This morning’s sermon came from Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. This is the single bit of scripture that sheds light on the pause between Jesus’ Ascension and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The disciples appoint a replacement for Judas who had betrayed Jesus.
You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Before I dive in today…we need to do just a touch of housekeeping…I’m actually going to be gone on vacation over the course of the next week…and therefore I won’t be here next Sunday to lead worship and preach. (pause) Now I worked really hard trying to find a guest to come in and pick up the reigns for the week…leading and preaching…but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find anyone.
Admittedly I was feeling horrible about all this…until first thing this morning as I was looking over the text out of Acts…and I realized that God was providing the perfect answer to this mystery…the perfect example of how to proceed…by chance and casting lots. And so I grabbed a random bulletin…and drew a big star on the inside…right next to where it says Underwood Lutheran Church…so everyone grab your bulletin and open it up and take a look…
Who’s got the one with the star? (pause and wait for them to id themselves) Okay great…God has appoint you…you will be our worship leader and preacher next Sunday…so get prepared…clearly God thinks you’re capable. (pause)
Okay…clearly I’m kidding here…we would never leave something like that up to chance would we? (pause) What a crazy way to fill a position of leadership…and yet…isn’t that exactly what happens in the midst of today’s lesson? (pause) Now admittedly, I went out of the ordinary today…as it is certainly normal for me to base the sermon off of the gospel lesson assigned each week…but as today marks a transition in several different respects…I thought I’d switch things up just a bit.
Today is of course our final Sunday of regular programming and education…and in addition, today is also the final Sunday of the season of Easter. Next week marks Pentecost and the beginning of the longest stretch of a single church season for the year…and since we are looking towards the season where we will focus on the continued growth of the church…it seemed fitting today to focus on this transitional text out of Acts.
Now Acts itself is part of a two volume book, the first being the Gospel of Luke…both of which are written to the same individual as a way of telling the truth of Christ…first off his life and ministry, then his death and resurrection within the Gospel…and now here in Acts the transition of leadership over to the Apostles and then the steady growth of the early church.
And that being said, this first chapter of Acts really sets up the transition…as it opens with Jesus still present, but taking the remaining 11 disciples out a stones throw from Jerusalem where he flat out tells them that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And literally as he’s saying this, he is taken up into Heaven…commonly known as the Ascension…and we know from the scriptures that this occurred 40 days after the resurrection…actually just this past week…just a couple days ago, we celebrated this day…and then we hear that the 11 disciples headed back into the city where Jesus had told them to stay until the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Now we know that happens at Pentecost…which we’ll celebrate next Sunday…but right now…in this moment…we find ourselves in the lull…in the break between the Ascension and Pentecost…between the presence of Jesus in the world…and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the world…something that can best be described as a Significant Pause in the work of God here within our reality…a brief moment…a tiny blip on the cosmic radar…10 days when the disciples are on their own…just waiting…and not really knowing what to do.
And today’s passage offers us the single bit of scripture that sheds any sort of light what so ever on the activity of the disciples during this time…during this significant pause in God’s work…and as we see…the main thing on their minds is the Judas situation…but if we think about it…can’t we boil that down to the issue of an open ministry position? (pause)
Isn’t it funny that even back then…administrative type issues were the first thing on the minds of church leadership…some things never change do they? (pause) And so…baring any other direction from the Lord in the mean time…they take matters in their own hands in order to keep moving forward…and they pretty much hold the single strangest election for a leadership role that I have ever seen….Let us cast lots to see who God has chosen.
And this essentially means that they stick two rocks in a jar…one with the name of Matthias…and one with the name of Justus…and they shake the jar until one of the rocks falls out…MATTHIAS!!!! We see that God has chosen you to take the place of Judas…and Justus…well sorry…we’ll give you the title of honorary patron saint for the silver medalist. (pause)
All jokes aside…isn’t that sort of telling of the human condition…even here in the church…that in the moments when God takes a break…in the moments of a significant pause, we feel the need to keep moving…to jump right away…to do what seems important to us at the time…rather than simply waiting for what God will reveal.
Admittedly, I often find myself chuckling at things like this…particularly here in the early chapters of the book of Acts…as this small ragtag batch of followers…people who have been traipsing along after Jesus for a few years take the reigns…and try their best…but some of these early stories are almost laughable…they throw dice to appoint a new apostle…then in a week the Holy Spirit shows up and they are accused of public intox…and people on both sides of the coin…followers of Jesus as well as his most ardent opponents…including this random guy named Saul who starts off by rounding up believers…it seems like every single thing that they do…crazy as it might seem…ends up getting used by God to move the kingdom forward. (pause)
But it doesn’t always happen in ways that we would expect does it? Take this whole appointment of Matthias thing…they put a whole bunch of stock in the need to fill the hole in the ministry left by Judas…a ministry that he had participated in…that he had shared…this ministry that Jesus told us included serving one another and serving the world…but now Judas is gone, so a game of rock paper scissors raises up a new guy…a different guy…someone with completely different skills and gifts and experiences…
And then…quite literally…we never hear about him again. Never once…Matthias is never named in the scriptures after this moment…sure he did important work for the kingdom…serving as a fellow witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ…but just what this work was? Well, we don’t know…because he has joined in the countless number of individuals to share the name Christian…as one of the fellow workers as members of the body of Christ.
Matthias was appointed…he stepped into a vacant role…and did his best…but then he died…and eventually someone else stepped into that role…a new individual with different talents and gifts and experiences…and so on…and so forth.
And when we think about it…isn’t that the exact same thing we have continued to do, down through more than 2000 years of Church history and right up to today…we have continued this same tradition of asking God to help us appoint someone new to fill the vacancies…and despite all of our failings…and all of our mistakes…God has continued to grow the church…to spread the good news of Jesus Christ…and half the time, if scripture is to be believed…the spread occurs in the midst of our best efforts to hinder it…intended or not.
And not even the odd examples of our limited human attempts to keep things moving in the midst of God’s significant pauses…the church has continued. (pause) And as we consider this truth…isn’t it a joy to realize that we have a God who not only cares enough about our reality…and about this crazy batch of lifeforms known as the human race to continue to work in and through us…but we have a God who cares enough to stop…to pause…and notice us as individuals…even though our lifetimes are simply a blip on that cosmic radar screen. (pause)
Others have come before us…and others will come along behind…and we have our moments here…in this life. For example…there have been 15 pastors of Underwood Lutheran church starting back in the 1920’s and leading up to me as number 16…and other than a couple of brief interactions with my immediate predecessor…I have no idea about those who have come before…whether they are alive or dead…what their interests are or were…I don’t know anything about them…and I’m guessing that at least for the first few…none of you know anything about them either…
It could almost be like they never existed…yet they did…and the church…not just Underwood Lutheran…but the church as a whole is different…is changed because of the work that God did through them…and likewise it is the same with each and every one us…We have a God who stops…who pauses and notices us…and not only that…but we have a God who delights in us…and choses to work through us each and every day…whether we realize it or not…
And as the years…and the decades…and even the centuries go by until that glorious day when Jesus returns from Heaven…the church will march on…and as one individual falls out of a role for whatever reason…another individual will step into it with new ideas and gifts and talents…and God will bless that…just as God has blessed all of those who have come before.
And while one day our names may be forgotten to those who come after us…we can rest assured that through the saving work of Jesus Christ…we will not be forgotten by our God…for to God…we are significant…each and every one of us. Amen.