Sermon; Easter 7B; Acts 1:15-27, 21-26
We are now officially in a post-Jesus world; liturgically speaking, that is. The liturgical cycle spans the life of Christ on earth, from the Advent of his coming, to his birth, baptism, ministry, execution, death, resurrection, and, finally, his Ascension. Last Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, forty days after the resurrection.
We don't have a whole lot of material on those forty days, but we know enough that those were the last days of preparation for the disciples before they were left in charge. Yes, Jesus told them that he would die and rise again, but until it actually happened they didn't, or couldn't, quite believe it. And then it happened.
During those forty days Jesus appeared multiple times. He was generally gentle with the disciples, although there are a few instances where he loses his patience. He fed them. He forgave them. And he got them to a place where they could accept what was happening. But even then . . .
Even then, after he led them out to the mountain and was taken up, the disciples still stood there looking up and wondering what was happening. But then two angels appeared and brought them back to earth, so to speak. So the eleven returned to Jerusalem and began the hard work of proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ. But they were one man down. The mission started with twelve, it apparently needed to continue with twelve. The question of who would fill the missing spot arose.
It's Peter who gets up and lays out the parameters, or the requirements, of who should be allowed to fill the vacancy. First of all, it had to be a man. Sorry, ladies, that's the way it was back then. Second, it needed to be someone who was part of the group from Jesus' baptism to his ascension.
With those two guidelines in place, there were two men who fit the bill: Joseph Barsabbas Justus, and Matthias. After they were presented to the group, everyone prayed asking for God's guidance. And then they literally rolled the dice – odds it's Justus, evens it's Matthias. So it was that Matthias filled the vacancy created by Judas. He was now one of the twelve. He was now asked to take his place among the leaders of this new movement.
And we never hear about Matthias again.
There are a few conflicting traditions about him. He preached in Cappadocia and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea. He started in Judea, moved to modern day Georgia (not in the U.S.), and then was stoned and buried there. He went to Ethiopia, where he died and was buried. He was stoned and beheaded in Jerusalem. He died of old age in Jerusalem.
We don't know the whole story of Matthias, only God knows. What we do know is that Matthias was a faithful follower of Christ who proclaimed the good news in relative anonymity.
Kind of like us.
Our church calendar is full of people we commemorate throughout the year,. Some of them are even considered . . . and I need to say this slowly . . . some of them are even considered big S saints. Most of them, though, are people who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times and places. The Roman Catholic calendar has others. They also have a whole list of patron saints for everything from accountants to yachtsmen (apparently there's no patron saint for zookeepers). And I'm sure the Eastern Orthodox also have their own list of saints.
But even if you combine those remembered by the Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, you wouldn't even come close to all the Christians who have ever lived. And this is why I think Matthias is so important. Matthias should be the patron saint of Christians in general.
Most of us will live our lives in anonymity. Most of us will be considered “good Christians,” in that we worship, work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom. Most of us will be vaguely remembered 50-100 years after our death, and most of us will be forgotten after that.
It is most likely that the only one who will remember us for ever will be God alone; just as it is God alone who remembers Matthias.
As far as we know, his only claim to fame is that, on a roll of the dice, he took the spot Judas deserted. That lucky bounce got him mentioned in scripture and remembered for all time. But it's not because of that that he should be the patron saint of every Christian, it's because of what put him in position to be considered in the first place: Matthias was with Jesus from the time of his baptism until his ascension. That's a requirement that not even Peter, Andrew, James, John, or Matthew can make.
Matthias was a dedicated and loyal follower of Christ. He didn't leave when challenged or when things got . . . dicey. He learned what Jesus taught. He proclaimed the good news to others. He did what we all should be doing. He was us.
As I said, the Feast of the Ascension was this past Thursday, and I used those readings for the Wednesday Eucharist. There's a great scene in the reading from Acts where the disciples are gazing up into heaven as Jesus ascends. While they are looking up to heaven, two angels appear and bring them back into the hear and now. “Men of Galilee, why are you gazing up to heaven?”
We need to spend less time gazing up into heaven and more time looking out into the world to proclaim the presence of Christ. We need to do this as a result of our faith. We need to do this regularly and faithfully. We need to do this regardless of whether we get our name on a calendar or not.
So on this 7th Sunday of Easter, let us remember Matthias, the good and faithful servant who did his best to follow Christ in all places and in all circumstances. And let us follow in the footsteps of Matthias, proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ, living faithfully to the best of our ability.