A word of background
on the text for this morning from Acts 1.
Acts, you may remember, is volume 2 of the Gospel of Luke.
We assume the author to be Luke, however, nowhere does the text
actually claim such. The
third gospel and Acts became associated with Luke in the late second
century, a tradition which was not questioned until this century.
While the matter of authorship is an intriguing one, it lies out
of the scope of this sermon. Since
tradition calls the author Luke, I will do the same.
Whether this Luke is the physician, the traveling companion of
Paul or some other is not important to our understanding of the story.
What is important is that Luke is not an eyewitness to the story.
Rather, as he indicates in his introduction to the gospel, his
account comes from a careful investigation
of those who were eyewitnesses.
many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that
have been fulfilled among us, just
as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were
eyewitnesses and servants of the word,
I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from
the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent
his first volume Luke describes the birth and life of Jesus.
In his second he tells of the birth and life of the early church.
It is also evident from his style of writing, his use of Hebrew
scripture and his terminology that he is either a Gentile convert or at
least he is writing with a predominantly Gentile Christian audience
rather than a Jewish Christian audience in mind.
It is quite probable therefore, that he is a product of the
mission to the Gentiles for which Paul becomes the chief spokesperson in
Acts. In other words, he is
one of us--someone who learned about Jesus through others and who was
brought into the faith not as one under the law, that is, Jewish, but as
one outside the law or Gentile.
both volumes are addressed to a certain Theophilus, or most
excellent Theophilus as Luke proclaims him.
Such an ascription would imply a high government official, which
seems quite plausible. However,
the name Theophilus means lover of
God and hence could be a literary device, meaning those who love
God, a phrase often used for Gentiles who were sympathetic to Judaism.
Once again the style of writing and other internal clues suggest
that Luke has a Gentile Christian audience in mind rather than
government officials. In
other words, this is our book, written to and for the church.
So listen then to what Luke has to say to the church about its
beginnings. This text
occurs after Jesus has said his farewells to the disciples and has
ascended into the heavens, thus this is the very first action of the
disciples without Jesus:
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the
crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said,
16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which
the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a
guide for those who arrested Jesus—
17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share
in this ministry.” 18
(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and
falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed
out. 19 This became
known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in
their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘Let his homestead
let there be no one to live in it’;
and ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the
Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when
he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to
his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who
was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know
everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25
to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas
turned aside to go to his own place.”
26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on
Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
Sunday was Pentecost, the celebration of the birth of the church which
is told in the next chapter of Acts, a day filled with Spirit, fire,
wind, chatter, and excitement. Normally
we would read this text on the Sunday before rather than the Sunday
after Pentecost, but I thought it would be better to save this text for
this morning when we would be electing our officers for the church.
I thought we could start a new tradition and just draw straws to
see who would be our President for the next year.
But Jim volunteered to continue for another year so maybe next
on earth, as contemplate the origins of the church, do we stoop down
here in the valleys of bloody fields and ecclesiastical nominating
committees? Is this any way
to begin the history of the church? Can we not celebrate the birth of the body of Christ without
bringing up the guts of Judas? As
a matter of fact, if the lectionary committees had their way, that is
precisely what we would do. The
assigned reading for this text leaves out the ugly portrayal of Judas
death. That exclusion
reveals more about the human nature of the church than this text reveals
about its divine nature. We
would just as soon forget ugly stories like this one.
After all, we keep skeletons in the closet for a reason.
is this problem, you see, of the one who "was one of us and and had
worked with us" but who chose a different path, betrayed his Lord,
stumbled and fell headlong, splitting his guts open.”
Some of you I know would like me to explain this because, good
Bible students that you are, you want to know how is it possible that
Matthew tells us that Judas hung himself and Luke says he fell to his
death. Which is it, did he
hang himself or jump off a cliff? The
answer is simple. Yes he
did. Does that clear it up for you?
There are a number of other little variations in the details of
the two versions which may confuse us but really shouldn't.
is always subservient in the Bible to theology.
That is, the function or meaning of the story takes precedence
over the facts of the story. What
these stories really say, taken as a whole, is that betrayal of Jesus by
Judas and his resulting death takes many forms.
Did we think Judas was the last to betray Jesus?
That he was the only one to be fed at this table who
sold out? That he is
the only one with blood on his hands?
You see I am suggesting that Luke includes this story at this
point precisely as a way of reminding us that we are not so pure and
innocent ourselves. Before
we move to the birth of the church, "Luke would have us ponder the
blood of Judas," because, as William Willimon at Duke University
says, "If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, Judas died
for the sins of the church".
seminary I wrote the centennial history for the First Christian Church
of Pomona. It was my doctoral project under the auspices of Ronald
Osborn. In my research on
the project I discovered that there had been a church split years
before. One Sunday morning
a couple dozen folk got up in the middle of the service in a very
organized fashion, walked out (don't get any ideas) and formed a new
congregation. I discovered
this not from anything anyone told me or from any of the artifacts
preserved by the church, but by an article I found in the newspaper
archives describing the walkout. Page
one of the Pomona Gazette, right there for the whole world to see and no
one had even bothered to mention this dirty little secret to me.
got really excited. After
reading reams of reports on the Ladies Aid Society's sewing projects,
Sunday School Rally Days, Cradle Roll attendance statistics and other
matters vital to the general welfare of humanity, this was something
interesting. I showed the
article to the centennial committee, thinking I had found something
really important. You know
what they said? They would prefer that I not mention it because they did
not want to hurt anyone. I
found that to be a little odd given that it was 1983 and that the
walkout occurred in 1924. Those
skeletons live a long time!
you ever been in a meeting where someone raises a touchy subject and
everyone begins looking at the floor or the ceiling or out the window.
