I had the privilege of serving as the minister at Grace United Methodist Church in Wyckoff, NJ on Sunday, April 23, 2023.
The following is the sermon I delivered:
Have you ever looked at a common word and thought that it was spelled incorrectly? You see the word, you can read it but it just doesn’t seem…correct.
I remember being in high school, probably not paying much attention to the teacher, and noticing the word “exit.”
I simply didn’t look right.
But it was, of course.
Sometimes words, properly spelled, don’t look right.
During the summer, we spend a lot of time at the Jersey Shore, on a little island called Chadwick.
As we pass through Point Pleasant on the way home there is a highway sign that honors some heroes from the Korean War. For years I looked at the sign and figured there was a misspelling on it.
Or I figured I read it wrong since I usually pass it going somewhat quickly and it’s situated in a strange location not quite easy to see when driving.
Or I figured that I just spelled the word incorrectly in my head.
About a year ago, I decided to look into that word.
It wasn’t what I thought.
The word was what it should have been.
And I also spelled the word in my head correctly each time I passed the sign.
It’s just that the word used on the sign was something I had never heard of before.
And that frustrated me a bit because it referred to an important event history and I like to think that I’m a student of history. After all, I was a history teacher.
I know quite a bit about the founding of our nation and George Washington and all of that. I have studied the Civil War in detail.
I used to do Boy Scout trips at Gettysburg over four days teaching all about the battle. A decade later people still tell me that my Gettysburg trip was the best one they ever went on.
And, of course, I know a lot about baseball.
But I don’t know much about the Korean War.
We never studied it in school.
I have read a lot on World War II and on Eisenhower and Truman and Kennedy and a bit on Vietnam and Watergate, but the Korean War gets forgotten in the middle of all of that.
The only connection most people even have to the Korean War is the TV show M*A*S*H.
In the Korean War, there was a major battle that took place at the Chosin Reservoir. a man-made lake located in the northeast of the Korean peninsula. From the end of November to mid-December 1950, it was the site of one of the most brutal battles between in the Korean War. For approximately seventeen days, roughly 30,000 U.N. soldiers and marines faced an enemy force estimated at around 120,000 in this reservoir in lethally cold weather.
The highway sign outside Point Pleasant honors the soldiers who fought there… in the Chosin Reservoir. I was said that none of the men who survived the horrific battle were ever the same. Today they are remembered as “The Chosin Few.”
The Chosin Few…
I don’t watch much TV.
The little TV I actually watch only plays when I’m exercising. If I sit down to watch a show, I usually fall asleep.
Yes, including when I watch the Yankees.
“Oh, it’s the eighth inning already?”
But I found a show, and I can’t get enough of it.
And its title is very similar to the name of that reservoir and battle depicted on that ugly sign outside Point Pleasant.
It’s the story of Jesus and his disciples and their lives together.
It’s called, The Chosen.
And it’s amazing.
I’m not here to advocate for a TV program. I don’t care what you watch, but over the last many weeks, when I talk with someone who I am comfortable with and I ask if they have seen it, the same reaction takes place each time.
Me – I have a crazy question for you. Have you seen The Chosen?
Them – YES! Oh my! It’s unbelievable.
I was recently putting the finishing touches on a book I’m writing (it’ll be out next year) but I kept binge watching The Chosen instead of polishing and editing and all of those necessary tasks.
I don’t binge watch anything. Ever.
But I did for this.
And I didn’t fall asleep.
In short, the story is about Jesus’ disciples. Each of them. All of them.
The program isn’t like anything I have watched before.
These followers of Christ are shown to be people, real people, with questions and doubts and jealousies as they wonder and wander as they follow Jesus.
The disciples are depicted as human and they’re very real, but at the same time, so is Jesus. The all come across as authentic. I have found that the show helps to build my faith and my understanding…
Before watching The Chosen, I never really thought much about Jesus’ disciples.
“Follow me,” Jesus said, “And I’ll make you fishers of men.”
So they did.
