06th May 2018 5.00 p.m. Nijmegen
Rev Dr Jos M. Strengholt
Niek decided that he wants to be baptised; and Niek and Suzanne together decided that they want their two children to also be baptised. As a family, they want to be Christians, that is, to serve Jesus Christ. That is a wonderful decision!
But let me tell you something. Maybe you feel that you decided to be baptised, to be a Christian family. But listen to the words of Jesus that we heard this afternoon. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
Yes, you took a conscious decision, but in a mysterious way, it is always God who takes the first initiative to draw us to himself. He really has chosen you.
He chose you to be part of his family, he chose you to be his friends, he chose you to be his ambassadors.
1. Chosen to be his family
First, he chose you to be part of the family of God.
I am sure that you know some families in your neighborhood, or in your wider family, that you really consider as so nice. What are the words that describe that great family? It is not the money they have, or their house. The perfect family we probably all dream of, is marked by words like joy, harmony, peace, love.
Those are actually also the words that the Christian thinkers throughout the centuries have always used to describe the life in God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are united in love, and joy, and peace.
And see what Jesus offers us! He
speaks of the love of God his Father for him, for Jesus the Son of God. And Jesus in his turn, speaks of his love for us. He links us to the love that exists in God. That is what he offers us. To participate in such love.
He tell us that we must abide in his love – that means what? Imagine the love he has Sermons
for us as a cloud that overshadows your life.
To be loved and to feel loved, that is humanity’s greatest need. To feel cared for all the time. Is the lack of such love not the greatest need of our time? Many people have everything they need, but they are deeply unhappy because they are not truly loved.
Imagine that we could experience this love of God and of Jesus! And this is actually what Jesus offers to his disciples.
And he offers perfect joy. That comes, I guess, automatically in the slipstream of feeling loved. However hard our life may be, with sickness, death, poverty, unemployment, deep joy is available in the storehouse of God.
A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms, and nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than its connection with black clothes and long faces. It is true that the Christian is a sinner, but he is a redeemed sinner; and therein lies his joy. How can any man fail to be happy when he walks the ways of life with Jesus and as a member of the family of God.
2. Chosen to be his friends
Beside being members of his family, Jesus also calls us his friends.
He tells his disciples, his followers, that he does not call them servants any longer; he calls them friends. This does not mean that we are not also to serve him, but we do this, with a friendship relationship as the basis.
To be a servant of Christ is a title of honor. In the bible, Moses, Joshua, David, the apostle Paul, the apostle James, they all call themselves servants of God. Even Jesus himself called himself a servant. To be a servant was a badge of honour – if you serve the right Master. The greatest men in the past were proud to be called servants of God.
But Jesus says: “I have something greater for you yet, you are no longer only servants; you are my friends.”
The term servant focuses on what you do. The term friend, to use a difficult word, is ontological. It is about who you are.
Christ offers an intimacy with God that goes further than how we obey God. We are his family, and we are his friends.
Let me illustrate this with an example from a custom at the courts of the Roman Emperors and of the eastern kings that illustrates how amazing this is. At these Sermons courts there was a very select group of men who were called the “friends of the king”, or the “friends of the Emperor”.
They had access to the king whenever they wanted: they even had the right to come to his bedroom at the beginning of the day. He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers, and his statesmen. The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him.
And Jesus says to you, that you are his friends; that you are friends of God. That is a tremendous fact. It means that no longer do we need to gaze longingly at God from far off; we are not like servants who have no right whatever to enter into the presence of the master; we are not like a crowd whose only glimpse of the emperor is in the passing on some state occasion.
Jesus gave us this intimacy with God, so that he is no longer a distant stranger, but our Father, and our friend.
3. Chosen to be his ambassadors
But as family of God, and as friends of Jesus, we do desire to serve. That is our honor.
Jesus did not only choose us for a series of tremendous privileges. He called us also to work with him and for him, in this world.
Jesus has given us the honour of making us partners in his task. He has shared his mind with us, and opened his heart to us; we read of all this in the Gospels. And the tremendous choice laid before us is that we can accept or refuse partnership with Christ in the work of leading the world to God.
Jesus chose us to be his ambassadors. “I have chosen you,” he said, “to send you out.” He did not choose us to live the life of hermits, or to keep our faith hidden behind our front door. But we are to represent him in the world. That is a public function. When in the Middle Ages, a knight came to the court of King Arthur, he did not come to spend the rest of his days in knightly feasting in the castle. He came to the
king and said, “Send me out on some great task which I can do for you.” Jesus chose us, first to come in to him, to become his family and his friend, and then to go out into the world. And that must be the daily pattern and rhythm of our lives. To connect with him, prayerfully, at home and in church, and then to to be his ambassador.
The ambassador must at all times be a good advertisements for his king. And if you ask, what must an embassador do, then the answer of Jesus is logical. How did Jesus present Sermons
himself to us? He says: I have loved you, abide in my love.
And how do we behave as true ambassadors? Jesus says: “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”
We are chosen for love. We are sent out into the world to love one another. Sometimes we act as if we were sent into the world to compete with one another, or to discuss with one another, or even to quarrel with one another.
But Jesus sends us out, not to argue others into Christianity, but to attract them into it; he sends us out so to live, so to love, that other people also want to hook into the true source of love – into God, for God is love.
And here, in our family gathering, here as friends, Jesus is in our midst and he tells us to focus again on what is truly important.
His joy, his peace, his love are available, if we go to him, the one who is love himself. And the more time we spend with him, the more we enjoy his love, the easier it becomes to also show serious, real love to each other.