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.


St Matthias

It is St Matthias’s day today. He isn’t someone whom we tend to make much of. We don’t preach much about him, nor associate him with anything much more than the manner in which he was chosen to be an apostle. Matthias was the one chosen by lot to replace Judas.

Though he doesn’t have a great place in the grand scheme of things, I rather like to remember this day. It is a reminder that sometimes vocation is about being in the right place and the right time rather than about gifts and skills, even though those are the thing we concentrate on most of all.

I am also reminded to pray alongside ‘Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus’. He was the one not chosen. Preaching on his situation seems to me to be just as interesting as attempting to think about Matthias.

Of course, choice by lot still sometimes gets used. It is used to decide elections sometimes when the votes are cast evenly. (One is tempted to suggest at the moment, that the Greek election should be decided by the toss of a euro). The final choice in the decision to choose a new Coptic Pope will involve a small child choosing a name at random.

Anyway, let us remember Matthias and Joseph/Barsabbas/Justus. God uses people even amidst the apparent randomness of life choices and situations. And scripture reminds us through their story that randomness is very much a part of God’s world.

Matthias – a patron saint for all those who believe that God has a very precise plan for their lives.

Joseph/Barsabbas/Justus – a patron saint for the rest of us.