Underneath the sermon audio is the sermon text – there are several impromptu additions in the audio!



Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday May 13th 2018
The Reverend Alan Neale; “The Lot Fell…”

I find increasing joy preaching on verses that have intrigued, amused, engaged (even tickled) me over the decades. And so today, Acts 1:26 “And the lot fell on Matthias”.

In 1921 The Handbook for Churchwardens and Parochial Church Councilors was published in England; when I became Parish Secretary at 16 (the youngest, then, in history of the Church of England) I was handed my copy of the book with almost holy reverence… it was the ‘bible’ to guide us through the Scylla and Charybdis of ecclesiastical politicking. I pored over the book (“what a nerd”); I remember my delight when I came to the section dealing with the election of churchwardens resulting in a tie vote… the solution (in this driest of books)… to “cast lots”. It sounded almost exotic… not yet, in five decades, have I observed this solution in action. But there it was… enshrined in Kenneth Mead MacMorran’s book and (I knew) far longer enshrined in the practice of Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

Rule 11(8) perhaps gives some guidance here. Rule 11(8)(a), which you applied at your APCM, provides that “Where owing to an equality of votes an election is not decided, the decision between the persons for whom the equal numbers of votes have been cast shall be taken by lot.”

“They cast lots… and the lot fell on Matthias.”

Wikipedia… The “casting of lots”, cleromancy, is a form of sortition in which an outcome is determined by means that normally would be considered random, such as the rolling of dice, but are sometimes believed to reveal the will of God, or other supernatural entities.

Probably the practice in Acts 1 mirrored that in Hebrew Scripture, most probably suggesting a receptacle that received stones or papyrus with writing… the receptacle shaken and attention paid to what came out first… clearly, in Acts, it was the name of Matthias and (given the fierce treatment and intemperate attitude paid to the disciples) doubtless… Joseph heaved a sigh of relief.

In Wisdom literature (Proverbs 16:33) we read, “”The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”.

Now we might consider that at such a crucial, seminal stage of the church’s life… we might consider that the toss of a coin, or the throw of a dice, indicates disinterest at best… indifference at worst but not so for the Hebrew mind.

The casting of lots was not a substitute for thought, consideration, hard work but rather its complement, its fulfilment. The casting of lots was not an excuse for lazy, shoddy thinking but rather the placing of serious commitment literally into a human lap but (far more important), metaphorically, into the lap of God. The question on the disciple’s mind was not… “will I escape being called” but rather “is this how I will be called to serve?”. Modern Christian discipleship rarely and sadly reflects this attitude. Not so much when “Here am I, send me” but rather “Here am I, send him/her.”

Matthias, despite perhaps personal preference, chose not to follow the example of General Sherman, who in 1884 declined national office with these words – “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”

In fact the dear man, soon to become a holy and wholly unknown, followed the example of Dwight D. Eisenhower who, though he wanted “to use words similar to Sherman’s”, did not because he believed that no one “has the right to state, categorically, that he will not perform any duty that his country might demand of him”.

It is sometimes conjectured, and for this I have some sympathy, that maybe the church should have been patient… accepting both the pain and the patience resulting from Judas’ eradication from the apostolic roles. Maybe the church should have waited until that fateful day on the road to Damascus when Jesus appears to Saul and calls him into service (“as one” comments Paul, “as one untimely born”?). Maybe church, like nature, finds a vacuum difficult to suffer? “Wait, wait patiently for the Lord” – Psalm 37:7; 27:14; 40:1.

So Matthias, later to become the Patron Saint of Alcoholics (now there’s an honor!), accepts his lot… recommended by community, approved by divinity.

Sometimes, though, the acceptance of our lot is not such an easy and comfortable matter. On this Mothers’ Day there are many in whose laps lots have been cast that cause sadness, grief and anguish. It may be the experience of motherhood or its absence, but hearts today are not uniformly assailed by joy.

Maybe better was the time when Mother Church and the ministry of mothering was lifted high and celebrated. When to have, to know that our lot was cast in the lap of our Mother God provided all that we needed to live and love and serve!

Writing of his imminent duty to celebrate the royal wedding, Archbishop Justin Welby says he is encouraged by the lyrics of “Blinded by Grace” (which is something of a pun as the Abp. Himself is properly addressed as your grace)… anyway… “Blinded by Grace” has these words…

Lord, I’ve been broken.
Although I’m not worthy
You fixed me, I’m blinded
By your grace
You came and saved me.
However the lots may be cast for us today and in the days and years to come, this is our lot (bequeathed to us by our Lord Jesus) to find comfort in, and be blinded by, God’s grace to be fixed, visited and saved.
Thanks be to God, Amen.

Our restless spirits yearn for Thee
where’er our changeful lot is cast;
glad, when Thy gracious smile we see,
blest, when our faith can hold Thee fast.


To listen to the Audio version, or for more information please visit:

Alan-Neale.com: And the lot fell