I have sometimes daydreamed about the experience of liturgical freedom: picking and choosing the scripture for a given Sunday (particularly when I need to address a specific issue), praying an extemporaneous prayer on a Sunday to address a certain topic in the church, or drafting our own liturgical experience to address a particular need. However, as crazy as the idea may sound, I more often find freedom within our Episcopal constraints than within the endless possibilities of what could be.
This past week was a classic example. Last Sunday, totally unaware of the announcement I would be making on Tuesday, Bob preached about the invitation of the Resurrection being an invitation into discernment – discernment about what each of us needs to do to bring about the kingdom here on earth. On Tuesday night, our regularly scheduled Discover Class topic, which was scheduled months ago, was focused on the structure and leadership model of the Episcopal Church, including who bishops are and how they are elected. Then today, we get this lesson from the Acts of the Apostles in which Peter and the other apostles are attempting to replace the twelfth spot Judas left open through his death. All that daydreaming about constructing our spiritual experiences went out the window this week when I remembered the Holy Spirit does a much better job at constructing those experiences than I ever could!
To say that this portion of the Acts of the Apostles is a divine gift is not necessarily because we happen to be talking about a bishop’s election this week just as the apostles are talking about an election of sorts. In fact, what the apostles are doing is the opposite of an election. No one asks Matthias or Justus to go through an interview process or offer their vision of leadership for the next decade. Instead, their criteria are pretty simple. First, the replacement should be someone who knows Jesus personally. Second, they want to honor their ancestral roots in the twelve tribes of Israel – eleven apostles will not suffice.[i] Third, their decision is rooted in prayer. And finally, their decision is based on trust in the will of God. Nowadays, we might think the casting of lots is a little too random and could lead to a poor appointment of leadership – I mean when was the last time we selected a Rector, Warden, or Committee Chair by flipping a coin? But according to New Testament scholar Kathy Grieb, the casting of lots is “an ancient biblical practice for determining God’s will…”[ii]
Hearing about all the coincidences in our last week, from talking about discernment, to the structure of the Episcopal Church, to the selection of the last apostle, may be intriguing or even amusing, but may also leave you asking, “So, what? What does all of this have to do with me or my experience of Hickory Neck, or even more broadly, with Jesus?” As I have reflected on these coincidences – or as Carl Jung referred to them as instances of “synchronicity” or “meaningful coincidence”[iii] – I see an invitation for all of us from Peter. First is an invitation to recall our identity. We are a community whose historic identity has been about weathering change – whether it was the identity crisis created by the Revolutionary War, the replacement of a faith community by schools and hospitals for over a century, to reclaiming and expanding our land to become a church again, to surviving a global pandemic. The possibility of a change in clergy – a very small possibility at that – does not alter the fact that we are a community rooted in Jesus’ love, shining our light on this Holy Hill for almost three centuries. Second is an invitation into prayer: prayer for the Hickory Neck Community, prayer for your Rector, and prayer for the Diocese of Iowa and the other candidates. Our hurt, our frustration, our fear, and our joy can be left at the feet of Christ in prayer. When given the space, prayer can do much more than we can imagine. And finally, our invitation this week is to trust in God. We may not always like what God does – I am pretty sure the apostles would much rather have not been trying to figure out a leadership model in Jesus’ absence. But we do know that God is faithful, and, in time, God leads us to goodness and grace. I do not know where the next couple of months will lead us. But I do know if we can stay rooted in our identity, in prayer, and in our faith in God, we will come out stronger disciples for Jesus, strengthened to take on whatever “meaningful coincidences” the Holy Spirit throws our way. Amen.
[i] Noel Leo Erskine, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 528.
[ii] A. Katherine Grieb, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 531.
[iii] Carl G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 44, as cited at https://artsofthought.com/2020/05/30/carl-jung-synchronicity/ on May 14, 2021.