June 8, 2008

The following message was presented in three parts. The first two parts (God Chooses Abram & God Chooses Matthew) were presented interactively with the children of the church. The third part (God Chooses Us) was presented in traditional sermon format.

God Chooses Abram
The first bible story we will hear today is about a man named Abram who was chosen by God for a special purpose. You might remember the name Abraham. That was the name that God gave to him (it meant “father of many nations”, but his original name was Abram, so that’s what he’s called in our story today.

As Rachel reads our story from Genesis 12, listen and see if you can hear what God is choosing Abram to do.

Genesis 12:1-9

Did you notice what God was choosing Abram to do? (Go to a new land, have children and make a community of people who know God, be a blessing to others…)

Any ideas as to why God chose Abram for this job? Do you think it was because Abram was really smart or strong or he liked to travel? This is why I think God chose Abram for this purpose… Because Abram believed in God.

There weren’t many people around at that time who knew about God or believed in God. But when God spoke to Abram, Abram listened and did what God asked him to do. Not many people were paying attention to what God wanted them to do. But Abram knew about God, and Abram listened to God, so God chose Abram and his family to go to a new land and spread the news about God.

God wanted the people to know about him and to live in God’s ways. He wanted Abram to have lots of children — and those children would learn about God too, and so would their children, and on and on…

We are so happy that God chose Abram, because through him, we all got to know God.

God Chooses Matthew
Even though God chose Abram for this important purpose, and even though lots of people got to know God because of Abram, there were still lots of people who didn’t know about God. And there were still lots of people who (even though they knew about God) didn’t try very hard to follow God’s ways.

God spoke to the people through Abram and Moses, and through other prophets to teach them how God wanted them to live. God told them to live by following the commandments — and the most important commandments were to love God and love your neighbours. But the people didn’t do very well at the commandments. They ignored God, and they were terrible to each other. Lots of times, God got very frustrated with them.

So, do you know what God did? God did something really big to show the people how much God loved them, and to help them to learn how to live in God’s ways. Yes, God sent Jesus into the world.

Jesus didn’t just tell them the commandments over again. Most of them knew what the commandments were. They just didn’t do very well at following them. Instead, Jesus showed them how to live in God’s ways. He loved God and loved his neighbours, and he invited people to follow him, and learn from him, and to live in the same way.

It’s time for us to read another story from the Bible, and this story is about Jesus. Listen to this story, and see if you can notice who Jesus is choosing, and what Jesus is choosing this person to do.

Matthew 9:9-13

Who did Jesus choose? (Matthew) And what kind of job did Matthew have? (tax collector) And what did Jesus choose Matthew to do? (follow him)

Jesus often chose people to follow him who weren’t perfect. Tax collectors were usually not very nice people because they cheated and took more money for taxes than was needed. Most people hated the tax collectors. But Jesus thought differently.

One day, Jesus was at dinner with some tax collectors and other sinners. Some of the religious people got upset. They didn’t think that Jesus should be choosing bad people like that to be his followers. But that was exactly what Jesus had come to do. He came to find people who didn’t know about God, and to show them that God is real and that God loves them.

Jesus came to find people who weren’t very good at following God’s commandments, so that he could show them how to love. Jesus knew that everybody makes mistakes, and he wanted them to know that God forgives them so they can try again to love God and love their neighbours.

God chose Abram, and Jesus chose Matthew, and God chooses each of us to be Jesus’ followers, to be forgiven by God, and to learn to love as Jesus loves us.

Romans 4:13-21

God Chooses Us
It is good to be back home at St. Andrew’s in Saskatoon, after a long week of meetings and events at General Assembly in Ottawa. It was a good week of connecting with Presbyterians from across the country and of visiting with friends, family, and colleagues from Ottawa. It was a heavy week of listening, thinking, and voting on reports and recommendations from all the agencies and committees of our national church. And it was a reflective week of considering the mission and ministry of our Presbyterian Church — here through St. Andrew’s, within our Presbytery, and across the country.

Being at the Assembly, with about 400 other Presbyterians did reinforce for me that we are part of a larger whole. Our little Presbytery in Saskatchewan is not alone, but we belong to a church that is bound and connected through the courts of the church, through our shared resources and church offices, and through our commitment to be a part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

The struggles that we are experiencing here, with not enough ministers, with a need to close or reconfigure congregations, with the challenges to care for the hurting, homeless, and poor in our communities, and to draw young people and families into our church communities… These are the same struggles that Presbyterians are coping with across the country. Though there are some regional differences, there is a great deal of common experience as well.

