So, we all have times in our lives when we instantly regret our decisions. When we wish we could go back, just a few minutes, and live in that time and have a do-over. I experienced this recently at my favorite place in the world: Target. I never thought Target would be the place to betray me, but it was. It all started when I saw this cool chair that was on sale. I thought, “oh man — this would be a cool addition to my office.” It was one of those butterfly-style chairs that folds up and unfolds. And so, I unfolded it and went to sit down in it and, before I knew it, I found myself in this precarious situation. Now, a few things to notice — first, you can see how the fabric of the chair is attached at the bottom, but NOT attached at the top. This should have been my first warning sign before sitting down, but obviously wasn’t. Second, like any good parent, I’ve securely trapped my two flight-risk children in the cart to prevent escape, so they’re no help. And finally, you’re probably asking, “Where is Amy right now???” And, as you’ve probably guessed, she’s the one simultaneously taking the picture and peeing her pants.
Now, in this moment, I might be laughing on the outside, but I’m utterly dying on the inside because I know I have to get out of this chair somehow and there’s no one there to help me. But, if I could just go back and have another chance at this, I could avoid sitting in this stupid chair and the awkward position it put me in. But that’s not how life works. Sometimes you just have to play the cards you’re dealt and deal with the situation you’re in in this moment. Eventually, thanks to my athletic physique, I was able to maneuver myself out of this situation. But being stuck in a crappy situation is not something foreign to the characters in our story this morning. And that’s really where this passage picks up. They’re in a weird situation; Jesus has already resurrected and ascended; the Holy Spirit hasn’t come yet. One of the disciples has killed himself. There’s no going back now. They’re in this and they have to just figure out a way forward, which is where our story really begins.
So, our passage this morning picks up right after the scene of the ascension where the resurrected Jesus allegedly floats up on a cloud to take his place on some metaphysical throne in the sky, and he’s all #PeaceOut #BRB #TTYL to his disciples. Now, after that happens, it says all the disciples were hiding out in the upper room of a house along with Mary, Jesus’ mother, and all of Jesus’ brothers. And then, after some unspecified amount of time, Peter went out to address the gathering of all the believers, which, according to our text, was about 120 people. And he says this: “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas — for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
Now, I don’t know that we’ve talked about Judas here before, but, as some of you probably know, he was one of the twelve disciples who betrayed Jesus by leading the authorities to him and having him arrested, in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, which, at the time, amounted to about 3 months’ wages. Judas’s actions are what led to his being crucified — not to say it wouldn’t have happened some other way had Judas not betrayed him, but in the scenario that played out, Judas is the one who lit the fuse. And I think there’s actually a really important thing for us to learn from Peter’s words here: Judas was “numbered among us and allotted his share in this ministry.”
Peter is basically saying, “Listen: there was a time when Judas was one of us. He did what he did, and then went his own way. We can’t go back and change that. It’s just the way it is." Does it make him right? No. But it makes him honest. Now, the story of Judas is a contentious one, but if we strip away all the shame and drama so that all we have left is the logic of Peter’s claim, it actually becomes quite useful. Because this happens all the time, here and in every other church. Some people get into a specific community, and they’re there for the long-haul. Some people are just like that. But some people come and be a part of a community for a season until they feel called elsewhere. From time to time, I’ll notice someone who hasn’t been around in a while and I’ll give them a call or grab coffee with them, and they typically express that they just feel like their season here is coming to an end. And—I want to make this very clear—THAT’S FINE. There’s no judgement here when people decide it’s time to move on. This is just part of the process. So-and-so was numbered among us and was allotted their share in this ministry until they weren’t. And whenever someone comes to me to have that conversation, I don’t get mad or defensive or beg them to stay. I give them my blessing as they go and search for what’s next. We’re doing a specific type of thing here at Beaver and, if folks decide it’s not the right fit or they’re feeling called elsewhere, then no one—myself included—has the authority to weigh against that.
