Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus – for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning 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.”  So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, and Matthias.  Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

And they cast lots for them; and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

The Word of God for the People of God.

            Thanks be to God.

It began with an absence.  Judas, who had walked the dusty roads with them as they followed Jesus those years.  They shared it all – the times they got it and it was beautiful; the times they were confused, overwhelmed.  But it wore on them, and must have worn on Judas enough to betray Jesus that night in the Garden.  After they grieved Jesus’ horrible death, they were FURIOUS.  HE, their brother, had deceived them, turned on them.  They trusted him!  I bet everyone in this room has some sense of what it’s like to be let down by someone.  Betrayed.

After that first Easter their anger subsided – they were caught up in other things, but it still made them mad.  Here, in today’s text, after Jesus ascends to heaven and they have to figure out what to do, Peter names it in verse 16.  He argued it had to be this way, that both Judas’ betrayal, and finding his replacement, was part of the plan.[1]  After Peter’s explanation – the lectionary skips the gruesome details of Judas’ death – he reminds them of their task.  Like the Nominating Committee has been at work in these weeks, praying and listening and calling some of you to consider being an elder or a deacon, names we heard at the congregational meeting a few minutes ago – Peter needed to fill out the team.  It takes people.  So the early church, God bless them, had a committee meeting.  They took time to pray.

Luke deems this committee meeting important to place here.  They prayed and asked: Who among us is God raising up to serve?  They have this meeting and go through it all, two names are proposed, they cast lots and the will of God is determined and, drum roll…..the lot fell on Matthias, and he, Luke says, “was added to the eleven apostles.”

I have always found one piece of this text odd.  After all this, do you know what else we know about Matthias?  NOTHING.   He doesn’t show up again in scripture.  We aren’t told anything about him again.  Which makes me wonder why this text is here?  If they did all this work and nominated someone we don’t need to know about, why does this text matter?  My suspicion is because Luke wanted to make clear that in difficult times the work of the church goes on.  New leaders are called, some of their names we remember and most we don’t.  Yet the Holy Spirit keeps showing up, keeps inspiring amazing things.  It takes PEOPLE, Luke is telling us.  The church always has, always will.  The ministry of Jesus Christ is something we are invited into.  Perhaps you could even say that Jesus needs us.  It takes people, Luke says.

When you step back and think about it, this thing we do called ‘church’ doesn’t make much sense.  It begins and ends with Sunday mornings, when all of you have a dozen other things to be doing.  Or, it’s the only time the rest of the whole week when you don’t.  Lists for work, around the house or the yard.  Another cup of coffee on the deck.  Something to read.  OR CBS Sunday Morning.  I really love CBS Sunday Morning.  But, for reasons that must be the Holy Spirit, you come.  We don’t do any advertising; don’t offer immediate rewards.

Not only do we not give you anything, you come here and we ask more of you.  All the time.  We ask you to come back here other times.  We ask you to give of the time you don’t have much of, sometimes for people you know and sometimes for people you don’t or won’t ever know.

We ask you to give money.  We do that every week.  Not if you don’t give time.  Not as dues.  But to give because, and get this, Jesus says it will be good for you!  And we’ll do some great things for the world.

Rarely, we are promised this, rarely to we see the results of the seeds we plant, even more rarely will we see direct, measurable successes.

The world tells you to go and work harder and do more, then you can make more, they you can buy more, gather more wonderful things to yourself.  The church of Jesus Christ, in his name, says over and over that real life, life abundant, is found when you give every bit of that away.

You show up and you have to sit through worship – you get great music, but that’s the highlight.  We ask you to pray a prayer confessing all the things that you and we have done, though we do assure you God’s grace is larger.  I fumble through talking to children.  We read from the bible, this old book full of weird stories.  You sit through a sermon, just one of us talking, no screens or video clips to keep you paying attention.  Sometimes when we are up here we say things, that we believe that Jesus, from scripture, calls us to say, that we believe are faithful to the Gospel call, but can be controversial and tough and dare I say ‘political.’  About the scourge of racism, the tragedy of poverty in a world of such abundance.  There’s enough to feed all people in this world, but why can’t we?  About greed and idolatry, about constant abuses of power and decisions that benefit the few at the expense of that many.  About a society that doesn’t seem too concerned about caring for each other, especially those left out and left behind and alone.  We’ve got stuff to do, after all.  We’ll give up some work time and write a check and do community service for our resume, but don’t question the systems underneath, about why people are poor, about why some communities are trapped in cycles of violence and poverty, about relentless militarism and our fundamental lack of compassion.  All of these are tremendous pick-me-ups, aren’t they?  You also come here and worship and interact with a group of people that you don’t entirely get to pick.  Some you love with all your heart, others you don’t know, others, well, you might be okay with fewer of their opinions sometimes.  This church thing is weird, isn’t it?

Yet for reasons that MUST be God, the church, here and elsewhere, YOU, people empowered by the Spirit of the Risen Christ do amazing things.  You care for neighbors.  You pack food for hungry kids.  You pay money and take vacation time and go to Haiti.  Why would someone do that?  You sign up to play in the nursery with someone ELSE’s children.  We gather when times get really, really hard.  We stick with each other when the child gets sick or the spouse is diagnosed, or she keeps drinking or he loses his job.  We hold each other and pray.

BUT.  For some reason.  God not only shows up, but God invites you, challenges you, calls YOU to follow Jesus in community.  And, like in this text – and we enacted parts of it today in the congregational meeting, and in baptism and confirmation – Christ calls us to this work.  He offers it to us, as a gift.  And our call – members, guests, friends.  Confirmands especially.  Is to be a good steward of that gift.  Of people here who love you.  Who miss you when you’re not here.  Who will always, always, in a world of strife and hatred and division, remind you of God’s love for you and all people, every.  Single.  Person.  When we see you a lot, and when we don’t see you as much as we’d like.  And we keep showing up, here, gathered, called to serve.  Take that gift, this gift of church, and hold it.  Hold it close.  And take good care of it.  Because it takes people.  Actually, it takes you.            All praise be to God.  Amen.

[1] Boring and Craddock cite Ps 69:25 and Ps 109:8 as the roots of Peter’s words in 1:20.