What We Choose
Text: John 15:16
“You did not choose me but I chose you.”
When I was growing up in Iowa I became interested in professional football. My cousin and I used to watch the NFL on Sunday afternoons and then go throw the football around during halftimes. In my small town during the 1960’s, no one had ever heard of a satellite dish, cable TV or even ESPN – the games you watched on TV were the games chosen by the networks in your area. Our TV programming came out of Sioux City, Iowa – much like how some of our local programming here comes out of Spokane. Geographically, the closest NFL team to Sioux City, Iowa is the Minnesota Vikings – and so the Vikings was the team I watched the most on TV. Consequently, I became a Minnesota Vikings fan in my youth.
Actually, the Vikings had a pretty good run during those years – they had a talented team and were led by a star quarterback named Fran Tarkenton – you may recognize that name. There was only one serious drawback to being a Vikings fan during those days; the team went to the Super Bowl four times during the course of those years….and lost four times. Good grief!
Eventually I was married and we migrated west and a new quarterback was on the scene; a sensational new talent out of Stanford that ended up playing for the Denver Broncos – his name was John Elway. The same thing was still true about local programming and so I became a Denver Broncos fan – Ironically, nearly the same thing happened again. A few trips to the Super Bowl and all losses – it was déjà vu all over again.
Then came the 1997 season; the Broncos made the play-offs and found themselves again in the Super Bowl, playing the Green Bay Packers.
It was January of 1998 and the outcome of this Super Bowl hung in the balance until the final seconds of the game when Green Bay failed to get a first down and possession of the football went back to Denver. As the final 20 seconds or so began to wind down, it became obvious that Denver was going to win their first Super Bowl ever. We went outside and you could hear shouts and cheers all across the neighborhood; people were setting off fireworks and honking their horns. If you were in Denver on that January evening it was obvious there was a great celebration taking place.
That was a memorable event. The Broncos won the Super Bowl again the next year, but it wasn’t the same as that first one. But as I reflect upon the memories of that first Super Bowl win, great as it was, I am intrigued with the process of how one becomes a fan of a particular football team, or any team for that matter. Do we actually choose to be a fan of a particular team, or is that choice made for us? Does the scripture I read a few minutes ago describe this process? The idea is presented by Jesus to the disciples that they did not choose Jesus, but rather Jesus had chosen them. Perhaps this idea is more universally true than we recognize at first glance. How many of the things that we consider to be a part of our lives, things that we consider to be part of our personality, things that help define us as individuals, are actually chosen for us? Do we really choose? Or are many of the things we practice chosen on our behalf. I’m not sure I chose to be a Broncos fan – it happened by osmosis. I know I didn’t choose the Vikings as a kid – it was by default I became a Minnesota Vikings fan.
I’m wondering if the same thing is true of religion. Have you ever thought about how you have chosen Christianity as your faith tradition? Did you choose or was it chosen for you? Did you go to the library and check out books on all the major religions of the world, make a detailed study of each faith tradition, and then based on your research make an informed choice? I didn’t think so…neither did I. Truthfully, I am Christian by default; following the same process as how I became a Vikings or a Broncos fan, it was simply the thing to do. You may not want to admit that to yourself, but I’ll bet if you are honest, you will discover that you didn’t choose Christianity at all, it was chosen for you. Further, I’m willing to predict, that if you think about the process, it would have been extremely difficult for you to be anything but Christian. It would have caused great strife among your family and friends and perhaps great conflict from which some families never recover. This requires you to be very honest with yourself, but if you are, I believe you will discover that what I’m describing is true. At least for most of you.
How is it then that we as Christians want to believe that God only recognizes one faith tradition and we hear preached that only those who accept Jesus are able to share in the eternal kingdom of God? Can we not recognize that those of other faith traditions have had the same experience as us? Did all of the Buddhists and Muslims in the world actually choose those religions? Or were they, like us, born into a system where the religion is chosen for us?
I ask these questions because I feel like many of the things that we think we are, actually are chosen for us, or are simply chosen by default. Did we choose to be Americans, or was that something that happened by default because of where we were born? Did we choose to learn to read and write or is that a choice that was made for us? If you think about the choice process, many of the major influences in our lives have been chosen for us, or we were simply born that way. Did you choose to be male or female? Did you choose to have brown hair or black hair or in some cases no hair? Did we choose to consume a majority of the natural resources available to the world, or did that happen by default?
Consider this example; if the world were condensed into just 100 people the diversity of the population might look something like this; these numbers are from the internet and are a composite of several sources so they may not be 100% accurate, but this just gives you an idea:
24 of the 100 would be from the Western Hemisphere
About 10 would be from the United States
70 of the 100 would have a faith tradition other than Christianity
94 of the 100 would be heterosexual, while 6 would be homosexual
33 would be unable to read, 26 would live in sub-standard housing
13 of the 100 would suffer from malnutrition or starvation while 22 would be overweight
When God considers humanity what portion of the 100 would God consider? Only the 30 that are Christian? Only the 10 from the United States because God has blessed America? This raises some interesting questions for me….questions like does God really choose a people? Does God actually bless certain nations? Is your connection to God greater because of your race or religion or sexual orientation? I think not. For me, one foundational element of the nature of God must be egalitarian. I don’t believe the world is in this condition from God’s own choosing, I believe it to be a human condition and a condition to be resolved by humanity.
The church is presently trying to find a way forward with regard to the question of full inclusion for our sisters and brothers that have a different orientation than most of us do. Of the 100 people I mentioned a minute ago, about 6 of them would not be heterosexual. Is that something that they chose? I don’t think so. When did you choose to be straight or did it just happen?
I believe that our language, our attitudes and or level of inclusiveness speaks volumes about our theological maturity. When I hear someone speak of the Israelites as God’s chosen people, or I hear the phrase “God Bless America” or I hear something about Christianity being the only true religion, or I hear arguments about why the church should continue to oppress the LGBTQ community, it not only makes me sad, but it causes me to wonder why we are so theologically immature.
We cannot choose for ourselves many of the things we are. But we can choose our own level of theological maturity and our own level of spirituality. The fact that much of the church going population continues to be theologically immature signals to me, at least in my opinion, many of the clergy out there are not doing their jobs. That is why over the next few weeks, we will be looking at the issues facing the United Methodist Church with regard to human sexuality and sexual orientation.
I believe one of the best starting points for this discussion is to fully recognize that sexual orientation and gender identity are not choices made by the individual. I do not believe that anyone chooses to be gay or transgendered, it simply is the way they were created; and God honors what God has created.
To consider any other option; perhaps a God that does choose a people, perhaps a God that does bless certain nations or perhaps a God that only connects with a certain faith tradition, or a God that would condemn a specific sexual orientation makes God a co-conspirator with humanity in the glaring inequalities and injustices found in our world. In my mind, that creates an immoral God.
The God that I am in relationship with is not an immoral God.
Go in peace and go with God. Amen.