Posts Tagged ‘Matthias’

Knower of Hearts 5-13-18

In this sermon, based on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 I explore the appointment of Matthias as the 12th Apostle. This odd situation occurs in the significant pause between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost.

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 in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to realize that in any given situation or interaction, there are different perspectives that lie on opposite sides…something I never considered in my younger days…and its only as my own life experience has begun to place me on the opposite side of these various interactions that I’ve started learning this crazy truth. A truth that is only revealed when you find yourself “sitting on the other side of the table.”

For instance…When I was a kid, especially being the third kid in my family, I thought my folks had things pretty well figured out…but now I’ve learned that parenting does not come with a manual, and that about 99% of all parenting is simply making it up as you go along, regardless of which kid in the order you’re dealing with. (pause) I’ve discovered that while being interviewed can certainly be a little tedious…being the one that is conducting the interview is one of the most un-natural feelings ever. (pause) And finally, one that I learned about the time I was starting seminary and began helping out in my old congregation as one of the Confirmation teachers…when you are standing up in front of a class…you can see EVERYONE…including the ones who think they are being sneaky by looking at their phone under the table. (pause)
Now, on the flip side of the teaching thing…that does remind me of my various days as a student, particularly in college and later on, seminary…when we would all embody being creatures of habit, and sit in the same place time after time. I can only think it’s a common human trait to do this…and because of that common tendency, another perspective that I’ve gained since taking on the role of teacher is how easy it is to see when someone is gone because they aren’t sitting in their normal spot.  And it’s this idea of absence, or the lack of a person’s normal presence that shoots us over into the scripture for today.

Now we find ourselves in the midst of a brief portion of time in the church year…in the 10-day gap that lies between Ascension Day, when Jesus is taken up into heaven…which just occurred this past Thursday…and the day of Pentecost, when we celebrate the empowerment of the Church by the Holy Spirit with the great wind and tongues of fire resting on the believers, which is coming right up next Sunday.

Now I’ve heard this 10-day period called a significant pause in the life of the church…and I think that’s fitting. For we find ourselves…or perhaps its better to say that the earliest church found themselves in an unknown spot…taking a breath perhaps as they find themselves in the reality of a pretty major absence. The absence of Christ himself.

Now as the book of Acts picks up, we begin with Jesus taking the Apostles just outside Jerusalem. He gives them the task of being his witnesses radiating out from the city…and he tells them that they will be empowered from on high soon…and until then, they should just stay there and wait….with this, Jesus leaves their sight…ascending into Heaven.

And now, for the first time, these witnesses to the Christ event…those who seemingly have been around since John baptized Jesus in the Jordan…those who have traveled around with him…they’ve seen the miracles…they’ve heard the teaching…and now they’ve witnessed the mind-blowing reality of the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus…and now…having seen all this…and having been utterly reliant on Jesus for direction…they find themselves on their own…this small rag-tag batch of believers…numbering about 120…about the size of our Sunday morning gatherings.  That was the entire church.

And I can only imagine…Jesus has disappeared, they’ve walked back into the city…and now they’re just sorta sitting there staring at each other…and it would seem that after a day or two, they starting asking the question. “What do we do now?”

Now keep in mind that Pentecost hasn’t happened yet…so no Holy Spirit yet…but it would seem that the church is getting impatient…and so they decide that its time that they take action…Jesus is gone, so I guess its up to us.

And as they look around…considering all that has happened…it would seem that a council election is in order…because there’s a hole left in the ranks of the apostles. Jesus said there was supposed to be 12…but look, Judas is gone. And so Peter hops up with an idea…GUYS…I totally think we need to pick someone to take his spot…and so they do…now they lay out some criteria…and it would seem that there are 2 guys that fit the bill…one guy with 3 names, Joseph or Barsabbas or Justus, whatever you want to call him…and Matthias.  And then in one of the strangest election situations I’ve ever heard of…they decide who God has chosen by essentially throwing dice…Matthias is chosen…he is now “numbered” with the other apostles…seemingly placed into a position of leadership among the 120, poor Justus gets shunted to the side…and then, (long pause) we literally never hear about either one of them again.

