Life of the Beloved: Taken
by Jack Wald | February 15th, 2015

Mark 1:9-11

In sixth grade, my best friend Tom and I both tried out for the part of Santa Claus in the school play. It was a singing part and my aunt tried to help me sing with a deeper voice. (Good luck.) I got the part and my friend Tom told me I got it because I had a strange sounding voice. But it was nice to be chosen.

We celebrate when we are chosen for something we want. It might be admission to a school, or being selected to be on a sports team or an academic team. We celebrate when we are selected for a job. Of all the people who applied, we were selected. That is great news!

Being chosen, being wanted, has a powerful effect on how we feel about ourselves. It feels great to be selected and it hurts to not be chosen, to be rejected.

We are in the second Sunday of a series of sermons about being a beloved child of God. We read in the Bible that we are loved and we hear in sermons that we are much loved. We sing songs that speak of God’s love for us. But when we move from our head to our heart, the message is not so strong. When we get below the surface of the defenses we create to protect ourselves and are honest with what we feel, we are not sure we are loved.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book, Life of the Beloved, “…we not only are the Beloved, but also have to become the Beloved.” When we are saved, we become God’s beloved. God sees us as his perfect child. But then begins the process of becoming the beloved. Nouwen writes that “becoming the beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make.”

It is not enough to know we are God’s beloved daughter or God’s beloved son, we have to accept this truth as a reality in the depth of our being. How do we do this? How do we move through the defenses we have created to protect ourselves from the hurts inflicted by the world and embrace this truth as our truth. In the vulnerability of being present with the pain of our past, how can we say with all our mind, soul, and heart, “I am God’s beloved son. I am God’s beloved daughter.”

To help us with this process of becoming the beloved child of God, Nouwen takes us through the four steps in communion when the bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given. We are walking through these steps with him and this morning will focus on being taken.

Nouwen finds a more helpful word for taken. He says a more personal word is that we are chosen. We are selected. God chooses us.

This is not easy for us to believe. It is easy to know but much harder to believe. And the reason it is so difficult for us to believe is that we live in a world where we experience the pain of not being chosen. In India there is a caste system with five levels. The Brahmins are on the top and the untouchables on the bottom. This is a system embedded in the religious, cultural, and legal life of India. But this distinction is not unique to India. Every country and culture has a system that puts the elites above the less desirable members of the community. In school there are the boys and girls who excel in sports. In the classroom there are those who excel and those who have a difficult time learning. Later in life there are employers and employees. There are bosses and workers. Some get promoted and others get passed over for promotion.

Part of the pain of life is being rejected. We can be rejected by our parents because we do not measure up to their expectation of who we should be. We can be rejected at school. We can be rejected in relationships. We can be underpaid and underappreciated at work while others move up the ladder to success.

Sometimes we are rejected because we don’t work as hard as others do, but most times we are rejected because someone else is more talented, more athletic, more handsome or pretty. Sometimes we are rejected because we do not have the right skin color or the right nationality. Sometimes we are rejected because our parents do not have the right connections or are not wealthy enough to have influence. And so we watch as others go where we would like to go, do what we would like to do.

As a consequence, when we read or hear that God loves us, that God chooses us, it can be difficult to believe.

Jesus told a parable about being chosen.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.  2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

For we who live in Morocco, this scene is very familiar. When I walk up into Takaddoum to the market, I pass a line of trucks waiting by the side of the road for someone to come along and request their service. Across the street there are a large number of sub-Saharan African migrants, waiting for someone to come and take them to do manual labor. As I continue on, I see a line of men sitting on the side of the road with their tools – plumbers, masons, whatever. They are there early in the morning and they wait and wait and wait until someone comes by and says they need their help. They are there in the morning and if they are not hired, they are there all day into the late afternoon.

This is the scene Jesus paints in this parable. The owner of the vineyard goes to the marketplace and negotiates with the workers he needs for that day. He agrees to pay these men, hired early in the morning about 6AM, one denarius for their day’s work. This was a fair wage for working one day. The owner of the vineyard has hired the men he needs for that day. He is done.

But then for some reason, he goes out at 9AM to the market. Perhaps he is on his way to meet someone. Perhaps he has to pick up some supplies. The parable does not say.

3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.  4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’  5 So they went.

Why does the owner hire these men three hours later in the day?

He went to the market and saw them standing there doing nothing. The owner had hired workers in the morning, but so had other owners looking for workers. He and the other landowners left with the workers they needed and these men had been left behind. Now upon his return, he sees these men who were not hired. He sees them and it is his compassion that makes him hires them. It is not apparent that he needs more workers, but he cares about those who do not have work.

“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing.

