Wednesday, February 24, 2010

St. Matthias Day Sermon -- Acts 1:15-26

February 24, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

In those days Peter stood up among the believers and said: “So one of the men who have accompanied us 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—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.”

February 24 is when the Church commemorates St. Matthias, the last of Christ’s apostles, the one chosen in the city of Jerusalem after Christ’s Ascension. Matthias’ selection is the way Christ’s Church fills the office that Judas Iscariot had vacated. By betraying Jesus and never taking the path of repentance and forgiveness, the Traitor had forfeited his place among the Twelve and, more importantly, the possibility of salvation. But St. Peter, knowing what the Scriptures had said about this, gathers the members of the nascent Church and leads them to replace Judas.

This is what the Evangelist Luke records, and what you heard tonight. What St. Peter, the other Eleven, and the Church do is ask the Lord God to fulfill His word. It isn’t just that they thought 12 was a good number, so they another apostle should be added. No, their action is based on what the Lord God had said. Notice how St. Peter handles the situation by quoting from the Scriptures: “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’” Nothing is going to be done without that divine guidance and foundation.

But with divine guidance and foundation, great things take place. Such is the case with St. Matthias. We heard what St. Peter directed the Church to do: “So one of the men who have accompanied us 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—one of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection.” The apostles had a divine command to bear witness to the death and resurrection of Christ, to make more disciples, to preach the good news to all creation. And in order to fulfill what they had been charged to do, they would need another.

The selection of Matthias to be an apostle follows the pattern of how the Lord God acts. The apostles have their divine command to fulfill. So they can do so, the Lord of the Church provides what they need. Judas’ vacated position will be filled. Another man is added to the Twelve: “And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

Centuries before this event happened, the Lord God had known what would transpire. He knew who would become part of the Twelve. He knew who would take up the duty to be witness of Christ’s resurrection. But this is not a passive knowledge; the Lord God is active in the life of His Church. He spoke the prophecies describing what would take place, what He Himself would fulfill. The Eleven cast lots, leaving the selection of an apostle up to Christ Jesus, the only One who can choose. They themselves had been chosen by Jesus to follow Him. They had heard Jesus’ words: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” And now, the Lord of the Church had selected Matthias to bear His yoke.

The apostles proceed according to faith and trust in the divine command and promise. What happens in Jerusalem is an act of faith. Christ’s disciples believe in the Lord’s mission, the task that had been given to them. Disciples will be made of all nations. Judas’ traitorous act will not thwart that. There will be a full complement of witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, the good news that brings rescue to the world. The number of souls to be added to Christ’s Kingdom will be met as His ways to bring forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are followed.

This is an example that the Church follows today. As Christ’s disciples, you have the same object of faith. The divine words of promise in the Scriptures are what you believe, because in them you find the identity of God and His actions done for you revealed. In them, you have done for you what Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew: “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

You are recipients of this revelation. Your sinfulness has been made known to you by the Divine Law acting as an unrelenting mirror. The need for forgiveness is something that your souls feel everyday. But you are not left abandoned in guilt. Salvation is shown to you. Christ Jesus has left witnesses to His resurrection, witnesses that testify about Him and reveal your redemption because of His death and return to life.

Everything that the Church does is to be based on the same divine guidance and foundation that the Eleven used in their actions in Jerusalem. The Church should act as it has been commanded by the Lord God. It is the instruction that tells Christ’s disciples never to rely on themselves for salvation. The same words show where the grace and favor of Christ are found. The Lord of the Church designates the means by which His forgiveness will be doled out to sinners. His command organizes the Church and establishes the ministry that Matthias and his successors possess and fulfill. This divine guidance and foundation motivate the actions of Christ’s community.

Like the apostles in Jerusalem, you are called to rely on what the Lord God has spoken and set down for you. He knows what you need, and He provides the ways, means, and objects that fulfill them. That is what the event with St. Matthias’ call to apostleship illustrates. It is a demonstration of the Lord God’s trustworthiness. The same trustworthiness is what you depend on, just as the first members of the Church did.

But “trust in the Lord” is more than a proverb. It is the rule of the Christian life. And in the fullness of the rule, you find your salvation. Not that you “trust and obey” in order to appease God, but that you rely on what He provides. What God the Father handed over to His Son Jesus Christ is handed over to you. You need not worry that it won’t. That could have been the question in that Upper Room in Jerusalem. Will God act? Will those psalms be fulfilled? But in faith, they call upon the Lord God to do what He said, believing that it will be so.

It is the same action the Church takes today. You call upon Christ to fulfill His word and believe He does. In Holy Baptism, you call on Him to make good on His promise: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” In the Lord’s Supper, you pray that what He says comes true: “This is My Body and Blood present here for the forgiveness of your sins.” And you appeal to your Lord to speak again, to give you “the words of eternal life.” Nothing is done without reason or warrant, without confidence or faith. The Church follows the example of the Eleven and the call of St. Matthias, trusting that what the Lord God promises, He will deliver.

The example in Jerusalem’s Upper Room is your pattern for action. Look for the divine guidance and foundation and let them be the rationale for what you do. But take them not only as a rationale. Rather, rely on them as the true and always-fulfilled promises from Christ they are.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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