Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Silent Apostle

Inspiration for this sermon comes from David Kalas of I am quoting Bruce Laverman from his post on Evangelism Connections.

The audio from this sermon:

Check this out on Chirbit

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus — for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

1 John 5:9-13
If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

John 17:6-19
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

When I was preparing for today’s message, I came across a quote about our Gospel reading from Bruce Laverman: “Here Christ is praying not just for the Apostles Peter, James, and John.  But He is praying also for Jerome, Augustine and Bernard.  He is interceding to the Father for St. Francis, John Hus, and John Wycliffe.  He brings Calvin and Zwingli, Wesley and Whitefield before His Father, as well as Graham and Peale and Martin Luther King, as well as John XXIII, and Bishop Leslie Newbigin.  Here Christ is praying for you and for me, and for all his disciples who would follow Him into the lost and broken world of the 21st Century so loved by Him.”

There is a lot of truth in that statement. Think of all the stories we’ve heard, all our lives, about the great people who helped shape Christianity. Think about people who, because of their faith in the risen Christ, changed the world. If there are names he mentioned that we don’t know, there are other names we can use to replace them: Mother Teresa, Corrie ten Boom, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, John Knox, Karl Barth… not to mention the people alive today who, when you say the word “Christian,” spring immediately to mind.

It’s easy for me to imagine Jesus praying that prayer to include those men and women who personified the courage and conviction of faith in the risen Christ, who so often suffered ridicule, persecution, imprisonment, and even death for the things they believed.

Reverend Laverman’s last sentence, “…here Christ is praying for you and me, and for all his disciples…” is harder for me to imagine for myself. I can’t mentally place myself in the same league as Augustine or Calvin or ten Boom or Bonhoeffer or King.

That’s why I really enjoy our reading this morning from the Book of Acts.

The reading from Acts takes place in that time just after Jesus has ascended to Heaven. The disciples return to Jerusalem, and spend their time together in the Upper Room, along with the women and Jesus’ brothers, all praying.

At some point, Peter stands up and declares that someone has to take Judas’ place among the Apostles. I don’t know why Peter was so dead-set on filling the vacancy right then; it wasn’t like they were overworked, or falling behind on whatever it was that Peter thought they were supposed to be doing. Perhaps he thought that by filling the spot they could erase the memory of the evil that Judas had done. Most likely Peter was just being pre-Pentecost Peter: headstrong, opinionated, rushing into things half-cocked.

Our reading skips a pretty important part, the twentieth verse, where Peter uses Scripture to make his case – “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ‘May another take his place of leadership.’”

Perhaps that alone was Peter’s motivation: making sure that the Scriptures were honored.

Whatever the case, nominations were made, then they prayed for God to choose one – Joseph called Barsabbas or Matthias. They did the Biblical equivalent of flipping a coin, yes, but this was done with the firm belief that God determined the result, which, when it was all said and done, was Matthias.

And that is the first and last time we ever hear anything about Matthias in the Scriptures.

Imagine that – brought in to the inner circle, rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in Christianity, Simon Peter and John and James and Andrew and Matthew and even Thomas, and we never hear another peep about the guy!

Volumes have been written about Apostles – even Paul, who wasn’t anywhere near them when the Resurrection or the Ascension happened, but who went on to wrote most of the New Testament. Their individual biographies may be sketchy, but they are the most famous people in Christianity. These are the guys who get churches and schools and hospitals and cities and millions and millions of people named after them. But not Matthias.

Now, he didn’t just take his membership plaque and go home. There are several theories and conflicting traditions about what all he did before his death, though many of the ancient sources can’t even agree on what his name was.

While the third-century historian, Hippolytus of Rome, claims Matthias died in Jerusalem of old age, another tradition has Matthias being stoned, and then beheaded, in Jerusalem. Yet another tradition holds that Matthias began preaching in Jerusalem, then going on an evangelistic mission to the barbarians and cannibals in what we know today as the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, where he was crucified around 80AD.

But none of that is certain, because Matthias wasn’t one of the big names.

You know, if we all sat around for awhile and thought about it, we could probably come up with a pretty lengthy list of famous, influential Christians throughout history. Depending on the particular theological branch, we might include everyone from Harry Emerson Fosdick to Smith Wigglesworth to Bishop Fulton Sheen to Gustavo Gutierrez and Andre Trocme, and we could go on and on. The list could be hundreds of names long, encompassing two millennia, but it would represent only a tiny fraction of all the men and women and children who have placed their faith in the risen Christ.

And not only is that OK, that’s actually the preferable place to be, even if you’re like me, where the most dangerous place in the world to stand is between me and an audience.

For most human beings, when asked about the people and events that have influenced their lives, their beliefs, their minds and their spiritual journeys the most, the names and faces that come to mind are not the big names. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that, in the context of the greater portion of humanity, it’s the people of Christianity who don’t have TV shows or write books or give great sermons who truly change lives.

Oh, sure, we could argue that Peter and Paul and John and James were, and are, responsible for changing untold billions of lives, and it isn’t that they were the exception to the rule; rather, they weren’t all that well-known in their lifetimes, outside of their own circles of influence. Only as Christianity continued to grow, and their writings were circulated among the churches, did they become household names. Like many well-known Christians who came after them – Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, Saint Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, their reputations grew not because they had good PR and marketing, but because they served God faithfully, even in the face of adversity.

While Peter’s sermon on Pentecost resulted in thousands came to believe in Christ, this serves, for most Christians, as the exception rather than the rule. The most effective example for most of us is Peter, stepping out of his comfort zone to visit Cornelius and bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. The most effective example is Phillip with the eunuch. The most effective example is Paul, reaching out to small groups of people in the cities he visited, establishing communities of worship that grew and thrived long after he had moved on.

You see, while words spoken to tends and hundreds and thousands are all well and good, the greatest good is done not within the context of the pulpit, but within the context of relationship.

We never know if Matthias preached a sermon. But we know that Matthias had been with the disciples since the beginning. He had seen the healings and the exorcisms; he’d taken part in the feeding of the five thousand. He had watched Lazarus come out of the tomb. He had witnessed the risen Christ, standing right there in that very room, and had watched the sky until his neck was sore as Jesus Christ ascended to heaven.

He was there the whole time, but we never see his name mentioned in the Gospels. He doesn’t pipe up and ask Jesus to clarify a parable, or step out on the water with Peter, or raise a ruckus when the woman breaks open the alabaster jar; he isn’t listed as one of those who fell asleep in Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, or ran away when the Temple guard marched in.

Yet he had been there. Quietly, actively, faithfully… and chosen by God.

Over the millennia, Saint Matthias has become the patron saint of alcoholism, carpenters, smallpox, tailors, and the cities of Gary, Indiana as well as Great Falls and Billings, Montana. And I want to add one more patronage to the list: I want to suggest to you that Matthias is the patron saint of the vast majority of Christians: the not-famous ones.

Matthias is the patron saint of our parents’ good advice, of long talks over coffee, of mutually shared hopes and dreams and prayers. Henri Nouwen wrote, “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.” Matthias is the patron saint of friends who care. Matthias is the patron saint of relationships.

Matthias is the patron saint of doing the right thing even when no one is looking, of giving up lunch to feed a hungry person, of speaking up for the rights of someone who can’t thank you, even though it’s unpopular, of giving someone you barely know a ride, even though it’s inconvenient. Matthias is the patron saint of faith in action, one-on one.

Though he was chosen by God after the rest of the Apostles, this silent Apostle, Matthias, was no less chosen by God than Abraham, or David, or Peter or John.

And you and I are no less chosen by God to join in fellowship, in worship, in relationship, and in service

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