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Roll The Dice

John 17:6-19

The Rev. Jon Roberts

12 May


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

6 “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee; 8 for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9 I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine; 10 all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. 18 As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.


Saint Peter preaching in the catacombs by Jan Styka, 1858-1925

When God gave birth to the world
was it with precise order,
making it fair and nice?
Or did he leave it to chance,
as if He were playing the odds,
and simply rolled the dice? [1]

There is a phenomenon that has swept suburban neighborhoods, targeting of all people, mothers. Neighborhoods such as Mt. Vernon, outside of Alexandra, Virginia is one such example. These are most accomplished mothers. They are defense contractors, political representatives, and lobbyists, they run the PTA, teach, and raise their families. One would imagine such a gathering would be about something of great importance and mission, but that does not appear to be the case. The first Friday of each month, this one group of ladies can be seen on a rotation, visiting one of their homes this month, then a different one the next, gathering in living rooms and around dining room tables and kitchens. They drive in quickly to the respective driveways of the given location with precision and haste. They have a bottle of wine under arm and typically a snack platter. One person brings a bell. They come, not exactly to be nice or fair, but because they are here to play Bunco, rolling the dice to win. It may be a game of chance, but it is a guaranteed bonding event, a unity builder, one that brings these mothers together for just one day a month to share their stories of motherhood, married life and giving comfort through laughter.

The Bible has lots of occurrences of people rolling dice, and for various reasons, not exactly to give comfort. The minor prophet Nahum refers to the fall of the Assyrian empire, where he notices in what is now northern Iraq, the men being taken away by invaders who cast lots, that is rolled dice, to see who would own them as slaves.[2] Before his time, over six hundred years before Christ, we see the number of twelve in these brothers related to Jacob. The eleventh one, you may recall had a multi-colored dream coat he bragged about, and for it, he was sold by the others into bondage. They cast lots for his fate and sold him to the Ishmaelites.[3] Then we have Peter, calling to order the Christians down in the catacombs of Rome with official business of the church. An important decision must be made. They lost the eleventh disciple, Judas and now must find his replacements. They employed the technique used for centuries to settle disputes, to make certain and wise decisions, they cast lots. They rolled the dice. It is telling, that in the story of Joseph, the eleventh brother would save the family. Judas, the eleventh disciple of Jesus tried to destroy it. The importance of Matthias winning the roll of the dice cannot be understated. If the family would remain as one, all twelve must remain intact, just as the twelve tribes of Israel. This parallel is important as God gives birth to the human family. He creates with order and purpose, not to be fair and nice, and God’s actions are certainly no roll of the dice.

In the High Priestly prayer offered by Jesus in St. John’s Gospel, can you hear the love of a mother for her children. “Father, I pray for those who you gave me. They are mine, for you gave them to me, and mine are yours.[4] All that are mine, you have given me so that I may be glorified. I pray, not on my behalf but for theirs.” Jesus is asking that they be protected from the evil that is in the world. He knows full well all probable snares and pitfalls, and when He enters heaven, He is asking the Father to keep them set apart, and holy. How many of the disciples died a heinous death as martyrs? All but one. Is it possible that God still protected them, although we see such torture and pain? Is it possible that they were living for God, for the other world, the heaven to which Jesus promises his flock? His children? Would Jesus spend all that time with them, teaching and showing them the way of God’s will and leave it to chance? All but one followed. The Judas Psalm is number 109. It is David’s prophecy that the Messiah will be betrayed and there will be casting of lots, rolling of dice for his clothes. If God knows this will happen to His son, is it possible that God could still protect him in some way?

Two scientists, hardly religious were determined scientific realists, spending their entire life trying to explain the world in which there are laws of physics that determine our outcome. One of them had a famous, short quote. He said, “God does not roll dice.”- Albert Einstein. He believed in measurable outcomes. If you knew the mass, the velocity and time of an object you can predict its place and destination. The other scientist, Stephen Hawkins subscribed to Quantum Mechanics theory. He said, “God does roll dice. He just rolls them where you don’t see them all.” Both were non-believers. They only spoke in such terms to say, “If there was a God, a supernatural being” then this God would either be all-knowing or all-predicting, but not possible to be both. Does God create with a perfect order or with perfect intention?

The mother who carries her child imagines, plans and hopes for the best outcome for them. She has certain things she can control, but sooner or later, does she not have to trust in the system, that through experience, they will develop? Is this what God had in mind for the world? Did He do His best to form everything and create a world that would give the best possible outcome? Now you hear the prayer of Jesus in a different way. You could argue that he is clutching the dice, praying for them to roll a certain way that would protect his disciples. The mother and the one who rolls the dice, both rely on faith and pray for the best. Is this what Jesus is doing for His disciples?

God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is all powerful. He is everywhere. He is all knowing. Is there a chance that He would let go of His sovereign nature just to see how our free choice takes a different course? If that were the case, we may question this trust. We may wonder why a loving God would allow bad things to happen to His children, but God is able to comprehend the full equation. The world is not always fair nor is it nice. Then again human beings are complex creatures and especially those who choose to follow Jesus. We betray Him like Judas. We doubt Him like Thomas. We persecute Him like Paul. We deny Him like Peter. God knows what we intend to do before we do it, because God has already seen our behavior, just as Jesus knew the thoughts and the actions of His disciples. Jesus is the comforter, even when we are forced into bondage, persecuted by the world and scorned by family. He prays for us because He already knows. Jesus was there when the world began. He was there, as God, with God in giving birth to the world. He created it in a perfect order, not to show the world He was fair or nice. He knew the outcome. He knew the odds, and because He knows us, Jesus will never roll the dice.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Nahum 3:10
[3] Genesis 37:28
[4] John 17:6-19

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