Seventh Sunday of Easter
I have a lot of mothers in my life; and that’s a positive thing. I have many women in my life who function in a mothering way to me and I’m grateful for them. Some of those moms go to church with me every week. Now, I would never say that I had favorite moms, but there are only two who actually get a card from me on Mother’s Day. One of them is the mom I met when I was born; she’s the mom I’ve known the longest. The other is more the mother of my children, but funny story: she almost wasn’t.
Here’s a scandal if you like scandals: Sherry had a boyfriend when I met her. I would never be so bold as to say I was so charming, attractive, and funny that I stole another guy’s girl, but you know me so you can do the math yourself. The truth is, as the story has been told to me, the guy she was dating was a perfectly good guy. It isn’t like, after meeting me, she suddenly realized what a mistake she’d made. But, when Sherry and I met, we had a genuine chemistry and we knew there was something there; so Sherry had a decision to make. And because the other guy was a good guy, it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
It was a little like the decision we see played out in our Scripture reading today: she had to choose between two good choices; only Sherry didn’t flip a coin over it like we read today. She anguished over it. She prayed over it. She made lists of qualities and character traits. She sought the council of her parents; well, her mother; her father was of no help. The way the story was told to me goes: his only input to the conversation was, “What a great problem to have!” Not exactly the clear answer she was looking for.
As Sherry and I were talking about this story the other day, she said, “Well, it seems I made the right choice… so far.” Because only time will tell if she made the right choice, right? Even when it’s a choice between two good choices, only time will tell if you’ve made the right one. And as we look at the choice the early church made here, I can honestly say, I have no idea if they made the right choice or not; but that’s okay.
I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure what the point of this story is supposed to be. Obviously, it isn’t supposed to be a model for how we make decisions in the church. I would not be okay with picking elders this way. I’d better not find out that the Nominating Committee just narrows it down and flips a coin; that is not a reasonable discernment process.
We read how the early church at least prayed about it, so that’s good; but flipping a coin (or whatever) is too big a gamble. I mean, it doesn’t even seem like they’ve fully discussed the credentials of these two men, only that they were present throughout Jesus’ ministry, like any of the twelve were (although I’m not sure why that’s the criteria). But, someone should have at least asked, “Why does Justus have so many names.” Joseph, called Barsabbas, aka Justus. Do we really want, as an Apostle, someone who had so many aliases? That seems suspicious. I would have voted for Matthias just over that.
But the bigger point of confusion for me over this story is that I’m not sure Luke’s point is in telling it. What are we supposed to take from this story? Is this just a historical footnote? Are we supposed to see this as a good thing? Are we supposed to see it as a bad thing? Uncharacteristically, Luke doesn’t really give us any indication as to what place this story even has in the emerging story of the church.
I need my history lessons to have a clear point. I need to know how those historic moments shape the future. I look back on the choice Sherry made when we met and I can clearly see the implications of that moment in history. It should interest you too: I don’t know where I’d be today if she’d chosen differently, but I doubt my journey would have brought me here. I look at the children I help her raise and see the importance of that moment in our history and the importance of that one choice.
The choice of Matthias to replace Judas doesn’t seem to make any difference to anything at all. This is the first and last time we hear anything about him. That in itself isn’t terribly significant; there are plenty of Apostles we don’t hear much about in Acts. More importantly, we don’t hear anything about Justus either. Can you imagine being Justus? His only claim to fame is being Apostle runner-up.
I have reason to suspect that what we read about this morning is actually a mistake. Like I said, I’m not sure that’s the point Luke is making, but this may not have been the right decision for the church. To be fair, this happened before Pentecost; the Spirit had not yet been poured out on the followers of Jesus. Peter had not yet begun to realize the implications of the ascended Jesus. He had not yet begun to realize the commission of Jesus to bear witness to him in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Peter seems to be looking at things through his old, pre-Spirit point of view. Perhaps he was remembering Jesus saying things to them like, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel [Matthew 19:28].” So he does what he thinks is the sensible thing: he fills the vacant throne with someone like one of those that Jesus might have chosen; like someone like the rest of the twelve. He does what a responsible leader would: he fills a seat so the organizational structure can continue.
The problem is, as they would soon find out, that’s not often how the Spirit works. The Spirit of God does not care about organizational structures; the Spirit cares about calling. I think we forget that far too often. I appreciate that people have looked on the list of Lou Ray’s roles that I put together and I appreciate that some have heard God’s call to fill in where they feel called. That was part of the point I was making in putting the list together; but remember, that wasn’t what I asked you to do. I asked you to pray.
I feel we need to reimagine how we work as a church. For too long we have all had jobs: my job is to preach; someone else’s job is to sing in the choir; someone else’s job is to make visitors feel welcome; someone else’s job is to call members when we haven’t seen them for a while. Those are fine things to do, but the work of the church is not a job. When these things are jobs, we wind up feeling like we can just do a thing when the Spirit nudges us to do a thing because that is someone else’s thing.
The Department of Homeland Security has a program to combat terrorism called, “If You See Something, Say Something.” The beauty of the program, I feel, is that the title of the program is the program. I’m instituting a similar program around here. It goes like this: If You Feel Something, Do Something. We should never avoid doing a thing the Spirit directs us to do because it’s someone else’s job in our organizational structure. Now, we may need to coordinate our efforts, but no one will get upset if you feel called to join them in their calling; healthy followers of Jesus will actually embrace it.
One wonders how this story might have gone differently, had they waited to make this decision until after Pentecost. For all I know, maybe that’s the point Luke is making with this story. Maybe we’re meant to add our holy imaginations to this story and envision all of the other possibilities the Spirit might have led them to. Maybe it would go exactly like it did. Maybe the Spirit would tell them, “You don’t need to replace Judas; embrace eleven Apostles instead of twelve, perhaps as a scar to warn against that kind of thing happening again.” Who knows, maybe the Spirit would have led them to calling a gentile replacement and really blow their minds. But no, they took matters into their own hands, they took care of the organizational structure of the church, but they may not have paid enough attention to the mission of the church. So we’ll never know might have been.
Or maybe Luke’s point in telling this story is that not every follower of Jesus gets to be famous. I like that point. Just because we never hear about these two men ever again doesn’t mean that they didn’t go on to live Spirit-filled lives that served Jesus. For all we know, they went on to teach the Sunday school classes that inspired the next generation of disciples. For all we know they were the ushers, and greeters, and choir members, and bulletin-folders that make their worship all the more inspiring. For all we know, these two men were exactly like us. Well, not Matthias: he got the fancy title of “Apostle.” No, for all we know, we’re just like Justus.