2/24/2011 sermon: Witness to the Resurrection

Location: Virginia Theological Seminary
Feast of St. Matthias

Witness to the Resurrection

If the Holy Spirit is both the inspiration behind the divine desire that we all may be one—and the author of all joy—then she must be extraordinarily pleased this morning. What we have here is a service of Morning Prayer using the Book of Common Worship from the Presbyterian Church, on an Episcopal seminary campus, where we are asked to remember and reflect upon the life of Saint Matthias, a Jewish man who became a martyr for Christ. I am delighted to be part of this enterprise!

What we do on a saint’s day in any Christian tradition is to use that individual’s life as the lens through which we examine scripture, and as the lens through which we examine our own lives.

We only know two things for sure about Matthias’ life, though. Acts chapter one tells us that the apostles’ first order of business after Jesus ascended into heaven was to find a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Judas had betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide. Matthias was one of two nominees to become the Replacement Apostle, and both nominees had been selected based on this one qualification: they both had been with Jesus and the original twelve apostles ever since Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptizer. In other words, the only qualification for Judas’s replacement was that it be a disciple who had been a witness to all that had transpired, especially Jesus’ Resurrection. In modern sports parlance this would have made Matthias a member of the Apostles’ Farm Team. Second, Acts tells us that Matthias was selected “by lot,” saying in essence that God, not the apostles themselves, had chosen Matthias.

This is all that we know for sure about Matthias. Later Christian tradition tells us that he faithfully carried out his commission, preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus and the Good News of salvation, eventually becoming a martyr for our faith.

Spiritually speaking, this is all that we need to know about Matthias, or about anyone else, for that matter. Matthias had met Jesus and had become a faithful follower of Jesus. God didn’t just call Matthias, God selected him for an important ministry, and Matthias faithfully carried out that ministry.

Those who speculate about such things for a living tell us that Matthias must have been totally unlike Judas Iscariot. They reason that the Twelve would have wanted to ensure that there were no repeat Judas performances. However, as our Old Testament lesson attests, when God selects someone for a ministry, God provides what is needed to carry out that ministry.

In our reading for today we hear Samuel asking God (and I paraphrase), “How can I [do what you ask of me]?” And we hear God responding, “I will show you what you shall do…” These are tremendously reassuring words for all of us, because God selects each and every one of us to an important ministry.

But, lest we get too comfortable, both of our scripture readings today contain reminders that not all who are called, not all who are chosen, are faithful to the ministry that God has given them. Saul disqualified himself from being king over Israel by forgetting who was king and who was God. Some of those in the early Johannine community disqualified themselves as Christ-followers by denying that Jesus is the Christ. And Judas Iscariot disqualified himself as an apostle by his betrayal of Jesus.

In the end, what Matthias’ life can teach us is that we need to be ready to be given “other God-duties as assigned” by being faithful witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection. Judas’ name has become synonymous with treachery. Perhaps as Christ-followers we should remember Matthias’ example as thoroughly as we remember Judas’, letting Matthias’ name become a metaphor for faithfulness.

I pray that we may each prove to be a Matthias.

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