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Better Know a Believer: Matthias


Acts 1.12-26

Some of us have had the pleasure of serving on a church search committee.  Here in the Baptist world, where our polity is congregational, and so we choose our own staff, when we have a need for a staff person, we form a committee!  And that committee usually does three things as a part of their search.  First, they pray, asking for God’s leadership in the process.  Then, they lay out the requirements for the position next to the available candidates.  Finally, they choose the person that they think fits best.  Each search committee does this process very differently.  Some are formal and structured and use Roberts Rules of Order.  The search committee that called me apparently ate a lot of ice cream cake.  But each committee does each of these things, even as they do them in their own way.

Today’s passage tells the story of the first church search committee!  It is actually the very first thing that the apostles did after Jesus ascends into heaven.  You see, there was, shall we say, an opening.  There were, of course, twelve apostles called by Jesus.  But after Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his subsequent untimely death, the apostles got together and decided that he needed to be replaced.  So, they formed a committee!

And they did the exact same three things that every church search committee does.  First, they prayed.  Acts tells us that the very first thing that they did was pray for God’s leadership in the process.  Secondly, they laid out the requirements next to the available candidates.  Peter does the first part of this.  He proclaims that candidates must meet two requirements: they must have been there from the beginning.  No Johnny-come-lately’s here.  They have to have been around from the beginning to really understand what the message of Jesus is really about.  And two, they have to have been a witness to the Resurrection.  This was a critical piece of information, and someone who had not experienced the Resurrection might later be overwhelmed by doubt or ambiguity.  No, the replacement apostle must have seen Christ with their own eyes and be ready to stand up for the truth of the Resurrection.

And then, they pulled together a list of the available candidates: there were two.  Only two to meet these criteria.  A man named Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus  (who probably should have been picked due to the sheer number of names that he brought to the table.)  And then a man named Matthias.  These were the two finalists in the search committee process.  Justus and Matthias.  Both were qualified.  Both would do a good job.  Might as well flip a coin.

So they did.  Literally.  Flip a coin or rolled a die or something like that.  Scripture tells us that they cast lots.  The disciples seemed to believe that God was involved in the outcome of the coin flip.  God, who was in control of all things, could determine whether the coin would land on heads or tails, and so the outcome was not chance, but in fact determined by God.  And so they cast lots between these two men, and, number of names notwithstanding, the winner was Matthias!  And there was much rejoicing!

And then we never hear another word about him again. Ever, ever again.  The Bible is completely silent on what happens to Matthias after that moment.  We are given no stories in Acts of his ministry, like we are of Peter and John and Stephen. Nothing. Crickets.

Why?  Wouldn’t his be a great story to follow up with?  Just like the old radio show of Paul Harvey, we would love to hear the “Rest of the Story.”  But nothing.  Why not?  I don’t know.  No one really does.  But that hasn’t kept us from guessing what happened to good old Matthias.  This morning, I am going to give you three options, and at the end of it, I’ll let you pick which one you like better.  Because I think there is value to asking what the place of Matthias in history might have to do with our place, today, as believers in Christ.

Option one.  Matthias was never mentioned again in the Bible because he never did anything worth mentioning Sounds a little rough, but maybe that was the case.  There is at least one tradition that Matthias died there in Jerusalem as an old man.  Never even left town!  That was his fifteen minutes of fame and there wasn’t anything else worth talking about.  He had other things to do, or was afraid to risk his life for the Gospel, or never thought he had much to offer, so he just sat on his gifts and failed to share them to tell the Good News.  Kind of a boring story.  But we have to consider that maybe that’s what happened.

And one we have to look in the mirror and ask if it has more to do with our story than we’d like to admit.  Do we sit on our gifts, claiming that we don’t have enough or the right ones?  Are we motivated by fear of what might happen to us, instead of motivated by trust in the power of the Spirit?  Will they say at the end of our life that we did great things for the sake of the Gospel, or will they shrug and say we never did anything worth mentioning?  Matthias’s story – or lack thereof, can be a rather haunting one.  Thus, the first option.

Option two.  Maybe the reason that we don’t know about the marvelous story of Matthias is, and this is a bit uncomfortable, because he wasn’t the right guy.   Occasionally, the search committee finds the wrong person.  They always hate to admit it, but it happens.  Maybe Matthias simply wasn’t the right person for the job.

That is the theory of Justo Gonzalez.  The Biblical and church history scholar suggests that the disciples jumped the gun.  They chose Matthias before they needed to, before the coming of the Spirit led them to.  And they did it because they chose structure over mission.

Peter and the other disciples thought that there needed to be a twelfth apostle because that is the way that it had always been.  Jesus had picked twelve apostles, and had taught them that they would reign over the twelve tribes of Israel.  Twelve is an important Hebrew number, and one that is symbolically significant.  So when Judas left his post, the disciples assumed that there needed to be a replacement for number Twelve.  Eleven simply wouldn’t work.

