The Seventh Sunday of Easter
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
This past Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. During that service, we explored how the Ascension is both an ending and a beginning. The end of Jesus' ministry, and the beginning of ours. Christ's physical body had to become absent so that the continuing Body of Christ found in the community of the baptized could become present. We remembered the words of the great Spanish medieval saint Teresa of Avila who reminded us that Christ has no body now, but ours. No hands, no feet on earth but ours. Our communal ministry is Christ's ministry as we are the only Body left here to do it.
Our story in Acts today follows Thursday's story of the Ascension. Peter and the disciples decide that the first thing they need to do as the Body of Christ -- after praying, you always pray first -- is to replace Judas. Having twelve apostles among the many disciples was important to them because it was symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. This act of replacing Judas so that they would have twelve grounded them, rooted them, in the story of their faith.
So, they put together a search committee, which develops a job description and criteria for the position, including having been faithful to Jesus since the baptism in the Jordan River and throughout his ministry. They winnow the candidates down to two - Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus, and Matthias. They pray and they cast lots. Matthias wins and replaces Judas.
Now you would think that after devoting this much time to the election of Matthias, (and scripturally speaking this many verses is a good bit of time)and for this action to have happened right on the heels of the Ascension, that Matthias would become a critical character in the story. But you'd be wrong. For Matthias shows up a grand total of zero times after his election. Incidentally, he showed up in the story zero times before his election also. We know nothing - zip, zilch, nada - about Matthias. All we know is that he had such a faith in Jesus that caused him to follow Jesus from the early days, throughout the ministry, even when things got rough and people starting abandoning Jesus because his teachings got hard. Matthias stuck around. He probably got scared and kept his distance after Jesus was arrested, just like most everyone else, But Matthias came back quickly enough to encounter the Risen Lord and see Christ ascend. We don't really know any details, but it seems likely that Matthias was quietly faithful and probably got along just fine and without much fanfare as he went about his ministry of witnessing to the Resurrection.
We live in a culture that idealizes -- idolizes even -- fame and celebrity. A world that gives enormous currency to how many friends you have on Facebook and followers on Twitter. A world that tells us that our worth is in how popular we are. A world that tells us that our value is in how much of an impact we individually make during our life. Matthias is in many ways the perfect model - the perfect antidote perhaps - for us in the midst of this world for we know so little about him. What matters about Matthias is not all of the great stuff he accomplished. What matters is his quiet, consistent faithfulness.
Matthias is the Sunday school teacher who week in and week out prepares a lesson and helps pass along the faith to the next generation. Matthias is the Altar Guild member who gets to church 45 minutes earlier than others to make sure that everything is in its place for our worship. Matthias is the church gardener who tills the soil, trims the bushes, and plants new annuals each season only to have plant them again the next so that we can enjoy a taste of the beauty of God's creation as we enter this space. Matthias is the dishwasher who stays in the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying the program and is often the last car or bike to leave the parking lot. Matthias is... fill in the blank of whatever ministry it is that you do... for Matthias is each one of us who week in and week out, year in and year out, engages in ministry, responding to God's call without much recognition or fanfare.
Matthias reminds us that value is found not in achieving greatness, but in faithfulness. We don't need to be Peter or Paul. We simply need to be ourselves and faithfully respond to wherever God calls us.
Matthias reminds us that our individual worth is not to be found in the world's eyes, but in God's eyes, in the eyes of the one who made us and loves us. Our worth is not something we earn, therefore, but something we joyfully embrace when we discover that our worth is intrinsic to who we are as beloved children of God.
Matthias reminds us that life is not about being known by as many people as possible, but in being known by the one who counts: God. We have this great fear of being forgotten, but that is an impossible reality when the one who knows us is God.
Matthias reminds us that there is something bigger than ourselves to which we can attach ourselves. The Christian poet Wendall Berry puts it best, I think.
"Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years."
Matthias is not remembered in our reading for having done anything in particular. Matthias is remembered for having helped plant sequoias of faith and done his part in the building up of four inches of faithful humus now nearly two thousand years since his ministry. Matthias is remembered because he is part of the bigger story of God in this world, what in theological terms we call salvation history. Matthias is remembered because he is part of the bigger story of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Matthias is remembered because he is part of the bigger story of the Body of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit to be Christ's loving hands and feet in this world.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, this is the story we are a part of, too. By virtue of our baptism, God's story, Jesus' story, the Holy Spirit's story, Matthias' story, the Church's story, the Body of Christ's story, became our story. A story much bigger than any one of us individually. A story in which our job is to tend the crop of the forest of faith that we did not plant and we will not live to harvest. Just like Matthias, our quiet faithfulness builds up the soil and leaves the world a better place than when we arrived. Amen.