Wednesday, February 22, 2017

St. Who?

St. Matthias (tr.) - February 22, 2017
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

What does faithfulness look like? What does it mean to be faithful?
As soon as Jesus had been taken up into heaven on Ascension Day, Peter stood up among the believers and said, "We've got to do something." Jesus had chosen twelve disciples--twelve to represent, in part, the twelve tribes of Israel--and you know what happened to You-Know-Who. Judas, Peter reminds, us was overcome with evil and, falling headlong, burst open and all his guts fell out. And now it's time to find someone to take his place. But why bother? I know that twelve is a nice round number, but maybe the other disciples should have learned a lesson the first time Number 12 screwed it up. Maybe this setback is something they should leave in the past. Clearly they still have a good thing going. Why tempt fate and press for a twelfth man? Or maybe Peter and the other believers just knew that setbacks like this one--that even betrayals as terrible and heartbreaking as Judas' betrayal--aren't enough to derail God's plan. Did they need a twelfth? Maybe they did, but maybe they needed to say to the world that we're not willing to let failure have the last word.
What does faithfulness look like? What does it mean to be faithful?
The community of believers identified two worthy candidates--two men who had accompanied them all throughout Jesus' earthly ministry from the his baptism in the River Jordan up through his Ascension. One was named Joseph Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and the other was Matthias. As far as the rest of the gospel was concerned, they were two no-names who had been with Jesus and his disciples from the very beginning. Faithfully, they had accompanied them over hill and dale, in the face of persecution, running from angry mobs, sleeping on the ground. For those three or so years, these two men had been there but none of the gospel writers had bothered to mention them up to this point. And still they stayed. Through it all. Even though twelve other guys got all the attention. They trusted that their faithfulness, if not seen by earthly eyes, would be noticed by their Father in heaven.
What does faithfulness look like? What does it mean to be faithful?
After two names had been proposed, they cast lots to see which one was the right one. They didn't debate it. They didn't vote. They didn't ask them any questions or make them give speeches. They put their names in a hat, reached in, and drew one out. And it was Matthias. Can you imagine leaving a decision as important as that one to chance? Should we take this new job? Should we buy this new house? Where should I go to college? Which rector should we hire? I know: let's draw straws to see what God wants us to do. Is it an expression of faithfulness to leave something that important up to chance? Maybe the community had so much confidence in the Holy Spirit's guidance that they weren't worried about which one was chosen. To cast lots isn't just a way to let God reach down from heaven and make the decision for them. It means trusting that no matter what decision was made God will lead it to good.
What does faithfulness look like? What does it mean to be faithful?
Do you know what happens to Matthias after the moment when he is chosen to take Judas' place? Neither do I. Neither does anyone. Do you know how many times Matthias' name is mentioned in the Bible? Three. All three are in this story. There's no more story about Matthias. After all that, the formerly unknown Matthias takes the place of the traitor, and then we don't hear anything else from him. Tradition has it (and by "tradition has it" I mean "people like to tell stories") that Matthias preached the gospel to the Ethiopians. Another tradition has it that he was stoned in Jerusalem. Others say he made it to the region of present-day Georgia (the country not the state). But the bottom line is that we don't know. We do not know what happened to the man whom the Holy Spirit led to be chosen to reconstitute the twelve. I wonder what sort of statement that is about his faithfulness--to accompany Jesus and the other disciples for years while getting no credit and then finally be chosen to take your place at the top and, again, get no credit for it.
What does faithfulness look like? What does it mean to be faithful?
I'll tell you. It means following Jesus through thick and thin, never asking for recognition. It means taking the worst setback imaginable and trusting that God will somehow get you through it. It means believing that your decisions aren't as important as God's love for you--that no matter what you choose, God still chooses good for you and for this world. It means laboring for a lifetime for the sake of the gospel and not worrying whether anyone will notice. That's faithfulness. Who was Matthias? He is each of us. He is all of us. He is the innumerable saints who follow Jesus wherever Jesus leads, trusting that God will use them in ways that transcend their understanding or imagination.

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