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In All Your Ways
By Dr. Stuart R. Gordon
05/20/12

First Presbyterian Church
Dr. Stuart R. Gordon
Confirmation Sunday, May 20, 2012

In All Your Ways
Acts 1; Proverbs 3:5-6

Poor Matthias. Why has no one ever heard of him? Children sing songs at Bible School about Peter and Andrew, James and John. Some kids even manage to memorize the names of the twelve. But rarely do you hear the name "Matthias." In fact, if you wait a month or two, then come back and ask me the name of the man selected to replace Judas, I probably won't remember. But, really, can you blame me?

Do you know how many times Matthias gets mentioned in the Bible? Twice. Exactly twice, and both verses are in this passage today. Andy Warhol said we all get fifteen minutes of fame; Matthias gets about five.

Maybe Matthias had bad luck. Or maybe Matthias is closer to reality than Andy Warhol.

You know, there were some big things going on around Matthias. It was a time of uncertainty for the church. Jesus was gone; he had ascended to heaven, before their eyes. Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit, but they were still waiting for that gift. So, Matthias was chosen in a time of uncertainty, and his selection was followed by the Pentecost gift, the Holy Spirit poured out on them all like tongues of fire. So it is not exactly shocking that the selection of Judas' replacement could be overlooked, that we could not remember his name.

Come to think about it, most of life ends up being lived between the big events that we remember. We remember birthdays, don't we, but can have trouble remembering most of the days in between? And graduation days are upon us, and whether it is college or high school or elementary school, we will make memories this month, while many of the days that led to graduation are forgotten.

I guess you might say that most of our days are lived between the significant moments that we mark and remember. Maybe it is no shame to Matthias that we don't remember his name. Maybe he wouldn't have it any other way. I will say this. I bet that if he had his choice between our remembering him and our remembering Jesus, he would take the latter. I will bet he would be quite content for us to remember that Jesus ascended into heaven and then poured out his Spirit on the church. And that, to me, seems to be a worthy goal of any Christian disciple. Can we be content that people remember Jesus, even if they don't remember us?

Five years ago was the graduation that was my fifth, and I swear will be my last. Now that I am approaching the age of fifty, I am becoming fully qualified to be a cynical old man. In fact, Tom Walker promises that one day, like Elijah bestowing his mantle on Elisha, he will bestow upon me his mantle of being the Presbytery's curmudgeon. I feel suitably prepared and gifted.

Anyway, at my fifth and final graduation, this one from Columbia Seminary, I was, shall we say, offended by the behavior of several graduates and their families. But, I am a curmudgeon. It strikes me as odd, to be honest, that during ceremonies that dress us all the same in order to make us simply faces in the crowd, individuals do their best to stand out. The schools put us in identical black robes and identical flat hats that make us all look identically silly, and then give us diplomas that for the most part are identical. All of this is on purpose, to make us fit in. The only exceptions are those given by the school, in order to bring attention to those whose excellence has resulted in honor. You earn your attention at a graduation ceremony.

Apparently, such conventions seem too stuffy to many people, and so they seek to stand out by putting funny messages on their flat hats or wearing crazy clothes beneath their gowns, or no clothes, which they reveal during their twelve seconds on the rostrum, or by blaring out air horns when their names are called. It can be funny, I guess, but to me it just seems sadly egocentric. And I think it is fairly common. There actually is a message on the board at a daycare near my house that says it: "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?"

I guess that outside faith in a God whose plans are perfect and who is working wonderful things, we may feel the anxious need to stand out in a crowd, even if we have to blow an air horn to do it. But Matthias is a better example. Why stand out when you were born to fit in? Why desperately beg for whatever attention you can get, when you are promised a part in God's good plan? Why lean on your own efforts when the Maker of heaven and earth is working out his good purposes for you already?

Todd Jones' favorite Proverb is this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Those seem, to me, to be good verses to remember on graduation days, and confirmation days, and any day of our lives. Those verses are worth exploring and explaining, so that we can live all these in-between days in the trust that God is doing good things.

