Audio for the the May 20 sermon is unavailable, due to a mid-service power failure.
The life of the early church began with a committee meeting.
In part I of his narrative Luke shares his gospel, his experience of this man Jesus, of His extraordinary life, death, and resurrection. Part II, the book of Acts, picks up as the gospel ends: at the Ascension. Jesus, alive, was right there – and they all wanted to know what was next. When will Your kingdom come, Jesus? Is it now? He refuses easy answers, promises the Spirit’s POWER, and is swooped up into the clouds. They are left there, staring. At some point someone decides to hike down the mountain, and they make their way back into the city. Luke names the disciples for us again, making sure we know these are the folks that walked with Jesus before. They trudged up into those rooms, collapsing with a sigh. Eventually they began their rhythm, Luke says, telling us only one they about those first days – that they were constantly centered in prayer.
At some point – after prayer, maybe a snack, the natives began to get restless. What in the world are we to do now? When Jesus was around their tasks were clear, but now they weren’t. They looked around at each other enough until Peter, the acknowledged leader and also the biggest personality, rose to speak. There was an elephant in the room that had to be named. He talked about Judas, their friend who had walked with them for three years. He was their brother who had, inexplicably, turned on Jesus, on them, right there in the heart of Holy Week. They grieved his betrayal; it also made them furious. Peter argued that it had to be this way, that both Judas’ betrayal, and finding his replacement, was part of the plan.1 As much as it hurt.
But then, after Peter’s explanation – the gruesome details of which the lectionary skips over – he reminds them of their task. They have a slot on their leadership team to fill. Just like the Nominating Committee has been at work in these last number of weeks, praying and listening and calling some of you to consider being an elder or a deacon in this church, so Peter needed to fill out the team. And so the first real thing the early church did, it seems to me, is that it had a committee meeting.2 The next time you think about complaining about a meeting you are a part of, I want you to think about this text. The timing is sketchy, but Luke tells us the Ascension was 40 days after the resurrection, and Pentecost is 50. This is the only event Luke records in between, so could they have been at this for 10 days? A ten-day committee meeting with 120 people and all they had to do was fill 1 slot? I can think of few things more frustrating in this life than a 120 person, 10-day committee meeting.
Yet Luke deems it important to place this text here, and we must listen carefully. I think it has some things to tell us about life together as community. The first is how things were centered in prayer. Not a token prayer because we feel like we ought to as the meeting starts, but prayer that offers space for reflection, for the harried-ness of the day to settle out, for us to remember, with gratitude, the ways God continues to hold us. Right before today’s text Luke writes the disciples were "constantly devoting themselves to prayer." The second is about giving things space and time. We tend to start twitching when someone doesn’t return a text in 30 seconds, but we need to remember that moving quickly isn’t always the best course. Even if this wasn’t a full ten-day committee meeting, it obviously didn’t happen in 10 minutes, either. Waiting on God’s call, discerning the right course, can take awhile. And not only is that okay – that is often the best course, as we listen and pray and wait together. Especially with calling leaders, which is what these first disciples were doing, this discernment matters. As we think about officers at congregational meetings in the next couple of weeks, as we have opportunities to help with VCS, or those of you who have kids in MP2 discern what particular role you are going to play in supporting that crucial ministry. We must understand that sharing our gifts in community is what we do, is part of what being church is. It takes all of us, together.
