It began with a committee meeting.
In Luke’s gospel, part I of his narrative, Luke shares his experience of 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 with them. He promises the Spirit’s POWER, is swooped up into the clouds, and they are left there…staring…. At some point someone decides to hike down the mountain, they make their way into the city. Luke names the disciples for us, they trudge up into those rooms, collapsing with a sigh. Eventually they began their rhythm, Luke says, telling us only one thing about those days – they were constantly centered in prayer.
At some point – after prayer and maybe something to eat, the natives get restless. They looked at each other until Peter, the leader and the biggest personality, rose to speak. There was an elephant in the room. He talked about Judas, their brother who had, inexplicably, turned on Jesus, right there in the heart of Holy Week. They grieved his betrayal; it 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
After Peter’s explanation – the lectionary skips the gruesome details of Judas’ death – he reminds them of their task. Just 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 in this church, those names we heard at the congregational meeting a few minutes ago – 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 timing is not entirely clear, but Luke tells us the Ascension was 40 days after the resurrection, and Pentecost, which we’ll celebrate next Sunday, is 50. This is the only event Luke records in between, so could they have been at this for the better part of 10 days? 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. There is some good stuff in here, I think, about the importance of being centered in prayer. Not a token prayer as the meeting starts, but prayer that offers space for the harried-ness of the day to settle out, for us to remember, with gratitude, the ways God holds us. Waiting on God’s call, discerning the right course, takes time. But I must confess that the part that most interests me about this text is thinking about Matthias. They have this 10-day, 120-person committee meeting and go through all of this work and they pray and 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." Man, I bet he was excited. A little nervous, but a deep privilege. But, after all that, you know what else we know about Matthias? NOTHING. Not a thing. All this work and we don’t hear about him again in scripture, not at all. Not even in one of those lists of people who were at an event. We aren’t told of him going on a missionary journey, or preaching a famous sermon. None of the letters in the rest of the New Testament are written to him.
But, and I must confess I don’t actually know any of this, but I suspect him not getting mentioned anywhere isn’t because Matthias never did anything of consequence. I don’t believe that. Looking at Acts, it’s all about Peter and Paul, all the time, the big leaders, the fancy guys (yes, most of the time they were guys). But Matthias didn’t find his way into any of these categories. Matthias didn’t run for congress, didn’t chair a capital campaign. Not that these gifted leaders, people who are up front, articulating the vision, pointing the way, aren’t important. It’s that they most often get a good bit more attention that they might deserve.
I don’t know any of this for sure, but I bet one of the reasons Matthias didn’t get another mention was because of who he was and the way he worked. I bet Matthias was a church school teacher, up late on Saturday nights trying to gather supplies for a craft for first and second graders. I bet Matthias was a confirmation mentor, working on a faith statement over coffee, listening to questions about faith, probably being taught something themselves. Matthias volunteered at VCS, running around with kids, getting a little bag of ice when someone fell and scraped their knee. Matthias was sitting at a table signing birthday cards for people in the church. Matthias took time to volunteer, quietly, and maybe no one else knew. Matthias went to visit someone who was grieving. Matthias showed up with food at someone’s house even though they hadn’t asked for anything. Matthias took out the trash after pot luck dinners, ran the dishwasher, drove the van on youth trips. Matthias did the laundry for IHN, after the guests left for the week. Matthias did the messy stuff, the jobs no one else wanted to do, the stuff that requires you to get your hands a little dirty and no one gives you much credit for. But it is important that we remember that it is all this stuff, of the world, that is a part of the world into which Christ came, for which Christ died and was raised, and into which Christ sends the church, the Peter’s and the Paul’s and the people everybody knows, and into which it sends Matthias, who kept a pretty low provide, but I bet, I believe, was a powerful model of faith.
This is important to note on a Sunday in which we confirm 14 eighth graders into the full membership of this church. You all have spent the entire year studying the bible, learning about Reformed Theology, the confessions. You have visited churches in other traditions and put them in conversation, all of it – a lot of work, when I imagine you have other things you could be doing – towards one goal, this morning, when you stand up in front of the church and declare that you are committed to following in the way of Jesus, to trust him with your lives. And while this morning is the culmination of one process it is only the beginning of something more difficult. Some of you we’ll get to share the next 4 plus years with, pray over you as you head off to college, see you back on breaks. Heck, maybe you’ll go to school nearby and we’ll see you more and that will be great. I also imagine, with some of you – and this happens every year – we might not see you too much after today. These things happen, and it makes us sad, because the promises you will make today are ONLY the beginning. Of a life of much, much joy but, if you haven’t been in the middle of it already, also your share of sorrow. I know this is something older people say to younger people a lot, and when I was your age I rolled my eyes, too. But there is going to be a day when you will NEED to hold fast to these promises. And whether you are here often, or whether we don’t see you as much as we’d like, you need to know God claims you, and loves you so much. And that we, here, will always claim you. That our love, hopefully modeled on God’s, will not go away. Please don’t forget that.
One of the things I love most about this job is that I get to be present on your behalf at all sorts of community events. Housing for New Hope, the wonderful agency this church helped start and has supported for so long and that does remarkable work to get people into HOMES in this community, had a breakfast last week. It was like most of those things – you learn some things, some clients speak, they ask you to give, to be a part of their work. The clients did an especially good job in sharing their stories – the junior at Hillside who was homeless for a time, the 20 year addict who finally came in and has been sober for 4 months now, the mother who got on a train with her husband and 2 kids and no other money to come stay with a relative in Durham. This mom told her story, of deep grief, of staying at Genesis Home for a while, of getting set up with a case worker, of getting a job. Then one day she got a call that they had somewhere for her to stay. A little apartment, a HOME. Then – and this was the part that got many of us – she spoke about the woman who picked her up and took her to the Habitat Store to buy some furniture. She said, through tears, "I am 41 years old and I had NEVER picked out furniture before." And someone, Matthias, took her there. Made those phone calls. Unloaded that truck into her own home.
Matthias didn’t get an article on the front of the paper. He doesn’t even get another mention in the bible. But I believe he was chosen by the will of God to be a disciple, that he, regardless of where he ended up, probably led a life of strong and quiet faithfulness. And that, perhaps, we could be on the lookout for him among us. We could all learn something.
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.
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.