First Congregational Church
May 22, 2015
1st Sunday after Pentecost & Education Recognition Sunday
“One Day You and Your Friend Will Go….”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So one day, the teacher asked the class, “What is the axis of the earth?” Raising his hand, the teacher called on little Ole, who answered, “The axis of the earth is an imaginary line which passes from one pole to the other, and on which the earth revolves.” The teacher replied, “Very good. Now, could you hang clothes on that line?” To which Ole replied, “Yes, Ma’am.” When the teacher asked what sorts of clothes, little Ole replied, “Imaginary clothes.”
For those who haven’t been here, we’ve been focusing the Sunday messages around the book of Acts - properly called the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the book that tells about the days after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the days when the believers thought that Jesus was going to return sooner rather than later - much, much sooner - as in weeks or months maybe.
So Acts tells us about Jesus returning to sit at God’s right hand, and the choosing of a new disciple, Mathias, to replace Judas. Then there is the most famous part of Acts, Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down to rest on the believers, looking like tongues of fire on their heads. The red dove on the wall behind me is an homage to that event, and if the Benzie Central students want to think it is in honor of their school colors, that’s fine, too.
That day, after Peter finished his Pentecost sermon, Acts tells us that 3,000 people were baptized. While most people call that day the birth of the church, I wonder if maybe it was a sort of graduation, too - a graduation into a new life that was - and is - lived differently than before.
Because they were so focused on Jesus’ return, many of those same individuals sold all they had and divided it among those who were in need, living together in a communal sort of way, sharing their food, prayers, knowledge and worshiping together. It was not too long after that big Pentecost day that our scripture passage for this morning took place.
1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Thank you, Josie. It wasn’t until I got to Michigan that I came across so many places with local names: Stratton Hill, the Mystery Spot, Arcadia Bluffs, and the like. And so many houses have names here, like the one on Crystal Lake called Serenity, and swords of medieval times had names. We probably don’t think of giving gates names, but if you’re going to do so, Beautiful is a lovely name for a gate.
In looking to this passage, we recognize the obvious characters of Peter and John, the lame man and all the people. But who’s missing? The people who took the lame man to the temple every day. Maybe they were on their way to work and it wasn’t much of an inconvenience for them to carry him and his pallet to and from the temple every day. Maybe there was a rotating list of people who carried him: the neighbors to the east took him on Mondays, the folks to the north had Tuesdays, those on the west had Wednesdays, the house to the south had Thursdays….
The rest of you don’t have to listen for a couple minutes, because this next part is just for Levi, Josie, Morgan and Luke. When I thought about this passage - and you - and this day - it fits so perfectly. One day Peter and John were going up to the temple to do their usual thing, and along the way someone needed their help. It didn’t take much time out of Peter and John’s day, but it completely changed the lame man’s life. Not only could he jig and dance, but he was no longer dependent on someone else to help him live. In fact, he was now available to help someone else - dependent on others - to help that person live.
I know your parents have taught all of you well, to be kind and gracious, and one can see those - and other good characteristics - in each of you. But you will have days when you are on your way to work or school or living your life, and someone will need your help. It will seem like a distraction you don’t need or can’t afford, but the value may not be what you think it will be in that moment. So be like Peter and John and change the world, one person at a time - whenever you can. In doing so, you will act as an extension of this church family, and you increase our hope every time you do so.
It’s truly gratifying to be able to be such an effective part of someone’s life. But it’s the people who carried him each day, for who knows how many years, that are the real spiritual heroes. If the people who carried the man didn’t show up, he didn’t get to beg that day, and perhaps that meant he wasn’t going to eat that day - or help to feed his family if he had one.
It would be nice to think that the pallet people worked just beyond the gate where the man begged, so two or three minutes and a little effort out of their day was no big deal. Chances were, life wasn’t that perfect, and taking the lame man required extra effort and planning on the part of the pallet people. Since the lame man was begging, chances were probable that those who carried him not only had to see him home, but probably had to do something about getting his food, all while getting no pay for their extra work.
But maybe what you do for “work” is not the most important part of your day - for any of us. Perhaps, like all those who carried the lame man, a greater importance of our life happens in the day-to-day realm of life. Maybe the most important part of those litter-bearers days took years to be realized - the part they played in the healing of a lame man.
