways, we have to make those choices in order to feel as if we are deserving, as if we are indeed chosen. It’s a reciprocal relationship with God, a two-way street; God chooses us and we are free to choose God. Soul freedom reigns.
In closing, let us not forget that even in the midst of so much violence and war and outward expressions of hate, there are still those turning to God, turning to Love. If the sons of Hamas leaders can wake up and experience enlightenment, then there is hope for humankind. May we all, each day, affirm our willingness to do as Paul suggested in his letter to the Colossians, Chapter 3. He wrote, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, as the Lord has forgiven you.” So be it. Amen.
God of morning and God of night, draw us closer to the place within us where Your love is all there is. Remove the illusion that we are separate from one another and remind us that as we nurture and heal ourselves, we, in some small and magnificent way, are serving the greater whole of humanity. As we remember our brothers and sisters in despair, especially those caught in war and violence, help us to lean into empathy and compassion. Strengthen us to live in this world
we love and to remain centered within you, where all goodness, compassion and love find their source. This I pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
It has become a tradition of my own making that I share with you one of my favorite poems in the month of October as October is the month I was born. This poem was written by Rainer Maria Rilke in his Book of Hours, I 59, translated from the German by Joanna Macy.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.