And the lot fell upon Matthias – a sermon

This sermon was preached in St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow on 12 May 2024

You don’t get many stained glass windows depicting Joseph Barsabbas – also known as Justus, do you?

You get plenty of windows depicting Matthias. We’ve got one here in St Mary’s – over by the tea and coffee table. There he is with the fateful words – “And the lot fell upon Matthias”.

But if you want to exercise a devotion to Justus, you’re out of luck.

Or maybe he was out of luck in not being chosen.

Or maybe he was the lucky one in not being chosen.

But there’s no stained glass windows of him anywhere I know. There’s no statues of him. No icons of him. No holy pictures of him either.

And yet he was just as worthy as Matthias. He’d been a witness to the things that Jesus had done. They both had.

But the lot fell upon Matthias.

Isn’t it an extraordinary thought that the casting of lots two thousand years or so ago led directly to which of two men from the Holy Land would be depicted in stained glass here in Glasgow.

But the lot fell upon Matthias. Not on Justus.  And so Matthias is who we have.

The problem for the disciples was that there seemed to be some significance for them in being 12 in number. (This significance is lost to us, by the way). However, they felt the need to find someone to fill the gap that was left by Judas, who had betrayed the Lord and then taken his own life.

The solution that they came up with was to find a couple of people who were worthy enough to step into the sandals of an apostle and then they prayed and then they cast lots to decide who should get the job.

One of the most fascinating things about this is how seldom Christians have wanted to replicate what they did in order to choose a new apostle.

It isn’t completely unknown for people to be chosen for posts in the church by lot but it is unusual. The Coptic Church in Egypt selects a few likely candidates when they are choosing a pope and then a choirboy is chosen at random to pick a name out of a mitre.

And those with long memories going back about 20 years might remember that the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church chose our Primus by casting lots, when the votes kept being tied in every vote for weeks.

But it isn’t often done.

But pretty much the first time the early Christians needed to choose a new leader that’s what they did. They picked two worthy candidates and drew lots – allowing fate, or God, or chance or – well we’ll come back to that in a minute, to choose.

And the lot fell upon Matthias.

But I have to admit. I have a sneaky devotion to Justus, the one on whom the lot didn’t fall.

Maybe the next time I find someone who paints icons, I’ll get them to paint me an icon of Justus.

You see, life hasn’t always turned out as I expected it to do. Or even as I might have hoped it would do.

Justus represents the road the church didn’t travel. The apostle never picked. The disciple unpreferred.

I find him really rather fascinating.

I’ve stood in quite a few elections for things – for parliament, for the diocese, for a council seat, for being the rector of a university and one or two things whilst I was at university. And I have more often had the experience of Justus than of Matthias.

Losing elections is one of my best skills.

It is one of those hobbies you get better and better at the more you do it. And I find the one unchosen rather fascinating.

But less about me, what is it that the early Christians are up to and is there anything to learn from it.

I think there’s a few things I think I have to say about this little incident.

  • Firstly they didn’t trust God with the choice completely. And that’s really important and we should learn from it.
  • And secondly, vocation is something for everyone and is about letting the gifts and skills that God has given us respond fully to the place in which we find ourselves.
  • And thirdly, providence, if it works at all, works better when you look backwards rather than forwards and maybe for this last week of Eastertide, we should try doing that.

Let us just run through those. Firstly, it is clear that the disciples thought that God needed some help in making this decision. They only allowed two names to go forward and it is clear that both of them were regarded as eminently suitable candidates. I take from this that common sense is God’s greatest gift in trying to practice discernment. Far more important than spooky revelations or even tossing a coin. Common sense did most of the work here and common sense should be seen as God’s greatest spiritual gift. Holy Wisdom you can call it if you like. But it mattered to the disciples and it should matter to us, whatever decisions we are trying to make.

Secondly, I do think that vocation is about thinking about the gifts and skills that we have and then allowing them to be used as fully as possible in the situation that we find ourselves in. The community seemed to have discerned that both Matthias and Justus were wise enough and sensible enough. They had been present enough. And they were trusted enough.

That’s the stuff of vocation. Often much more so than mystical callings in the night.

These were people with great gifts and they were in the business of trying to recognise them as gifted people.

This congregation is a gifted group of people. I often think about that. And it is God’s business not only to have gathered us here to encourage one another and egg one another on but also it is God’s business to have placed us each in a world which needs the love of God preaching from Monday to Sunday.


As I think about my own gifts and skills and the extraordinary ways my life has turned unexpectedly, I am pretty sure that I don’t believe that there is just one path that God has laid out for me to follow and somehow have to try to get right all the time.

I can only really make sense of the providence of God when I look back at my life and think about where my gifts and skills have been used and where they have been recognised. I can see places where I may have been nudged and cajoled by God and by God’s people that have ended up with me being here, fully present in the now.

We’ve just got one more glorious week of Eastertide left. And in it, I invite you to look backwards at the providence of God. Maybe think about what you’ve seen of new life since we heard the news on Easter day. (Or maybe even since you heard the news of new life for the first time). In what ways has that new life been glimpsed?

