So, who’s going to be the next Bishop of Massachusetts?
There are seven names on the slate, and to help us choose there will be a series of open meetings throughout the diocese from March 14-17 to meet the candidates and get to know them. It’s been a huge process so far, taking many months, and it will all culminate on Saturday, April 5, in the cathedral when the elections will take place.
Wouldn’t it be easier just to flip a coin? That’s what happened, or something similar, when the early Christians met to choose a successor for Judas Iscariot. Judas was dead, and the apostles wanted to replace him with somebody who had also known Jesus as intimately as they had, and in particular, someone who, as they said, “would become a witness with us to his resurrection.” They didn’t have seven names on the slate, just two: Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus – and Matthias.
So they first prayed, “Lord you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen.” And then they cast lots for him, and the lot fell on Matthias. We don’t really know how the lots were cast. They may have been sticks of different lengths, or flat stones like coins, or some kind of dice, perhaps like the soldiers who had cast lots for Jesus’ tunic at the crucifixion. But whatever the lots were – it was a bit like flipping a coin.
Casting lots might sound a bit strange when it’s something so serious, but they’re mentioned about seventy times in the Old Testament, for example, deciding how to divide up land under Joshua: it was the favorite way of determining God’s will. Poor old Jonah was discovered to be the cause of the storm when the sailors cast lots and the lot fell on him. So why don’t we choose the next Bishop of Massachusetts by casting lots?
Well, very soon after the Apostles had chosen Matthias there came the great and life-changing event of Pentecost. At Pentecost the church received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and from then on the New Testament encouraged the church to make decisions not by drawing lots but by relying on the Holy Spirit to guide them.
The prayer which the people of the diocese have been encouraged to use says the same thing:
“So guide the hearts and minds of all those who shall choose a bishop for the diocese, that we may be prayerfully open to your divine call, and guided by your Holy Spirit.”
But what is absolutely fundamental to both the choosing of a new apostle to replace Judas, and to the choosing of a new bishop to replace Tom Shaw, is that it is God who is doing the choosing! The apostles prayed, “Show us which one of these two you have chosen.” The prayer for the diocese asks that our choice may faithfully reflect “your divine call.” It is God who calls and chooses. Our challenge is to be sufficiently open to the Holy Spirit that our choice and God’s choice are the same. Clearly it doesn’t always happen. But we do our best.
So next month, March 14-17, when the candidates for bishop come to the walkabouts, the challenge for the voters is to be fully open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit – and not to be swayed by outward, superficial factors like, “I thought she was very nice looking” or “I don’t like the way he dressed.”
The prophet Samuel was faced with the same challenge. God told him to go to Bethlehem to choose a future king from among the sons of Jesse. He arrived, and asked that each son should pass before him, one by one. First came Eliah, who was tall and handsome. And Samuel thought, “He must be the chosen one.” But God said, no, I have not chosen him. And he warns Samuel, “Don’t look on the surface. ‘For humans look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” Finally, after all the sons are rejected by God, the youngest son, David, appears, and God says, “This is the one. Arise, anoint him.” So again, it is God who does the choosing. God choses. It is part of God’s very nature to make choices and to call.
There’s something quite extraordinary about being called, being chosen by God. God – chose – me? “Before I formed you I consecrated you,” as God said to Jeremiah. To believe that is to believe that I am not an accident – no person is an accident – every person is holy and of unique value to God. We were each called into being: chosen and consecrated. The more we become that unique person God created us to be, the more we make good, wise choices in life, choices which correspond with that divine cosmic ‘choice’ which called us into being, the more we become truly alive, and the more we glorify God.
You may be faced with making a choice right now in your life, perhaps about a job, a relationship, about speaking a word of truth. Perhaps two different paths beckon you, and you need to choose one. It can be very hard to choose, but when we do choose, we somehow grow in stature and maturity. We share in God’s nature.
But our choices can be wiser and truer if we are faithful to our life of prayer. Through a rock-like attention to God in prayer, spending time every day with God, we slowly begin to see as God sees, we start to share in what Paul calls the “mind of Christ.”
So this evening, let us all pray in particular for all those who will be choosing the next Bishop of Massachusetts. And let us pray for ourselves, giving thanks that we have been chosen and called into life by God, and asking God for the grace of God’s Holy Spirit, that we too may make wise choices, to God’s praise and glory.
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