What happens? Someone
changes the subject or the chair announces that it is time to adjourn. Accept for a few oddballs, most of us prefer to avoid
conflict and controversy. I
am a middle child which means by nature I am a peacemaker, I hate
conflict. The trouble is,
when we refuse to deal with those messy issues they never get resolved.
Those hard feelings, the uneasiness and all the ugliness just
lies under the surface and festers until it poisons the whole body.
Then if you ever break through that tough, outer skin, all this
vile stuff just oozes out and it is very unpleasant.
as a physician (if indeed this Luke was one), knows you cannot heal a
wound by keeping it under wraps, it needs fresh air.
So he talks about the conflict between the Gentile and Jewish
Christians in the 15th chapter of Acts.
He includes that ugly little incident with Annanias and Sapphira
who try to keep their finances a secret from the church leaders and go
under as a result--six feet under.
And he does not shy away from the embarrassment, even scandal, of
the betrayal by one of Jesus' hand-picked disciples, one who "was
one of us and had worked with us."
is almost as if Luke is saying, before we move from Easter to Pentecost,
before we go from the person of Jesus to the body of Christ, before we
go from resurrection of the dead to new life in the spirit, we have to
get our house in order. And the new house God seeks to build is not in order.
Jesus says in Luke 22 at the Last Supper that the disciples will
sit on "thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel."
Twelve tribes, twelve disciples.
Only one problem. There
is one missing, the group is incomplete.
The story cannot continue.
can the disciples represent the 12 tribes of Israel with only 11
members? The real problem
is not how or why Judas could betray Jesus, or how he died,
but who will take his place.
A replacement for Judas would be needed then, someone who can
witness to the resurrection, who can continue the cause.
A nominating committee is formed.
All the possible candidates reviewed.
Two appear the most qualified:
Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias.
They pray for divine guidance from God that they might pick the
right person for the job and then they mark their ballots, place them in
the ballot box--no that is not what they do at all.
drew names, according to the CEV, or cast lots, the ancient equivalent
of drawing straws. We are
not talking about some junior deacon here, this is for an apostle and
they use a lottery system to determine God's pick!
Does that strike you a little odd?
When was the last time you asked for help from God and then threw
the dice to get an answer? Maybe
we should have used this system for electing our new officers.
Roll a one and your are a deacon, 2=elder, 3=board, etc.
It would be a lot easier and quicker than the method we use!
selection of Matthias by casting lots may seem odd to us, but what it
really says is that the only qualification for office in the body of
Christ is the ability to witness to the resurrection, the rest is left
to God. What a concept!
Rather than evaluating potential candidates according to past
performance, training, ability to run meetings and other critical items
for building the commonwealth of God, we ask one question:
How has this person given witness to the resurrection of Christ?
Imagine, leaders of the church, all those who actively
demonstrate the power of God in their lives, who shine forth as part of
Christ's light to the world.
know Matthias was not one of the better known figures of the New
Testament. In fact, this is
the only time he is mentioned. For
that matter, 8 of the 12 apostles are not mentioned beyond chapter 1.
As a matter of history Matthias played a very insignificant role.
As a matter of symbols, however, he played a very critical one.
For not only is Matthias together with the other 11 symbolic of
the 12 tribes if Israel, he is also symbolic of a God who defeats
death--the death of Jesus and Judas. He is
symbolic of a God who raises leaders when leadership is needed.
He is symbolic of every person who is called to fulfill a role
within the body of Christ. He
is symbolic of God's mission which continues to move forward in spite of
betrayals and human failures.
know there are many things in this world I do not understand, as I know
there are many things for you. We
may not understand everything in the Bible, we may not understand how
Jesus could pick someone like Judas or how Judas could turn on Jesus, we
may not understand why there is so much pain and evil in the world--we
may not even understand the resurrection--but if we can speak of how
Christ lives in us, if we can point to God's presence in the world, if
we can sing of the power, beauty, wonder of the living God, then we too,
can take Judas' place and bear witness to the resurrection.
we ready to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus?
Are we ready to receive the gift of the spirit?
Are we ready to let go of the scandals and sins of the past and
to move ahead with a sense of purpose and mission?
Are we ready to let the church be the instrument of God in the
world today? Well, let's
see, we'll need the 12--there is Peter, James & John, that's three.
And there is Andrew, Philip and Thomas, three more.
Bartholomew and Matthew, make eight.
James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas son of James,
that's eleven. We need just
one more and we are ready to go, one more and the church will have all
that it needs, one more willing to let God be their guide.
more. How about you?