But I also think Luke has something key to tell us in the placement of this text. Acts begins with the Ascension, then this story, then comes the drama of Pentecost, when the Spirit rushes into that room and they end up preaching in all sorts of languages in the streets. And in between the glory, in between the tremendous dramatic acts of God, Luke places a rather tedious committee meeting. Luke certainly isn’t trying to tell us anything about Joseph or Matthias, neither one of them appear again in scripture.3 I think Luke is trying to tell us something about the way faith works – in the church, and in our lives. Faithfulness is surely found in extraordinary holy moments of bigness – when the choir soars, when a mission partner tells us a powerful story, on Christmas Eve with our candles held high. But Luke, I believe, goes to great pains to remind us that the work of faithfulness isn’t just found there. Like in today’s text, it is found as the Nominating Committee gets on the phone and sometimes gets a person who is willing to serve, or sometimes not. The Spirit is particularly found, I believe, in things that feel tedious, that might feel below you or that you don’t want to deal with, like putting up chairs after a meal, or picking up after yourself in the kitchen. In calling someone you haven’t seen in awhile. As the Assimilation committee works through how they will move new members into active disciples, as the stewardship committee thinks about how we are all called to share our gifts, as some of you send out emails asking for help with a project. As you, perhaps, receive one of those emails and ignore it, maybe not entirely intentionally, assuming someone else will step up. Certainly in the preparation that all of our Sunday School teachers do every week. Getting art supplies set up. Reading a chapter in a book or in the curriculum. Mike Bunch emailed me a few weeks ago with a Greek question as he was preparing his Present Word lesson, because he thought someone in the class might have a question and he wanted to be ready. I love that. Thinking about the way teenagers will struggle with questions of life and death. And intentionality here bleeds over into the rest of our lives, in the places we don’t think about as much, as we wait with patience, as we meet other beloved children of God with grace.
It was three Friday evenings ago, Ella Brooks and I got in the car to head to Creekside Elementary’s Spring Carnival. It was nuts. We parked in a field across from the school and paraded in with hundreds of others. In the gym and out back each class had areas set up for you to scoop plastic frogs up with a fishnet out of a pool, or throw a ring over a bottle. I worked her classes’ bowling station, handing off the ball, watching the unrestrained joy as they knocked the 6 plastic pins down. Food, booths, bouncy houses, and more. Carrie and Heath came later, and he and I played a few games; he won a stick-on tattoo and a plastic bouncy ball. And he spotted the guy who makes animals out of those long thin balloons. He was sucked in, and at age 4 he and I stood in line for a full 30 minutes as everyone else ran around. And we waited. We finally got to the front and the man was so kind, taking time with him as he got things set up. He made Heath a snail, with green circled around as the shell and a black head and eyes. Sheer joy. Until 2 minutes later, when he was showing it off to Carrie and Ella Brooks and some friends, grin covering his face, and it popped, for no apparent reason, right in his hands. He stood there, stunned. Then the lip quivered. Then, as I reached down for him, the full body sobs came, chest heaving, mouth open, tears streaming. I stood and held him for a few minutes in the corner of the yard. After we calmed down and re-joined the group, Heath was holding the popped balloon. And this girl, who I could tell had been watching from afar, walked over. She couldn’t have been more than second grade. She had a white bunny balloon in her hand, no doubt that she stood in line for herself. She walked over, looked at Heath, and handed it to him. And he smiled, and everything shifted for an instant, and the parents standing there did their best to hide their tears. And in the midst of the everyday God broke in with kindness and generosity, even in the chaos of the Creekside Elementary School Carnival, the moment shining with grace.
And then the girl got back in line with her mom, Heath came back over, ready to go find another game to play, as life moves on and the church gets back to its work. After the ten day committee meeting the church was rewarded with Pentecost, with the majestic gift of the Spirit rushing into that locked room. And the cycle continues, on days of tremendum, and days of tedium, and everything in between. As, as our affirmation this morning says, Christ chooses to be at work, Christ DARES to be at work through us regular folk, as we do our best to follow.
Thanks be to God, who accompanies us all of our days. Amen.
1. Boring and Craddock cite Ps 69:25 and Ps 109:8 as the roots of Peter’s words in 1:20.
2. I am grateful for Elizabeth Goodman’s "Preaching the Easter Texts" in the Easter 2012 Journal for Preachers, Volume V, Number 3, pages 11-12, for pointing me in this direction.
3. Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock, A People’s New Testament Commentary, (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2004), p 368.