Some people think life is a lottery, or live their life like a lottery taking chances on all sorts of things with no guarantee of a return. It is incredible what people place their trust in – you know how people get can so caught up in superstitions, like throwing salt over your shoulder if you spill any, or making sure your cutlery is not crossed at the end of a meal?
I am not a betting person. I have never bought a lottery ticket, never played the pools, and never placed a bet on a horse in the Grand National. Don’t get me wrong, I am not making a moral judgement on people who do and we ourselves know from personal experience how this community has been able to benefit from the lottery with a significant proportion of our funding for the Community Centre coming from the Big Lottery.
For people who have bought a lottery ticket, I am sure they really hope to win…that jackpot of millions of pounds. That’s the thing about superstitions and taking a chance on things like the lottery…they sometimes believe that such things can somehow give us hope, a sense of security, that everything will be ok. Yet deep down, I am also sure they don’t really expect to win the lottery; and certainly not the jackpot. They live with echoes of “It could be you!” going through their mind. But when really pushed I don’t think they believe that following empty superstitions makes one jot of a difference. And you can tell that quite easily. How many people do you know who after having bought a lottery ticket, tend to live their life any differently – life simply goes on? They don’t place an order for an exotic sports car, or a luxury yacht, a trip around the world or a nice large detached house somewhere.
Now imagine if someone came along who they really trusted and said to them “I know the winning numbers.” It is likely they would laugh and say “pull the other one!” But what if that person responded by saying “No, seriously…I really do know the winning numbers.” And something in the way that they said it to them won them over and they believed them. So they go out as usual and got a lottery ticket – but this time they used the numbers that person had given them. Imagine approaching that evening when the numbers are drawn, and the emotions they might be feeling. Doubt, disbelief, cynicism? Probably other emotions too. You see something like this would never ever happen.
But if they were really really convinced that they were going to win, what impact would it make? Would they then place an order for an exotic sports car, or a luxury yacht, a trip around the world or a nice large detached house somewhere? What difference would knowing they were definitely going to win the lottery make to their life?
I wanted to share this example with you because I think as a church we live like people in the first part of that example – we never really expect to win. It’s too easy for us to have a lottery mentality and approach to life. It’s too easy for us to follow empty superstition. But the thing is I believe that life isn’t a lottery. I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for our life. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And even if the journey gets rocky from time to time, God never ever leaves us. With God it isn’t a case of “It could be you!”, it is a case of “It WILL be you!” We are chosen by God, and loved by God.
We all probably agree that we would never believe someone who promised us that they knew what the winning lottery numbers would be. It has never happened and it never will. But when God makes promises, we are talking about something completely different. We are called to live as people with a sure and certain hope that Jesus has given us. And that is something that should…no, MUST…have an impact on our lives. The church seems to spend so much time making an apology for its existence when we should be secure in knowing that this is God’s church and He is perfectly capable of bringing His will about with and despite us! Do we live with that sure and certain hope, that faith, that certainty? Do we trust God and his promises?
In our Ascension reading, Jesus speaks of the “promise of the Father.” I like promises that God makes. Because unlike us he doesn’t break them! He delivers, even if not when we want! And what a promise He made…“you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And I want us to remember that Jesus was talking to a group of disciples who abandoned him at his crucifixion, who fled in terror, and who had blown it big time. The disciples were not some superhumans – they were folks just like us, folks who at the end of the day try, who care, who want to make a difference, and folks who sometimes stumble and fall. Yet they loved Jesus.
Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit just as his Father had promised. And the Holy Spirit came upon the church as a downpayment, seal or sign that everything would happen according to God’s plan – to equip the church to bring glory to God. And the disciples were transformed. Now that promise would have been enough but Jesus also wanted the disciples to be witnesses of the fulfilment of other promises Jesus had made. Jesus had said he would be put to death – and he was. Jesus had said that after 3 days he would be resurrected – and he was. Jesus had said that we would ascend into heaven to be with his Father – and he was. It is like a whole sequence of events which declare “I am speaking the truth to you…believe…believe…believe.” And when it came for that time for Jesus to depart in the vicinity of Bethany “he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” I don’t know about you, but I love how the disciples were filled with joy…they had come from that place of doubt and uncertainty to that place of belief and certainty. They were secure in the knowledge that God’s plan would be accomplished. And they went on from there to “be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Their lives had been and would be transformed.
May we too be filled with that resurrection hope, that sure and certain hope, living our lives in the light of Christ. Amen