Sermon: Choices, Choices

May 13, 2018
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

This story of the early church sits between that of Jesus’ Ascension – when he left his followers after spending the forty days since his resurrection teaching them further – and Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit sent them out into the public squares to begin their new and bold public witness.

They didn’t seem to know precisely what was coming, or when, and the text just before this says they spent a great deal of time praying, but they also decided to deal with what we’d probably think of as an administrative need. The primary leadership circle had a vacancy. The twelve, thanks to Judas’ defection, had become eleven.

They didn’t really need a twelfth for practical reasons. When your group is about 120 people, eleven leaders aren’t much different than twelve. They needed it for religious reasons. Jesus had chosen twelve to echo the ancient twelve tribes of Israel. There ought to be twelve.

But how to choose?

Let me change things up a little with a more contemporary example. If the Search Committee for Church of the Holy Cross had done things the way Peter and the early Christians did, they would have sorted through prospective candidates, looking for people who had been engaged in the faith for a long time. When they got it down to just a few – two, perhaps – they’d have stopped with the comparisons and turned to chance.

They’d have tossed a coin. Or thrown dice. That’s what it means to “cast lots.”

The ancient Christians left the final decision to chance.

Well, not to chance. That was neither their thinking nor their intent. That final toss of the coin, or cast of the dice, was a way to include God in the selection. They wanted a way for God’s opinion to be sought and to be understood. God, they believed, could turn the coin, or the dice, and so God’s will would be known.

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

I must say, using this procedure might have speeded up our Search Committee’s work a few years ago. In Bible Study this week, I pointed out this procedure to Woody Kita, who will be chairing the Search Committee for the next Hawai’i Conference Minister, and I think I saw the wheels start to turn…

I have, in fact, used something like this, not so much to make decisions, but to have some kind of conversation with God, to find a way to listen for God. Way back in seminary, for some reason I was alone in the gym shooting hoops.

I have no idea why. I was not then, haven’t been since, and will almost certainly never be anything of a basketball player.

Basketball practice turned into a prayer exercise. I started asking God “yes or no” questions, and then I’d toss the ball toward the hoop. If it went in, I’d consider the answer a “Yes.” If I missed, it was a “No.”

To my surprise, I found it a remarkably coherent conversation. To my dismay, God’s replies to my questions weren’t very often what I wanted them to be. In my experience, if God’s wishes sound much like your own, it’s probably not God you’re listening to. But that seemed to confirm that God was at work in this “game.”

Incidentally, this would never have worked if I were a better basketball player.

The real question for us is: how do we make room in our decisions for the guidance of God?

How do we know what God wants, and wills, of us?

There are some excellent places to start. Francine Rivers wrote in As Sure as the Dawn, “God’s will isn’t hidden away like the myths and philosophies and knowledge of the world. Jesus told us openly and daily what his will for us is. Love one another.”

I think you may have heard something like that from me and from countless preachers before. At least I hope you’ve heard it from me.

The Scriptures, as the recorded witness of faithful people over a thousand years, put some flesh on the bones of “Love one another.” They will not provide a concrete answer to every question. These are ancient books, and they reflect their time and place. There are questions of our time that they don’t consider, let alone answer. They’re finite; they don’t include the totality of our infinite universe.

But if they don’t always answer questions they do display ways of asking questions.

The basic way is to ask questions and leave space for God to answer. In some ways, our prayers here in worship provide very bad examples of how to pray. We speak, and we speak, and we speak, and then we say, “Amen.” And we do this in a church that boldly proclaims that God is still speaking!

Imagine a friend who did that to you.

“I have this problem, and this concern, and this need, and oh, yes, I’m really grateful for the way you helped fix my car or my door or my mailbox (thanks, Woody!), and I’ll talk to you again in a week Good-bye!”

We don’t stop to let God get a word in edgewise.

So in your prayers, make some room to stop and listen. Pay attention to how you feel, and what you feel. Do any new ideas occur to you? Does your attention move to something else? Maybe something will happen, and maybe not – but leave some space for God.

And then make your choice.

This has been a week of choices. Some have been made well, and some not so well. In the week before Mother’s Day – seriously, in the week before Mother’s Day – the Justice Department announced that it will separate parents and children when they cross the border without permission. I don’t need to toss a coin or cast lots to know what God thinks of this.

We have also seen our neighbors step forward to help one another as lava erupted in Leilani Estates. As is usually the case, there was some duplication of effort and some well-meaning but entirely impractical donations. I heard a county official wondering how somebody would think giving a second-hand sofa to people losing their homes made sense.

There’s room for good, solid thought in making decisions.

There is also room for prayer and for seeking after God’s will. I do not know whether the current eruption is the direct will of God. Elijah, you might remember, experienced a fire, and a wind, and an earthquake, and the Lord was not in any of them. In other events, however, the authors of Scripture did see the presence of God.

I do believe that God has established some freedom in the Creation, a freedom which allows this thin spot in Earth’s crust to raise molten rock to climb above the ocean, and create this island upon which we live. That freedom is the foundation of our homes, but that freedom can also shake them until they come tumbling down.

At minimum, that reveals the will of God to be our freedom and also the freedom of the Earth, even of Tutu Pele, however you choose to understand her.

The world’s choices are theirs. Other people’s choices are theirs – though we might seriously consider contesting the choices of certain governmental officials when they’re clearly in the wrong. Our choices are our own.

And in the choosing, we can make room to listen for God’s prompting, and guidance, and grace. In the choosing, we can seek advice from the wisest of all. In the choosing, we can open our souls.

Let’s let God get a word in edgewise, and then: choose.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Is it close? Yes. Is it identical? Of course not.

The image is from John Gilmary Shea’s Pictorial Lives of the Saints, New York: Benziger Bros., 1889. Page 108., Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on May 13, 2018

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