Sermon 7 Easter Yr B

7 Easter Yr B, 24/05/2009

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“The ministry of ordinary people”

 

John drove in a leisurely fashion to the Amtrak station. The twins were on the spring break and were coming in on the 3 o’clock train. He needed time alone to reflect on all that had happened in the past several weeks. Karenza, his spouse, had finished seminary at the end of the fall semester. The spring had been filled with opportunities to interview for parish pastorates. It had been a learning experience for them both.

He had been stunned by some of the bigotry and subtle discrimination his wife had encountered as she offered her talents to the Lord through the church. They would usually debrief after her interviews, sipping cups of hot tea, and discussing what it meant to be called in the face of those other disciples who thought women ought not be pastors. He had never doubted Karenza’s gifts for ministry; he was beginning to doubt the church’s ability to utilize them.

The twins greeted him at the station with enthusiastic stories about campus life. Eric looked at his dad thoughtfully, “How is the whole thing going for Mom now? She beat us to graduation by six months.”

John filled them in on all but his wife’s tears. They were silent for a while until Linda said, “It’s God’s church and she’ll be chosen for something. I know it.” Her firm optimism somehow eased the strain.

The next Sunday they all attended a church where Karenza preached as part of the calling process in that parish. During the coffee break before the meeting to vote on her, Linda struck up a conversation with a man in the coffee line. He sat down with her at a nearby table as they munched cookies.

“You’re a visitor here. We’re about to actually consider a woman for our pastor. I have a hard time with that. After all the Bible says women should be silent.”

Linda looked at him and nodded, “Yes, for a particular time and place that was true. But I understand when we are baptized it means we are all together in this. All the gifts God gives ought to be used, whether they belong to women or men. Jesus said in one of his parables that one of the people who got gold was afraid and hid it in the ground. I think doing ministry means we do not hide our gifts.”

The man looked at her and nodded thoughtfully. Then someone struck a glass with a fork and announced that the meeting was to begin. John and the twins went home to await the news from Karenza.

Two hours later she joined them on the backyard terrace, her face filled with joy. “I’ve been chosen to be their new pastor. The chairperson of the committee was not initially in favour of this but he stood up and talked about someone who visited this morning and he said it was obvious she had heard the gospel and he needed to start listening.”1

In today’s first lesson from Acts, we also learn about a choosing and call process to serve Christ among that first generation of Christians. Like the story of Karenza, we learn that God calls and chooses people whom at first, others may not necessarily have chosen. It is the grace and guidance of God at work in the lives of people that determines the end result of any choice in the call process—at least that is what we hope and believe is true.

An important lesson we learn from this story in Acts today is that Christ has given his first followers a ministry in the meantime, that is, in the between time. Today’s story takes place in the meantime, or between time after Christ’s ascension into heaven and before the day of Pentecost. We, too, live in the meantime, in the between time. And like those first-generation followers of Jesus, Christ has also given us a ministry in the meantime, the time in between. We live in the meantime, the between time after the day of Pentecost and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, and before Christ’s second coming. Do we simply do nothing and wait for Jesus to come for us today? No! We continue to do the ministry he has given us, while we wait for his coming again.

Even in the short between time of the first-generation Christians, they were not content to do nothing. Rather, they were directed to serve Christ by choosing another apostle to succeed Judas. The choosing of a twelfth apostle is consistent with what Jesus had promised earlier in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 22:28-30. In that passage, Jesus promised the twelve apostles they would have a privileged status in his future kingdom. The twelve apostles would sit on thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Therefore it was now necessary here in our passage from Acts to reorganise the sacred band of twelve apostles in fulfillment of this promise to choose and call a replacement apostle after Judas had defected and committed suicide. According to Peter, who is here taking a leadership role among the other apostles and the 120 first-generation followers of Jesus, this reorganizational process was necessary to continue the ministry of Christ and his church.

So, Peter proceeds to lay out the qualifications of a new, replacement apostle to be chosen among those 120 first-generation of Christians. The first qualification, so it seems, is that the successor of Judas must have been present with Jesus in his earthly ministry from the time of the baptism of John until the day of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. In other words, the person should not be a recent convert who had not accompanied Jesus in his earthly ministry. This qualification makes a lot of sense, because the continuing ministry of Christ on earth; if it were to be successful; had to reach people with the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel message, of course, is Christ-centred, therefore who better to preach the Gospel than the closest friends and followers of Jesus? The first-generation apostles had an advantage over everyone else, because they were with Jesus in his day-to-day earthly ministry; they remembered what he said in his preaching and teaching; and they witnessed his miracles and signs. The apostles then were the most qualified folks to “go and tell,” to spread the Gospel to into the world.

The second qualification that Peter spells out is that the replacement apostle “must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” In other words, the resurrection was “the” single, most important Christ-event of them all. Therefore, the replacement apostle had to be an eye-witness to Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection was “the” single, most important life-changing event out of which the Christian church was born. Christ’s resurrection confirms God’s saving power over the powers of evil, sin, and death. If God works in a saving way through Christ’s resurrection for all people, by giving the promise that one day, those who believe in Christ and his resurrection; then, all people would need to hear the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. Who better to spread the Good News of Christ’s resurrection than the original, first-generation eye-witnesses to the resurrection?

Out of the 120 first-generation followers of Jesus, two people are suggested as candidates that meet the two qualifications for a replacement apostle, they are: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. One of the fascinating things about these two followers of Jesus is that we have zero information about them, other than their names—nowhere else in the New Testament are they mentioned again.

What does this teach us? Well, I believe that it teaches us Christ can and does call ordinary people; folks who may not be that popular or famous. You don’t have to be a world famous televangelist to spread the Good News to others. Christ is able to bless the ministry of even the least among us. In fact, the least known may be the most common way in which Jesus works in the church. If we were to number the total membership of active Christians in the world today and compare that with the total number of the most famous and popular Christian leaders; I think there would be way more ordinary, unknown Christians than there would be popular, famous ones. The vast majority of Christians today are not well known and famous—rather, they are like Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias, little, if anything is known about them. Yet, Christ chooses and calls such ordinary folks as you and me to share in his ministry equally as much as he chooses and calls the rich and famous. We ordinary folks are equally as important in Christ’s eyes as are the most popular people in the church.

So, in the meantime, the between time, it was not at first clear which of these two candidates should be chosen and called to replace Judas as an apostle. The group of those first-generation Christians then turn to the Lord in prayer to ask for guidance as to who is to replace Judas. After that, being Jews, they turn to a familiar method of casting lots to determine which of the two people is going to replace Judas. For them, God was at work even in the chance aspect of casting lots—whether it was choosing straws, rolling dice, or some other method, we do not know. What we do know is that the lot fell on Matthias, and the other apostles, along with the 120 followers of Jesus accept Matthias as the new, replacement apostle. After that, we have absolutely no information on the ministry of Matthias in the New Testament.

In the meantime, the between time, we too, like that first-generation of Jesus’ followers, need to turn to the Lord with one mind and heart and pray for guidance. Prayer, when we listen as much as speak, can and does change our hearts and minds or confirms the truth as we already know it. Prayer is our spiritual oxygen, as I’ve said on many other occasions. If this is so, then we shall want to be in constant communication with the Lord to discern his will for us both as individuals and a congregation. So, may the Lord’s will be done among us individually and as a congregation—that we, like that first-generation church may be faithful witnesses to Christ and his resurrection power. Amen.

1 Cited from: Susan K. Hedahl, “Opening The Door,” in: 56 Lectionary Stories For Preaching: Based Upon The Revised Common Lectionary Cycle B (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 1993), pp. 63-64.

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About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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