Making It Up As We Go
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’
So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘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.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
Everyone’s just making it up as they go.
If you need any proof of that just take a look at our online search histories. I checked google for some autocomplete results, those little snippets that tell us what the world is searching for, and these are some of the questions we’re asking:
What should I eat/major in/do with my life?
How do I get a passport/know what iphone I have/live without you?
Why does my stomach hurt/my back hurt/my cat lick me?
What is the best dog food/mattress/probiotic?
Who should I date/vote for/see for depression?
We’ve all got questions, because life is complicated.
If we were another church and I was another pastor, I might direct us now to the bible to find the answers to our questions. Bible over Google! Well, we are going to look at the bible, but less for clear answers and more to find the company of other questioners.
The book of Acts tells the story of the early church, the first Christians, and what happened after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
As you can imagine, it’s a pretty chaotic time. When Jesus first came, people had all of these expectations of what he would do. He would come to save and restore the world. And he did, but not by overthrowing the government, not by becoming powerful and rich, and not by following what other people wanted him to do. Instead, Jesus came by another way, by calling together the lost and forgotten, by loving the unlovable, and by demonstrating love and sacrifice through death and resurrection. This was not exactly the story everyone had been expecting.
These early followers of Jesus must have been confused then as what to do next. We see this when right before Jesus’ ascension, the disciples try to get a straight answer out of him. “Okay Jesus,” they say, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Which in my translation is another way of saying, “Aren’t you going to take care of all of this the way we hoped you would?” And how does Jesus answer? “It’s not for you to know.”
The disciples could’ve seen this answer coming. The whole time they had been with Jesus it had been more questions than answers, more surprise than certainty, so why should now be any different?
Once Jesus did ascend, the disciples were left then to figure out what on earth to do. These disciples were left without Jesus, but they were also left without one of the twelve--Judas. Judas, the disciple who had betrayed Jesus has died, leaving a gap in the group of disciples.
And the disciples do this thing best described by a rubber band. They were stretched by Jesus. Now that Jesus is no longer with them, they snap back a little. “Jesus picked twelve disciples, so we’d better have twelve!” They’ve lost most of their creativity at this point, exhibited by their selection of two other Jewish men to replace the Jewish man they have lost.
But that’s okay. Change is hard, for us and for the disciples, so I certainly don’t fault them.
We want to stick with what we know, and in the church as it is in the rest of our lives, there can be serious denial about the change happening in our lives. How many parents take years and years to take down the poster that their teenage child put up, despite their child having been out of the house for year and that child even has a child of their own?
Yet despite the disciples and our reluctance for change, there’s a glimmer of hope in this story. The disciples have a free-wheeling way to choose this next disciple: they cast lots.
I’m envious of this. I’m not a disciple, but I am a church leader. And I promise you, I had to do a lot more than have my name pulled out of a hat to get into a leadership position. If any of you want to ever read a tall stack of essays I wrote about theology, you’re welcome to them.
The disciples don’t seem to have the church knowledge we have today--to be a leader you must have a committee nominate you, have letters of recommendation, be thoroughly known and interviewed.
Or maybe we’ve forgotten the trust that the disciples had in God’s providence.
Do you think God has a plan for your life?
I’ve thought that for myself for a long time. I was taught elements of that, that God is in control, God has everything mapped out. It becomes a thing people say to one another in times of distress: “Don’t worry, this is all part of God’s plan.”
But my belief in this was challenged, as I expect is has been for many of you, by the great horrors and grief we encounter in the world. Could this really be part of God’s plan? This is one of the most difficult and challenging questions we can ask about God. Was it God’s plan for my family member to die? Was it God’s plan for that natural disaster to happen?
And this question works on an even smaller scale. Was it God’s plan for me to get that parking spot? Was it God’s plan for me to get this job? Was it God’s plan for those lots to choose Matthias?
I don’t have all the answers for this. And trust me, google doesn’t either.
But I can tell you that my understanding of God has grown to include the idea that God might not have a plan, but plans. Not just a single way, but many possibilities. For me, this has been a way of naming that God is greater than our thoughts, more expansive than our words, and more loving and infinite than I can imagine.
Who am I to limit what God has planned?
I see a glimpse of this in the disciples who gathered together, unsure of their next steps. They met and discussed, talked about what to do. And at the end of the day they said a prayer and cast lots.
In this moment, I recognize a deep and abiding human truth: we’re all just making it up as we go along. God has not dropped a clear guidebook of exactly what we should do in all situations, the power that be at google have not clarified all of life’s mysteries for us, and we encounter over and over and over again situations for which we are not even remotely prepared.
There’s a line in a John O’Donohue poem called “For a New Beginning” that says:
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
I think of this when I think about God, and how God does and does not act in ways I anticipate. God does not give me the clarity of answers I always want, but I know God’s presence in the ways I try to find ease in risk. I see God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, in this beautiful trinitarian dance we find in these early story of the church, letting go and reaching out, trusting the leadership of these frail and faulty humans.
Perhaps God knew which of these disciples, Justus or Matthias would be better. But maybe God’s blessing on the casting of lots is the same blessing we receive today: God is delighting in the adventure with us. We do not have to be afraid or even have a few of the answers.