The owner goes out again at 12 noon and at 3PM and sees men standing there doing nothing and hires them as well.

6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 ”‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

The eleventh hour, 5PM. These are the last of the lot, the ones nobody wants. The last two kids being picked for teams to play football. The ones who are hurting inside. They have waited all day, discouraged because no one wants them, wondering how they would bring home food to feed their families, feeling unwanted and rejected. Can you sense the inner pain these workers felt? They sat all day long in the glare of the public eye, waiting for someone to tell them their help was needed, and nobody came.

Now we come to the end of the day.

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

When the workers were hired early in the morning, they were promised one denarius for the day’s labor. The workers hired at 9AM were told that they would be paid what was right. They expected to get some portion of a denarius. The workers hired at noon, 3PM and 5PM were just happy to get anything, whatever part of a denarius they received would be better than nothing.

But now comes the twist, the surprise, that is found in each of Jesus’ parables.

9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.  10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.  11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

When the workers hired at 5PM received, to their great surprise, a denarius for just one hour’s work, they were ecstatic. They expected very little and received a day’s pay for just that one hour of work.

Now the 6AM workers were thinking. If they received one denarius for one hour’s work, I worked twelve hours and that would be twelve denari of pay. Maybe that is too much to expect but I will surely go home with more than the one denarius I expected.

But then the ones hired at 3PM who worked three hours were given one denarius. The ones hired at noon worked for six hours but still got one denarius.

The ones hired early in the morning are getting upset. This is not fair. The ones hired at noon got paid the same as those who worked for just an hour and barely had time to draw a sweat?

Then the ones hired at 9AM also got one denarius and now the 6AM hires were angry. When they too received just one denarius, their anger boiled over.

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

There is more than one lesson to pull from this parable, but in an honor/shame culture, the culture of Palestine at the time of Jesus, and the culture of Morocco, this is a parable about the shame of those who have been rejected by the world having their honor restored by God. Those the world does not want are highly desired by God. The world rejected these workers in the marketplace but the vineyard owner chose them.

Who you are is determined by God’s choice of you, not by the world’s approval or disapproval. And God views you as his beloved child.

The world has a set of standards by which we are rated. How much money do we have in the bank? What kind of house or apartment do we live in? How tall are we? What color is our skin? How important are our parents? What university did we go to? What job do we have? How beautiful or handsome are we? How strong and how fast are we? How much power do we have?

The world has a set of standards and most of us have suffered at some point in time because we did not measure up. Sometimes we are not in a place where we can use our gifts and talents and we suffer because of that. But sometimes, it is not anything we do, but just because of who we are, that we are rejected.

When someone rejects you because of who you are, the color of your skin, your nationality, your height, your weight, your looks, your perceived talent level, this hurts. We are not unaffected by rejection. Being rejected, unwanted, not valued hurts and this has an affect on who we perceive ourselves to be.

So here is the message from this parable for you.

What this parable reveals about God’s character is that God loves you and searches after you. When nobody else wants you, when nobody else values you, God wants you. God values you. The vineyard owner came into the marketplace and hired people when he already had enough to do the work for that day. The owner did that because he had compassion on those who were waiting. He wanted to restore honor to those who had been shamed.

Many of the parables of Jesus talk about the character of God and how God pursues us. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father sat, day after day, looking for his son to return and when he saw his son far off, he humbled himself by lifting his robe and running to great him. God pursues the ones who are outcasts, unwanted by the world.

Note in the parable of the workers in the vineyard that there is a foreman who oversees the workers. The owner could easily have sat back in the city gates discussing affairs with other important city leaders. But he walks from the country where his vineyard is to the village center where the workers congregate. And he makes the trip four times himself, including a trip at noon in the heat of the day.

This parable reveals the character of God who has compassion on those who are vulnerable and publically humiliated. It is not enough for the owner to send his foreman, he must go himself. His compassion dictates that he go himself to those who are unwanted and rejected.

It was not enough for God to send his prophets and angels, God came himself in his son Jesus to bring the message that he is a God who takes on himself the pain and frustration of those left behind in society. He is a God who restores honor.

God demonstrated his love for sinners through Jesus, and if you study God’s work in history, you see that over and over again, God comes to the side of those who are unwanted. In India, it is the lowest caste that is responding to the Gospel. These unwanted citizens of India are discovering that God thinks they are wonderful and worthy enough to die for them. They are discovering what it means to be loved, independent of their place in society. God comes to those rejected and devalued by society and brings good news of great joy.

God is at your side this morning. When you walk along the street and someone insults you, spits on you, know that God has picked you to be on his team, in his family. You may not be wanted where you are, but you are wanted by God.

God does not look to see who is fastest or strongest or most beautiful. God looks in the heart and makes choices the world does not make.

