Weekly Seeds: Chosen and Appointed

Sunday, May 5, 2024
Sixth Sunday of Easter | Year B

Focus Theme:
Chosen and Appointed

Focus Prayer:
Holy One, thank you for abiding with us, loving us, choosing to befriend us, and for appointing us to bear fruit. Amen.

Focus Reading:
John 15:9-17
9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 10:44-48 • Psalm 98 • 1 John 5:1-6 • John 15:9-17

Focus Questions:
Have you ever been appointed to a position? What was it like?
How are people chosen…for a role or a purpose?
Do you consider yourself chosen, appointed, or both as a person of faith?
How do you understand Jesus as friend?
What is the impact of God’s abiding presence in your life?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

The scene is set. An obedient son waits for his bride. His nervousness emerges as he approaches his mother, the queen, who has orchestrated the match. She thinks he comes to her with an objection or scheme to avoid his impending nuptials. Yet, he surprises her. He has reconciled himself to his fate. Rather than advocating for a reprieve, he seeks her counsel. He does not approach his ruler, he comes for his parent. He confesses his fear that he will not be able to love his wife. The queen visibly shifts from monarch to mother and reassures him that, “Love is not a thing one is able or not able to do based on some magic, some chemistry. That is for plays. Love is determination. Love is a choice one makes.”

How many ways has love been defined? The scenario just shared comes from the fictional series, Queen Charlotte, yet many will recognize love as decision, choice, and commitment. Others insist that love is an emotion that occurs spontaneously. Others insist that while love is emotion, it forms as a response and can be cultivated. Still others will object and define love not as a noun but as a verb. It is defined by our actions rather than our attitudes or feelings. Love can exist between romantic partners, close friends, and relatives as well as strangers, neighbors, and enemies. God loves. Love is from God. God is love. Love is confusing, overwhelming, and unfathomable, yet we recognize it when love is at work.

The most common denominator seems to be that love is relational even when we think of self-love. When asked the greatest commandment, Jesus speaks of love toward God, neighbor, and self. Of course, that conversation occurs in the synoptic accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In the focus passage from John, Jesus offers a singular commandment: “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Even with this simplified version, the basis of this love is rooted in God’s abiding love.

This version of love is mutual, reciprocal, and connective. It originates from the first and second Persons of the Triune God and is modeled by Jesus in his relationship to the disciples.

The Gospel of John focuses the love commandment on the community of disciples, both here and in 13:34-35. While the other gospels exhort disciples to love their neighbors and even their enemies (Mark 12:28-34; Matt 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28; and Matt 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36), John speaks of in-house love, calling Christians to “love one another.” We ought not to assume, however, that this makes John’s love commandment easier to follow. Indeed, Gail R. O’Day cautions against dismissing its ethical seriousness, noting that “the history of the church and of individual communities of faith suggests that to love one another may be the most difficult thing Jesus could have asked. There are many circumstances in which it is easier to love one’s enemies than it is to love those with whom one lives, works, and worships day after day.” The intensity of the conflict in which many churches and denominations are presently (and perennially) engaged attests to the wisdom of this observation. Moreover, mutual love, the heart of John’s vision of the Christian life, is crucial not only for the community’s life together but also for its public witness. The world is not likely to be impressed by Christian love for outsiders, however expansive, nor compelled to join the company of believers, if those who call themselves Christian exhibit hatred for one another. Thus, throughout the Farewell Discourse, the believing community is given to understand that the quality of its life together is its most convincing witness to the truth and power of the gospel it proclaims (e.g., 13:35; 17:20-26).
Frances Taylor Gench

It makes sense that John’s gospel would emphasize the tangible witness of love manifested among the community of believers. After all, it is John who introduces the coming of Jesus into the world as “the Word made flesh.” Incarnation is the heart of the gospel writer’s theological framing in a work that is the most theologically constructed of the four authorized gospel narratives. The Word dwells among us, John proclaims, and as Jesus prepares his disciples for life without his physical presence, it would seem that the term “love” could substitute for the term “word” as it was used in the prologue (John 1:1-5). Jesus speaks of abiding in love as if love were a physical presence in the same way that the word is a manifested revelation of God. Love and Word, embodied in the Person of Jesus, demonstrate that the Holy One lives among us and we live within the realm of the Holy One.

