Friday, June 12, 2009

Sermon for Year B Easter 7

Matthias is Us

We stand in an in-between time today.
It has been weeks since Mary Magdalene and the other disciples
discovered the empty tomb.
Jesus has been crucified, suffered death and resurrected.
And now Jesus is gone.
Ascended into heaven scripture tells us.
Seated at the right hand of the Father we say in the creed.

However we read it
the fact is
Jesus no longer is of this world.
He has promised to send help and comfort—and advocate.
We will hear that story next weekend with Pentecost.

But for now---the disciples are on their own.
They are no longer hiding behind locked doors.
They are speaking and acting and sharing the good news.

But the event we hear about in the Acts of the Apostles today
Is not really a public event.
Peter is speaking to a small crowd of believers—about 120 we are told.
That is almost double the size of our congregation here at St. John’s.

Peter wants to bring healing.
The betrayal by their friend Judas
and his suicide that followed
rests heavy on their hearts—
and on their ministry.

So Peter who always likes to fix things
Wants to “replace” Judas so to speak,
To fill his “slot”,
To restore make the circle of leaders to twelve people.

Perhaps because Jesus chose 12 leaders—
it is a way to honor his memory.
Perhaps because the number 12 reminds the apostles of their linkage
to the 12 tribes of Israel,
to their history, their roots as a chosen people of God.
Perhaps is simply a way to have a fresh start—
to begin again and go forward.

Two men are proposed for the one position.
There is Joseph called Barsabbas
(not to be confused with the criminal Barrabbas)—
So they tell us it is Barsabbas who was also known as Justus.
And then there is Matthias.

They have a very simple election procedure.
They pray and then they cast lots, essentially throw a dice to choose.

The lot falls on Matthias
And he joins the circle of apostles as the new 12th member.

We know nothing about either of these two men, Justus and Matthias,
who were proposed, nominated.

Even Matthias, who was selected, is a mystery to us today.
After these verses in Acts,
There is not one other word about Matthias in scripture.
Not one word, not one deed, nothing.
Matthias the one selected is as unknown as Justus who was not selected.

What we do know is that the other apostles set up some criteria
for whom could be proposed.

Both of these people—Justus and Matthias---
have been with the group from its earliest days—
from the baptism of John until the day of Jesus’ ascension.
Both of these people were witnesses to the resurrection.
Both of these people have been through the joy of knowing Jesus personally
and the horror of his trial and death.
And then joy again when Jesus was resurrected and came back among them.

We can infer that both Justus and Matthias were faithful people,
steadfast, willing to stick around
through the good, the bad and the ugly.
We can infer that they are both people of hope.

Matthias is chosen to complete the circle of 12.
But after that Matthias remains somewhat invisible.
We don’t know what he did, what he said, how he lived or how he died.
We just know he was a faithful man.
The other 11 apostles would say he was a faithful man chosen by God.

I have been thinking about Matthias all this week.
I have been away on a retreat with a small group of friends
that I have known for almost 10 years.
We began our seminary studies together in the year 2000.
We became part of a study group
which evolved into a prayer group.
We met at least once a week for our three years in seminary.
We talk once a month on a conference call
and we go away on retreat together once a year.
We love one another
And we hold one another accountable in our spiritual lives
and in our priesthood.

On the retreat we pray, we worship, we do Bible study,
we share our spiritual journeys—
our personal journeys
and our priestly journeys.

We are a diverse group in age and geography
and we serve God in a variety of ways—
as parish priests, as missioners,
as staff of the National Episcopal Church,
as supply clergy.
I think we are good people
and we are doing good work in the church. At least we are trying.
None of us are famous.
There is—at least not yet—no Desmond Tutu or Kathryn Jefferts-Schori
or Julian of Norwich or St. John among us.
We are all very ordinary people.

Faithful—in love with God and in love with Jesus
and very much in love with the people we serve among and with—
but unlikely to be remembered in the written history of the church.
We are Matthiases.

I don’t want to discount anyone’s possibility of religious fame,
but most of you, most of us,
can resonate deeply with Justus and Matthias.

When Jesus prays to God in John’s gospel today
he gives thanks for those God gave to him to love and to serve—
They were yours and you gave them to me
and they have kept your word.

We live in a world that is often obsessed with fame and success and stardom.
But what we hear in the gospel
is thanksgiving for those faithful witnesses
that we bump into every day—
thanksgiving for those that go out into the world day after day
and do their best, try their hardest to keep God’s word--
to live a faithful and holy life—
not just within the walls of their parish,
but within the walls of the world.

On the table here at the chancel step
is our parish register.
Every person who is baptized, confirmed, transfers their membership,
is married, or buried
here at St. John’s--
their names are written in the parish register.
I like that.
I certainly didn’t invent the Parish Register
—keeping this register is part of the canon laws
of the Episcopal church—
but I really like it.
This books holds the faithful cloud of witnesses
that have worshipped here, served here, struggled here,
prayed here,
and done all the tasks that you and I do now—
the preaching, the teaching, the cleaning,
the mowing, the cooking, the singing,
the worrying over and hoping for the future,
the loving one another--

All the faithful Matthiases of St. John’s in Haw Creek,
here in the city of Asheville,
their names are here.

Many of us might look at this book of names and recognize very few.
Many of us might look through the parish register
and be flooded with memories of the saints of God—
those we love but see no longer.

I like that our name is written in the register of a church.
It may be our one and only bookmarked place in the history of God’s people
but it is a very fine one.
Our names are written down
to indicate that we tried our best—right here in this world—
to be a faithful witness of God’s love.

God knows us each by name.
Each one of us matters to God.
No matter how long it takes us to figure that out.
Whether we have been carried in these doors as an infant
or whether we found our way here as a seasoned adult.

God has been waiting.
God has been calling us by name
since we were formed in the womb.

God does not call us to be famous or successful or wealthy.
Sometimes that does happen in the course of one’s life.
Sometimes it does not.
Our achievements in the world
are not what God looks upon.
God looks upon our hearts.

God sent Jesus into the world
to show us what love looks like in human form.
Just in case we might need a visual aid…

For all our many imperfections,
we are still God’s holy people.
We are loved
We are called to love others.

We are invited to join the great cloud of witnesses
whose names are not only written in this parish register
But more importantly and most profoundly
Those names—our names—
are written on the very heart of God.

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