For anyone here this morning who is in a situation where you do not feel welcome, where you do not feel wanted, God is on your side. God has chosen you to be in his family. Let that feeling of being wanted allow you to keep your head high.

My friend Uchenna is a Nigerian pastor and worked with me in our association of churches. He is now at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and I will have the privilege of graduating with him this coming May. One day he came to the office and told me about an experience he had on the bus that morning. He sat down next to a Moroccan man who looked at him, gave him a look of disgust, and moved to another seat. Uchenna told me that he sat there thinking that if that man knew what treasure he had to share, he would have been begging to sit next to him.

What prevented Uchenna from the pain of being disrespected and rejected? Uchenna knew that he is a beloved son of God and that identity protected him from this insult.

Who are you? Listen to who Peter said you are: (I Peter 2:9)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

You are wanted!
You are somebody!
You are a valued and special child of God!
You are God’s beloved son, God’s beloved daughter.

Let me take you a bit deeper into this truth as I read from Nouwen.
When I write to you that, as the Beloved, we are God’s chosen ones, I mean that we have been seen by God from all eternity and seen as unique, special, precious beings. It is very hard for me to express well the depth of meaning the word “chosen” has for me, but I hope you are willing to listen to me from within. From all eternity, long before you were born and became a part of history, you existed in God’s heart. Long before your parents admired you or your friends acknowledged your gifts or your teachers, colleagues and employers encouraged you, you were already “chosen.” The eyes of love had seen you as precious, as of infinite beauty, as of eternal value. When love chooses, it chooses with a perfect sensitivity for the unique beauty of the chosen one, and it chooses without making anyone else feel excluded.

In the world, to be chosen means someone else is rejected. When I was selected to play the role of Santa Claus in my 6th grade play, my friend Tom was rejected. When you are selected for university, someone else who would like to go is rejected. When you are promoted, someone else is not promoted.

In the world, we are chosen but someone else is not chosen. The world chooses but…
In the kingdom of God, God chooses and… God chooses you and he chooses me. In fact there is not a person in the world that God does not choose to be in his kingdom. Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:3-4
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

God created us to be with Jesus in heaven for eternity. As Randy Alcorn says, “You are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person, and Heaven is the place.”

You are not God’s last minute thought. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3–4
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Did you ever play a pickup sport when you were young? Not a formal sport with adult coaches, but a simple game where two kids are picked to be the leaders and then they stand and face the rest of the kids wanting to play and begin to pick their team. They take turns and pick the best players first. They continue to pick from who is left and as the picking continues, the ones still waiting to be picked stand there, shuffling their feet in the dirt, trying not to appear bothered by the selection process. But inside there is a war going on. There is hurt and shame at not being wanted. One by one these less desirable ones are picked and finally there are just two kids left and the leaders doing the picking say, “Ok, I’ll take Pete if you take Jim.”

We may be on the team, but we feel like we were the last choice; certainly not God’s first choice. God needs a certain number of players on his team and there was no one else to pick. God picked Abraham and set his plan of salvation in motion. Down through the centuries God has chosen people to be in his kingdom and finally he looked around and saw me and a couple others standing around and said, OK, I guess I’ll take you too.”

This may be how we feel but it is not true. We are as much loved by God as Abraham, Moses, Miriam, Rachel, Leah, Judith, Isaac, Jacob, Peter, Mary, Priscilla, and Paul. We are not God’s last, reluctant choice. We are each his first choice. He created us to be with him for eternity and when we take steps to accept the gift of salvation he offers, there is celebration in heaven because one of his much loved children is coming home. He picks up his robes and runs to greet us.

The world may greet you with, “Damn, another mouth to feed.” The world may chose others and reject you. The world may reject who you are. But don’t forget the world is going to be destroyed. The world will not last forever. You are created for a person and for a place and when you understand in your head and your heart that you are God’s Beloved and have been chosen, you can move through the world and absorb its hits and blows.

When I left Rabat on January 1 to meet with counselors in France and then in Thailand, the question on my mind was, “Does Jesus still want me to be pastor of RIC?” I had just completed fifteen years, 2014 had been a very difficult year, and I wanted to know if this was still my call.

In our last week in Chiang Mai, Annie and I spent our mornings at a Catholic retreat center, Seven Fountains, reading, reflecting, and praying. I went into the chapel which has a beautiful crucifix with Jesus reaching forward on the cross in the moment of triumph over death. I would spent about an hour writing and trying to hear from Jesus. Then I would go to a balcony surrounded by green and read from the Bible and a book by David Bosch, Spirituality of the Road. This short book contains lectures Bosch, a South African academic, gave to Mennonite missionaries.

