The First Lesson: Acts (1:15-17, 21-26)
n those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred 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, who was also known as Justus, 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 Response: Psalm 1
1 Happy are they who have not walked
in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law
day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season,
with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not
stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
The Epistle: 1 John (5:9-13)
If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
The Gospel: John (15:9-17)
Jesus prayed for his disciples saying, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
St. Luke begins his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, with the same event with which he ended his first volume, his version of the gospel: namely, with the Ascension of Jesus. It seems that, in the years in between his writing of the two books, he further developed that scene: changing some things that he had said, expanding his narrative, and shaping it to be an effective starting-point for the story that he was about to tell.
The Acts account is the one on which our liturgical observance is based. That is why the church celebrated Ascension Day three days ago. As Acts recounts it, Jesus ascended forty days after his resurrection, and the Spirit came in a new way ten days later, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost. As for the nine days in-between, which is where we find ourselves today, the author says little except for the story told in today’s first reading.
Jesus’ closest followers, known as the Twelve, are now down to eleven: not the symbolic biblical number that Luke wants to have present at the coming of the Spirit. And so, the early believers – Luke says there were about 120 of them – choose a new apostle. This is the first and last time that that will ever happen. His name is Matthias.
Now here’s a biblical trivia question for you: except for the two references in this passage, how many other times is Matthias mentioned in the entire New Testament, all 27 books of it? The answer is zero. After being chosen to fill-out the number of the twelve, Matthias is never heard from again. Of course there are legends that developed much later, just as there are about most of the other figures in the story. But after Matthias has fulfilled his role in helping to symbolize Israel as renewed by the Spirit, he simply disappears. He is never recorded as having said anything. But he has done his job. It was a modest role but a significant one. And maybe that fact in itself has something important to teach us.
We live in a time and in a culture that tends to place an excessive emphasis on the individual, in contrast to a wider community. As seems to happen in times of uncertainty, many people have a tendency to narrow their focus onto their own interests, to what they want for themselves, and maybe, at most, for those closest to them. We see self-centeredness and selfishness coming to dominate the lives of many. We even see prominent leaders whose own egos seem to be their principal, or maybe only, values. Theirs is a totally unbiblical and unchristian approach to life.
It is at times like these when the role of people like Matthias can help call us back to a truly biblical focus on taking our place within the greater community and on serving the needs of all. It can redirect our attention away from ourselves, as separate from others, and remind us of the important and genuinely fulfilling role that we can play as part of a wider family. Whatever our contribution might be, whether great or seemingly small, it is a valuable part of something much more important than us as individuals. And that realization can actually enrich our lives and our sense of importance in a way that being separate from everyone else never can.
It is like that single flower, stuck in a hole in the middle of that large cross. It’s fine, I suppose. It’s a pretty flower. Maybe we could call it a “Matthias flower.” But its far greater beauty and its far greater significance will come only when all the other flowers are placed there along with it, when it becomes part of an entire display. Together, they will become a beautiful and moving sign of the new life that God has given us in Jesus, in a way that a single flower, no matter what kind it is, could never do.
The same is true of the generous contribution that every member of this church makes to the life and work of the entire community. Whether it is getting the church ready for and cleaning up from our worship services; whether it is singing in the choir or serving in any of our various liturgical ministries; whether it is teaching Sunday School or hosting Coffee Hour or moving back the tables and chairs afterward; whether it is cutting the grass or taking care of the gardens; whether it is helping to host special events and receptions or decorating the walls and bulletin boards in our Community Building; whether it is transporting our offerings to CARE House or to the Food Pantry at St. Paul United Methodist Church; whether it is extending our ministry to the residents of Canterbury Court; whether it is working on a Habitat for Humanity project or taking part in our softball team; whether it is working on annual events such as our Yard Sale or Christmas Project; or any other of the seemingly countless services and ministries of this parish, usually done quietly and unobtrusively by our members, all of them are important and valuable, and all of them contribute to accomplishing the overall mission of the church.
As we come forward in just a few minutes to take part in the flowering of the cross, think a bit about the important place that you have within this community of faith and about the important contribution that you make through your own “Matthias ministry.” Then, when we have all returned to our regular places, look up and see the inspiring beauty of the cross when everyone’s flowers have been placed there together; and remember the inspiring beauty of this community of faith to which all of us can make our own invaluable contributions. For together, we become, by the power of the Spirit, the embodied presence of Christ in this time and place. And that is a truly beautiful thing.