It’s maybe more true than most of us realize - as students, workers or retirees, that most of our important work is not the big part of our day. And maybe our best work is not likely to be recognized as such. (Even after all these years and all the research available to us, we still don’t know the names of those who carried the lame man.)
We are all, however, agents of healing, each of us containing the power of the Holy Spirit to change and heal the world in little ways that may ultimately make for a transformation of another person’s life. One day, you - and maybe a friend - will go, doing your usual thing, and you will see another person’s life completely turned upside down - in a good way. Even today, as we go, doing our thing, we will be part of something much bigger than we realize at the moment. For such an honor, we might pray to be our best.
God of all our days, we thank you for the opportunities in our lives that have helped people - even in ways we may never know. Give us energy and patience and compassion to continue your work of healing and changing the world for the better, even when we may feel like giving up. Help us to see the larger picture of life, that we may find the hope in it. We ask your special blessing on Levi, Josie, Morgan and Luke as they take new directions in their lives. Remind them - when they need reminding - of us back here - cheering them on, and holding them in our hearts before you. For all that you have done in using us to bring healing to this world, all your people thank you with a grateful - Amen.
05-15-16 Sunday Sermon Mother's Day
First Congregational Church
May 15, 2015
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I was working on the beginning of this morning’s message, and was failing miserably at finding a joke or pun that would work as the introduction. Finding nothing that fit well-enough, I turned to Facebook, and sure enough, it wasn’t very long before I came across an article - not a joke - but a true story - cuz it’s on Facebook, ya know, on a new type of wind turbine - a bladeless wind turbine for creating electricity based on the idea of aeroelasticity.
Basically it’s the idea of energy being created as wind passes by a single blade, causing a vibration that is passed along cables to a source that absorbs the vibration and turns it into electricity. It seems to me that we’re a lot like those single blades, with the Holy Spirit moving us into an energy that can be electrical.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Thank you, Carolyn. I have to say that Pentecost jokes are hard to come by. But I did find a cartoon with a cloud up in the corner, with the words “I shall send down my spirit and it will be like a flame upon your heads.” The first of the five individuals under the cloud wonders if this means he can wear a hat. The second person suggests that “we had better have a fire drill.” The third person shouts that this is a “health and safety nightmare, while the fourth guy wonders, “What if I set off the fire alarm?” The fifth individual ponders “my church is a non-smoking church.”
The title of this morning’s message, although in Latin, is descriptive of Pentecost. “Mysterium Tremendum" means a tremendous mystery. If nothing else, it is surely that.
There are essentially three things that happened that day of Pentecost. 1. The Holy Spirit became evident. 2. The presence of the Holy Spirit touched everyone present. And 3. It freed the gospel message to be for everyone, regardless of language. While those three things are interesting, they need to mean something in order to become important.
It was Matt Skinner of workingpreacher.org who “added” those three elements together to point to the “sum” of wind and flame and tongue that day, that the prophet Joel laid out all those years ago. “I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” Mr. Skinner said, “Peter does not speak of prophecy as predicting the future. Instead, prophecy is truth-telling. It is naming the places and ways where God intervenes or initiates in the world. It is a component of proclaiming the word of God and identifying God's salvation at work.” The more you look at that his description, the more it makes sense. “Peter does not speak of prophecy as predicting the future. Instead, prophecy is truth-telling. It is naming the places and ways where God intervenes or initiates in the world. It is a component of proclaiming the word of God and identifying God's salvation at work.”
Roberto Gomez of Ministry Matters gives us a picture of Pentecost’s meaning. “At a church conference, I noticed a young man who listened attentively to the lectures. I wondered who he was. I took the opportunity to speak to him. He told me he was from Nepal, the tiny country on whose border with Tibet sits Mount Everest. He once was a Hindu and believed in many gods. While he was attending college, a student gave him a pamphlet about Jesus. He was so intrigued reading about Jesus that he got a Bible to read more about Jesus. Soon, he encountered the living Christ and became a Christian and joined a Christian fellowship.