On the last morning in Thailand, I was frustrated because I had not heard from Jesus about my call. I had many other insights but this question had not been addressed. I spent time looking at the cross and listening but heard nothing. So I said, “OK Jesus, do you have anything to say to me?” and heard nothing. Well, I did hear, “I love you,” but discounted that.

I went to the balcony and meditated on a verse from Genesis and then opened Spirituality of the Road to read the last chapter of the book. Bosch draws lessons from II Corinthians and he talked about Paul never doubting that he was where he belonged and was doing what he should be doing. Bosch writes:
The gnawing uncertainty about whether or not we should continue more than anything else hollows out our ministry and destroys our joy.

This got my attention and was exactly what I was experiencing. I read on.

It is as true of the modern missionary, as it has always been of all the generations of missionaries since Paul, that we will not be able to cope with frustrations, disappointments, disillusionment, and shock unless we know that we belong where we are, and are able to draw courage from that knowledge. In Troas Paul had a vision of a Macedonian appealing to him and saying, “Come across to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:10). Yet upon arrival in Philippi, no county orchestra or reception committee greeted him, rather a whip, and a cell in the local prison. Yet he persevered, with joy, for he knew: “This is where I belong!”

Last year was a difficult year for me with a lot of conflict and tension and once again, I sensed God speaking to me as I read these words.

Bosch goes on in this last chapter of his book to talk of the disciples in the upper room the night Jesus was arrested. Judas left after Jesus said one of them would betray him. Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times before the cock crowed twice. He told the rest of the disciples they would all abandon him. This raised questions in the minds of the disciples as they wondered which one of them Jesus was talking about who would betray him. He was talking about dying and they had been thinking he would make himself king. There was a lot of confusion in their minds and then, in the midst of this uncertainty, they heard Jesus tell them, (John 15:16)
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.

I read those words and sensed that this was God speaking to me. I was asking if my call to RIC was still his will for me and this was his answer to me.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.

I put down my journal and put in my earphones to listen to music. My mp3 player is on shuffle and the song that came was a Jason Gray song, I Am Yours.
I bend my knee
This song my plea
Jesus, use me, I am yours.
My dreams, my plans
My heart, my hands
Jesus, use me, I am yours.

I am desperately wanting
To please you
With all that I am
And I know that you don’t need me
But if you want me, I’m yours

My will, my voice
Each word, each choice
Jesus, use me, I am yours.
My blood, my breath,
My life, my death
Jesus, use me, I am yours

If you would choose to use me my Savior
In spite of my fears and all of my failures
I’m not much to look at
But whatever I am, I’m yours

I am desperately wanting
To please you
With all that I am
And I know that you don’t need me
But if you want me, I’m yours

…because you want me, I’m yours

Each word of this song seemed to have been written for me and expressed exactly what I was feeling. I asked the question of Jesus in the chapel, “Do you have anything to say to me?” and left frustrated that he had not spoken. Then, on the last morning at the retreat center, the day before Annie and I returned to Rabat, in the chapter of Bosch’s book and the song by Jason Gray I received his answer. Jason Gray’s song became my surrender to Jesus and my acceptance of God’s love for me.

This was a quiet, gentle experience but I am realizing with time how powerful it worked in my life. I was chosen to bear much fruit. This has given me great confidence that I am where I belong, which is reassuring to me as I look ahead to the next six or seven years. But it also worked deep in my heart to heal me and help me to view myself as being his beloved son. Because I heard that I was chosen I have realized that I am beloved.

I have been surprised since I returned to Rabat how deeply this has affected me. I have much less anxiety about having to perform to justify that I am worthy of being loved and respected. I am much more free to care for people without worrying about what they think of me. These little steps I took in Chiang Mai are taking me far and I look forward to continuing my spiritual journey to discover how much I am God’s beloved son.

I am God’s beloved son, but his choice of me is not a rejection of you. In this finite world, one is chosen but there is not room for another. In God’s eternal world without limitations, he chooses me and he chooses you. We are all his first choice. Not one of us is an afterthought. Before the creation of the universe he held us in his heart and mind. We were created for him. Our birth may have been accidental. We may not have been wanted as infants. The world may not have treated us fairly. We may not be the world’s first choice, but we are all God’s first choice.

The bookmarks that were handed out this morning are a good way for you to remind yourself of who you are. Whenever you are feeling insecure or anxious, look at the bookmark and remind yourself of who you are: loved and resting securely between the shoulders of your father in heaven. (Deuteronomy 33:12)

Hold on to who you are in your relationship with Jesus. (1 Peter 2:9–10)
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

As you accept who you are and move closer in obedience to your heavenly father, hear his blessing spoken to you, “You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”