By the Rev. Darren Miner
When Americans use the word election, we think of going to our local polling place and voting for the least bad choice of candidates for political office to lead us. But when Christian theologians use the word election, they mean something quite different. In a theological context, election is God’s choosing of a person or a people to lead the world to him. And in all three readings today, we get hints of such divine election.
The reading from Exodus is a clear example. God explicitly states that he chooses the twelve tribes of Israel to be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” He offers to form a covenant with this ragtag federation of tribes. If they obey his voice, he will guide and protect them. And “the people all answered as one: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’” Of course, they didn’t, in fact, do everything that the Lord had spoken! We are given no real reason why this group of people was chosen among all the peoples of the world. But more important than the question “Why were they chosen, and not others?” is the question “For what purpose were they chosen?” What does it mean to be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation”? Well, to be a priestly kingdom is to be a united people under God that serves as an intermediary between God and the Gentile nations. To be a “holy nation” is to be a people set apart and dedicated for God’s express use. In other words, Israel was elected by God to be a light to the nations of the world, so as to draw them to the living God and to salvation.
Skipping over the Epistle for a moment, let’s look at the Gospel reading from Matthew. There, Jesus elects twelve of his disciples as special apostles to the twelve tribes of Israel. They are to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God by word and by deed—by word in their preaching and by deed in their healing of the sick. Their initial mission is to revitalize Israel as that “priestly kingdom” and “holy nation.” He orders the Twelve to focus only on the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not because Gentiles and Samaritans don’t matter, but because this initial foray is to prepare a new Israel to be a beacon of truth to those same Gentiles and Samaritans. This is made clear in the last chapter of Matthew, when the Risen Lord gives his followers the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.
I think it fair to say, Jesus was no Boy Scout, for the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be prepared.” And Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve sound more like “Don’t be prepared.” I would argue, however, that a better summation of Jesus’ instructions is “Don’t be overprepared.” Don’t spend too much time in planning. Don’t bog yourself down with unnecessary baggage. Don’t let yourself be dissuaded by lack of means. Instead, travel light, and trust in God’s providence. Compare this attitude to a church capital campaign or the search for a new rector; typically, planning for any major change in the church takes forever, and discussion inevitably focuses on money. The church no longer travels light—that’s for sure!
Now, Jesus doesn’t paint an overly rosy picture of what he is asking of the Twelve. They are promised hardship and even outright persecution on their mission. But the reward for their effort is nothing less than salvation: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Turning now to St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, we find him mentioning a favorite doctrine of his: justification by faith. And again, we are warned of the need to endure suffering before we can claim the hope of glory. In a sense, justification by faith is a type of divine election. The basic idea is that God calls individuals of every people and nation to faith in Jesus Christ. And by that faith, they are included in a new covenant and adopted into a renewed Israel. These people who are called to faith in Jesus Christ are given a mission, just as the Twelve were given a mission, just as all of Israel was given a mission. In the words of the Collect of the Day, we are to “proclaim [God’s] truth with boldness, and minister [his] justice with compassion.” And we know from Jesus that this can be done without great preparation or vast sums of money. We know from St. Paul that no matter what we face, we can endure, because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
When we look around this room, we can’t help but notice that we are few in number. And the vestry spends an awful lot of time worrying over our finances. Be that as it may, we are not without means! God chose twelve ragtag tribes to found his holy nation. Jesus, his Son, chose twelve common Judeans to renew that holy nation. And now our God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has elected us, has justified us, has empowered us for mission to the world. And folks, this parish already has all that it needs to perform that mission. For it has you! You are all apostles of Jesus Christ, sent to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. So, I urge you to defy despair, to stay steadfast in mission, and to endure to the end. For the reward for our endurance is not just our own personal salvation, but the salvation of the world.
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.