Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

Watch Here (TLC Worship Service 05/16/2021)

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

I want to start this morning by acknowledging the pain and violence in Israel and Palestine. Incidents at the start of this past week triggered historic resentments and anger which has reignited a deadly cycle of violence in the Holy Land. If you’ve been following the situation, you know that over a hundred fifty people have been killed since we met here last Sunday.

Palestinians report 41 children are among the 145 Palestinians killed. Israel report 2 children among the 10 dead. That’s 43 children killed in the last week alone – incidentally, the exact same number of the T.E.C. School (K-8) that rents from us here at Trinity. Think of that – the equivalent of the T.E.C. School killed in the past week.

One of the scariest parts of this conflict, is a report I read from an American living in Israel of violence in formerly peaceful mixed Jewish Arabic towns. It’s one thing for the leaders of people to posture and politic, but apparently violence has erupted between formerly peaceful and cooperative neighbors who are now attacking each other. The violence, hatred, and misunderstanding seeps deeper and deeper into the fabric of daily live.

As Christians, what can we do?  What should we do?

First, let us pray. Let us pray for peace. Peace that is not just the absence of conflict, but is the presence of understanding, mutual respect, and justice. 

Second, let us seek to understand in new ways.  We have the obligation to move beyond shallow summaries and soundbite answers, into the deep seeded issues, pain, and complexities at work. Let us listen and hear in new ways the hopes and fears of both Israelis and Palestinians. 

Third, let us also recognize and acknowledge our own complicity in the situation. We send $3.8 billion of American taxpayer money to Israel every year. That’s $11/American.  Or, think of it this way, the 60 people here this morning have made a $660 contribution to Israel for the purchase of missiles, tanks, guns, and weapons. We are involved in this conflict, and we must be responsible for our complicity.

Instead of violence, let us take a chance on love. Let us take a chance that the right course is not war, but is mercy and compassion. Let us find our hope not in attacking one another, but in loving one another.

In our First Reading today, the disciples rolled the dice.

Rather, the disciples cast lots in order to decide who would replace Judas. Judas had chosen violence as his path. He had chosen self over community, profit over service, and betrayal over loyalty. Because of his actions, the band of 12 disciples had been reduced to 11. In response, Peter suggested they needed to find a replacement for Judas.

But it was not easy to find a replacement for Judas. Apparently the bench was deep and strong, and so when they tried to bring a substitute for Judas, two equally deserving candidates emerged: Matthias and Justus. But the disciples couldn’t decide between them, and so after they prayed they cast lots. They left it up to chance.

It’s interesting to note that while it seemed so important at the time to replace Judas, neither Matthias the winner, nor Justus the loser, are ever heard from again in the scriptures. Likewise, the Twelve as a decision making group, isn’t mentioned in any decision making capacity after this moment. One theologian (Bernard Brandon Scott) writes that while “the selection of Matthias would seem to indicate the twelve apostles are to be an ongoing group, such does not turn out to be the case. They disappear into the mist of history …”

So why replace Judas at all? If we never hear about Matthias or The Twelve again, what’s the big deal about finding a replacement? One way to look at it, is that in selecting Matthias, the disciples restored what was broken so that Jesus’s promise would be fulfilled. In the last supper, Jesus conferred authority upon the 12 disciples, and promised that they would have authority over the twelve tribes of Israel. authority over the twelve tribes of Israel.

For this reason, it was less important about who filled the 12th spot, and more important that the 12th spot be filled. Writes Lutheran professor Erik Heen: Once the circle of the Twelve has been restored, the pouring out of the Spirit can occur, which is fittingly described in the next set of readings on the Day of Pentecost. After Pentecost, “the Twelve” as an entity does not … The gift of the Holy Spirit is not given exclusively to 12 insiders, but given to the church

The decision to replace Judas, in the context of God’s plan of salvation, has me thinking about how we make decisions today.

The decision to replace Judas was for the sake of a taking one step that led to the next step: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Twelve. While the decision was cast in lots, it was NOT CAST in the stone of a statue, but as a stepping stone to what God would do next – a momentary decision in the sweep of God’s salvation history.   

I wonder if this story of the selection of Matthias, reminds us that all those decisions we make that seem so important and vital, are all just stepping stones, waypoints, in God’s plan of salvation that relentlessly marches on. Those decisions we obsess over fight over, argue over, and spend so much time thinking about, are all really just moments in time, in which we intersect with God’s movement which is always to newness and wholeness. Our decisions today are not decisions about all times and places, but just for today, because other decisions will come.

The disciples chose Matthias to replace Judas. It was an important step that led to the next step: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the crowd gathered on Pentecost Sunday. And the Holy Spirit poured out led to the ongoing evolution of a living and active body of Christ, the church, that continues to move forward.

As we make decisions today, as we consider important and necessary topics, what if we did so with a sense of humility that any decision is just one momentary step in God’s love for the world? What if, after careful prayer and consideration, we learned to roll the dice and take a chance on the choice we think best reflects who we are as disciples? What if it’s less important about getting it right, as if there is such a thing as a right answer, and more important to actively participate by faith in God’s plan of love and justice for the world

In his prayer of Jesus for the disciples in today’s Gospel reading, we read that Jesus prayed the disciples joy would be made complete.

 Jesus didn’t pray that his disciples would be removed from the world, or that they would escape the hardships and challenges of life, or even that they would escape the consequences of their bad decisions. But rather, that in all things, they would remain united in faith in God, and being united in God, they would find their joy through whatever came.

Could our joy be found today in rolling the dice, in taking a chance on what we think it means to reflect God’s love in the world? Could our joy be found in the liberation that we don’t have to get it right? That even when we fail, even when we make bad choices, God in the mercy of Jesus Christ meets us in death and resurrection to help us start over again!

I have shared before that I have family members who made bad decisions and ended up in State and Federal Prison in the Midwest. They did the crime and then they had to do the time. And while their decisions did not reflect God’s will for them,  neither did their decisions place them outside of God’s mercy.

They broke the law, but they could never break God’s promises made to them. The path they chose led to pain, but the path could never lead them beyond God’s promises to them of mercy, forgiveness, and healing. Though we, too, make bad decisions as individuals, as a congregation, as a country, none of those bad decisions can separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

In the risen Christ, is the promise of healing, and rebirth, and resurrection past the bad decisions that have reeked havoc on us and society. Even our bad decision as humanity, to nail Jesus to the cross and kill the author of life, cannot put us outside of God’s love for us! Even in our greatest sin, our rejection of Christ himself, cannot place us on a path outside of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

Now, that doesn’t mean anything goes.

Before they cast lots, the 11 apostles prayed. They sought to make a decision that reflected God’s will. And, there are real consequences to decisions and we must live with the consequences of the choices we make. But what I am saying, is that when the arguments have been made, when the information has been gathered, and when the prayers have been prayed: let us roll the dice in faith!  Let us trust that faith is not about discerning the one narrow and right way ordained by God. Let us trust that faith is about believing God is in all the options we choose, and regardless of the outcome of the decision – God is there in the mercy of Christ to lead us to the next step of healing and hope.

Alive in this faith and united with Christ, may our joy be made complete!

May we take Martin Luther’s advice to sin boldly! Let us fearlessly and courageously make big and bold decisions that witness to God’s love in the world. And if indeed it turns out we have made the wrong choice, even as we tried to make a choice to witness to God’s love, then let us believe even more boldly in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Alive in this faith, and filled with this joy, let us make our best educated guess on the matters before us!  Let us take a chance on love. Let us roll the dice in faith, to live as a people of faith, hope, and love.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.