Everyone here is allotted their share in Beaver’s ministry. And when the time comes for the next great adventure, then that’s what has to happen. Now, coming back to our passage, Peter tells the believers that Judas was one of them, but now he’s gone and they need to move on. And the way he proposes they move on is by electing someone to take Judas’s place: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all 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.” Now, Peter says this as if it’s a straightforward argument as to why Judas needs to be replaced, and there’s really not. One leading theory is that the twelve disciples are equated with the twelve tribes of Israel, and so that’s kind of the magic number that needs to be maintained among the core group of apostles, but at the end of the day we’re not really sure.
So, they put forward two people — Barsabbas and Matthias. And they do this thing called “casting lots.” We’re not really sure what this practice looked like at this time, but it was probably a matter of rolling rudimentary dice or throwing stones or something. And it’s a practice which would, anthropologically speaking, fall under the category of “divination,” which is the practice of trying to attain special or divine knowledge via the interpretation of physical, mundane objects. So, palm reading, tarot cards, etc. These are modern examples of the interpretation of physical objects being able to relay special knowledge. And, at this time, this practice is alone considered to be the best way to determine divine intent. In Proverbs 16, we see this: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord’s alone.” So this is a practice sanctioned by the scriptures, and it will remain a practice for the Christian community until the Holy Spirit comes and provides what we now understand as the gift of “discernment.”
And, before we get back to talking about Matthias, it would be worth thinking about this idea of casting lots. Because though there was an aspect of interpretation, it was probably something pretty black and white, just like rolling dice. If it lands on an even number, we go with option A, if it lands on an odd number, we go with option B. Something like that. And we tend to think about prayer and discernment in this way, right? “I’ll pray and whatever God lays on my heart is what I’ll do.” Yeah, that’s a nice dream. And sometimes it actually happens that way. But we shouldn’t underestimate the ability of what we want getting in the way of what we need. In other words, we shouldn’t underestimate our abilities to do some mental gymnastics and convince ourselves that God actually told us A when he actually told us B. Prayer and discernment aren’t just hoops to jump through before we do whatever we were going to do in the first place. They’re opportunities for God to reveal his plan for us. And we can either do what our ancient predecessors did and cast the lots without any expectations and follow where they lead, or we can carelessly jump through these hoops without really paying attention to what they’re telling us. Those are the only two choices. So, whatever it is for you that you desperately need discernment on, I encourage you to put it before the Lord without any expectation of the response. And if you do, if you actually start trusting God the way you say you do, then you might actually get some clarity.
This is what the apostles do: they say a prayer, cast the lots, and, as our text says, “the lot fell on Matthias.” Now, the million dollar question is…who cares? Why am I preaching this sermon? This is the only time Matthias shows up in the entire bible. He’s never mentioned again. He’s a footnote. Why should we care about him? And to answer that, we need to back up a little bit to a verse we kind of jumped over: “...one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” This is the whole reason Matthias is important. This is the reason I included him in this sermon series of overlooked characters; because the job of the apostle is the model for how we are to live out our faith in the world, and this is the most straightforward definition of the apostle’s job: to witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Matthias is like the anti-Judas. Judas witnessed exclusively to Jesus’ death, but Matthias gets the chance to witness exclusively to Jesus’s life.
And pay attention; notice how there is no description saying, “witness to the resurrection exclusively with your words.” While that is no doubt part of it, while talking about Jesus and this whole thing we’re doing here is important, there are other ways to witness to the resurrection every day, every hour, every minute. We witness to the resurrection every time we embrace another person with love. We witness to the resurrection every time we fight for the poor and oppressed. Every time we stand up and say it’s wrong to detain kids in cages at the border; every time we stand against racism; every time we stand against powers and principalities and programs and policies that do not lead to life but lead to death.
We are called to witness to life and to witness to it abundantly. We’re called to be the figure of Jesus in this world; to cast light into all its darkest corners; to preach the resurrection everywhere we go and in everything we do. If we can have the courage to do that, then the world would be much brighter and much more loving. And if that’s not the goal of all this then I’m not sure what is. Let’s pray.