Who’s the Nominee?
I’m amazed by the number of people who looked in the mirror one morning and saw a future President. Two guaranteed predictions about the election marathon are: 1) one of these will be elected and 2) the rest will have something in common with Barsabbas, the loser in the apostolic election in Acts 1:12-26.
For ten days after the Ascension, Jesus’ followers were stuck together in an upper room in Jerusalem. It must have gotten downright claustrophobic. It’s no surprise that the always impulsive Peter called for an election to replace Judas. Two candidates we never heard of were nominated, Barsabbas and Matthias. After a prayer, they cast lots, which was like flipping a coin. Matthias won the election, Barsabbas was the loser, and we never hear of either of them again.
What do we do with a story like that? What will a story like that do with us?
Some will say that it was God’s eternal, micromanaged plan for Matthias to be elected and Barsabbas to be the loser through a bizarre process of dumb luck.
There’s a lot of that kind of theology going around today. A river floods in Texas, a cruise ship overturns in the China Sea, Beau Biden dies at 46…and some well-intended person will say, “God has a reason for that.” It’s a bit of Calvinist theology which uses the word “election” to describe the way God’s predestined will get worked out in this world. It’s helpful to some people. Who knows? It might have kept Barsabbas from going into a major depression after he lost the election.
I honor the Calvinist branch of the Christian family tree, but it’s not a branch on which I want to hang my swing. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m a Methodist.
Reading Like a Methodist
British New Testament scholar and Methodist pastor, James Dunn, offers another reading.
“The very oddity of the disciples’ action…may indicate that these were the actions of bewildered men uncertain what to do, waiting for something to happen, and taking the only action they could in the meantime.”
Maybe Peter did the best he could but acted too quickly. Maybe they rushed ahead electing Matthias while God had already elected Paul to show up in the future. And maybe God adapted God’s perfect will to be worked out through imperfect people living in an imperfect world. Something like that happened before when God adjusted God’s own intention and allowed the people of Israel to have a king. (I Samuel 8:4-22)
What Kind of God Is This?
You’ve got to ask what kind of God would do something like that? How could the almighty, omnipotent, all-powerful, all-knowing God let people get away with something like that?
Maybe the bible is saying that it’s the kind of God who would rather be at work in this world through persuasion that power, through love than leverage, through inviting our cooperation rather than coopting our freedom.
Maybe it’s the God who never gives up on his saving, redeeming, life-giving purpose, but chooses to accomplish that perfect purpose through imperfect people, who sometimes are dead set on doing things their own way.
Maybe it’s the God who holds his almighty power loosely and is willing to give his people the freedom to choose what they want and to experience the consequences of their choices.
Maybe it’s the God who rejoices when his people get it right and who weeps when they get it wrong, the way Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, saying, “If only you knew the things that make for peace.”
Maybe it’s the God who hangs in there with willful, rebellious folks like all of us even when we hang his Son on a cross.
Maybe it’s the God who is able to burst new life from a tomb; the God who is not the cause of everything but the redeemer of anything; the God who is relentlessly at work for good for all the children of the world who in God’s grace are called, chosen, elected to be God’s children.
Maybe it’s the God who accomplishes his extraordinary purpose through ordinary people who become the people through who God’s Kingdom actually comes and God’s will gets done in this world.
Extraordinary God…Ordinary People
Luke says there were 120 people with the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Assuming that Matthias and Barsabbas were among them, there were 118 people whose names we will never know, whose stories we will never tell. Maybe that’s where we can find ourselves in this story.
Sometimes we are the winners. Sometimes we are the losers.
Sometimes we get it right stand in the glow of God’s rejoicing. Sometimes we get it wrong and stand in desperate need of God’s mercy.
Sometimes we’re not at all sure of what we are doing and all we can do is blunder ahead, making the best choices we can make when we have to make them, daring to trust that either in us, or in spite of us, God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will be done on earth.
David Brooks has become something of a Hebrew prophet for us these days with his book, “The Road to Character.” In one of his interviews prior to the release of the book he said:
There’s something just awesome about seeing somebody…imitate and live the non-negotiable truth of Jesus Christ…One of Christianity’s greatest gifts to the culture is simply the example of Christian joy lived out in a natural way…nothing could be more persuasive than that. (http://thegathering.com/e-updates/transcript-david-brooks-gathering-2014/)
Maybe that’s the way God’s election ultimately happens. Don’t get me wrong: the Presidential election really matters. The values and convictions being expressed in this political season will make a lasting difference in the life of this nation. But the God revealed in the bible is also the God who works through anonymous people like Barsabbas and Matthias who imitate and live the non-negotiable truth of Jesus Christ; ordinary people who become the extraordinary agents of God’s love and grace in the world.
You’ve have been elected!
Grace and peace,