Friday, February 22, 2013

A footnote in God's history. . .

Sermon preached for the mid-week Eucharist and for the Circuit Pastor's on Thursday, February 21.
If you allow me.  None of us will observe St. Matthias Day on Sunday since it is Lent.  So let us anticipate the day a bit and think on this unlikely apostle.

First there were 12, then there were 11, and the Church was faced with a problem.  The perfect number 12 (the number of the tribes of Israel, for example) was lost by the son of perdition who refused to stand in the mercy of Christ.  Was the Church to enter Pentecost and the great mission of proclaiming Jesus and His resurrection now one man short?  Something must be done.

They come together and, as usual, for good or for ill, Peter is in charge.  He stands up among the company of the 120 brothers and explains the problem (without sparing any of the gory details).  Then he reaches back to the Psalms to justify forgetting Judas and leaving behind the memory of his unfaithfulness so that another might take his office.

Now comes the problem.  Who wants to be the successor to Judas?  No one would ever live down the memory of such a predecessor.  I cannot imagine that they had many volunteers and those who would volunteer I would have thrown their resumes away.  What about you.

Peter outlines the qualifications: a man who has been with us, from the beginning, through it all, from the baptism of John until the day of Jesus’ ascension and someone who saw the risen Jesus (that drops the number of candidates).  It seems that from the short list, they came down to a shorter list.  Two, to be exact.  Neither of whom we know anything about except that we know three times as much about the one who was not chosen as the one who was.  He had three names and the one who was chosen had one.

And then they prayed.  Joseph, called Barsabbas or Justus, and Matthias were praying that they would choose the other one... at least if they were smart. 

Then comes the election.  “You Lord know the hearts of all – you show us which one YOU have chosen to fill the open spot of minister and apostle from Judas who went his own way...”

And nothing happened.

So they cast lots – give God some raw material to work with, I guess.  It is the only time a successor is chosen and the only time he is chosen with lots.  Short straw wins, I guess.  And Matthias won, well that is not exactly what Scripture says: the lot fell on Matthias.  Call that winning or losing?  I do not know which.

And that is the last thing we ever hear about Matthias.  Period.

Now it might seem that the disciples made a mistake. 
God appointed another apostle and it was not Matthias but Saul become Paul.  The early church did not number Matthias among the list of apostles until much, much later.  He was simply called a witness.  But eventually the Church accepted both the man the apostles chose and the one God chose and left the odd number of 13 for someone else to decipher.

All we have is a name-Matthias how do we remember him?  The unremarkable Matthias is remarkable only to God... In history a footnote... in the memory of the Church a mystery ... in the mission of the kingdom anonymous... in the list of the saints, a name... only to God remarkable at all.

I dare say I am the same.  Sure there are people who know my name while I am alive... and someday my kids will remember me... and maybe a grandchild or two... but then I will be done... the unremarkable Larry is remarkable only to God...  I am but a footnote in the Kingdom of God. . . And you are the same.
We are all these names with stories largely anonymous, known well to the Lord and known hardly at all in history or the martyrology of the saints... we are the ordinary who are extraordinary only because of the riches of God’s grace in Christ, the mercy of His love to forgive us, the desire of His heart to redeem us, the wisdom of His Spirit to call us, the miracle of His work to teach us faith, and the mission that is ours for one brief shining moment while we live and then it passes to others... as it did to Matthias...

Is it enough for you?  It appears it was enough for Matthias.  I am learning to appreciate that it is enough for me, but I am not there yet... each day I struggle to come to terms with my anonymity... and whether being known to God is enough... in my youth it was not... as I age and mature a bit in the faith, I am coming closer and closer to saying that it is enough... I need to be known only to the Lord to be a success... And it is okay if all that makes me remarkable is that the Lord has esteemed me His child by baptism, forgiven me all my sins, created in me a new heart, and sent me forth with a vocation of service.  And by the grace of God that is what He has made me... with Matthias... and with you. 

The old Adam in me fights this anonymity and seeks to lay claim to a name, a legacy, and a story.  The Christ in me responds with humility accepting my status as a forgotten footnote in history.  Perhaps it is the same for you.  But the grace of God is given to footnotes, to the anonymous about whom all that my be known is a name, to the ordinary saints who lives extraordinary lives known only to God.  We are justified by grace through faith and that is our boast.  If we are faithful to this God given new identity we will hear from the only voice that counts, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

Where we lived in New York was a Lutheran congregation that dated from the 1700s.  They had dug up the body of the first Pastor and interred him under the narthex -- you could walk on him on your way into the church.  Perhaps this is the hidden dream of all those in the pews.  There were pictures of their previous Pastors on the walls.  Who were they?  Nobody knows anymore.  Like Matthias they are only names... except to God... except in the communion of saints.

Matthias is a nobody and with him, in the company of our gracious God and a host of other nobodies, I am proud to number as one more nobody.  Amen


Rich Kauzlarich said...

Pr. Peters: Thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

The popularity of pretty well attests that many of us want to remember our forebears more than they realized we would. A very kind lady at the Elkhorn Valley historical museum copied and sent me pictures of my great great grandmother as a baby sitting on her grandmother's lap.

Don't we really want to know more about Matthias? How many are named after him despite such scant information. One of my son's best friends is named for him.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a well measured account of this story. I have heard Lutheran pastors insist that God Himself picked Matthias to succeed Judas, ignoring the fact that God never had a chance to vote on the matter until it was down to a choice between two.

Revelation 21:14, “And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Therefore it cannot be 13. Since St. Paul called himself an Apostle 16 times, I would have to assume that it is his name next to the 11.

If there is someone at fault here, it is the impetuous Peter, not Matthias. Our Lord promised all of the Disciples that they would receive “power”, which they did on Pentecost. Peter just thought he could already feel it.

Nevertheless, I am sure that I will never reach the degree of holiness that Matthias achieved in his lifetime.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Christopher D. Hall said...

I always resonated with what Dr. Nagel would say, "God doesn't do math." How many apostles? 11? 12? 13? 14? I mean, Silas, Timothy, Barnabus and Apollos are all called "apostle" as well. And the Orthodox commemorate the 72 Apostles as well. How many? 13 is 12 is whatever. The Lord doesn't do math like we do.

Very nice sermon!

Anonymous said...

God quite obviously does do math, or was the number “12” in Rev. 21:14 not inspired by the Holy Spirit? Or the number “11” in Acts 2:14? If it is important to determine what gifts were given to the Twelve Apostles specifically, that were not meant to be handed down to our time, then it is important to know who the Twelve were.

But it is also important to determine whether the Apostles, being led by St. Peter, did something wrong when they decided to elect a successor to Judas. Is this one of those passages where we are told what happened, without being told whether it was right or wrong? Does the writer of the story about Matthias assume that Christians would have enough of what St. Paul calls “spiritual discernment” to know that they made a mistake?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart