You did not choose me but I chose you
Do you remember the Wombles? Strange furry creatures who lived underground and went about looking for things left behind.
Great Uncle Bulgaria, old and wise. Madam Cholet, kind-hearted but short-tempered. Tobermory (the handyman), Orinoco (prone to be lazy and greedy), Wellington (clever and shy), Tomsk (sporty womble), and Bungo (bossy and excitable).
The Wombles were created in a series of children’s book by Elizabeth Beresford in the late 1960’s and achieved wider fame when the BBC descended on Wimbledon Common during the 70’s.
The Wombles spent their time gathering things human beings discarded. Before recycling or upcycling was even thought of the Wombles were doing it first. Their motto was, “Make good use of bad rubbish”.
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.
The first thing, God chooses us. God chooses us. We do not choose God. People sometimes think that being a Christian is a lifestyle choice. They describe themselves as a churchgoer, in the same way that they might say they are a golfer, or a horse rider.
You might think you chose to come to church this morning, and indeed in today’s world taking part in worship is just one of many possible options on a Sunday morning, so – yes – you have to choose to be here. But God’s work does not depend on our initiative, God first chooses us, and we decide how we respond.
Being chosen matters. Not being chosen hurts. You can probably remember school PE lessons when teams were picked. I suspect PE teachers back then were blissfully unaware of the damage they did to those whose gifts lay elsewhere. Think of the scene in Barry Hines’ novel A kestrel for a knave, adapted into Ken Loach’s film Kes. Billy Casper is a working class lad abused both at home and at school. His PE teacher, Mr Sugden, was based on all too common reality. There are too many people who go through life not being chosen.
When I was in training a wise old priest came to visit and stayed for evensong and the evening meal.
There was a conversation about hospital visiting. One of the tutors was saying that you should never make people feel you have put yourself out for them. Don’t say you’ve had to make a special journey to the hospital. Tell them you were passing, and just popped in.
The wise old priest nearly spilt his gin with outrage. ‘Rubbish’ he snorted. Tell ‘em you’ve made a special trip. Tell ‘em you’ve gone out of your way. Tell ‘em you’ve cancelled something just to visit them. People need to know they are valued. They are worth your time. They are worth a special journey. Let them know they matter. Let them know they are chosen, to be worthy of your time and attention.
The first thing, God chooses you. St Paul calls it having treasure in clay pots. The Wombles called it Making good use of bad rubbish. This journey begins with God choosing you.
The second thing is that you are called for joy. When we were in Chester I often mentioned the Christians at either end of Eastgate Street.
At the cross outside St Peter’s, on a Saturday, there was usually a small group preaching the word. They were committed but stern. Their message was in their voices and their faces, harsh and gloomy. People hurried past keeping their heads down.
At the other end, outside WH Smiths there was black guy who worked in a local building society. In his lunchtime he’d stand and sing. His favourite song was ‘Happy Days’ and I’m not talking about the Fonz.
It was the Whoopi Goldberg song from Sister Act – Oh happy day, when Jesus washed me, washed my sins away, Oh happy day. His face beamed. His eyes shone, and he rarely sang alone for long. Students and other young people joined in, they’d sing, then they’d laugh, then they went on their way. His joy was infectious.
You are chosen for joy.
Do you know where the word Womble comes from? It is partly based on an old French word, ‘omble’, meaning the offal of a deer. It was the omble pie for the poor, after the best meat had gone to the rich.
Omble is about food, basic down to earth food, a meal that is shared by people who stand together facing life’s adversities. Omble pie is the humble meat, served in pastry to fill people up, it is a meal to be shared, eaten together. When people eat together community is formed.
Martin Percy says that to ‘womble’ is to forage, to hunt around for the unseen, the hidden, neglected, discarded. Jesus both advocated and practiced wombling. When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame. When he visited a town, he chose to spend time with the rejected and overlooked.
In what comes next our churches need to womble. There are many who have become isolated, lonely, and lost confidence. I keep hearing people saying they want to come back, to reconnect, but they are finding it difficult.
We need to womble. To go looking for them, as the good shepherd might. Maybe it is as simple as doing something like making a meal together, choosing to run a lunch club. Sharing a meal, making a space people can come into, creating community. I’m not sure we’d hunt down deer, but soup and a roll might do, so long as there’s cake to follow.
It has been done here before, people tell me the WI used to do it in the Mews. Maybe it’s time to do it again. To womble – looking for the unseen, the hidden, the neglected.
God chooses us. He chooses us for joy. His joy is that we bear fruit, and make a difference.
The YouTube link is https://youtu.be/m4pxMRw2fj8