Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sermon for 20 May 2012, Seventh Sunday of Easter B

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Acts 1:12-26
Vacancy and Call
Seventh Sunday of Easter, 20 May 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The sermon text for this Seventh Sunday of Easter is the appointed First Lesson, From Acts chapter 1. It tells of the aftermath of the Ascension of Jesus.
Acts 1:12-26 looks to be one of the most neglected texts in the New Testament. It was only appointed to be read in our churches according to the historic one-year lectionary on the festival of St. Matthias. February 24th doesn’t appear on a Sunday very often, and then, the feast is often ignored if it falls during Lent. The Three Year lectionary we currently use also appoints this lesson for St. Matthias’ Day, yet also for today.
This is an important reading for your consideration—not only because it comes after the Ascension of our Lord—not only because it is the next story in Acts next—not only because it appears to be an ignored text. This is worthy of your consideration and careful attention today for two other reasons. Since the text talks about the filling of Judas’ vacancy and the first call meeting of Christians, it is an appropriate text to consider as we consider Immanuel’s pastoral care need and prepare for our next call meeting.

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120)…
St. Luke carefully lays down the timing of this call meeting in earlier and later context. Earlier, on the fortieth day since the Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, hence, our large Paschal candle, lit in remembrance of His Resurrected life, (which was lit at the Easter Vigil,) is now extinguished. Later, as Acts Chapter 2 begins, the day of Pentecost arrives, the fiftieth day. We can narrow the occurrence of this event in the life of the early church down to within a ten-day period.
And there were about 120 there. Only eleven of the Twelve are here. Judas’ death left a vacancy. Many of the seventy or seventy-two sent out by Jesus are probably in attendance, too.

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said,  "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.  For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry."  (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.  And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 
We will continue with David’s Spirit-given words from the Psalms shortly, but right now St. Peter’s words have my attention. Did he get yours with his rather gruesome references to Judas? St. Luke in his Gospel account makes no previous reference to these things, but Matthew 27 satisfies our curiosity.
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.  And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders,  saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself."  And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money."  So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me."
With the money Judas earned for betraying Jesus, the Chief Priests and the elders bought a field as a burial place for strangers. Blood money bought the Akeldama, the Field of Blood.
I won’t spend long on the other, more gruesome aspect. Judas, not believing that even Jesus could help him, went and hung himself. Then, either due to divine intervention or simply the passage of time, Acts 1:18 was fulfilled. Let’s leave it at that.

St. Peter continued, "For it is written in the Book of Psalms, " 'May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it'; and " 'Let another take his office.'
Men come and go, but the Office of the Holy Ministry remains. Judas’ place of habitation is to remain deserted, but another will be called to the vacant office.

By common consent, St. Peter exercises the role we usually attribute to the congregational president. He leads the call meeting. After first explaining the need in a brief “congregational self-evaluation,” he then teaches a part of the doctrine of the Call as the District President often does in our Wyoming District. Peter elaborates on what will be in this very special set of call documents.
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 men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." 
Here is a unique qualification. Again, this is another example of not going for the least common denominator. Why settle for that? They didn’t want just anyone. They wanted someone who knew the whole of what would be recorded in the four Gospel accounts. Apparently, only two men met this qualification.

And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 
Joseph was an extremely common name in ancient Jerusalem, so he is identified by his surname, Barsabbas, literally, son of Sabbas, the aged. His Roman name, Justus is also given, not unlike the use of Saul’s Roman name, Paul. Multiple names are given to make sure exactly which person is being referred to. A similar practice regarding ancient name has been in the news due to the discovery of a bone box: James, son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus. And then, the second candidate on the call list is Matthias.
We are now waiting for a third call list from President Boche. We have made three calls as a congregation and all three have been declined. It is a privilege for me to serve you. I ask for your continued prayers and encouragement. It is easy to let self-doubt get to me when I’m stretched, stressed, and tired. I’m getting the essential bases covered, but not everything I wish I could. I readily acknowledge that I am nowhere near perfect. For any and all sins of omission or commission on my part, I ask your forgiveness.
As we continue considering the pastoral care need for a congregation of over 800 baptized but under 200 on average in Church on Sunday, we should think about things other congregations have in similar situations.
How you may we best care for an additional servant of the Word? As our new call documents are prepared, ask:
Is his proposed salary comparable to service elsewhere? Does it acknowledge the realistic cost of living in Sheridan and the lack of a second parsonage?
Will our second pastor have ample vacation time to visit far-away family, time away with his spouse, time for personal renewal and rest?
Will you pray for him, speak well of him, defend him, support the preaching of the whole pure Word in good times as well as difficult ones? Will you put the best construction on everything, say everything in the kindest way, and give him the benefit of the doubt?
Will you support this pastor’s wife if he is married? (Will you respect her as an individual, not expecting her to do everything every other pastor’s wife has ever done? Will you choose to help her with her children, especially during a service, when her husband is rendering you service elsewhere?) Will you pray for her, their children, and provide for their time together as a family?
Remember, pastors are human, too. A pastor is a servant with authority in the office of the Holy Ministry, not Superman. He is a sinner in need of forgiveness just like you are. Do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it! That is the best thing you can do to support any pastor, even me.

What follows has much in common with Jesus’ original choosing of the Twelve in Luke 6. In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Our Lord Himself places men into this Office. Our Lord’s placing of men into the Office follows a pattern of elements: calling the disciples together, prayer, electing, and specifying either by naming, or laying on of hands. The pattern repeats itself in Acts 1 and in our congregations today.
And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show 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 numbered with the eleven apostles.

When the occasional scholar does speak to this text, Acts 1, there is one place of disagreement: did they vote, or literally cast lots as done in the Old Testament and at the foot of the cross.
So which is it? In favor of the view that this verse refers to election by ballot is the fact that the Greek here is not one of the regular terms for casting lots and the verb seems to refer to voting. If this is the case, the “lots” referred to would be the balloting counters given to the voters to deposit in the “ballot box.” “The lot fell upon Matthias” would mean that he got the most votes and so the office was allotted to him. Also supporting this view is the text used to translate the King James or Authorized Version.
Favoring the interpretation that the reference is to drawing lots rather than casting ballots is the fact that “they cast lots” elsewhere refers to the falling of a lot. The bottom line is very simple. We go to what is most certain and sure—the Lord.
About the only thing Matthias has going for him is that the Lord Jesus chose him. That was enough for the early church--and the church absolutely believed this. They knew Jesus had chosen the other eleven; you heard what Luke wrote in Luke 6: “And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles…” The method was a little different this time. The first time Jesus had done the choosing with his voice; this time he did his choosing with the casting of lots. The result was the same. The Lord Jesus made the choice.
We go back to the text (Acts 1:24-25) and trace the decision to the Lord. And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show 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 numbered with the eleven apostles.
And so there is a happy ending, numerically speaking. Jesus now has His Twelve again. Just as there were 12 tribes of Israel, the Lord saw fit to call 12 disciples, 12 apostles. Completeness is the promised pattern. After Pentecost, there is no more mention of the Twelve apostles. They are out doing what the Lord called them to do. They were apostles, sent ones. They were sent, and off they went.
Your Lord’s promises remain with you. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. He has not left you without comfort. His Word and Sacraments abide with you. His ministry continues. Jesus is always your Pastor, your Good Shepherd.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.