The Seventh Sunday of Easter for Year B (May 17, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
You gotta love Matthias; he is the poster child of unsung heroes of the church everywhere.

It is “The Twelve” that get most of the attention during Jesus’ ministry — and, of course, it is the Big Three (Peter, James, and John) who get the most ink on top of that. After the shocking betrayal of Judas and the hurry-scurry days that followed Jesus’ resurrection, it takes a while for the leadership core to get around to filling out their numbers with another apostle.

An aside — I’ve sometimes wondered why Jesus himself didn’t ask them to pick a replacement for Judas. Was it just not on his radar during his post-resurrection appearances? He certainly had business with Peter (“feed my sheep”) and Thomas (“don’t doubt any longer”) and others who needed him. Or was Jesus just not that concerned with the numbers?

I know that we have a nearly legendary concern for numbers, and reports, balancing the books, filling up committees — sort of ecclesiastically rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, if you know what I mean. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Or is there? Are we consuming a good bit of our time and energy with the functional details of ministry, when we could be spending it on things that are more relational?

At any rate, Matthias is chosen to round out the Twelve. Check his record of consistency and persistence: he had been with Jesus and the other disciples “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.”

Never held a position, never had a title, never noticed until the moment of need, not even a consensus candidate during the first round of balloting. But, in the end, he was present, available, willing and able. I like the guy…may his tribe increase!

Psalm 1
Psalm 1 is perhaps the clearest presentation of the Hebrew concept of the “two ways” in all of the Bible. Exercising the distinct human gift of free will (choice,) we may follow the way of the LORD — the righteous path — or the way of the wicked.

Both ways have attendant rewards and consequences; both paths require effort. It is the latter point that impresses me as I read Psalm 1 again. We often hear words along the line of, “It’s just too hard to follow God; God expects too much of me; I just can’t keep all those commandments.”

But we fail to realize that it takes a good deal of effort to walk the opposite path — to follow the advice of the wicked, one must first take time to listen; taking the path that sinners tread requires actually walking along that way; sitting in the seat of scoffers doesn’t “just happen.” You have to decide to stop and sit a spell, so to speak.

1 John 5:9-13
John writes very much in line with the concept of the “two ways.”

The church’s testimony has always been, as summarized in v. 11, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” That’s it. Jesus is the Savior of the world. In our fractious dissent (borne of that same pesky free will we just mentioned?), we have often debated just exactly HOW Jesus is the Savior of the world — but never IF.

Whatever the HOW, John holds that the inevitable conclusion is: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Thus, has the church been given a “great commission” to teach, tell, instruct, show, demonstrate and by any and all means get the message out to the world — “believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

John 17:6-19   
Jesus’ prayer of protection for his followers — also known as a prayer for the unity of his followers — is rooted in this same mission of making God known in the world. “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.”

Part of the church’s life (at least) is to live in imitation of Jesus; what he does, we seek to do. Making God’s name known — through the life of Jesus — seems to me to be a basic part of the church’s job description.

Who are the ones that God has given us from the world? Who are we to pray for, protect, love, minister to? In whom — and in what ways — is God making our joy full as we share the life of Jesus?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Anybody ever heard of Ernie Shore?  Probably not unless you’re a really big baseball fan or grew up in Winston-Salem North Carolina.  Ernie Shore was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox about a hundred years ago.  After graduating from Guilford College, he played for the Baltimore Orioles, was sold by the Orioles to the Red Sox along with another player named Babe Ruth.  In 1917, Ruth started a game, walked the first batter, hit the umpire and was thrown out of the game.  Shore came in and the man on first was caught stealing, then he proceeded to pitch a perfect game, getting the last 26 batters out without a hit or a walk.  He had to share the credit with Ruth.  And in 1919, along with Babe he was sold to the New York Yankees, the “player to be named later.”  By 1920 he was out of baseball.  He was later the long time sheriff in Winston-Salem and the Wake Forest University baseball team plays at Ernie Shore Field, a former minor league park.  Everybody’s heard of Babe Ruth; only a few know about Ernie Shore.

Let me read you what the Harper’s Bible Dictionary has to say about Matthias, “According to Acts 1: 15-26, the successor among the Twelve Apostles to Judas Iscariot.  After prayer, Matthias was chosen by lot over another candidate, Joseph called Barsabbas.  According to Acts, both men had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry until his ascension.  The New Testament contains no other reference to Matthias.” Wow – no other reference.  Never heard from before or since. Won the Apostleship Lottery and then disappeared from the pages of the Bible.

I’m guessing Matthias didn’t disappear from the church, just from the pages of the Bible.  It’s likely he had a long career of praying and leading, of preaching and teaching.  He had the training for it. He spent three years following Jesus, from his baptism to his ascension.  He heard the sermons, he saw the miracles, he participated in the late night conversations.  He was one of those of whom Jesus said in our gospel lesson, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (vs. 18)  Yes, Matthias was sent, in his case into relative obscurity.

Most Christians down through the life of the church have been a lot more like Matthias than they have been like Peter or Paul; just as most people who have played major league baseball have been more like Ernie Shore than like Babe Ruth.  And for the most part, that’s a good thing. Ernie Shore lived a good, solid life.  He grew up a member of a Friends Meeting, he went off to a Quaker college and got a good education.  He played baseball to earn money to set himself up in life.  His career was cut short by his decision to enlist in the army in World War I.  Though he came back alive, he was never the same player and was out of baseball in a few years.  He was the long-time sheriff in Forsyth County, NC and though he was no activist in racial matters, he was no Bull Connor either.  His Quaker religion and education saw to that. He was called to live a faithful life to the best of his ability and he did, for 89 years.

We in America are a bit addicted to fame, to celebrity, to prominence.  Why else would we pay any attention whatsoever to either Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian?  They are famous for being famous and not much else.  In the area of religion, we have a bad habit of thinking that bigger and flashier is better; why else would megachurch preachers with megawatt smiles and Late Show quality bands dominate.  And when we look away from those Babe Ruth churches, those preachers with Peter and Paul level name recognition and look at the churches most of us go to – well, we might think them insignificant or almost not see them at all.  We might miss the important things these churches are doing in their communities and are being for each other.

Because we too have been given the truth, we too have won the Apostleship Lottery, we too have been sent.  Maybe not to Jerusalem, or Macedonia, or Damascus – but certainly to Murphy and Andrews NC, to the inner city and the lonely plains, to small churches in small towns and big churches in the ‘burbs where everything looks fine but people still hurt, still need a kind hand and a loving heart.  This is where week in and week out unknown preachers prepare sermons and worship services and visit the sick and distressed.  This is where people knit prayer shawls for the hospitalized and collect food for the hungry and volunteer to staff food kitchens and raise money for Nepal and World Hunger and other needs.  This is where local churches open their doors to AA and Scouts and all sorts of other community needs and projects.

Yes we’re all Matthias.  As Mother Teresa is reputed to have said, “Not all of us can do great things for God.  But each of us can do small things with great love.” We have all had our named called, our number come up, in God’s grand mission and ministry lottery.  God has chosen us, God has blessed us, God has taught us the truth – God fills us with the Holy Spirit and sends us out into the world so that all the world will know that God is love.

Oh, by the way; the monk who taught Babe Ruth to play baseball?  His name was Brother Matthias.

Amen and amen.

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