For the first time in his life, he felt forgiven and redeemed. He left a life of confusion and uncertainty for a life of assurance, hope, faith, and love. He began living a new life, a life based on the living Christ. It was a dangerous time for him. At that time, Nepal did not allow Christians to worship openly. His family, all Hindus, ostracized him. Yet his faith in Jesus Christ grew stronger. Several years later, the government changed and Christians could worship openly. Then his family became Christian. Now, as headmaster of a small Christian college, he joyfully serves the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Mr. Gomez concluded, “How could it be that a young man from Nepal read a tract about Jesus, became a convert to the Christian faith, and now directs a Christian training school? It happened because of the movement and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inspired someone to write that tract, someone else to give away the tract, and that Nepalese man to read it and be touched by its message about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As I thought about that scenario, I thought about how years ago I would have mentally talked back at a minister. “Yeah, well, that’s fine for all you preacher types of people. But I’m not going to any college to hand out gospel tracts to students - most of whom could care less, who are more likely to call me names. Thank goodness the minister isn’t talking to me.”
And that was true. It wasn’t the minister talking to me. It was the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit wasn’t likely telling me - or maybe most all of us - to hand out religious tracts, but to pass along what God has given me - us.
Maybe it’s not tracts that we hand out, but patience and compassion and understanding - even if we don’t completely understand. The Traverse City Meijer store on Thursday was abuzz, and the check out lanes were long. I’m sure I waited a good 15 minutes in line. I don’t know if the man in front of me knew a lady behind me, but he kindly suggested that she go to a different line as ours was being held up. I don’t remember what the lady said, but I sure remember her rudeness and her dissing of the cashier - and she had waited all of nearly ten seconds. No doubt it was the Holy Spirit that caught my attention to remind me that although I was tired, and I had other stops, I could choose be patient and I could either play on my phone or read one of the many rag mags available right there.
When I got to the cashier, I didn’t ask here, and I’m sure she was making conversation as much as explaining that at least five people called in that day, that she had been working for eleven hours because of the shortage, and that even the manager had been on the floor all day. And the tourists aren’t even here yet.
If we really believe that God “has” all the important stuff in the world, then our time is not our own, our money is not our own and our “talents and gifts” are not our own. Those things belong to God and we get to use them in bringing God glory. Sometimes people are counting on us to be certain places at certain times, yes. But if we pay attention to that which is in our realm, we become part of the “Mysterium Tremendum" - for God and for humanity - and even ourselves.
As Peter prophesied - told his truth about Christ and God and the Holy Spirit - so do we prophesy what we believe to be true about God and Christ and the Holy Spirit and the ways and places where God breaks out in our world. Being called out to be God’s sons and daughters, young and old, even God’s servants, can sometimes feel irrelevant or we may wish to leave our jobs for other people to do. We can do it our way, or we can do it the easy way, which is, of course, God’s way. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to being part of the tremendous mystery. People have been doing it for centuries - since that first Pentecost day. We can prophesy - truth-tell - in our words, but so much more so in our actions. So before we go back to living out God’s truth, let us pray.
Holy Spirit - Breath of God, we are grateful for not just giving us purpose and direction, but for your Spirit, for the energy, the breath, and support we need to carry out those purposes and directions. Help us, in even what we deem to be un-notable and mundane, to listen and look for your nudgings, that we may be the living gospel to those who need to hear you - wherever we might be. For those who made the materials, who gave us the materials and taught us, for all those people that are a part of our lives - without even knowing them, we thank you. Help all of us to see the larger world and the larger good - in your name. And all your people say, Amen.
05-08-15 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
May 8, 2015
7th Sunday after Easter
“This Glory Infused Life”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Boy did I need to get away from everybody! Family vacations! Whoever thought these things up? I could have even been okay with the idea, but then dad said we couldn’t use any electronics. Rrrr!
Maybe if I hang by this big thing, I could hide on the other side if the family comes in. Cool! Check it out! An organ. An electric organ. I wonder if what dad would say about playing with this.
Kickin’ digs. Whoa - check out that window. Hey, there’s another one right below. Check it - all the windows are stained glass. They probably did that so people wouldn’t stare out the window rather than pay attention. Maybe adults were downers back in the olden days, too.
