I don't know if you've noticed, but this truly is a summer of sport. Already completed are the European Football Championships, two triumphant cricket series, and Wimbledon. Going on at the moment are the Tour de France and, today, the London Open Tiddliwinks Tournament. And, still to come, of course, the Olympic games.
For many of these events the issue of selection has been one that was been contentious. Should John Terry have gone to the Euros? Why was Rio Ferdinand really left at home? Who was going to fill the gap left by Kevin Pieterson's withdrawal from the one day side? Who should get wild cards to Wimbledon? And that's before we even get to the vexed question of whether or not David Beckham should be in the Olympic football squad.
In sport being chosen is really important. If you're not chosen then you can't compete, you have no chance of winning the medal if you're not even on the start line.
In today's reading from Ephesians, Paul weaves together praise of God with teaching about the Christian life. One of the main themes that inspires the writer to praise God, and about which he is teaching, is his knowledge that God has chosen him. I'd like us to pick up this theme this morning to think about and explore what it might mean for our daily lives.
The first thing I'd like us to think about is who has been chosen. You might have noticed that in some places Paul talks about, “us” and at other times talks about, “you”. This is most clear in verses 11-14.
Imagine the England dressing room at the beginning of the Test Series against the West Indies this summer. Andrew Strauss, the captain is talking to the team. He starts off by saying talking to the whole team, “We have been selected to play in this test series to maintain England's number 1 place in the World Rankings.” He then addresses the senior players, of which he is one, “We have been in the team a while, and have earned this place, we need to continue the good work.” He then turns to the debutants and says, “You have been chosen to join us, here are your England caps, go to it.”
A similar thing is going in on the passage we heard today. Paul starts off talking about us, talking about all Christians, including us here today. We have all been chosen by God from before the creation of the world. We have all been adopted as children in the family of God. We have all been given forgiveness of sins.
Paul then goes on to talk about, “us”, meaning the very first believers, the ones who first took the good news of Jesus out to the wider world. Lastly Paul talks to you, the ones who have come to faith in Jesus as a result of the message shared by the forerunners. You also have been chosen, and this choice has been shown by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Who has been chosen? All those who believe in and follow Jesus. You have been chosen. I wonder how you feel about that. Do you feel chosen?
Before you answer that, maybe if would be as well to think about one of the big differences between being selected for a sports team and being chosen by God.
Being selected for a sports team depends largely upon a person's ability, fitness, previous record, and potential for winning. It is mostly due to the characteristics of the person and can be thought of as being earned. Being a fair reward for sacrifices and dedication to training.
In contrast with this, being chosen by God depends entirely on the grace of God. It has nothing to do with the characteristics of the person. It cannot be earned and is never deserved. No amount of sacrifice or dedicated service can ever lead us to believe that we have repaid God for a wise decision in choosing us. God's choice of us is pure gift.
I emphasise this, because I think that it is important for us to understand, so that our reaction to being chosen is right.
Sometimes a feeling of being chosen can lead people to become proud. Sometimes a feeling of being chosen can lead people to pull up the drawbridge and be unwilling to associate with other people, those who have not been chosen. It is to the shame of the church that at times we have fallen into this trap. Knowing ourselves to be chosen we have decided that we must be special and have looked down on others, forgetting that it is only by the grace of God that we are part of the church, which is the family of God on earth.
We need to guard against this, and part of that guard is remembering the basis of God's choosing of us, God's grace. Another part of the that guard is an understanding of what we are chosen for.
Three times Paul uses a phrase similar to, “the praise of God's glory”. Once each in the three sections that we looked at a little bit earlier. We are all chosen “to the praise of God's glorious grace”. We are chosen “For the praise of God's glory”. You are chosen, “to the praise of God's glory”.
The primary reason that we have been chosen is that God's glory may be praised. God's glory is seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God's glory is seen in the new life and freedom from captivity that has been given to us. We have been chosen to receive these things so that we can praise God, so that we can be witnesses to God's work in our lives, so that other people can receive them too.
The first section of this passage, which applies to all Christians, ends with a statement of God's ultimate purpose, which has been shown to us in the work of Jesus and in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
We have been chosen to be part of bringing about this purpose. We have not been chosen to separate ourselves from those that we live and work among, but to be agents for unity for all things.
It is likely that this letter was originally written to a church made up of Jews and Gentiles. They were having to work really hard to be united. They came from very different cultures, religious practices, and spiritual traditions. Paul reminds them that they are all chosen by God to be agents of unity, and that they need to start with themselves.
Over the next few months as St Peter's and St George's explore what the future shape of ministry is going to be in this united benefice, it seems to me that this might be quite an important thing to hold on to.
But it is not just inside the church that God purposes unity. God is going to bring unity to all things.” That means those outside the church as well. I wonder what part God has chosen you to play in bringing that unity about. Who has God placed you alongside to be a peacemaker in a difficult relationship? Who has God given you to praise God to?
We have been chosen by God. That choice is made because of God's grace, and is not a grounds for pride. In fact, there is a massive responsibility that goes along with it. Sports people might feel the pressure of representing their country, but we are chosen to represent the King of Heaven. Sports people may be watched for a couple of hours of a match be millions of people, but we are watched every minute of the day by our families and friends. Feeling daunted yet?
In some senses that's only right and proper. But there are two things that encourage me when I don't feel like I can do it.
The first is the Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus, we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us do the things that we have been chosen to do. It is the Holy Spirit that works in and through us.
The second is that God has chosen me. God knows me better than I know myself. God knows my weaknesses and my failings, and yet God chose me. Nothing I do can make God love me more. Nothing I do can make God love me any less. I am not worthy of being chosen and I do not have to be worthy of being chosen. I will do all that I can but, in the end, I rest on God's grace, to the praise of God's glory.