Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia
Text: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
7Easter, Year B, 2015
Suppose—just suppose—that we wanted to create a new position here at Resurrection. We will put aside for a moment WHY we would want to do such a thing. Instead, we’ll start by thinking through—aloud, here with you—what this new position would be.
Let’s start by giving the position a title. Let’s call this position “Replacement Apostle.” And let’s define some qualifications:
- First, the Replacement Apostle must have been with the other 11 apostles the whole time that Jesus was here on earth, beginning with Jesus’ and the apostles’ baptism by John, through Jesus’ rising up into heaven. In other words, this person must be baptized and must know Jesus.
- And second, the Replacement Apostle must become a witness to Jesus’ Resurrection. In other words, the Replacement Apostle is someone who, having witnessed Jesus’ Resurrection, must be willing to share this Good News with those who didn’t experience the Resurrection for themselves.
I got these qualifications from our first lesson today, of course. In days of old, though, there used to be other qualifications to be the Replacement Apostle. Did you hear these implied qualifications when our first lesson was read? Our lesson said it had to be “one of the men…,” naming both a gender qualification and an age qualification. In our culture today, in our church today, we recognize that these implicit qualifications of old wasn’t and weren’t grounded in spiritual truth. Today we know that God loves absolutely everyone, and so we’ll leave out these anachronisms. Both men and women, young and old, could be the Replacement Apostle today, if otherwise qualified.
Our first lesson today asserts that, after Judas had committed suicide, God chose among from a pool of 120 believers all who had these qualifications, and there were just two who met the qualifications.
Let’s see. We have about 120 disciples of Jesus here at Resurrection today. Let’s take a survey. I’m actually looking for a show of hands here. Who among us is baptized and knows Jesus? Qualification One: CHECK!
Who among us can become a witness to Jesus’ Resurrection? Qualification Two: CHECK!
I note that virtually all of us are qualified to be the Replacement Apostle.
The original Replacement Apostle position was filled by casting lots to see which of the two qualified candidates “God had already chosen.” Doesn’t this sound sort of, well, random to you? Do you believe that God actually intervened in a roll of the dice to reveal whom he had chosen? That’s the claim here. Of course, the apostles prayed before they cast lots. They prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen…”
In our Bible study groups this week we decided that we must believe that God intervenes in outcomes in our world and in our lives; otherwise, we wouldn’t be studying God’s Word. And we decided that we must believe that prayer influences outcomes in our world and in our lives; otherwise, we wouldn’t be the praying people and praying community that we are here at Resurrection.
Some of you know about my lot-casting experience in another parish. Just before our last bishop suffragan election here in Virginia, I promised a group studying the biblical qualifications to be a bishop that they could vote on which of the nominees they would choose. When the time came I passed around a cup of dice; you should have heard the outcry! But the funny thing was that the number assigned to Susan Goff (the actual winner in the later diocesan election) turned up a statistically improbable number of times that day, whereas the voting of the group by our traditional means failed miserably. My analytic brain isn’t totally convinced, but I will admit that I have had this type of experience over and over again.
In the original election for the Replacement Apostle, there were only two qualified candidates: a man nicknamed Justus and one named Matthias. We don’t know anything else about either candidate. Spiritually speaking, though, the fact that Matthias was qualified to be the Replacement Apostle is all that we need to know about him, or about anyone else, for that matter. Matthias had met Jesus, had been baptized for the repentance of his sins, and had become a faithful follower of Jesus who went and told others what he had experienced.
The Replacement Apostle election had only one opening. Jewish people of that time and culture felt that the number 12 was a powerful number, being the number of the original tribes of Israel. And in a highly symbolic way, having 12 apostles was a full cohort, a powerful cohort, a complete cohort. So the original apostles could only elect one Replacement Apostle to make their number complete.
Today, though, we are not limited to 12 apostles, replacement or otherwise. Every single qualified person can be a Replacement Apostle. The more voices proclaiming the Good News of Jesus the Christ, the more chance that this life-giving message will be heard and received. So the reason WHY we would create a position here at Resurrection of Replacement Apostle is because we are all supposed to fill this position, each and every one of us.
Today [at our 10 am service] we are going to start qualifying a brand new person among us to be a Replacement Apostle. We will baptize Francis Ethan Pan, starting him on the named portion of his God-journey so that, we hope and pray, Ethan will be able to and will choose to become a witness with us to Christ Jesus’ Resurrection.
Changing gears slightly here at the end, I know that this story of Matthias’ selection as the Replacement Apostle resounds here at Church of the Resurrection in a particular way, given that we have long selected our 12 Vestry members by lot. We think of our system of Vestry election as God doing the choosing, and rightfully so. I’ll give you something to ponder this week: if our Vestry selection by lot reveals who God has chosen, why do we draw more names than the positions available? In other words, why do we draw 50 names, when in a typical year we only need 4 to fill the positions of people whose terms have ended?