At least they have seat cushions. The folding chairs at our church get pretty hard after a while.
I wonder if this is the time out space when people get caught shooting spitballs at each in the pews. Man, Hanson and I sure got in trouble that time. When old Mrs. What-zer-name got that last one in her hair, I thought I was gonna lose it - until she gave me that stare. I was kinda sorry when she died, tho.
Wonder what this is. It sort of looks like the weekly announcement page we get at our church, but ours sure doesn’t have all this stuff in it. William Cowper. Dude, we sure could do a number with that name. Coward, Cowpie, Cowperd…. Maybe I shouldn’t talk too loud. Could be some old geezer wandering around. Probably that Cowper dude.
Wonder was a Gloria Patri is. Wonder what a tithe is. All this old talk. Makes me feel old just saying the words.
Check it out - a Bible passage from John. Love that guy. John 3:16. Wonder what that really is. All I ever see at the ball games are the signs that say, “John 3:16.” I think that that Bible saying comes from there: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Sounds like a bad old movie or the opening to the new “Furious 8” movie that’s supposed to come out next April.
So John 17:20-26. I’m guessing that’s probably what the preacher talked about last week. I wonder if I can find it. At our church, we never have to look stuff up, because it’s always up there on the screens. Wait - there’s a page number - 1680. John 17: 2-26.
“Jesus Prays for All Believers.” Looks like a chapter name. “My prayer is not for them alone.” That’s cool.
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,” I’m not so sure this Jesus guy has much for me, but I like that he isn’t so self-absorbed and self-serving - not like so many other adults - at least in my world.
“that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” That they may be one. What a joke! Seems to me, if adults want “to be one” or ‘be at peace,’ they would start by acting like it themselves. They look at my generation and wonder why we don’t want to go to church. Who wants to go hang with hypocrites? At least we know we have issues, as both mom and dad are so kind to point out.
“May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” “May they - I guess would be all those people Jesus is praying about - also be in us - must be Jesus and God - so that the world - like everybody that Jesus isn’t praying for - may believe that you have sent me.” Sort of sounds like walkin’ the talk, if you ask me. But who would ask a dumb 8th grader?
“I have given them the glory that you gave me,” Glory, glory halleluia, teacher hit me with a ruler.
“that they may be one as we are one—“ That’s so weird - Jesus in God and God in Jesus - except that guess I sort of get it - like how I’m more like mom than dad. Sometimes that drives me nuts! If only I were more like dad - able to rough and tough. He tells me to grow up - get a backbone. If only I could tell him how I really feel. If only I could tell anybody - how much I really like being hugged, and talked to, and how I really like drawing, especially making things real, but not too real. My friends tell me it’s just my dumb drawing. But at least no one yells at me in my drawing world.
“I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. I - Jesus - in them - and you - God - in me. I - Jesus - in them - and you - God - in me. Wow - that’s triangular - or circular.
So if I - Jesus - is in them - those he was praying for - and you - God - is in me - Then the world - everybody else - will know that you - God - sent me - Jesus - and have loved them (the world) even as you - God - have loved me - Jesus. Well so far, this makes sense - if you can keep the players straight - or go slow enough.
“Father, I want those you have given me - to be with me where I am, - and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Glory, Glory, halle-. Glory. Glory. Now that I think about it, we hear that word a lot at Christmas - like on Christmas cards and stuff, but not so much at other times. Glory.
Dad said we couldn’t “use” electronics. Didn’t say we couldn’t keep them - just in case. Besides, if I “disobey” him in church, for a good reason, then does that really count as disobeying?
(phone) Glory: high renown or honor won by notable achievements, magnificence; great beauty, take great pride or pleasure in. “Father, I want those you have given me - to be with me where I am, - and to see my glory - to see Jesus’ honor, to see Jesus’ magnificence, to see Jesus’ beauty? Naw - Jesus - beauty - maybe not so much. To see Jesus’ great pride - maybe. To see Jesus’ great pleasure.
The honor, magnificence, pleasure, - glory God gave Jesus because God loved Jesus before the creation of the world.”
