A sermon for Easter 7; Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19
In my trolling. around trying to find better ways to organize all the organizing tools I use I have come across a website named IFTTT, which means “if this then that.” Examples of what it allows you to automatically do are upload attachments from emails to google driver; or if it going to rain tomorrow add a reminder to your calendar. Today’s reading from Acts is another example that there is nothing in the world because it is an IFTTT story.
The “If this” is if the number of Jesus’ chosen followers is not twelve, and the “then that” is to choose a replacement. But why 12, why not 11, or 13? In ancient times numbers had meaning beyond count; 12, like 7, is a number for completeness. 12 has from her earliest days been a part of Israel’s history. In Genesis, Jacob has 12 sons, who become the 12 tribes of Israel (Keener and Walton).
Part of Jesus’ teaching is the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, so there must be 12 leaders for the 12 tribes of the new Israel (Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen). In his opening lines Peter says the scriptures must be fulfilled, in verses we did not read (18-20), Peter cites the psalms (109) as reason to fill the empty apostle’s place (Wall). So far, we see the need for the 12th man is the symbolic restoration of Israel, and so that Israel will be whole (Allen). Restoring the Twelve also addresses any question of divine faithfulness. God’s fidelity is involved in the presence of the Twelve (Wall). There also the implication that as the Twelve are complete Jesus followers are ready for whatever is ahead of them (Keener and Walton).
The next sentence (2 verses) lays out the requirements. He must be male, and here the word is male (Bratt). He must be with them from the beginning (John’s baptism) until the Ascension and have been an eye witness to everything (Harrelson). He must become, with the remaining 11, a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (Wall).
An aside; this is not the only description of an apostle in the New Testament. Paul uses the apostle, which means “one sent” to refer to many followers, not just the Twelve. Both the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene are depicted as apostles to the apostles (Harrelson). It is worth noting all the people sent with the first word of Jesus’ resurrection are women. An Apostle can be anyone sent as a witness of God/Jesus/Spirit.
Back to the story from Acts. The next step is nominations. Nothing is said about how this happens, only that 2, Joseph called Justus and Matthias, are proposed.
The third step is that the group prays. In Luke prayer surrounds all significant moments. Here the story touches on the reading from the Gospel according to John which recounts Jesus praying for all the disciples. Jesus asks the Father to protect them as he sends them into the world, just as the Father sent Jesus into the world (John 17:15-19) (Lewis). Prayer encircles the entire community, who follow Jesus, as they prepare to make this decision. It reminds them they are always encircled by divine love. And it connects them to divine wisdom, power, and insight (Epperly).
The final step in filling the Twelfth Apostle is to choose. Following common practices of the day they cast lots. They are not engaging in magic, which is forbidden. They are continuing the trust they place in God in their prayers. Saul casts lots, the Urim and Thummim, in 1st Samuel to a question (1Samuel 14:36-44) (Harrelson). Lots are used in Joshua (19: 1-40) and Jonah (1:7-8) (Wall). Urim and Thummin are typically restricted to priest, so the disciples are likely using a lot marked for each that are placed in a jar that is shaken until one falls out, or something similar (Wall). As we heard Mathias is chosen.
It is curious to note this is the last time we read about Mathias in scripture. After a dozen or so chapters Peter is no longer heard from. In fact, all twelve chosen apostles fade into the background (Harrelson; Wall). With this realization suddenly “If This Then That” doesn’t seem to carry the meaning of this story. Perhaps the message is “Not That, This.”
There other succession stories in scripture, there is nothing particularly significant about this process (Wall). And while it does remind us to trust God’s quiet voice far more than our carefully constructed processes, the story is not about process, or us, the story is about the continually “in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth” (Allen). While it is true that God works through Peter, and Matthias, and the other chosen apostles, and disciples, and the whole host of those who believe, and doubt, the story is that God’s kingdom continues to make its way into the world right here, and there, and everywhere, right now, and tomorrow, and forever. The story is that even in the in between times (and remember the Spirit has not yet arrived) the Kingdom is present, God is present in the in between times.
There are lots of people living in between times. I am living between having retired and being retired; between living at 1121 and living at 6651 or is it 15. Some of you have kids who are between one grade and the next. There are kids between parents. There are parents and loved ones between this type of care at home and another type of care perhaps not at home. There are people between this job and the next. We are approaching election season, so we are between our current representatives and the next. There are all kinds of betweens, and God is present in all of them. When our trusted symbols are no longer available; God/Jesus/Spirit is available to you. Today’s story from Acts isn’t “If This”, nor “Not This” but “YG-RH-RN” Yes, God is right here, right now.
Allen, Amy Lindeman. Commentary on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. 13 5 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.
Bratt, Doug. Easter 7 Acts 1:15-17, 21-26. 13 5 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 4 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Lewis, Karoline. “Prayers Needed.” 13 5 2018. Working preacher.
McCormack, Jerrod. “In the Space In-Between, Easter 7 (B).” 13 5 2018. Sermons that Work.
Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.
Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.