That was the story, as I always considered it. I never really thought about what the disciples thought about.
And they did.
I never wondered if the disciples doubted. (Well, except for Thomas. And I thought that was what actually made him special or different.)
But they all did.
And not just occasionally.
They didn’t even necessarily understand why Jesus chose them as individuals and as a unit.
What was he doing?
In essence, the disciples of Christ were the chosen ones.
One might say they were the few who were actually chosen, but they weren’t.
Because Jesus didn’t just choose a few.
He chose many.
He chose… us.
This is the story of the Bible.
This is the story of Jesus.
And of his resurrection and of our faith and of God and of our lives.
We are the chosen.
All of us.
Jesus chose… us.
God chose us.
The Bible talks about this from the start.
In Deuteronomy 14:2 it reads:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession.
Isaiah 43:10 contains the words:
“But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the Lord. “You are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God.
Galatians 1:15-16 reminds us:
“But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace.”
And Ephesians 1:3,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”
God chose us.
It wasn’t just the disciples that were chosen. It was all of us.
It IS all of us.
God filled us with the glory of his Word. With his stories. He has shared these with us throughout our lives to have and to hold and to cherish and to consider in our hearts and in the way in which we live our lives.
And what does God ask back from us… except that we love him in return and that we live our lives glorifying and honoring his holy name.
God sent Jesus to the world, for us, to redeem us, to forgive us from our sins, but also to glorify his name and his kingdom.
Like the disciples in the television series, there might be times when we don’t understand, or question things, or have doubts… we’re only human after all.
But we are the ones he chose, all of us, to hear this word, to receive this word, to question and to find understanding in his word. He chose us to live out his word, today and ever more.
He chose us.
And when we live our lives in our best ways, and when we love as he loved, and when we see every other person, all of us, as special beings, made in God’s own image.
When we love and when we give and when we cherish…
We are also choosing.
We’re choosing God.
We’re choosing to be true followers of Christ.
In Deuteronomy 10:12 it reads:
“What does the Lord your God want from you?
The Lord wants you to respect and follow him,
To love and serve him with all your heart and soul
And to obey his laws and teachings.”
When we do these things, with all our hearts and all our minds and all our souls, God knows that he did right in choosing us.
Reverend Neville recently shared the following story with me:
Curtis Buthe is a pastor in Oregon. He wrote the following:
Soccer season was starting once again.
I went to the field with my five-year-old daughter.
As we walked to the first practice, I was anxious to see who the coach would be. Would his focus be on making the game fun and a team experience, or would he focus on goals and winning? As practice began I met the coach, Ray. My first impression was that Ray was a good man. Any lingering doubt about him vanished when an odd incident occurred during a practice game: the white shirts versus the blue shirts.
As they began, an olive skinned little boy who (we later learned) spoke no English wandered from the playground equipment over to the sidelines of the game. He watched. He waited. Moments later, I looked for him again, but he was gone. Then I noticed there were now thirteen players running up and down the field. The boy, perfectly camouflaged in blue shorts and a white t-shirt, had joined the white team. He ran, he passed, he kicked. He smiled.
No one seemed to notice that he wasn’t a part of the team. No one yet said, “He hasn’t paid the fees! The proper forms and releases have not been signed!” Soon, however, a ball rolled into a mother’s lap, and as the new boy ran to fetch it, the mom innocently said to the coach, “He’s not on the team.” The kids, who had not even noticed that a new friend was on the field, stopped. The coach looked down at the now very dirty boy, saying, “He’s not? Hmm.”
There was a pause as the boy looked up at Ray, who held his soccer fate, at least this on day.
Finally Ray made his judgment. He put his hand on the boy’s small back and said, “Come on! Let’s play soccer!”
None of us deserve to be on God’s team. We haven’t earned it. Nor have we paid the price ourselves. Yet, in his grace, Jesus chooses us to be on the best team in the universe.
We are the chosen.
Go forth and love in abundance.
In God’s name and in Jesus’s name. Ever forward. And always.