Now, I am not sure that the trust displayed by those eleven apostles is a trust that you and I can readily imitate. After all, who among us would make an important decision in life by casting lots? My Bible dictionary names lots of occasions where believers cast lots, in order to learn God's will. Saul, Israel's first king, was selected by lots. The tribes of Israel divided up the conquered land by casting lots. Priests were assigned their jobs in the Temple by the same method. Matthias was chosen the twelfth apostle by the casting of lots. Actually, the Bible never says exactly what lots were or how they were cast. We will just say it must have been something like rolling dice. Who will be Israel's king? Let's roll the dice. Who will serve in the Temple? If it is snake eyes, Zechariah goes. Let's be honest: to us, this seems like a remarkably stupid way to make an important decision! Thank heaven that there is no eleventh commandment, "When thou art making the most important decision of thy life, thou shalt roll the black-and-white cubes and proceed accordingly."

So, what is the alternative? How are we to trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding? How are we to live in between the big events in the confidence that God is working out his good purpose? Can we not fit into the plans of our Heavenly Father, and resist the urge to stand out in all our anxiety?

It is worth noting that the apostles, while they waited, were constantly devoting themselves to prayer. This is one of those things that is so obvious that we have to say it, but we don't want to overstate it. It is not rocket science. You don't need an advanced degree to do it. You just need to discipline yourself the teeny-tiny bit to take the time to pray every day. Trust me; you will come to know God really well. You will know God well enough to see that your life fits very nicely within God's good purposes. You will know God well enough to stop being anxious about your life, and about whether you will be noticed. Pray every day.

It will probably help us to think about trusting God by thinking about the circumstances in life when we need to trust God. That word, "circumstance," comes from a Latin word that means "stand around." It means all the stuff standing around you. Imagine yourself in the middle of a circle, and life being that circular line.

The line of life has some pretty common experiences for us all, and so why don't we name a few, and name what trust looks like?

Circumstance sometimes involves our losing and sometimes our gaining. How do you face losses? Resentment? Blame? Temper tantrums? How do you face gains? Bragging? Taunting? Rubbing it in someone else's nose? I see trust in God when a Christian faces both loss and gain with gratitude to God. Let this be your aim as you strive to trust the Lord in all your ways. Be grateful to God both when you lose and when you gain. This is a mark that you see your life fitting into God's plans.

Circumstance sometimes involves people betraying you and sometimes people loving you beyond the call of duty. How do you respond? When people betray you, do you retaliate? When people love you faithfully, do you take them for granted? I see trust in God when a Christian's treatment of others doesn't depend on how others treat you. Just as Jesus loved his enemies, so you show trust in God's plans when you love both those who love you and those who betray you. Let this be your goal.

Finally, circumstance sometimes involves people helping you and sometimes people opposing you. How do you respond? When people oppose you, do you assert yourself and do whatever it takes to win, even if it means forgetting God? When people help you, do you soon forget them and take all the credit for what you have in life? I see trust in God when a Christian confesses the generosity of God and other people, and when a Christian behaves generously. Let this be your goal.

Trust God in gain and loss: be grateful in all circumstances.

Trust God in love and betrayal: love others in all circumstances.

Trust God in help and opposition: credit generosity and be yourself generous.

You might say that this is how you and I cast our lots, trusting God to work out his plan, trusting that our lives fit within God's plan.

Quite frankly, this may seem like a stupid way to live, as stupid as rolling dice to make a big decision. I guess that outside faith in a God whose plans are perfect and who is working wonderful things in our lives, we may feel the anxious need to stand out in a crowd, even if we have to blow an air horn to do it. But Matthias is a better example. Why stand out when you were born to fit in? Why desperately beg for whatever attention you can get, when you are promised a part in God's good plan? Why lean on your own efforts when the Maker of heaven and earth is working out his good purposes for you already?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

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