Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reflection on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Did you remember to say it this morning? Happy St. Matthias Day. You are free to chastise all who did not greet you in the name of St. Matthias. If, for some reason you forgot, I am sure that you can still pick up a very nice and rather touching “Happy St. Matthias Day” Hallmark greeting card at Wal-Mart later today for your loved one. Of course, that is if it won’t make you late for your Matthias Day dinner with turkey and all the trimmings.

I finally, hung all of my Matthias Day lights the other night. I drug out the ladder as soon as I got home from continuing education. I am trying to compete with my neighbor of course. It is hard in this economy to waist all of that electricity, but I feel like I still need to do it; in order to honor St. Matthias.

My Matthias Day gift was nice. I hope that you got great gifts also.

Oh, and also, don’t call me this weekend. It is a long weekend after-all, in honor of St. Matthias, and family from all over the country is coming in. We will be busy singing Matthias carols; “I saw three lots come casting in,” “Cast the lots through boughs of holly,” and the classic children’s hymn, “Away in the evening the cast lots were read. Matthias was chosen for Judas was dead.”

Unfortunately, St. Matthias does not get this much attention. He is one of the twelve apostles, the one chosen to replace Judas, but I dare you to find me any place in the Bible where it speaks of his wonderful deeds as an apostle. I dare you to show me even one story about him, beyond his being chosen by the casting of lots. Not even the writer of Luke and Acts, who feels the need to tell the story of everything concerning Jesus and his followers, remembers this poor fellow. The early church fathers cannot even agree if he did his ministry in Judea or what is now modern day Georgia. He is an obscure man, and will always be so.

Perhaps, Matthias got a bad rap from the beginning because he was chosen by the casting of lots. This is not gambling per se, but it is like choosing the President of the United States by pulling straws. “Oh, I got the short one, where are the nuclear weapons located?” The apostles pulled straws between two qualified candidates, both who were with Jesus from the time of his baptism to his ascension, and both where trusted to witness to God’s love in Jesus. Matthias got the short one. Casting lots seems a little pagan and superstitious if you ask me.

But, I think our problem with the Matthias story probably goes a little bit deeper than worries about superstition. The apostles had no problems with casting lots because they were convinced that the result would be God’s result; it would not be influenced by themselves in any way. Casting lots in the ancient times was a complete act of trust in the wisdom and work of God.

Do we in the church trust God that much, or do we make sure to help God out a little, just in case God falters or does something crazy like send us to the cross, or send us out to minister in another part of the world, or send us…heaven forbid…to worship in another church with other Christians. What if all church decisions were based on this sort of complete trust in God?

I did hear of a church who decided their entire future in this way, in the casting of lots…for them it was the pulling of straws. The council pulled straws to see whether or not the congregation should begin the process of closing its doors or using its last bit of money to completely change the church’s ministry (music, structure, everything) so that it would reach the new people who lived in their community. The issue was so hot, so untouchable in the congregation, that casting lots seemed like the only fair and faithful way to do things. They cast lots, and God chose proclaiming the gospel in a new way. They followed through, and now are a thriving congregation in the ELCA.

I am not sure that I am proposing that this is a great, or even wise way to make major decisions in the church or in one’s own personal life (I’m not sure we should all carry dice around and make grocery decisions with them…“carrots or celery?”), but more important than the way that they did it, was the fact that the apostles sought a way to trust God’s wisdom rather than their own. The apostles understood that faith is more than a warm feeling, faith is actual trust in an actual God who has a tendency to work in strange and dangerous ways. God saved the world by sending his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross. Is not our problem with the story of Matthias that it trusts a little too much in what God wants, and, in reality, we are fearful that God will lead us somewhere uncomfortable and dangerous? Is not our true problem with the story of Matthias that it forces us to see our lack of trust in God?

What if the cast lot is not God’s will? What if it is just some random result?

There is evidence that this possibility was exactly the case in Acts. We never hear of Matthias again. Acts does not ever follow the story of Matthias and his ministry. Instead, it starts the story of Saul, who will soon become the great apostle Paul. The narrowed definition of who was suitable to be chosen (present with Jesus from beginning to end) and the cast lots was how the disciples made their choice, however, it was not how God made God’s choice. The disciples chose Matthias and God chose Paul. God will do what God desires to do, and there is nothing that we can do about it.

So, I want to ask a different question, “It may not have been God’s will, but was it wrong for the disciples to choose Matthias as a witness?” Of course not. This is important. How could proclaiming the grace and love of Christ ever be wrong? Maybe Matthias was not God’s twelfth apostle, but he was sent to work in the unknown and unremembered areas of God’s world. Matthias may have been forgotten by time, but not by God.

In the end, the apostles still trusted in God’s ways even when their own failed. Notice that the apostles do not reject Paul and his ministry, they trust that God knows what God is doing in using a horrible persecutor and sinner like Paul. Though they have much reason not to trust in a dangerous man like Paul, they trust in God’s work above their own. I pray that Christ give us the courage and wisdom to do the same.

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