This evening’s passage from the book of Acts takes us to a small crowd of believers, about 120. Not thousands of people from Palm Sunday, not the angry mob from Good Friday. The believers are meeting to take care of business together. Some time has passed since their last meeting. Some folks have left the cause; some folks have passed away. Peter stands up among them and recounts Judas, and the void he has left behind. I imagine some folks are still shocked, completely surprised by Judas’s actions. Why was Jesus crucified? Was that part of his plan all along? Why Judas? Why our friend? These questions didn’t get answered for the apostles, and we’re still wrestling with them today.
Matthias and Barsabbas were proposed by the group to join the apostles. They all prayed, remembering Judas one more time in prayer, then they cast lots to determine which of these two would become an apostle. Matthias is chosen, and that was that. No argument, no appeal, just the simple understanding that God’s will has been enacted. I’ve never truly thought about the process of casting lots, have you? The action is named around 70 times in both our Old and New Testaments. As the Israelites divide up land in the book of Numbers, as Temple duties are doled out in 1 Chronicles, to determine who caused God’s wrath on a ship in the book of Jonah! Lots were even cast over Jesus’s clothes in the Gospel of Matthew as he was taken to the cross.
This practice is also called cleromancy. Today we’d call it flipping a coin or rolling dice. This was a way to keep partiality or bias out of a decision. You couldn’t say someone’s power or nepotism would affect the outcome, the lots were a chance to move the weight of a decision away from humans, closer to God. Some say the tradition ended in Pentecost when the Holy Spirit reveals itself, but I’m not so sure. I believe we still cast lots today.
There are ways in which lots are cast for us, sometimes. We don’t choose the family we’re born into; we do not choose our mothers. Some feel lucky at their lot in life, some wish that they had been given one more roll of the die when it comes to their family of origin. Yet. Adults have the opportunity to choose their family, there is no room for reinvention. The relationship between what we’re given and what we choose for ourselves is slippery and strange. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between what God is leading me to become and my own strength of will.
When Reverend Campbell told me of his departure, a flood of feelings hit me. I was frustrated, surprised. The structure had been set! I had made plans, he was going to be my mentor, and we were going to work together. His leaving made no sense at first, how could he want something so different from our plan? Around this time my field education supervisor asked me if I wanted to stay with Broadway or find a different field site. I saw the fork in the road. I could start anew and write a new plan for myself or learn from this strange new opportunity that was presenting itself. There was no question in my mind. Even after a few short months at Broadway, I knew I loved it here. How we worship, how we think through things together, this was the congregation I wanted to serve. So I stayed.
As we welcomed Reverend Jeff a few months ago, I began to see how quickly things changed. Jeff’s exuberance and silliness helped me understand more about the sheer breadth of Ministry. There are lots of ways to be a fantastic Minister. Whereas James taught me tradition and structure, Jeff has shaken the can of soda and reminded me that things should get weird sometimes. I want to hold onto both of these as I go – the safety and comfort of where we have come, but also the imagination and big dreams of where we could go.
Let’s not forget about Joseph Barsabbas, the man who was not added to the apostles. We don’t hear much about him after this story. We do know some things, though. Tradition tells us he became a Bishop in the city of Eleutheropolis, known as the “Free City.” Having lost his chance at becoming an Apostle, it’s no wonder he looked for every opportunity to be free. The Holy Spirit or fate or kismet or whatever you want to call it made a decision for Barsabbas, and he lived with it. And yet he chose to serve anyways. He may have cursed God for a period of time; it may have taken years before he talked to Matthias again. But he also found a way to keep doing the work. Even after losing all control, he found a way back, different than before.
Sometimes we cast the lots. Sometimes we rely on our strength of will. About six months ago one of the worst things I could imagine happened in my family. I am still wrestling today with this strange new world, and attempting to come to terms with the loss my family has suffered. My sister Sarah took her life on Halloween, 2017. She understood this strange tension between resignation and agency. Her struggle with bipolar disorder was marked by seasons of mania where she displayed an incredible amount of control and will, and depressive swings that left her feeling helpless and weak. As I was writing this week, I realized I haven’t brought her into this sanctuary yet. So I invite her in tonight, to come visit. I know she would have loved Broadway, she would have talked your ear off in coffee hour; she had a gorgeous smoky alto voice. Sarah’s death was a decision she made, and this decision feels grounded in who she was and also completely random. It doesn’t add up, yet it is entirely concrete, a finished action. Her life is done. As we did not choose or wish for Sarah’s death, a lot was cast for us. As we attempt to honor her life, we do so with the understanding that we are now choosing for ourselves, we have to make decisions based on our memory of Sarah. We cast lots and hope her spirit is honored by what we offer.
When we cast lots, we allow the Holy Spirit to humble us. Declaring ourselves Christians means recognizing that our definition of control always relates to the overwhelming mystery of God. Any power we have in conversation with the spirit’s movement in the universe, which we will never fully know. And yet, the hope and call of Christ requires our hands and feet. If we lean back and let others do the work, we waste these precious few moments we have on earth. Every day is a chance to seek the good and beautiful. Every day is an opportunity to bask in the glory of simply being alive. Every day is an opportunity to see who needs help in our midst.
Broadway United Church of Christ. I am so grateful for the year I have spent learning with you. Thank you for your generosity, your kindness, and for welcoming me, unfinished as I am. This space -- the middle ground of casting lots and finding my own voice has been my cornerstone this past year, I cling to the strange paradox of making confident decisions and knowing that God will do what God will do. Thank you for our time together. As I say goodbye I do so recognizing I’m equipped to keep showing up and working outside of these walls. You’ve taught me how to make healthy mistakes from the pulpit and keep keeping on, you’ve taught me to speak up and let my voice be heard. I will never forget my time here.
I carry your voices and prayers with me, I believe in the future of this congregation and the passion of its people. It has been an honor to serve you. As we boldly step forward into the future, may we do so with the comfort and challenge of how God can surprise us. Amen.