Monday, May 7, 2018
Deciding By Lots
Would you like to lobster or steak? Would you like to spend a weekend in Hawaii or Bermuda? Would you like a hug from your son or your daughter? Would you like something good or something good?
Maybe the most important spiritual principle we can practice is seeing all of our options as good ones. Of course, some decisions don't feel that way, and that's the point. Do you want leftovers or to go out for a nice dinner? Well, I rarely wake up in the morning with my sight set on finishing the day with reheated casserole, but the choice is still mine to make, and, even if I choose to stay home and save some money, it's a good choice. Sure, we're not always choosing between pleasant options. Being asked to pick between an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy and letting the cancer take its course is a decision that no one wants to make. And sometimes there isn't a choice to be made, and that's its own situation for a faithful response which deserves its own post. I'm not inviting you to think of every situation and every option as something you would want. Instead, I want you to consider how every choice, every decision--even if between two undesirable options--is itself a good thing because, no matter what choice you make, you can't choose your way out of God's love.
In Sunday's reading from Acts 1, we hear Peter informing the crowd that one person must be chosen to fill Judas' place and reconstitute the Twelve. On behalf of the discipleship, he identifies two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Both of them had been with Jesus and the other disciples for the whole of Jesus' ministry. Both were qualified. Both would have made a good replacement for Judas. So Peter said a prayer, asking God to reveal which one God had chosen, and they cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.
And he was never heard from again.
No, really, he wasn't. And neither was Joseph Barsabbas. And that's the point. The purpose of this passage isn't to demonstrate that the right person was chosen. If so, there would be fabulous tales told of Matthias' boldness and Joseph's failure. For generations, people would recall how the lot clearly fell on the right person because the proof was plain to see. But no one does. No one bothers to revisit the decision. Every one knows--everyone trusts--that the choice was a good one, and they're ready to move on to the next opportunity for God's work to be carried out.
The real point of this passage is that the twelve were reconstituted to bring about a symbolic, spiritual wholeness that overcame any threat of brokenness that Judas may have represented. And the other point of this passage is that Peter and the disciples trusted that God had given them a good choice, which is to say that they believed that, no matter how the decision was made, it would work out as part of God's plan. Think of it this way: Jesus himself had chosen Judas as one of his disciples, and we all know how that worked out. Despite his treachery and the resulting execution of their master, God raised God's Son from the dead, vanquishing sin and death forever. How much worse could they do?
God didn't reach down and choose the lot for Matthias. And Peter didn't ask him to. Peter prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." Show us. Not, choose the right one. But show us which one you have chosen. The choice was made regardless of how the election happened. The choice was God's. Even if the lot had fallen to Joseph, God still made a choice. Even if Matthias had turned out to be another Judas, God would have shown them his choice in and through them. This isn't God's supernatural tinkering with the laws of nature. This is God tinkering with our hearts and minds until we see that God will always choose...to love us, to save us, to call us God's own possession. What else do we need?
Should we cast lots? Should we pick a vestry by pulling names out of a hat? Should we elect our bishops by drawing straws? Should we vote for our president and representatives by throwing dice? Well, it depends...on us. Can we see and know that, no matter what happens, things will work out? In the story from Acts, both of the men had been with the disciples from the beginning, which is to say that they knew that both were qualified. How they would work out beyond that was clear only to God. Actually, there's nothing wrong with voting the old-fashioned way. That's just another way of casting lots. We don't know the future, but we do know that God will be with us in it. Our job isn't to change the way we make decisions but to learn to trust that, whatever option we choose, God will work in and through it for God's purposes. When we vote, we participate in a choice the outcome of which we cannot see. Our calling is to trust that things will be good no matter what--especially when things don't go the way we want them to.