May 17, 2015 –The 7th Sunday of Easter, Year B
© 2015 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
We have reached a new developmental stage in the Garner household. We are now fully immersed in the realm of the “What if?” What if you didn’t marry Mommy? What if you hadn’t become a nurse? What if we still lived in Montgomery? At first, the what-if questions are entertaining in their possibility. It’s fun to let a child explore the hypotheticals of life—to recognize that things didn’t have to be this way or, at least, to recognize that there is a reason that things are the way they are. But, after a while, what if questions getting annoying. What if Auburn and the St. Louis Cardinals played each other in baseball—whom would you cheer against? What if a tyrannosaurus rex came crashing down the street and stepped right on our house? What if the only thing we had to eat was ice cream? Although we still allow our children to dream out loud about how else things could be, we’ve stopped answering questions about hypotheticals that have absolutely no bearing on reality.
But the truth is that I’m not sure that things could be any other way. While it’s fun and perhaps valuable to reflect on how we got to where we are, I don’t think there’s any point in agonizing over how things could be different. In fact, I’m starting to think that part of what it means to be a person of faith is to accept that, no matter what, where we are is God’s gift to us. That might seem old-fashioned or even fatalistic, but it’s the kind of faith our church was built upon.
Consider, for example, the problem of Judas. One of the first challenges that the Christian movement faced was what to do about the one who betrayed Jesus. Jesus’ followers were convinced that their master was the Son of God—that his life, death, and resurrection were all an expression of God’s salvific plan for the world—but outsiders weren’t so sure. They couldn’t imagine following a messiah who had picked a traitor to be one of his closest friends. “Shouldn’t God’s holy prophet have been a better judge of character than that?” they might have wondered to themselves. But Peter and the other apostles didn’t see it that way. “Friends,” Peter said, standing up in front of the fellowship of the believers, “the scripture had to be fulfilled.” In other words, this was part of God’s plan. It had to be this way—even if it didn’t completely make sense.
But faith isn’t just throwing up your hands at life and saying that there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s more than that. Faith means believing so fully in God’s unfailing love and God’s unconquerable power that we learn to trust that, no matter what, God will provide for us—even in those moments when we can’t see God at work in our lives.
When it came time to pick a new apostle to take Judas’ place, the fellowship of believers put forward two individuals—men who had been with them for the whole journey from the time of Jesus’ baptism all the way through his death and resurrection and ascension. The two whom they identified as worthy of that holy calling were Joseph Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. And how did they decide which one was right for the job? They cast lots. They drew straws. The rolled the dice. They said a prayer and let God decide.
But how in the world is that supposed to work? Does that mean God reaches all the way down from heaven to be sure that the right man is chosen for the job? Does God make sure that the dice fall in favor of the holier candidate—that Matthias gets the sort straw? Now, if you think God cares what roll comes up on the dice, you shouldn’t be here in church. You should be down in Biloxi. (They have Episcopal Churches there, too.) But, at the same time, if you believe that God has no interest in the outcome of human affairs, you shouldn’t be here either. This isn’t a social club. We’re here because we believe that God has a plan for the world and that we are a part of that plan. That much, I believe, is a given. The part that is up to us—the hard part—is making sense of how that plan is unfolding around us and learning to trust that God is in control even when it seems like he isn’t.
What if Joseph Barsabbas had been chosen instead? Would anyone have noticed? Would he have done a bad job? Would the Holy Spirit have failed to show up at Pentecost because the lot fell on the undeserving candidate? Would the Christian movement have sputtered out before it really even got started? Does it matter than neither of these two men is ever mentioned again in the bible?
What does it mean to trust that God will take care of us no matter what? People get frustrated when they come to me looking for advice and all I do is shrug my shoulders and say, “What do you think you should do?” For some reason, they don’t seem to think that “let’s flip a coin” is good pastoral advice. But I mean that—not because I believe that God will alter the way a coin flips through the air to be sure that it lands on tails—or is it heads?—but because I believe that God will always take care of us—no matter what decisions we make.
As Christians, we must believe that God’s love is bigger than the choices we make. Otherwise, life would be unbearable. Imagine the paralysis that would set in even before we got out of bed in the morning if we believed that God’s love and blessing depended upon us making all the right choices. Choice, my friends, isn’t an illusion, but the consequences of our choices are. Instead of worrying about whether you’re making the right choices for your life, try devoting that emotional and intellectual energy to the possibility that God will take care of you no matter what choices you make. Discover first-hand what it means to believe that God is in control of your life instead of you. Discover the freedom that comes from knowing that there is no decision you can make that will set yourself outside of God’s loving plan for your life and for the world.
That’s why we baptize little babies like Lou Lou. As sweet as she is today and as beautiful and innocent as she seems to us now, we all know that someday she will make some bad choices—even some terrible choices. But you know what? We still baptize her into the body of Christ because, as Christians, we believe with every fiber of our being that God chooses her and all of us regardless of the choices we make. God’s love doesn’t depend on our choices. Our lives depend on God’s love. He has chosen us to be his children, and that is the only choice that ever matters.