I hadn’t thought about it before, God loving Jesus before the creation of the world. So God loved Jesus before light, and water and land and humans and creatures. Dude, that’s like forever, man!
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.” (phone) Righteous - (of a person or conduct) morally right or justifiable; virtuous. Blah, blah, blah. Very good; excellent. Now we’re getting somewhere. Very good, excellent God, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
I - Jesus - have made you - God - known to them - everyone else, and will continue to make you - God - known, in order that the love you - God - have for me - Jesus - may be in them - everyone else - and that I myself - Jesus - may be in them - everybody else.” Wow. That’s pretty trippy.
Says the sermon title was “This Glory Infused Life.” Infused - the cooking channel uses that word a lot. (phone) Infuse: soak (tea, herbs, etc.) in liquid to extract the flavor or healing properties. Bobby Flay was making Sweet and Sour Succotash, Grilled Sweet Potatoes and a Peach Julep yesterday. Ha - adults want kids to not drink - but they put all these cooking shows out there and I bet they don’t realize how many of them show how to make drinks.
Bobby said he was infusing the flavor of the peaches, mint and sugar into the drink when he smashed them and added liquid. Said that the drink would be sweet, minty and peachy.
So this Dinah-chick - whoever she is - must have been saying that the whole ‘Jesus in the people he was praying for, and God in Jesus was sort of like a drink infused with flavor that everyone else would want to drink because all the other ingredients looked so good.
Maybe that was her point. Maybe it wasn’t. But if nothing else, God, then I’m getting how you infuse me with Jesus, so that what everyone else sees will draw them closer to you, because you are in me.
If that’s true, God, then maybe I’m not so dumb as I thought. Maybe you actually “have” something for me. Maybe I’m worth a little more than I think. Maybe I should stick around and see if any of this is true. Maybe there is something to you having a plan for my life, and it’s not all about how I feel at the moment. So I guess, like Jesus, I’m sort of like praying - for all those who see you - in me - even though I can’t see it.
Dang. They’re getting close. Thanks, God, for infusing me. Later, dude. Coming!
05-01-16 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
May 1, 2015
Sixth Sunday after Easter
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In honor of spring, why is the letter A like a flower? A: A bee (B) comes after it! What do you get when you pour hot water down a rabbit hole? A: A hot cross bunny. What does the Easter Rabbit get for making a basket? A: Two points just like everybody! Four high school boys afflicted with spring fever skipped morning classes. After lunch they reported to the teacher that they had a flat tire. Much to their relief she smiled and said, "Well, you missed a test today so take seats apart from one another and take out a piece of paper." Still smiling, she waited for them to sit down. Then she said: "First Question: Which tire was flat?”
The other day, I had a fortune cookie. So I opened the message, and at first scan, I thought it read, “The strengths of your character will bring you senility.” Comprehending that this was bordering on one of my new “fears,” after a re-read, I discovered that the word was “serenity.” The strengths of your character will bring you serenity.
I’ve been working on a character trait I’m trying to strengthen - seeking to understand rather than assume. So the other day I asked someone close to my age if they knew what it meant to fleece God. When the person said no, I “understood” that I would need to “assume” that not everyone knows this adage.
My guess is that most of the time when we think about Moses leading all those people across the desert to the land of Canaan, we don’t think much beyond that, because Moses’ people were the “chosen ones,” and God promised that land to the Hebrew people. I’m guessing that we rarely think about the Canaanite people who lived there, who called that land home and were simply trying to feed families and live life.
Over the course of time, there were skirmishes between the Hebrew and Canaanite people, and one of those times happened when a woman - mind you - a prophet/judge named Deborah lead a counterattack against the Canaanites. This was somewhere in the vicinity of the 12th century BC - or CE, which is the new term - Christian Era - for that time around Jesus’ birth. And there was peace for 40 years.
Then there were seven years of war with the Canaanites again and a new prophet/judge was ruling over the people, a guy named Gideon - who had personal trust issues. Gideon - despite direct dialogue with God, so the Bible tells us - couldn’t believe that God would have Gideon lead another counterattack against the Canaanites.
So Gideon told God - didn’t ask - but told God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised - then just to make sure, I’ll place a wool fleece on the threshing floor out in the barn. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that’s what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.
