Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 John 17:6-19

May 17, 2015 by Ken Dale

The middle of this past week I came across an amusing reflection on the reading from Acts. It was the creation of an Episcopal priest by the name of Rick Morley as he reflected on the process for filling the vacancy on the twelve disciples left by Judas? departure. He first mentioned that it was obviously important that they have 12 disciples because 12 was a good biblical number of significance. That raised my curiosity ? I thought there were 12 tribes of Israel but that?s about it. So I checked a Bible dictionary and that was exactly the point. The number refers to the 12 tribes of Israel and symbolizes the restoration of Israel. As witnesses to his resurrection the Twelve disciples authenticate the church?s post-resurrection proclamation of the traditions about Jesus.

That explains the importance keeping 12. And we know from verse 21 it was necessary that Judas? replacement be one who witnessed the life of Jesus from his baptism by John right on through his resurrection. There were two candidates, both men ? how unfortunate women were evidently excluded for they were among the most faithful followers even remaining at the cross when he was crucified.?? Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. Rick Morely writes: So the eleven disciples polled everyone in the church to see what they thought their strengths and weaknesses were, and what they hoped for in a leader. They compiled those thoughts in a beautifully done, glossy profile, and mailed it out to people who they thought would fit the bill. They asked for resume?s and essay/answers of six questions. They did a series of phone interviews prior to going out and traveling all over Judea making visitations of prospective candidates in their local setting. They graded them on their preaching style, their administrative acumen, and their pastoral presence to those in need. Then, after compiling a final slate, they cast a deciding vote. It took two years, but finally they had?.

Morely admits that?s not what happened but continues, They actually took the position to the Crown Appointment Commission in Jerusalem, and a series of church officials and bureaucrats put together a short list for the monarch to choose from. They based their decisions on churchmanship, experience, and political viability. And then, the Church Times published the?

Morely gets to the point concluding: They came up with a short list of criteria. And then they cast lots, so that it wouldn?t be them who chose, but God. Because discernment is about listening to God, and seeing who God is calling. Biblical leadership was never based on resume?s or experience. God called Moses, an 80 year-old shepherd, who had murder on his record. He called Aaron, who had great experience making little golden calf statues. He called David, the youngest son, and also a shepherd. He called Mary, a little girl. He called Peter, a fisherman. He called Simon the Zealot. And Paul, a Pharisee.

While, to a point, I share Morley?s critical thoughts about the pastoral search process in denominations, and agree with his point that God calls ordinary people to do God?s extraordinary work, I wondered about Matthias. Morely?s point is the importance of discernment ? listening for God. The prayer in verse 24 is ?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.? I listened to a podcast on this passage and one commentator said that Barsabbas and Matthias were probably both hoping the other one got it. They cast lots ? almost like tossing dice and the lot fell on Matthias.

The process and the prayer was that God did the choosing ? and Matthias gets it. This is all we know about ?God?s choice? in Matthias. There is absolutely no other reference to Matthias in the Bible ? yet he is chosen ?by God? to keep that important number at 12. Come to think about it and how the story continues, I would say Paul actually became that number 12, though he did not fit the criteria of having known Jesus since his baptism by John. He did of course have a powerful post-resurrection encounter with him one day while riding his horse, which led him to change from a great persecutor to a great founder of many of the early churches ? all started in difficult-to-be-in areas of the world. He and Peter were top key figures in that early church.

It strikes me the importance of prayer in the process. Before they acted, they stopped and prayed. They stopped and sought God?s guidance. They stopped and connected with God hoping that God would be at work in what they were doing.

In our gospel lesson from John Jesus is at prayer ? connecting with God about his disciples. It is striking that in the prayer he says that they ?are in the world? and at the close of the passage before us this morning he prays ?as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.? If we hear those words as Christ?s prayer for us as his disciples, we hear that we as the church, like Jesus himself, are sent into the world to engage with all its distorted powers and pressures. So often it seems the focus of Christian faith is ?out of this world? ? going to heaven and such. But in this prayer it is clear that we are called to bring the presence of Christ into the world with our presence as we live out our faith.

How important it is that we too remember to pray as we seek to answer that call faithfully. And we need pray as did those 11 ? putting it all in God?s hands, but doing our part, not really sure of what that outcome will be. We may be unknowns like Matthias ? and who knows, it could well be that he played a significant role in some way that just was not recorded. I can?t help but think of our friend Bob the stuffed donkey at the foot of the stairs that makes us mindful of the many in the life of this church who work so hard behind the scenes ? neither noticed nor acclaimed for all that they do. But God knows ? and that is where the bottom line is that we need to trust. Matthias or Paul or somewhere in between? Is prayer part of our life of faith ? and prayer that asks God to be at work in what we are doing.

It is powerful once you?ve experienced it. I can?t help but think of the first time I really discovered its power. It was the first time that I was called as a back up chaplain at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. I was called to the pediatric special care unit and driving in to Bangor I just felt so unequipped, unprepared, untrained, – I felt so uncertain that I even thought about calling back and saying I couldn?t get my car started ? but I didn?t, I went and prayed all the way to Bangor. When I arrived the nurse pointed to a door without telling what was going on so I asked. On the other side of that door was the mother and grandmother of a 7 year old who had just died. When I was debriefed by Alex Cairnes the hospital chaplain I discovered everything went just right. Driving home again I was in prayer ? prayer of thanksgiving laced with WOW IT WORKS!

Oh that we would just take a moment before we act ? respond ? or whatever it is we are doing as an act of faith ? and just be in touch with God and ask that God be at work in what we are doing. And do so with expectation that Someone is listening and will answer ? and whether it?s ever noted or not ? a difference will be made.

So may it be for us all as we seek to follow the One who has prayed for us.