Sunday, May 17, 2015

Choosing the wrong disciple?

Acts 1:15–17, 21–26
In the days between Jesus' ascension and Pentecost, Peter oversees the process whereby one of the members of the community of believers is chosen to be the twelfth apostle, in order to fill the vacancy created by Judas's treachery and death.

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus — 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning 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." 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

(A version of this sermon was preached to Augustana Lutheran Church in Houston)

Every wonder if the disciples were wrong in their choice here?

I mean, if they say "We need another witness to the resurrection!" and the Holy Spirit is all like "Guys, Mary Magdalene is right here."

It's not like the disciples always got things right.  And Peter, bless his heart, means well, but isn't known to be the best at discerning the will of God.  Jesus is gone, the Holy Spirit has not yet fallen upon the disciples, and maybe Peter's dead wrong about how to go about picking a 12th.

Did you notice they don't pray until after they pick Justus and Matthias?  Maybe the Holy Spirit says "Meh, between those two, either one will do, flip a coin." Because maybe the Spirit's range of possibilities for this position was bigger than the disciples'.

Did you notice anything about the names?  "Joseph, called Barsabbas," is a Hebrew name, but he's code-switching, and calling himself "Justus," which is a Greco-Roman name like "Matthias."  It's as though Joseph already knows that the disciples won't even look at resumes if the name is too ethnic.* 
Have any of you ever witnessed a job situation, where the higher-ups already know who they're going to promote, so they write the job description and qualifications to fit the candidate they want?  I wonder if that's happening here.  Notice they didn't pray until after they decided what they wanted?  Maybe "has been with us since Jesus' baptism" wasn't even a qualifications that mattered to the Holy Spirit.  I wonder if this game was rigged all along.

Maybe Matthias did a great job as the fill-in disciple.  We don't know, we never hear about him again.  Maybe he was one of those guys who quietly gets everything done behind the scenes, so isn't mentioned, or maybe he was just inoffensively mediocre.

What we do know is that God appears to ignore this decision, and pick who God wanted all along, and it's someone who doesn't fit the disciple's list of qualifications at all: Saul, who is muttering threats of persecution against the early followers of Christ.  Saul, who didn't even witness the resurrection, Saul, with his righteous identification with his minority ethnicity and religion, Saul, who doesn't even believe that Jesus is the Christ.  God picks Saul to be the one to spread the Good News about the resurrection, to tell people the stunning revelation that God's love is for all people, totally unconditional, and a gift full of grace.

I don't know, I could be totally wrong here.  But I do know that the church sometimes makes stupid decisions, sometimes fails to see people for how God sees them, sometimes judges people with the very same prejudices that the rest of the world does.  The church all too often doesn't believe women when we tell the story of the faith, still can't hear the voice of God in people of color, still can't believe that God would speak through people of all sexualities and gender identities. 
But here's the God news: God does.  God used Mary Magdalene, honored her as apostle to the apostles.  God chose Saul (and renamed him Paul) regardless of who the disciples chose as their 12th.  God probably still used Matthias, and Joseph too.  And God sees you.  God uses you.  God chooses you.

And here's even more good news: The early church still managed to get the message to us!  Whatever mistakes they made, we got to hear the Good News anyway!  See, God's action is not dependent on the church making the right decisions, or doing the right thing.  (We should try anyway, and do our best, but God will work despite our best being flawed.) 
God will speak through Peter, and all his dumb mistakes, through Joseph who was called Justus who wasn't picked, through Matthias who got the job in spite of better candidates, through Mary even though not everyone could hear her, through Paul despite his crazy fanaticism and being the totally last person you'd want for the job, and even through you and me!

Because God desires the world to know unconditional love.  For you, for me, for the people we don't know.  Jesus prays for it, God desires it, the Holy Spirit inspires it. Thanks be to God. Amen.

*Ok, this paragraph is based on some pretty vague memories from seminary, that I couldn't verify myself.  Let me know if this needs some correction, but I remember there's *something* about ethnic discrimination going on with the names.

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