But remember, Gideon had this issue about trust , so he said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. (Judges 6:36-40) You can read about the rest of that story in the book of Judges, chapter 7. The only problem with that whole ordeal is that back in the Hebrew book of law - Deuteronomy, long before the time of the judges, it says explicitly that we humans are not to “test” God. If God says something, then we should do it, trusting that it will work as God has planned.
Except we get to this morning’s scripture passage. It’s the continuation of last week’s passage that saw Jesus ascending back into heaven. Now that he was gone, the work of spreading word about Christ was left to the apostles - the teachers of students about the One Teacher.
As Judy makes her way front, I’ll fill in a little detail that may catch some ears. Near the beginning of the passage, it mentions a Sabbath day’s walk. That was the distance of about 5/8’s of a mile - as far as one could walk on a Sabbath before the walk became work - which is still an effective rule for Orthodox Jewish peoples.
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
(With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akelda’ma, that is, Field of Blood.)
“For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’ Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsab’bas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
Thank you, Judy. Aside from the rather graphic end of Judas’ life, this passage is also interesting because it describes the work of the apostles as being done by both men and women. In fact, throughout the book of Acts, there are numerous mentions of women working without differentiation from men in spreading the gospel.
But the part that stuck in my craw at first reading was the part near the end of the passage. I get picking two people and having a vote. According to the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website, “Casting lots was a method used by the Jews of the Old Testament and by the Christian disciples prior to Pentecost to determine the will of God. Lots could be sticks with markings, stones with symbols, etc., that were thrown into a small area and then the result was interpreted.”
So in other words, if the fleece was wet, they would choose Barsabbas and if it was dry they would choose Matthias. But didn’t it say way back in Deuteronomy not to “test” or fleece God as we say these days? Couldn’t they have had two baskets and each voter would add their stick or stone to the basket representing their choice of replacement? Better yet, they could have done it the proper way - with a baseball bat and hand over fisting it until the winner was the one who got the knob of the bat.
Knowing what God wants is important, and I think deep down, most all of us really want to do what is right and important. But shooting dice for the kind of toothpaste we should buy just doesn’t seem right.
If they hadn’t prayed and simply voted, then that would make sense - at least to me. But to pray that God would make God’s choice through an interpretation of a random roll of the dice seems pretty flimsy. But I/we view this whole event through 21st century eyes.
And, too, if we are asking God to guide us, then we have to finish the request by trusting that God will see us to the end. Much as we’d like it to be different, we are not God and don’t - can’t - know everything. And we are called to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt 22:36-40). Still, there are times when we really need an answer - or think we do.
Richard Jensen from workingpreacher.org reminds us that “We can pray and pray for God's specific will to be revealed to us, but few of us will have our prayers answered. So, as Martin Luther advised, we will have to choose boldly our path. We don't often know for certain which is the right path. We choose, knowing that God's forgiving love will sustain us in the midst of life’s many decisions.”
In Romans (8:28) God tell us that, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God..." God is at work in the midst of our decisions - which doesn’t give us permission to be willy-nilly about decisions in our lives.
In a sense, this passage from Romans tells us that God is always working to make the best out of our decisions. Our bad decisions do not separate us from God. As people claimed by Jesus Christ and committed to Jesus Christ, we choose, we decide, and we act.
We act in the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. So do we need to fleece God in making decisions? Absolutely not. Do we need to use outside opinions and our best judgement, and our minds to make decisions? You bettcha. Do we need to pray about our decisions? Absolutely! So let us do just that.
Gracious God, you know - even more than we - how many decisions face us each day. And you know, too, how much we want to do what is right and what you want us to do. So you also know that sometimes we get stuck in decisions. Help us know, with great depth, the answers to the questions that are really important. And help us to make wise decisions based on the best information we have at the moment, even when those decisions come by wild ways. Thank you, for those times when you’ve lead us and we were totally unaware. And thank you for the strength, courage and patience of being able to carry through when the decisions are hard. We are grateful that you have given us all that we need in the world of decisions in our hearts and in our minds. Help us to use them - all of them - for your glory. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.