Contributed by Jay Gamelin
Pastor of Jacob’s Porch, Lutheran Campus Ministry to The Ohio State University
Warm-up Question: Share a time when something happened that was just not fair, that you had no control over. For instance, a car wreck, getting blamed for something you didn’t do, etc.
It seems all we hear about is news about the economy these days. When we hear all the news, we hope that somehow the biggest fallout will pass us by. We hope we will keep our jobs as long as we keep working hard, keep our heads down, and hang on. But for 1,100 Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler dealerships, suddenly they are no longer hanging on but have become a part of the growing statistic of pink-slipped people.
After filing for bankruptcy, Chrysler has been waiting for the results of the government’s plan to help the automaker recover. The decisions are not Chrysler’s, they can only wait and see what recommendations come through. The government put into place one recommendation asking for 1,100 dealerships to close by the end of the month. With the potential of 40,000 jobs lost, many people are in fear for their financial lives. The news comes in the mail this week via letter to the dealerships. Perhaps a mail carrier has never been watched more closely at a Chrysler dealership than on May 15.
Many men and women around the country are also watching their mailboxes, in-boxes, e-mail, and inter-office memos closely waiting to see if they are the next people cut in the continued need to trim budgets in a weakening economy. Tension runs high in many places as people worry, “will I be the next to receive the luck, or perhaps bad luck, of the draw?”
- Do you know anyone who has lost a job or had to accept a cut in salary, pay, or work hours because of the economy? How are they dealing with the change?
- What if this situation happened to you? How would you feel? Would you be angry? Frustrated? Relieved? What sort of changes do you think you or your family would need to make to cope?
- Do you believe in luck? Why or why not?
- Why do you think good things keep happening to some people and bad to others? Is there a greater design to it that some are given blessings and others are not — on purpose?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, May 24, 2009.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
Reading the Gospel lesson again, I am reminded that I have always felt bad for Barsabbas. I mean seriously, the poor guy is obviously someone who has followed Jesus for a long time if he is to be considered a choice to be apostle. He is named “Son of the Sabbath” which is a really cool name, and here he is passed over because he drew the short straw. Man, that just stinks for him. Now he is not an apostle simply because of luck?
Perhaps, but also perhaps the world spins on its own and God chooses moments to intersect the kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of earth in actions like healings, tremendous coincidences, visions, and prophecy, to name a few. We call them miracles because, well, they do not happen all the time, right? It seems that God does intervene sometimes, but not in others. How then does God choose when and how? Why are some healed and some not? Why do good things happen to some and others, well, seem to “draw the short straw”? What happens? Is it luck, a choice, or God’s action?
There is no perfect answer to this question, but we can take reassurance in one interesting thought: for every person healed or raised from the dead or freed from slavery, all of them still suffered the ultimate end, death. Yes, we glimpsed the kingdom when Lazarus was raised from the dead, but he eventually died anyway. Yes, Jairus’ daughter was raised from the dead and all wondered and praised God, but she died eventually too. I have known friends who have recovered from cancer and yet in their old age they still moved on into death. It seems that no matter what little thing befalls us in this life, the good and the ill, in the end we all have our ticket punched and none of us live forever. (Just ask Voldemort.)
How is this good news?
These glimpses of the kingdom, these tiny, infrequent moments, are not rewards for people who have been good or bad, they are signposts for what God wants to do in total. We can see that if God wants to raise one of these from the dead, this is a sign that God can do this for all of us. Ultimately we know this through Jesus who was raised from the dead so that while we know death we will not have fear. We are all blessed to receive the miracle of Jesus’ grace. For all that luck or blessing or miracle or curse or whatever we may call it on this side, in the end we are all victorious. We are all blessed. We are all given the gift of new life.
I am not sure I believe in luck. I am not even sure that God played a hand in picking Matthias over Barsabbas. Maybe it just was, for good or bad. Or maybe this was the hand of God in this small instance, a miracle, picking the right one for the job. I just don’t know. Instead, rather than seeing the small picture, I choose to see the big picture. Remember that we are all chosen, straws or not, to be God’s children. This isn’t luck. It’s a blessing.
Or was it luck? It seems that the text wants us to consider that God had a hand in how this drama unfolded, that the true apostle would be picked by divine providence and the right one would become the apostle. But does God work this way? Is God really the one pulling all the little strings of every moment of every action?
- How do you think it would have felt to be Barsabbas? What do you think you would have done? Been mad and left? Stuck around? Accepted the decision? Been bitter?
- The good and the bad that happen to you… do you think they all come from God?Do you tend to call good things luck and bad things God — or vice versa? Why?
- Is God is at work in every little thing? Why or why not? Do you think God works to bless some people in special ways? Do you think God tries to challenge, maybe you’d even say curse, others?
- What do you think when you ask God for an A on a test, or a good job evaluation, or a faster solution to a problem and it doesn’t happen? Who do you blame? God? Do you think it’s life, luck, blessing, or curse?
- What do we do when we pray for healing for someone and it doesn’t happen? Is this God? Life, luck, blessing, or curse? Does healing occur sometimes in a way that we don’t think of or ask for? How?
- “We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?” Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)
- “It is bad luck to be superstitious.” Andrew W. Mathis
- “Luck favors the prepared, darling.” Edna Mode in The Incredibles
- “I have a lot of luck, it’s just not always good luck.” Carter Terry
- “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Seneca, Roman dramatist
- “Shallow [people] believe in luck, believe in circumstances. Real [people] believe in cause and effect.”(ed. “men”) Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is a wishing game. It is a simple test, for good or ill. Everyone think of a hope for the coming week, a wish, so to speak. They can be as simple (“I want to be really happy”) or as complex (“I want to grow wings and shoot fireballs from my eyes”) as they wish, but it has to come true this week.
Give people a chance to consider their hope, then write it down on a slip of paper. Give everyone a few minutes to look at the slip of paper, concentrating really hard, REALLY wanting it to happen. Now throw all the slips of paper into a hat or container. Mix them all up telling them that whatever they draw out will come true. Have each person pull one out and read it out loud.
- Do you think it is going to happen? Why or why not?
- Is this a trustworthy process? Why or why not?
- Come back the following week and discuss whether the wish came true. Why do you think it did or didn’t?
- Do you think God or luck played a hand in this?
Holy God, for all the good and bad that comes in the world, I know that no matter what, you are our Father, and of you we will have hope that we will rest eternally in you. Thank you for whatever blessings we have been given, forgive us for ascribing good or ill to you that is not yours, and give us confidence to follow you, for good or ill. Amen.