Though it is difficult to believe, there is one presbytery in Northern Ontario, the Presbytery of Temiskaming, that doesn’t have any ordained ministers at the moment. Compared to that, we are blessed to have four ministers in Northern Saskatchewan.

But being at Assembly didn’t just highlight our shared difficulties of declining and struggling congregations. It was also an opportunity to see a broader picture of the wonderful ministry and mission that is being accomplished through Presbyterian congregations and through our shared national agencies.

One of the highlights of the week for me was a morning worship service led by a group of youth from the Presbytery of Ottawa. Very much like the youth here at St. Andrew’s, these young people were becoming leaders, sharing their faith, engaging with the scriptures, and worshipping God in a meaningful and fun way. The worship they shared with us at Assembly was just a sample of the kind of worship they host each month at their Presbytery Youth Service.

Another significant moment during the Assembly was a video presentation from Presbyterian World Service and Development. It was a simple presentation of pictures from around the world, highlighting the work of PWS&D. What was striking about the pictures was the joy and the hope they conveyed. There was no hint of discouragement in the people’s faces, despite their often difficult circumstances.

Unlike the pictures of sad and starving children that some relief organizations use to solicit donations, PWS&D’s presentation didn’t focus on all the problems and crises in the world. It didn’t despair at the fact that our little Presbyterian Church in Canada can only do so much to help people in desperate need throughout the world.

Instead, we saw the joyful faces of people giving thanks for God’s blessings. We saw people working hard to live and to share with others. We saw people looking forward with hope and expectation for the future that God is preparing for them. We are a small Presbyterian Church, but together with partners around the world, we are being faithful to God’s call to serve and to support development.

I can only imagine what God’s call must have been like for Abram. God told him to leave his country, to leave his family, and to become the one through whom others (those around him, and his own descendants) would come to know and live in relationship with God. The journey to the land of Canaan and beyond must have seemed dangerous and risky. And all he had to go on was God’s promise of blessing and God’s promise to make him a blessing.

At his age, at his stage of life, it can’t have seemed likely that God’s promise would come true. What difference could one man make to a world of people who were alienated from God? What chance did an old man have of passing on his faith to the next generation, and the one after that, when he didn’t have any children and his wife was long past child-bearing age?

And doesn’t that sound a lot like the refrains we hear so often within our Presbyterian churches? We don’t have many (or even any) young people! How can we share our faith with the next generation? There aren’t nearly enough of us! How can we care for and be a blessing to the hurting people of our world? And the people out there don’t care one bit about God! They’re not interested! How can we possibly convince them to get to know and love the God who made them and who loves them?

The mission and ministry that God is choosing us to embark on seems so unbelievably BIG, and we often feel so very, very small. It makes me think of the many times that people meet me and say, “You don’t look old enough to be a minister.” And I think, “No, I’m probably not old enough to be a minister. I’m certainly not wise enough. And I don’t have everything figured out. But this is what God has called me to be and to do, and so a minister is what I am.”

As Jesus was going along, he chose people to join in his ministry and mission. He didn’t choose the really good people — the ones who followed God’s commandments and got most things right. Instead, he chose the people who were far away from God, the people who didn’t know about God, and the people who needed God’s grace and forgiveness. Jesus chose people like tax collectors and sinners. He loved them, and taught them to love in his way.

The improbable and the unbelievable took place through those unlikely disciples and apostles of Jesus. People like Matthew, Thomas, and Mary Magdalene were the ones who carried the good news about God in Jesus Christ to the coming generations and to people all over the world. Those who were far away from God were chosen and invited to come close, and more and more people began to live in relationship with God and according to God’s loving and gracious ways.

And so, like Abram, God invites us not to worry about how unlikely it might seem for us to accomplish our mission. Whether we are working on our call to feed the hungry and care for the poor around the world. Whether we are working on sharing our faith with the next generations, with our own children and the children in our communities. Or whether we are working for justice and peace in the world, striving for reconciliation with our neighbours of differing faiths, and cultures, and backgrounds… Whatever our particular call or focus may be, God has chosen us, and God will equip us to accomplish all that God has planned.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes of Abraham’s faith: “No distrust made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what God had promised.”

May God give us the gift of such unwavering faith. May we grow strong in our faith, as we worship God and give glory to God. And may we be encouraged today — may we be fully convinced that God is able to do everything that God has promised. Amen.