I can’t help but think of the possibility that the earliest church jumped the gun here. Jesus told them to wait until they were empowered…and that hadn’t happened yet. And maybe, just maybe, the fact that we never hear Matthias named again, or beforehand for that matter, maybe this serves a reminder that God wasn’t quite ready for them to start moving yet.

But that being said, I don’t mean to minimalize Matthias or Justus or any of the other members of the earliest church. In fact, I’m jealous of them…we hear that these are the people who followed Jesus. This group of 120 odd people were literally Jesus’ disciples…they were followers, even if only 12 of them were considered to be “THE” disciples.

It probably goes without saying that both of these two guys made important contributions in the life of the body of Christ here in the first days….and honestly the rest of the people probably did to. Its possible, probable even, that all 120 were included on Pentecost when the Spirit empowered them, not just the 12.  They were all present through the earliest days, meeting together…breaking bread together…being devoted to the apostles teachings, and encountering every new believer that was added to their ranks…they were all important.

But here’s the question I want to pose.  Of that 120 people…how many do we know? How many can we identify…maybe 20 or so? The original 12…a handful of women who are named at various points…and now Matthias and Justus…and everyone else, is completely unknown to us.

And yet…they are the body…and as we mentioned these earliest believers…these members of the earliest church were vital…because without this entire group and the witness that each of them provided through their own gifts and stories…through their own encounters with others…the church as it exists today would be different.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the 100 that we don’t know…those individuals who now, 2000 years later, are nameless and faceless…its almost like they never existed. And there are COUNTLESS more brothers and sisters from across the centuries that fall in the same boat. Those individuals who each did their part for the body…which is one body with many members…and then once their small part of time was up, they faded from memory.

I think about how quickly this can happen…how fast our memory can fade from those we are known by…and I realize the truth of this when I think about how I can see everyone when I’m teaching.  Guess what…the same thing applies when I’m standing in this pulpit as well.

I look out at you all, week after week, and since we’re all creatures of habit, I know pretty much who I’m going to see depending on which direction I’m looking.  I know I’m going to see Phil if I look right here.  I know if I look back that direction I’m going to see Joyce…I know I’m going to see Arlon leaning against the wall right over there, and either Nancy or Judy sitting here in the front row next to the organ. And I pretty much know where the rest of you are sitting as well.

But today as I look around this sanctuary…I can also see the spots where someone’s missing. I look over there, where Jane Christiansen should be sitting.  Or I look up here where Bob and Marcia Hastings should be…or over there where Tom Emmi used to sit…and I note their absence…and I note quite a few others who are absent today as well.

But perhaps for some of you that are newer, I say those names and you don’t know who I’m talking about…because they’ve been gone longer than you’ve been a part of this particular community…and this is precisely the point I’m getting at.

Our time in this life is a blip in the cosmic sense…and while we are known and loved by those that we encounter as we live this life together, there will come a day when each of us fades from living memory.

But there is something in today’s passage, almost a throw away comment, that we need to recognize. When Peter proposes this lottery for a new Apostle, they pray…and our translation is just a little bit off…because they actually call on the Lord, who they describe as “the knower of every heart.”  God is the one that knows us far better than anyone else will ever know us.

God is the one who sees every aspect, who knows us better than we know ourselves…and who loves us unconditionally from the first moment of our existence…through every single breath of our life…God is the one who holds us through death…and brings us to new life in Christ, whatever that will look like in the promise of the resurrection.

God is the knower of hearts…God is the knower of souls…God is the knower of you…and long after your time in this life is done, and your memory has faded away from those still living…your place as a beloved member of the body of Christ will not be forgotten by the one who made you in the first place. Amen

A Significant Pause 5-17-15

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.