Casting Lots

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 13, 2018

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26


“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”

This ritual that we read about from the Acts of the Apostles is ritual not unlike one that is played out every day on golf courses across the world. Your group stands on the first tee box, and to decide who hits first, you flip a golf tee into the air. And whoever the golf tee is pointing to, has to hit the ball first.

Now, some people like to hit the ball first. I call them maniacs. I’m too much of a head case to go first. So when that tee is flipped and spinning in the air, I’m begging, just begging that it points to somebody, anybody else. Like Moses said to God, “O Lord, send someone else!” But when the tee lands, and the tee points to you, you have no choice. You are the chosen one. 

“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” 

Maybe this is actually an insight into the psychology of men. We all pretend to have self-confidence, but really, we’re much more comfortable flipping a coin when we need to make a decision; sort of plausible deniability of responsibility. Who will kickoff the football game? Flip a coin! Who should tee off first? Flip a tee! Who will become the twelfth apostle? Cast lots!

Now stand there with Matthias. Everybody in the entire world who follows Jesus is right there. Imagine this moment, this precarious moment in the life of the Church. This is just a few weeks after that first Easter. One of their own, Judas, who had been with them for the entire ministry of Jesus, betrayed them all and is now dead. To make matter worse, they are publicly professing faith in a man who was executed as a criminal. Sure, Jesus has told them that something better, something more is coming. But it hasn’t come yet.

It was a troubling moment, a precarious moment in the life of the Church. It was a moment when things could have easily fallen apart. It was a moment when the disciples could have all called it quits, packed their bags, and headed home. The dream could have died right there.

For them, the pressing concern was that, without Judas, there were only eleven apostles now. And twelve, twelve represented fullness. Completion. Twelve apostles represented the renewal of God’s people.

“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” 

It is still, and always will be a precarious moment in the life of the Church. Whether it’s a few weeks or a few thousand years after that first Easter. Things can easily fall apart. Seduced by the powers of this world we too have the capacity to call it quits, to pack our bags, to head home. We can all too easily forget the promise that something more, something better is coming. I think this is much of what we are seeing in our culture today. Cynicism has become a virtue. We tell ourselves that the problems are too big, the obstacles too much. We tell ourselves that we are too small, too busy, to do anything about it. And so our faith becomes a shell of what it means to follow Jesus because we choose not to believe in anything more, anything better.

And when cynicism is born in our hearts the dream of God’s Kingdom dies. Because what cynicism really does is that it crowds out the Holy Spirit. In the face of many tasks and work in front of us, we are content to simply entertain ourselves. Our toys and our gadgets take our minds off the reality to which God is calling us to consider. We tell ourselves we don’t have it in us because it’s just easier that way. Rather than following Jesus, we follow our own bitterness.

But as it was for Matthias just a few weeks after Easter, so it is for us. The lot has fallen to you. The Lord knows each of our hearts, and the Lord has selected each of us. I know there is something in your life in which God is calling you to work for God’s Kingdom. The lot has fallen to you. The tasks in front of you may seem too big, too hard. The mountain in front of you may look insurmountable. You will tell yourself that you do not have the powers, you do not have the right tools. The seductive voice of cynicism is always just right there, trying to convince that it’s not worth sticking your neck out for. Cynicism is telling you that if God really wanted it done, then God would have chosen someone else, anyone else.

But I tell you, there is no one else. The lot has fallen to you.

I think about this every Friday as I drive over to Salyers Elementary School to mentor my student. What is one hour a week with one kid going to do when millions of kids are in need? When millions of kids can’t see a doctor or get a meal? As Saint Paul sees, it feels as if I’m boxing against the air. I should just turn my car around and go home and spend my time doing something more productive. I think about this every day when I look outside at that giant, messy, construction project. How can we, this little community called Holy Comforter, pull off something so enormous? How are we going to continue raising the money, staying diligent, staying focused on our mission to share the gospel? We could just pack it up and call it quits because it’s just too big for us.

“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”

It is, just as it ever was, a precarious moment in the life of the Church. And the lot has fallen to us. It is our lot, in this hour, to be witnesses to the gospel in Spring, Texas.

We must not say that somebody else will do it, or that another, a bigger church should do it. No, the lot has fallen to us. And yes, the task in front of us is enormous. Hundreds of children at our school could use a mentor. Hundreds of residents at local nursing homes would love to see a loving, familiar face every weekend. The task in front of us is enormous. And to be clear, the task of continuing to raise funds for this new church building is enormous. Just as they have only begun laying the foundation, we too have only begun raising money. It will take each of us, bearing witness to the gospel, to accomplish the task set before us.

But perhaps that’s actually the whole point. The work before us is enormous, and that is why I think it’s God calling us to do it. I don’t think God cares much for little things. I believe that God wants wholesale renewal, recreation, re-imagination of the world. God doesn’t tinker around the edges, God makes all things new. Imagine if you only ever tried to accomplish tasks that you knew you could complete without any help. We would lead drab little lives. The world would never be changed. And then cynicism would achieve its final victory over us.

It is a precarious moment in the life of the Church, just as precarious as it was two thousand years ago. Just as precarious as it will always be in the church. We can choose to call it quits, to pack our bags, to go home. We can say that we have given some, and will give no more. We can say that there are simply too many kids, too many hurting people. But do you really want to live that kind of drab, little life? A life of just caring about yourself, an empty, shell of a life? The lot has fallen to you. It was another man, the great Episcopal preacher Philips Brooks who said it best: He said, “O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men [and women]! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come in you by the grace of God.” (taken from "Going up to Jerusalem" by Philips Brooks)

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