Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

“I have chosen you”: God’s own
April 10, 2011, 6:50 pm
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A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, 10th April 2011

Throughout Lent we have been meditating on the words of our Lord, “I have chosen you.” To round off this series we are asked to consider the phrase “God’s own”. In a way, this is the logical place to stop: we are God’s own, precisely inasmuch as he has chosen us.

Something is “our own” when we own it. It belongs to us. It is our “property”. We are entitled to say of it, “This is mine.” In what way can we apply this to our relationship to God?

I see two ways of ownership. In one way, something is mine because I have rights over it. I made it, or I bought it. I have a certain power over it. In a certain way, I can do what I like with it: throw it away, or even destroy it. It’s mine.

The prophet Jeremiah went down to the potter’s house, where he was working at his wheel. “And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.” And the prophet had this word from the Lord: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? Behold, like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” A little later, the Lord told Jeremiah to take a clay pot and break it, and to say to the people, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended.”

In this vivid way, the prophet expressed the absolute power and sovereignty of God over the world he has made, and over the people he had chosen. We belong to God, we are his own, and he can do as he likes with us. What a frightening thought!

But there is another way of ownership, another way of belonging. When a lover says to the beloved, “You are my own!” paradoxically it means just the same as, “I am yours!” The relationship of love brings about a mutual belonging.  As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “God is not ashamed to be called their God,” referring to the places in the Scriptures where God himself says, “They shall be my people, and I shall be their God.”

Both the Old and the New Testament speak of the relationship between God and his people as a marriage. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you,” says Isaiah. The Book of Hosea represents God as a husband seeking to regain the love of his unfaithful wife. Our Lord depicts the Kingdom of heaven as a wedding, at which by implication he himself is the bridegroom. The Book of Revelation ends with the vision of the City of God coming from heaven, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

This image is what we should have in mind when we say we are “God’s own”. He loves us, he wants to give himself to us, he wants us to love him in return, so that we can share life together. The great mystical writers- St Teresa of Avila, for instance, or St John of the Cross- speak of the “mystical marriage” between God and the soul. Their experience of prayer was such that they felt almost palpably the love God had for them.

As we draw near to the season of our Lord’s Passion, how can we relate these thoughts to the mystery of Christ’s sufferings? Well, first and foremost by remembering, as constantly and as vividly as we can, that the Passion of Christ is the great sign and expression of his love for us: not just for the human race in general, but for you and for me individually.

When Jesus stood by the tomb of Lazarus he wept, because the love he had for his friend was truly human- “See how he loved him,” said the by-standers. Mary and Martha, when they sent for him to come, said simply, “He whom you love is ill.” St John repeats that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. The Son of God, who is also Son of Man, does not love in an abstract, bloodless way. John refers to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved.” At the last Supper, Jesus said, “I call you not servants, but friends;” philoi, amici, people I love. It was immediately after saying this that he spoke the words we have taken for our Lenten theme: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

It is a real question for us, then: how do we see ourselves? Do we see ourselves as the friends of Jesus, chosen by him? We are, so we need to convince ourselves that this is so. When we think about him- and we should do so at least as much as we think of anyone else whom we love and who loves us- we should remind ourselves:

Jesus came on earth: not just for people in general, but for you and for me.
Jesus was born in poverty, a refugee even as a baby: not just for people in general, but for you and for me.
He brought a message of healing and salvation: not just for people in general, but for you and for me.
He suffered misunderstanding and persecution: not just for people in general, but for you and for me.
He suffered mental and physical torture: not just for people in general, but for you and for me.
Finally, he died on the Cross: not just for people in general, but for you and for me.

Christ does not love in an abstract, bloodless way: no, he pours out his lifeblood for you and for me. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” That is how St John sums up the life of the Word made flesh. “Behold, the heart that has loved so much, and has been loved so little in return,” our Lord said to St Margaret Mary in the convent at Paray-le-Monial. In his well-known hymn, Bishop Walsham How declared:

It is most wonderful to know
His love for me so free and sure;
But ’tis more wonderful to see
My love for him so faint and poor.

From today until Good Friday the cross is veiled: we need to unite ourselves with the Passion of Christ a little at a time, pondering on what it means to say that He has chosen us, that we are His own, until on Good Friday afternoon the deacon unveils it, saying, “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world.” Let us use the next week and a half to deepen our appreciation of the Lord’s sufferings. The Pope’s new book, “Jesus of Nazareth- Holy Week to Easter,” could be very helpful here, but there are plenty of others. Then, on Maundy Thursday evening, we shall appreciate what St John says: “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Having loved his own: we are his own. Then, through the sorrows of Gethsemane and Calvary, let us keep close to him, mindful that he has chosen us.


2 Comments so far
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It has been good to keep up with your sermons at ASC since we no longer have the excuse to journey to Bristol; however, I have been trying to get more information on the Bristol Group of the Ordinariate. Is there anpther blog we can read? I had hoped to follow through in the same way that I can retrace what we have learnt here in the Buckfast Group (Southwest Ordinariate blog – well worth reading, if only for the tadpole saga!)
With best wishes for a Holy Easter.

Comment by S. Ward-Enticott

Some extra information can be found on the Ordinariate website, under Groups, Bristol

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

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