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Ordinary People

jesusprayingActs 1: 12-17 and 21-26
Introduction to the reading
The first chapter of the book of Acts is about transition and change in the leadership of the earliest church. Luke writes that after Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, he presented himself to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. He told them to wait there in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, that is, the coming of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes upon them – which we celebrate, next week, as Pentecost – they will receive power. And, he said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Immediately after making that statement, Jesus ascended into heaven on a cloud.

Verses 12-17: The apostles were mindful of their ancestral roots. Twelve men were chosen originally, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel, and so now, someone had to be added to replace Judas Iscariot. In order to qualify, this one had to have known Jesus personally.

Verse 26: and they cast lots... Casting lots was an ancient Biblical practice for determining the will of God.

I wonder whatever happened to Matthias and Justus after this day, when one of them was picked to join the apostles – the inner circle, as it were - and the other was sidelined, all on a roll of the dice.

Matthias is not mentioned again anywhere in the New Testament. After his one starring moment, this uniquely-called disciple falls into anonymity. Joseph called Barsabbas, which means Son of the Sabbath, who was also called Justus, also fades into oblivion, even with three names. Pastor and writer Barbara Lundblad, commenting on this passage, says that “their lack of renown is a wondrous reality.” (Feasting 528)

But while we know nothing specific about Justus and Matthias except their names and that they had been part of the close crowd following Jesus, we do know about their milieu, about what was going on around them.
First, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends upon them all and they begin to speak in tongues and Peter makes that grand speech attesting to the power of the Spirit, Matthias and Justus must have been present. They were witnesses; they were caught up in and moved by this experience along with everyone else.

And then, they were surrounded with prayers.

Remember in the Gospel of John, which we heard earlier? Jesus prays for his disciples, these twelve. He prays to God the Father for their protection and for their sanctification, that is, their holiness, their continuing connection to God. They have seen Jesus go off to a place apart to pray; he has taught them to pray; they have witnessed the effects of prayer.

The choice of Matthias was ultimately decided by the casting of lots, yes, but only in the context of prayer, and prayer first. Verse 24: Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen... Clearly, it was not the apostles’ own choice, but God’s. Jesus had taught them well.

A key sentence in the prayer of Jesus is this: ...I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. Jesus knows that the sending of the first twelve into all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth will be only the beginning. That years and years later, on down to ourselves, people will come to faith in Jesus Christ through others, little-known others like Matthias and Justus. And that, in Barbara Lundblad’s words, is a “wondrous reality”.

Today we can be grateful for the work and witness of so many ordinary people who, often quietly, have handed on the extraordinary gospel message from one generation to the next in congregations small and large in this country and around the world. In our small congregation, for example: Sunday school teachers and parent volunteers; choir singers; ushers and greeters; elders and deacons of the sitting and great Consistory; committee members (including, now, the pastoral search team); the Friday morning volunteers who set up the sanctuary for Sunday.

And then missions and outreach: the ones who cook for and serve at the Bound Brook soup kitchen; deliver to the Food Bank and S.H.I.P.; who knit and crochet lap robes and prayer shawls; fill the narthex basket with supplies for S.H.I.P. and the table in Fellowship Hall with goods for God’s Co-op Pantry; the ones who publicize what we do to the larger community with press releases and online posts.

And importantly, those who read and study Scripture and those who pray without ceasing. We are ordinary people, but we are Jesus’ people.

We live in difficult times for the organized church: the decrease in the number of people who identify as Christian, the rise of those who are non – affiliated, declining official membership and attendance. This is not breaking news; sadly, it’s been going on for years.

But we who are Christians persevere, for we believe that Jesus can make a difference in people’s lives, every day, in so many ways. This is ever more true in our time, when long-respected institutions are suspect; when the moral and ethical fibers of society are fraying; when mean-spiritedness, greed and selfishness seem to rule; when we can’t trust what we read or what we hear to be true, which means we’re not sure we can trust one another. Still, we keep praying; we keep serving; we keep seeking after mercy, justice, peace and love.

The apostle Paul wrote to the young church in Ephesus these words of encouragement that are in fact, words for us, as well:

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according the working of his great power... (Eph.1:15-19)

And these words to his young protégé Timothy:

proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke and encourage, with utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. (2 Tim. 4: 1-5)

May God grant us the stamina, energy and courage to not give up in discerning his voice, in doing his will, in serving his purposes in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.

Lundblad, Barbara. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
May 13, 2018

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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