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Acts 1:15 -16 & 21-26
The sermon begins with gathering people willing to participate in a hands-on activity and having them draw straws from my hand. The “winner” gets to preach the sermon and the pastor sits down on the pew before calling the prank off to continue…
We’re in chapter one of the Book of Acts this morning and we find the disciples – only 15 verses in – already frustrated. Reeling from the whole resurrection thing, they are forced to contend with the realization that IF he were resurrected as he said, and he has been, then that must mean the other stuff he said was true, too. So, he’s back, but things have not turned out the way they thought they would. There is no magical transformation of the world, in fact, the message is the same message we struggle with now – wait. The promise of God’s justice and mercy is yet to come. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…seems more like the DMV than the kin-dom of God.
And then there is this crisis of leadership. Who fills the void left by Judas? One might argue that there is no void. I mean, we’re not exactly looking for more of what Judas brought to the table, right? But we do still need that 12thdisciple – kinda rounds out the set, you know? That way you can break into three groups of four or four groups of three, or partner up with six. Makes meetings go faster. Plus Judas kept the books, which can be the hardest position to replace.
The text says that there’s about 120 Jesus followers at this time and when they decide to replace Judas, they nominate two –Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. I wonder how that all went down? Did they start an elaborate bureaucratic process where Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias submitted their resumes and had a series of interviews and deep discernment so they could finally submit them to an ecclesiastical council and thenthey could apply for the job? Or were Joseph and Matthias late to the meeting? Did they walk in about 10 minutes after the gavel and Peter and John go, “Hey, guess what guys? We went ahead and volunteered you for the vacancy.” Did they have a chance to walk away, to choose a different path, to ignore this call of the Spirit moving them into uncharted territory?
This is perhaps the relevant part of this text for us, for who are we if not the next in line to be apostles? Who are we if not here to help lead the church into a new world, on new ground, with a new vision from a God who has written a comma into our lives, not a period? There was no guidebook for the early church. As hard as that is to imagine for us with our Constitution, by-laws, and policies and procedures, the reality is that they were making it up as they went along…and this is not only accepted, it is part of our holy scripture. Even those notchosen, the ones who didn’tget the short straw, still had a part to play. Were they not still disciples, still followers of Jesus? We may not know their names, but that doesn’t matter. The willingness to hear the Spirit’s call and to follow is what matters, for more often than not God uses our everyday lives, not the extraordinary ones, for God’s work. If we can learn to listen…
Our spiritual history tells us that we stumble our way into the path that God has in mind for us. It is more improvisational than planned, for we are often faced with a hand stuffed with straws and we either get the long one, or we sometimes don’t choose at all. That only means we’re available for the next thing the Spirit has in mind, if we will keep listening. But I have some tough news. Hearing the Spirit isn’t easy. We don’t speak “spirit-ease”, at least most of us don’t. Working with the Holy Spirit is like having the best map right in front of you, but it’s in ancient sanskrit and you can’t read a bit of it.
We must learnto hear from and trust the voice of the Holy Spirit, to help each other discern Her voice, for the challenging part of our Bible-centric way of doing church is that the Bible cannot cover all the situations we encounter. We don’t, for instance, have a specific Bible verse that tell us exactly how to approach a bill from the legislature that would make it legal for adoption agencies to discriminate on the basis of “religious conviction” and still receive state funds. That bill, as many of you know, was just signed by the Governor. We have passages that some people use to judge the LGBTQ community, and some passages that tell us how we are to respond to sin amongst us – hint, it isn’t by denying people families. We have passages that tell us about the directive of love and passages that are super, super judgey and mean. But none that say, if thisprecise issue comes up, do that. We have to discern. We have to weigh all of the passages we see and make a decision about who we think God is and where we think God would have us go.
The Book of Acts, and the whole of scripture, is full of these “short straw” moments, where we are being asked to step into something new, to do something we feel unprepared for, to understand that we worship a “still-speaking God” who is not bound by what God has done in the past, nor trapped by our ability to perceive what God is doing. Where, we ought to ask ourselves often, is God placing us now in the ongoing story of the Jesus movement? Where are we being guided, at a time when “religious practice” and “individual freedom” get used to justify all kinds of mean-spirited and even evil actions? Where is God’s hand being set out for us, straws in place, at a time when being “Christian” seems to mean we focus on a few passages about specific sins and ignore the vast collection of commands that we care for the widow and orphan, even if it raises our taxes, that we shelter the weak, even if we must give up some of our strength, that we welcome the stranger, even if that is uncomfortable or inconvenient, or requires us to learn a little Spanish? Hearing the voice of the Spirit is hard, particularly when She is drowned out by the cacophony of 24-hour news, social media posts, the constant defense of our position and the endless noise of entertainment. It all shapes our hearts in feedback loops that don’t bring us closer to God.
There is no road map for this thing called life. We may want it to be neatly organized or predictable, or fair and just. We may seek in it a purity that we will never find. We may seek to get through it without getting the short straw, but you know what? That short straw- that directive to do the thing you don’t want to do, to take the step you don’t want to take, to labor in the way you don’t want to labor – that might just be the voice of the Spirit speaking directly to you, asking you to choose boldly, knowing that there is nothing you can do that with separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. The Spirit is here ready to move forward with us into a new future, with all our imperfections, standing beside us with our broken parts, beckoning to us as we drift off the map with a holy GPS…recalculating, recalculating…
The world needs your voice – YOUR voice – so make time to listen to the call of the Holy Spirit and then say, send me, use me, fill me.
Pick a straw. The Spirit is calling.