This sermon was preached by Oliver Yangi, a theological student in our Parish
In our passage in Acts verse 15: “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about 120 people). And, as we might expect, there is something significant in the fact that there were 120 people present because, in Jewish Law at that time, 120 men gathered together was the requisite number to form and formalise a new community with its own council and leadership structures. So there’s something very intentional about Peter’s actions here: he recognises the need for order and structure amongst the people of God and he waits until the time is right and then begins to formalise the community of the church.
Peter’s opening word is “Friends” but actually, the correct translation is “Brothers”. And I think this is a significant point because the word ‘Brothers’ conveys a significant truth to us; that if we are all brothers together we can only hold that relationship because we are children of the same Father. It is our relationship with God that binds us together as a church: and it is that which differentiates us from a social club or any other organisation and if we lose a sense of that, we will definitely lose a sense of our purpose as a community of God.
“Brothers (and sisters), it was necessary for the Scripture to be fulfilled as was told beforehand by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David concerning Judas…” So what had David prophesied concerning this event. The reading omits verses 18 and 19, which give us quotes from second is from Psalm 109:8, which suggests that, for those who have opposed God, “let someone else take over his office”. It is sometimes thought that Judas was replaced purely because he had died but that is not really the case. When the apostle James was martyred in Acts 12:2, he wasn’t replaced, so it was not about filling a vacancy caused by death that was important. Instead, Judas was replaced because he had fallen away from the ways of God and it was important that all the leaders were known for their faithfulness to the cause of Christ.
And so, in the light of that, Peter proposes a qualification for finding a new apostle in verses 21 and 22: “So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout 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 from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”
The qualification was that the new apostle must have spent time with Jesus and been a personal witness to his glory. When we think about the great heroes of the faith, we might think about those people whose names are written large in the history books: the Wesley brothers, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, Richard Baxter and so on – people who had an extraordinary call on their lives and achieved extraordinary things.
But if we thought a little more personally about that question, we should ask ourselves who are the heroes of the faith to us. We may come up with a very different answer. For me, the heroes are those people who nurtured me in the faith when I was an arrogant and annoying teenager: local church people who never gave up on me. The heroes of the faith are some elderly people I have known in my life; people who have had a quiet faith but been faithful churchgoers, faithful lovers of Jesus for 40, 50, 60, 70 even 80 years, faithfully praying for the work of the local church.
These, to me, are the true heroes of the faith. Ordinary people, living ordinary lives, doing ordinary things and yet, in their ordinariness, there was exhibited to me an extraordinary faith. And the reason for their extraordinary witness was because they had met with Jesus in the ordinariness of life and had found him in the mundane of daily living: they had spent time with Jesus and were witnesses to his glory. And this seems to me to be what lays behind the call of the replacement apostle: someone who had found the extraordinary God in the ordinary of life.
Two names were recommended: Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus. So the disciples prayed together: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship…” And, knowing the tradition of Scripture, we might have expected a calling on God to perform a supernatural miracle, to show everyone who the next Apostle to be chosen. Writing on the wall or a thunderstorm or a voice from heaven: anything like that would have happened. Both had been with Jesus since his baptism in the Jordan. But they needed some way to find out which one God wanted to serve. To do this they did two things, they prayed and they consulted scripture.
But what happens? This reading says: “They cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles”. How ordinary can you get? The apostles cast lots – a bit like flipping a coin - and that was that. We might have expected something more dramatic! But I think there is something for us to learn in the ordinariness of how Matthias was chosen.
Matthias was an ordinary man. We don’t hear anything extraordinary he ever did, before or after his call. Matthias was an ordinary man, chosen to be an apostle in a most ordinary way. Casting lots – a roll of the dice. An ordinary man, ordinary apostles, using an ordinary system of decision-making to bear witness to an extraordinary God.
And that, fundamentally, is what the church is all about. Here we are, ordinary people living in church community in an ordinary way. And yet, by doing so, we are bearing witness to the power of an extraordinary God. Because the qualification of discipleship, as we mentioned earlier is that we ordinary people spend time in the presence of an extraordinary God.
You and I have spent years living in the presence of God.
You and I have spent years knowing what it is to have Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
You and I – ordinary people - know what it is to love and be loved by an extraordinary God.
And so the beautiful things about this story from Acts, the calling of Matthias, is that, actually, it is a story about our calling. Ordinary people being called by an extraordinary God. And that is why Paul was able to write in his letters that he could never boast in himself and his own achievements but that he could always boast in the awesome power of God. And so it is with us: we don’t boast in ourselves but we can boast in the extraordinary love and the extraordinary power of God whom we have had the privilege to call our Lord for so many years.