Sunday, June 5, 2011
Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (June 5, 2011)
“Your Lot in Life” (Acts 1:12-26)
Many years ago there was no such thing as social mobility. If your family was poor, you were always going to be poor. There was no chance of ever changing your economic status. Poverty was your lot in life.
If your father was a farmer, you were going to grow up to be a farmer. Move to the big city? Attend university? Fulfill your dreams of being a lawyer? An engineer? A writer? Not a chance. Farming was your lot in life.
And if you were a girl, there were no opportunities for you. Your place was in the home … “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” as the old saying goes. This was your lot in life.
Nevertheless, in our day and age, we do have more options. People can change their economic status. You can move to a place where there are better paying jobs. Young men are not limited to the occupations of their fathers. Young women are able to go to college if they wish, or stay home, as the case may be … not to simply be “barefoot and pregnant,” but to pursue the holy vocation of motherhood. Even older people are now able to go to college and pursue a different vocation if their current one does not interest them. It still takes a lot of hard work. But it can happen.
Nevertheless, in certain communities today, the idea still prevails that you can’t escape your destiny. When I was teaching at a public high school in Southern California, I had some Hispanic gang members in my class. There weren’t all that talkative. But when I could get them to talk, I learned that for most of them, their parents had been in gangs, too. It was their lot in life, they figured. Their fate. Their destiny.
Questions about eternal destiny arise when we hear about the case of Judas. What was Judas’ lot in life? Did God choose Judas specifically to be the one to betray Jesus? Was Judas just a helpless pawn in God’s plan to ultimately save the world through Jesus?
The fact is that Judas’ lot in life was as one of Jesus’ apostles. In his address to the 120 believers following the Ascension of Jesus, Peter said of Judas that “he was numbered among us and allotted his share in this ministry.” Judas was chosen by Jesus. He was given a place in the apostolic band.
But Judas rejected God’s will for himself. God’s will was for Judas to be one of the apostles. God’s will is that all men would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). But some reject that will, harden their hearts against that will, and God in his eternal wisdom permits them to do so. He does not force himself on anyone. At the same time, it is all God’s doing when someone comes to faith in Jesus. Being spiritually dead, it is impossible for someone to assert that they had any choice in the matter.
And so, Judas’ final lot in life became one of his own choosing. He abandoned his office. He “turned aside” from the “ministry and apostleship” of Jesus “to go to his own place” (Acts 1:25). That’s probably a nice way of saying that he went to hell. And Luke’s graphic description of our Lord’s betrayer’s messy death does not compare to the agony of that place where he went for his unrepentant heart.
Daily, we are tempted to abandon the offices which we hold … father, mother, spouse, son, daughter, employee, student, neighbor, Christian. When we neglect or run away from our God-given responsibilities in our callings, we have sinned. When we act unloving toward our spouse, when we lie to our parents, when we refuse to help those who need our compassion and care, when other activities take precedence over hearing the Word of God, then we have abandoned the offices in which we have been placed. And if we continue to do so without repenting, then our destiny will be the same as Judas.
On the other hand, not once did Jesus ever entertain the thought of abandoning his office. God the Father sent his Son into the flesh in the office of the Messiah. His lot in life was death, a death for you and for me, shedding his blood as the price for the sins of the world. The Roman soldiers did their duty, driving nails through his hands and his feet. Unwittingly, they were only helping to put the Savior at his post. And like a faithful soldier, Jesus stayed at his post until he breathed his last breath, finishing his duty of earning forgiveness and salvation for all who are baptized in his Name and who trust in him as Savior from sin, death, and hell.
Three days later, the stone of his tomb was rolled away. The guards placed there trembled in fear and abandoned their post. Angels now stood guard and announced the resurrection of Jesus to the women who came, expecting to finish the burial process. Instead, they heard the news that “He is not here, but has risen” (Luke 24:6).
Forty days later, he ascended into heaven. Now he is at his rightful place at the right hand of the Father, the position of all power and authority in the universe. He rules and reigns for the good of his Church. Nothing is out of his control. No one is out of his sight. His visible presence is removed from the world. But he is still present with us everywhere, including in bread and wine where he gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink in his Holy Supper.
Following the Ascension of our Lord, the disciples knew that they had to fill the vacant position among the apostles. There had to be twelve. They were to take the place of the twelve tribes of Israel … twelve apostles as eyewitnesses of Jesus resurrection, the fulfillment of all the promises to the people of Israel and the Savior of all people, both Jew and Gentile alike.
Two equally qualified candidates were set forth. They had to have been among the followers of Jesus from the time of John the Baptist until the Ascension, and they had to be eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. Prayers were offered to God to seek his will. Lots were cast. We’re not sure exactly how they did this. One commentator states that one common way was to write the names of people on stones or pieces of wood, put them in a vase, and pull one out. In whatever way it was done, the lot fell to Matthias, and he was numbered among the Apostles. As far as they were concerned, this was the Lord’s choice.
As a side note, this does not necessarily endorse casting lots to determine God’s will. That just happened to be the way they were accustomed to doing it at that time. It was not seen to be a game of chance. Even so, note how the two candidates were still carefully evaluated according to their qualifications, prayers to God were offered, and the concern for this being Christ’s choice was foremost. Today, for example, when churches choose pastors, it’s done by a vote of the assembly, not by throwing dice or drawing straws. When the church elects their pastor and he accepts that call, then we say that it is truly the Holy Spirit who has done the choosing and the calling
So where has your “lot” fallen? What is your “lot in life”? No matter how you may feel about your earthly circumstances – stuck in a dead-end job, mired in poverty, beset by loneliness, wracked with pain – there is a heavenly reality beyond all of this. As God’s child, your lot in life is sharing in the life of Christ, who died and rose for you. And this is certainly not by chance. God has deliberately, lovingly, graciously chosen you. Through water and the Word, the Holy Spirit has called you to faith and gives you a share in the Body of Christ. You are marked with Christ’s name in Baptism. Your sins are forgiven. You are given a place at his table.
One last thing before I close. This account in our text today took place in the days between Ascension and Pentecost. The disciples were obeying Jesus’ command to wait for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them, which happened ten days after the Ascension. What were they doing while they were waiting? St. Luke describes it this way: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.”
“With one accord.” Unified around their common faith in Jesus. Speaking with one voice the truth of Jesus. Living together in God’s mercy and forgiveness and forgiving one another. That’s what Jesus prayed for when he said, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)
“With one accord” … “devoting themselves to prayer.” Setting aside time to pray with each other, to listen to God’s Word and be taught by it, and to respond to that Word in worship and praise.
Now, you and I wait in the “in-between time” between Pentecost and the Parousia (that’s just a fancy Greek word for the second coming of Jesus). The angel at Jesus’ Ascension said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Filled with the Spirit that has fallen upon each one of us in the Church, we wait in this “in-between” time … with one accord, devoting ourselves to prayer. This is our lot in life … our share in the life of our risen and ascended Savior Jesus.