May 13 2018 “Come Holy Spirit, Come: Teach Us” Pastor Jacqueline Hines
It is not unusual from time to time to have discussions about whether we think of God more as a mother or as a father. We refer to God using masculine pronouns “he” and “him” but the bible also refers to God in very maternal terms, with very nurturing qualities and feminine characteristics. [slide # 1 God the father…mother]
My favorite reference is to Jesus saying: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [slide # 2 hen]
There are many passages that refer to God’s mothering nature. In the prophet Hosea we hear God saying, “Yet it was I who taught the tribe of Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
In Deuteronomy 32 God is described as a mother eagle. “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” [slide # 3 eagle]
God is also described in Deuteronomy 32 as the God who gives birth - “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
In Isaiah 66:13 God is compared to a comforting mother, saying “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Isaiah 49:15 compares God to a nursing mother saying, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
Isaiah 42:14 even depicts God as a woman in labor, “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”
We are made in God’s image. We are made to love and care for one another as a father and as a mother!
When we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us to love and care for one another, we learn valuable lessons.
Without prayer [slide # 4 prayer] our spiritual growth is stunted and we more easily become like Judas who is referred to in this first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Judas hangs out with the wrong crowd. Judas’ crowd is very concerned with power and money even if it means going against the will and ways of God. Judas invites his cronies to gang up on Jesus, to join him in insulting and opposing him in ways in which they had become quite skilled.
Every skill we learn is not necessarily a good one! We learn evil skills, too or we learn to use our God-given skills in evil ways. Or, we are out of control until the Holy Spirit takes control or until we give God the reigns of our hearts. Sometimes we have to surrender our control and our will a million times before we are actually strong enough to let go and let God have God’s way which is the best way.
Without prayer [slide # 5 kneeling in prayer] our spiritual growth is stunted and we do learn to act like Judas. On the other hand as we mature in Christ, we find ourselves more and more involved with and surrounded by disciples who are busy learning how to transform the world into a better place, by caring and sharing and loving one humble and selfless deed at a time.
After Judas left the twelve disciples who had all been trained by Jesus, the disciples still needed a certain number of representatives to govern the affairs of the Christian communities. Just like our senate and our congress require a certain number of representatives based on municipalities and population. The twelve tribes of Israel needed to have at least one representative for each tribe. Symbolically and politically that is why twelve disciples were needed.
There were two disciples in the running to fill that position of the 12th disciple. Their names were given in verse 23 as a man named Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and the other man’s name was Matthias. [slide # 6 Joseph and Mattias]
The eleven disciples observed the lives of these two men, they decided that both were excellent candidates, but they were not convinced that God wanted one more than the other. They could have picked both of them, but that is not how it was done at that time. They could have administered a test and chosen the one with the highest score, but that is not how it was done during that time. They could have had them run a six month campaign and take a vote as to the one whose views and reputations are favored like we choose our United Methodist Bishops today, but that is not how it was done during that time.
Instead of all those ideas that have been used through the centuries, they simply did what they had learned worked well for over 1000 years. They cast lots. In our culture we know casting lots as tossing dice like we do in a Monopoly game or flipping a coin as we see done in a football game. Casting lots is a universal effort to be fair and free of human bias.
Because both men were good, instead of choosing sides, the disciples were able to avoid some hurt feelings by not choosing, but allowing the choice to be random. Their desire to be fair was focused and it created an atmosphere of justice and peace.
Before they tossed the dice to determine which of these men of God that they had carefully examined was God’s choice, verse 24 says they prayed. , [slide # 7 verse 24…] ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen. After they prayed verse 26 says, ’And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. [slide # 8 verse 26]
We often think of casting lots as gambling, but this biblical tradition among the disciples was not gambling because there was no gamble with the careful examination of these Godly men. Joseph and Mathias were both winners.
It is said that the practice of casting lots is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament. Their die probably did not look like our modern die. Their die probably looked closer to the dreidels that we see during the observation of Purim. [slide # 9 two dreidels] Purim is that season when God showed mercy as Esther spoke up for her people and the Jewish people were delivered from being exterminated by Haman who was extremely jealous which made him insecure and afraid which made him a bully who was quite capable of the violence he planned. Lots were cast with evil intentions to determine which day they were going to plan the massacre. We use the dreidels as a reminder that in our hands the dreidel means fairness and justice for God’s people.
Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus cast lots with evil intentions to see who should get Jesus’ robe that they stole instead of giving it back to Mary his mother. [slide # 10 soldiers gambling over Jesus robe]
God’s people were accustomed to casting lots in order to divide land among the tribes; they would do research on the land, divide each section to include some forest area, potential springs, and as much farm and grazing land as they could and they would cast lots to determine who would get what. In that way no one could be accused of selfishly choosing the best land or strong-arming others into getting an advantage over another.
You remember in Luke 1 that Zacharias was serving in the temple [slide # 11 Zacharias and incense] when he was visited by an angel that told him that he was to have a son John the Baptist that would prepare the way for the Lord. Every priest had a job to do, some more challenging and unpleasant than others. So they cast lots to decide who would serve on which day and what job, whether pleasant or tedious. That way no one would get all the tough jobs. They would rotate from one job or another according to the casting of the lots. Zacharias was on duty that day because it was his lot.
Zacharias’ job was to burn incense. Incense is a symbol of prayerful, restful conversation with God. Incense is an example of the kind of conversation we want to have with one another, too. Priests were to make sure that incense and lamps were burning on a regular basis as a constant reminder of being in a relationship with God. It was to create a sweet aroma, a sweet atmosphere, a peaceful atmosphere, a holy atmosphere, where the light of God’s love and truth can be clearly seen! God used his children’s efforts to cast lots in ways that brought unity and eliminated as much bias as was humanly possible. As Prov. 18:18 says "Casting lots causes contentions to cease, and keeps the mighty apart." (or separated so they could not work together on their evil deeds)
Without deeper study and reflection, some American Christians have thought that they could get an answer from God by shutting their eyes, opening their bibles and randomly putting their finger on a certain page and a certain verse and that would be God’s answer. [slide # 12 finger on bible] But, the biblical example we learn from scripture is that these Godly men did their homework, they researched and examined and came up with the best choices that they could. Then they prayed and then they cast lots but only in those situations where it is clear that all the choices were good and Godly choices. [slide # 13 which way…]
Closing your eyes and picking a bible verse to read is great because every verse is good to read. Closing your eyes and picking a bible verse to get an answer from God for a particular situation is not the example set by the disciples because every verse does not address God’s good will for every situation. Many decisions require research, reflection, and conversation with God and with each other. [slide # 14 powerful testimony….church] There are no shortcuts.
May we be ever prayerful and prepared, ready for the Holy Spirit to teach us what we need to know and show us the way to go. [slide #...15 God is love…] Amen. [slide # 16 let God teach you..]