It is also worth noting another respect in which John’s language of love is “a different ethical language” from the language of discipleship explicated in the synoptic gospels. Gail O’Day provides incisive commentary on this point too, noting that John speaks of the fullness and abundance of love rather than of emptying self-denial and sacrifice: “Fullness and sharing of love characterize discipleship and faith. The Christian community is known by how much its members love one another, not by how much they deny themselves. The ultimate sign of this love remains the giving of one’s life, but it will be given in fullness of self, not in denial” (O’Day, 302-303). There is, to be sure, an important difference between “laying down” one’s life and having it “taken,” between self-gift and self-sacrifice or self-denial. As Jesus affirms in John 10:18, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” It is the same kind of self-giving love that Jesus prescribes for his disciples— love inspired by the one who came that we might “have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10)—love that spills out of the “fullness we have all received” from him, “grace upon grace” (1:16).
Frances Taylor Gench

Love, then, is a gracious choice making the relational connection between Jesus–and by extension the Parent–and the disciples one of choice. Chosenness is not one-sided. Jesus chooses to lay down his life, and disciples are given the choice to abide in that love. Abiding in God’s love manifests in loving in the way of Jesus, like osmosis. The God who is Love makes disciples who also embody love, especially toward one another. Jesus frames that reality within the construct of friendship.

Thus, for Jesus to call his disciples friends means, above all, that believers are drawn into a chain of love, into the intimacy and oneness that characterizes Jesus’ own relationship with his heavenly Father. In the immediately preceding verses, Jesus declares “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (15:9). The chain is complete in 15:12 when disciples learn that the love that binds God to Jesus, and Jesus to his followers, is also to be manifest in their relationship with each other: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” By loving one another, in obedience to Jesus’ command, disciples become channels of the divine love that is God’s gift to the whole world in Christ.
Frances Taylor Gench

The love of a friend is also a choice of mutuality in relationship. While the relationship between Jesus and the Father is defined in familial terms, the relationship between Jesus and his disciples is considered to be friendship. Familial relationships, in general, are not created by choice while friendship suggests invitation and agency. To amplify the point, Jesus contrasts the friendship model with the slave/servant-master dynamic. Still, friendship does not necessarily mean that the relationship exists between two equals.

Friendship does not necessarily imply the equal relationship that would be more readily identified with the word in the modern sense….’ As well as being used for the more equal concepts of “personal friend,” “lover,” or “ally,” the term was also frequently used for the clients who clustered around prominent individuals and depended upon them.” Likewise the term was used for the followers of a political leader….In the text in view, the client relationship and the follower-teacher relationship appear as the operative meanings….it can be seen that the disciples are asked to understand their relationship to Jesus in terms of agency and responsibility in order to make their obedience to the love command meaningful. The relationship of “friend” rather than “slave” shows that they are to form a real relationship with one another as well as to Jesus, that unlike slaves they are to be recognized as members of a community. … If they understand themselves as slaves, without personal will, without ownership of their own lives, without the ability to form recognized relationships, the disciples could not form the nexus of interrelationship envisioned as the Johannine community.
Susan M. Elliott

The Johannine community was a group living under threat of persecution, doctrinal drift, and relational fracture. The gospel writer reminds them, and us, that the call to follow Jesus is an invitation like being chosen for a role or appointed for a position with the understanding that our participation depends upon our acceptance of the responsibilities and conditions associated with the new status. Being a disciple is not forced or compulsory but a gift and honor like having a seat at the banquet of a great feast. Decades removed from these events, that audience was encouraged to accept the invitation to discipleship for which they were chosen and appointed with the joy of abiding love in the presence of a generous and fulfilling Holy Love.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“In a sea of a thousand faces God’s eyes are always locked on us (like the slow-motion scenes of eyes locking in a crowd in the movie The Passion of the Christ). We all tie for first place in His heart and His gaze is firmly set on each of us. Not to put us down when we’re wrong or off, but because He’s enamoured by us. There’s no kinder heart, no kinder eyes and no kinder love than that of God. His words of affirmation over me have always filled my hunger.”
― Koki Oyuke, Chosen Not Cheated: Discover God’s Goodness Through Life’s Detours, Denials and Doubts

For Further Reflection
“You have been appointed to steward all of it-these precious children under your care and this art burning a hole in your heart. There is no one better suited for this job, for this holy work, for this calling, than you.” ― Ashlee Gadd
“Sometimes it is because we are chosen, that we are rejected.” ― Zara Hairston
“Don’t let yesterday’s disappointment determine your APPOINtment today.” ― Janna Cachola

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.