But, Gonzales reminds us, that is not necessarily the way that the Holy Spirit works.  Remember that this story takes place right before the story of the day – Pentecost!  It was at Pentecost that the Spirit came and threw into doubt all of the old structures, all the old symbols, all the old ways of being faithful.  The Spirit was about mission, not about structure.  The Spirit was about bringing new ways to share the good news of the Gospel.  And the Spirit didn’t care if there were Twelve or eleven apostles!  When the disciples insisted on finding a Twelfth, a move that Jesus never told them to do, instead of waiting on the coming of the Spirit, they chose structure over mission.  Instead of waiting for the Spirit like Jesus told them to, they couldn’t even wait ten days before their anxiety to fill an institutional and old-pattern hole became too great.  Gonzales says it this way:

…when this happens, we are in fact raising structure above mission, and giving clear signals that what seems most important to us is not the mission in the world, but to safeguard the structures which have served so far – or, perhaps more precisely, that have served us. (bold mine).  …the Holy Spirit does not tolerate such practices, and constantly forces the Church to be reformed in faithfulness to its mission.  The very fact that Matthias is never again mentioned should serve as a warning: do not try to force the Spirit to act according to our own purposes!

The good news is that this was exactly the last time the Church ever chose structure over mission!  Because we would never do anything like that today, would we?  We would never insist on doing it the old ways, just because that’s what we have always done, would we?  We would never refuse the counsel of one who was different or challenging or unexpected, would we?  Especially when the same old counsel from the same old people is good enough?  We would never seek to fill a spot instead of asking if that spot is worth filling, would we?  Of course we would.  We do it all the time. How many of us hold tight to those symbols that used to be important to us, instead of asking what the Spirit might be about instead?  We grasp the structure, instead of embracing the mission.

So, maybe Matthias is not mentioned because he didn’t do much to mention.  Maybe he isn’t mentioned because the disciples chose structure over mission.  Or here’s one more option:  Maybe Matthias was never mentioned again in the Bible because he just wasn’t.  It doesn’t mean that he did nothing noteworthy or important or even crucial to the spread of the Gospel.  We just don’t get to hear what those things were.  We are in the third week of our series titled Better Know a Believer, and our unofficial theme is to explore the stories of the Biblical characters who never made it to the spotlight.  Those who were the outsiders or the also-rans or the quiet leaders.  Maybe Matthias was one of those out-of-the-spotlight Christians.  His story was never told, but that doesn’t mean his wasn’t a phenomenal story!  We don’t know.

Think about all of the people in your life whose stories might never make it into the spotlight.  But in your life, they were absolutely spotlight-worthy.  Every mother or father who quietly shared their faith with their children, continuing the spread of the Gospel in the most consistent and reliable way.  Every Sunday school teacher who gave up their Saturday nights for years in order to prepare to teach children or youth or adults the Good News.  Every church member who anonymously gave to the fund to buy kids Bibles, or send them to camp, or buy the Sunday school curriculum that made it possible for another generation to learn about the love of God and the life of Christ.  Every single one of those a potential Matthias.  No one knows what they have done, but if they didn’t do it, the spread of the Good News of Jesus would be lessened.

Perhaps we know nothing about Matthias, but that doesn’t mean that he did nothing.  In fact, there are other traditions about his life that are a lot more exciting than the old man in Jerusalem theory – that he preached the Gospel in Cappadocia, or down in Ethiopia, or even in the modern day region of Georgia, where there is a marker claiming to be the site of his burial.  These are definitely better stories!  Perhaps Matthias did not make it into the Acts of the Apostles.  But that doesn’t mean that someone – or many someone’s – don’t owe their eternal life to the courage and faith of Matthias.  Which is the final word to leave you with this morning.  Today’s story is a story about a search committee, but it is really about a Church in search of something much deeper.  It is a story of Pentecost, in which the mission of the church was given a definition and a power.  It is a story of how to open our eyes and our minds to the ways that the Spirit is at work in our midst!

When we read the Pentecost story today, Jana Childers suggests that we see ourselves in the metaphor of a pond.  Remember when we were kids playing on the bank of the pond?  How many of us tried to pick up the biggest rock that we could and throw it as far as we could into the middle of the pond?   And remember how the rock made this tremendous “sploosh” and waves came out from the spot where it went in?  Right by the spot, the waves were violent and huge, and then they became smaller and less violent, but still impactful, as they emanated farther and farther out.  This morning, let us rejoice that while Pentecost was the sploosh, but we are still experiencing the waves!  The impact of the Spirit of Pentecost is still being felt today!


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