Sermon: What’s Enough to Be Whole

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

My sermon from the 7th Sunday of Easter (May 12, 2024) on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26.


So if today’s reading from the book of Acts sounded a bit like gambling – you’re not wrong. The disciples, while pondering what the future of their leadership might look like, basically rolled some dice to see who it should be. It’s pretty weird for our Bible to embrace gambling since, weeks prior to this moment in the story, Roman soldiers did the same thing to decide who would keep Jesus’ bloodied clothing. And yet casting lots in the ancient world was seen as a way to communicate with the divine. The general thought was nothing could be truly random and so by tossing some dice or trying to pull a short stick out of a bunch stuck in a bag, folks would gain some holy insight into what might come next. That’s often why the Bible calls out gambling since it was seen as manipulating with forces we couldn’t fully control. Yet the act of casting lots was primarily used to make money and, in the process, consume people’s lives. The Biblical injunction against gambling is long and yet, in the days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples took a chance to fill a hole within their community. The so-called “Twelve” were now down to eleven since one of their own had been the catalyst for Jesus’ crucifixion and death. And so before they spread the good news from Jerusalem and into the heart of the Roman Empire itself, they casted lots to see who among them could step up and make them feel truly whole. 

Now wondering what it takes to be whole is something I thought a lot about this week while noticing all the small orange price tags scattered all over the building. Our Trash and Treasure sale on the 5th was incredibly successful, raising around $13,500 to support ministries all over the world. But beyond all the cash, it was also a lot of fun because this place was full of people living out their baptismal calling to embody God’s love in our world. The church since mid-April felt very full but now, on the other side of the sale, it feels as if something is missing. This building has, in a sense, returned to its typical, natural, and wholesome shape. And yet all this quiet, especially when I’m here by myself, feels like we’re living with a hole waiting to be filled. That feeling is, I think, similar to what the disciples felt when, nearly 2,000 years ago, they realized they had a lot of living left to do. They, in the days and weeks after Jesus’ death, often wondered what they were supposed to do next. Some of them stayed within the city limits, worshiping in the Temple on the Sabbath before gathering together on Sunday mornings to share a meal and talk about their faith. During those conversations, I imagine they wrestled with everything they had just experienced. Jesus not only had refused to act as if might makes right, he kept appearing to them in ways that were exciting and strange. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in the community felt as if they were a bit more whole than they once were. And yet they could also see how Jesus himself still carried holes in his hands, side, and feet. Nothing was really as whole as they hoped it might be and so after watching Jesus assume the fullness of his identity as the Son of God, the disciples wondered what it might take for them to fully embrace who Jesus called them to be. 

That wondering probably gnawed on them which is why they, as a community, chose to do something Jesus didn’t explicitly tell them to do. We have no record of Jesus telling those who followed him to increase their leaders back to the number they once had. Jesus, rather, encouraged them to build a history of love among themselves and in their world. The call to build that history caused the disciples, I think, to reflect on their own history too. The hole left by Judas’ action wasn’t something that could be easily wiped away. They, as individuals, might never process or fully understand what caused Judas to do what he did. And yet they realized that, as a community, they could never be who they were supposed to be if they didn’t take stock of their entire story. The Eleven, with the help of prayer, worship, the reading of scripture, and the kind of conversation that lets us be honest and true, would gamble that the only way they could become whole is if they did this kind of work – together. 

Now wondering what it takes to be whole isn’t something only communities do after big changes and events. All of us, at one point or another, wonder what it would take to make our own lives whole too. We might, after a broken relationship, an unexpected change in employment, or a scary diagnosis – realize the tomorrow we planned for isn’t the tomorrow we’ll actually see. Our expectations, our hopes, and our dreams run head first into the randomness of life that we can’t always control. It’s then when we might feel a kind of hole grow in the quiet of our souls – one we try to fill with anxiety, grief, anger, and sorrow. Our first instinct might be to try and ignore what we’re going through as a way to take control of a life that feels like it might be going out of control. And while that might work for a little while, it wouldn’t last forever. We, instead, need to take stock of the fullness of our story – and realize that sometimes the most holy thing we can do is to wonder, question, lament, and shed the tears welling up inside. It’s these kinds of moments that make us realize that we aren’t as whole or as complete as we’d like to be. And while we might see that as a failure on our part to be the faithful person we think we’re supposed to be, I think a much better response is to pay attention to what our ancestors in the faith did while living through those kinds of situations too. When they longed for wholeness, they chose to be authentic and true to their story. They didn’t run away from their present by seeking to return to a past that seemed more wholesome than it truly was. The disciples didn’t move forward by running from their current moment. They, instead, explored the fullness of what today had become so they could see more clearly the God who would be with them in this life and beyond. Rather than seeking wholeness on their own, they would do this work together so they could love those who needed to be loved and, in turn, be loved when they felt isolated and full of holes. The community they were called to be wasn’t only going to be full of perfect people who always got everything right. Their community would, instead, be full of folks taking a chance that they, together, can be so much more. In the randomness of our lives, filled by things we’ve done and things done to us, God doesn’t want us to pretend to be anything other than we are. We get to be filled with our wondering, our questioning, our worries, and admit the ways we wish we were whole. And while that feeling might linger a lot longer than we’d like it to, your status as a beloved child of God doesn’t depend on how whole you think you are. You, even now, belong fully to God because God knows the body of Christ cannot be whole without you. As you imagine what tomorrow might be, it might feel like all you can do is gamble on what comes next. Yet the God who claimed you in your baptism is the same God who will bring you through.