For it is all still true you know? For if Christ had not been risen from the dead, the disciples would not have been gathered there. And if Christ is not risen from the dead, we would not be gathered here now. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Easter Day Sermon 2024 – It is started

It comes in waves, grief does.

It is not a constant thing. And when you think that you are moving on another wave can hit you by surprise and leave you right back in the place you were trying to crawl out of.

A big part of my life over the last 18 months has been adjusting to a world in which two of my friends are no longer present. Unexpected deaths, relatively young. Lives cut short. Ministries in the church unfinished. And friends left behind.

I am a friend left behind.

And so I find as I approach the Easter story this year, that my eye is drawn very strongly to those who make their way to the tomb to anoint the body of the Lord. Those who were grieving.

The gospels tell of a number of people who make their way to the tomb in the first light of the day. Women first and foremost in their love. And in their grief.

What are they thinking as they make their way to the tomb? Well, I don’t just know what they are thinking, I can feel it.

Waves of grief, numbness and despair.

Grief comes in waves.

And in those depths, grief is a most bitter companion.

I will admit to not having always been myself when I have felt those waves of grief. I have not been the person I’d want to be.

And this year I have found myself not living in the kind of world that I want to live in either. There is much that leaves me grieving for a better world that we glimpsed and then saw snatched away.

The continuing Russian war directed against Ukraine has destabilised a Europe which seemed to have found the way of peace.

The ongoing horror in the Middle East has not simply destabilised the world, it has disturbed our minds and made peace – salaam and shalom feel agonisingly out of reach.

Warmongering, terrorism and the weaponizing of civilians leave me grieving for the world I had hoped for. For too many months, gross injustice in Gaza has been played out on our newscreens, For too many months kidnapped hostages have been away from all whom they love.

It is easy to feel that hope has been killed, and has been buried forever in a cold, stone-sealed tomb.

But comes the dawn and come the women to the tomb.

They come weeping. They return rejoicing.

The news that they proclaim on Easter Day is that death never has the last word. And hope triumphs when all seems lost.

Have we ever needed to hear the news of Easter more – that Jesus is risen from the grave, that despair doesn’t win, that green blades of growth rise from all that seemed buried and gone.

Grief comes in waves. But so does love.

And the waves of love that spread out from what those women shared in the first light of the first Easter Day changed their world, change our world and will go on changing the world as we spread it ever further.

  • God has not forgotten the broken hearted.
  • God has not forgotten the grief-stricken.
  • God has not forgotten those for whom despair has become almost who they are.

That wave of God’s love did not begin on Easter Day, for it is as old as time, but Christ risen from the grave is when we witness its greatest triumph.

Love, hope and belief in new life are not optional extras for Christian people. They are the reason we are who we are and do what we do.

Despair and grief are real, even the bitter grief of hopes dashed. But the story of who we are doesn’t conclude by the side of a grave. Our story begins at an empty tomb.

Yes, the world is a mess.

But it has you and I in it and we know by the story that we preach and proclaim that new life is our inheritance and our hope. Things never have to remain the way they are.

This year will be a year of great change in this world. Momentous change. This is the year in which more people will vote in elections than have ever done since the democratic era began.

Every part of the world needs people in it who believe in a better world, a world where justice for the poor, integrity for those who govern and kindness for the troubled are the building blocks of the world we wish to see.

This year our election process in this country could well be a painful and hurtful time.

It demeans us all when an election is portrayed in the simplistic banality of a phrase such as stop the boats. Such language threatens those who need help most and diminishes us all. It is the language of the tomb. We need to move the conversation away from Stop the Boats towards Stop the Hatred.  Xenophobia, fear of foreigners and naked racism are already dancing behind the words of too much electioneering.

But ultimately it will not win.

Good people believe in better things.

God’s people believe in better things.

Sometimes hope feels like something you have determinedly try to drag out of yourself. Sometimes though it bursts forth from no-where. A wave of love joy, hope and peace bursts unexpectedly from our inner tomb.

The promise of Easter is not that new life is possible it is the promise that it is inevitable.

And I believe it.

Christians believe in a better world than we already have. We believe in a world where the poor are fed, the lonely are comforted and the sound of war is heard no more in any land. We believe in salvation – the healing of the world.

The story that we are caught up in as Christian people on Easter Day is the story of salvation. And salvation is not the church bobbing around on the waves of this world plucking a few lucky souls to safety. Salvation is the great wave of God’s love that will sweep us all home.

Early this morning, we baptised people into this story, confident that they will bring new life into this world and confident that they will rise with Christ.

Early this morning we lit a fire and brought candlelight into this church to proclaim that gloom will not win. Light and glory will cast every shadow away.

Early this morning, Christ rose from the grave. Not only is death not the end but new life is real. The wave of God’s love has reached all the world. It has even reached us here. It has come to you.

I believe in things worth believing in.

New life for all. Love, joy and peace in abundance.

And I believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the grave. For if Christ were not risen from the grave then we would not be gathered here, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.