Easter VII 2009
Theme: We are in this together
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, you will not leave us orphaned, Jesus promised to be with us to the end of the ages; guide us and keep us, help us remain united as you are united as trinity of persons, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
One cool September night at Yankee Stadium in New York, a foul ball was hit into the lower left field stands. It was heading right toward a boy of about nine who had obviously come to the game that night hoping for just such a moment. He had a pair of cheap binoculars around his neck and was wearing an oversized Yankees cap and a small Little League glove which had the hardly-broken-in look of a mitt worn by a kid you let play right field in the late innings of hopeless games.
The foul ball was arching directly toward this boy's outstretched hand, but suddenly, a man of about 35 wearing an expensive knit shirt and horn-rimmed glasses reached over the boy, jostling him aside, and caught the ball. In the jostle, the plastic binoculars were broken, and the boy, despite his mother's comfort, was clearly crushed. Everybody in the left field stands had seen this, and, after a second or two of stunned silence, someone shouted, “Give the kid the ball!” Then another cried, “Give the kid the ball!” A couple of rows joined in unison, “Give the kid the ball!”
Horn Rims shook his head and put the ball in his pocket. That inflamed the whole left field crowd, and with one voice they took up the chant, “Give the kid the ball!” It spread to the center field stands, then to right field, until the whole outfield, including people who did not even know the story, were shouting, “Give the kid the ball!” Players began to glance up from the field to the stands to see what was going on.
Horn Rims remained stubbornly firm. Finally, a man got up out of his seat, walked over to Horn Rims and spoke some words patiently and gently to him. Horn Rims hesitated, then reached into his pocket and handed the ball to the kid. “He gave the kid the ball!” someone exclaimed. Then the whole stands thundered, “He gave the kid the ball!” Applause rippled around the stadium.
Then an even stranger thing began to happen. When another foul ball landed in the left field stands, the man who caught it walked over to Horn Rims and gave it to him. Horn Rims, incredulously, thanked him and took it. The next foul ball was caught by a man in a muscle shirt who was sporting a Fu Manchu mustache. He turned and tossed the ball to the kid, who, to everyone's delight and surprise, caught it. More enthusiastic applause from the crowd, who had come that night to see a baseball game but witnessed instead a city parable about justice and grace.
The city is also a parable of human community. We see generosity and we see selfishness. We see self-preservation and we see self-sacrifice. Just as the outfield stands became a unity, so did the first days of the Christian Church, learning to work together to further Christ’s mission.
Our story from Acts takes place after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, but before Pentecost. The exact time in between these two events is not clear, but it must have been fairly short. We are told that the disciples spent time after the Ascension in prayer.
It seems the elephant in the room was Judas. Judas was one of their friends and he betrayed Jesus. What are they to think about Judas and his place in the twelve apostles? An unanswered question is how Jesus could have appointed someone to such a high rank who ended up betraying him.
Peter, early on after the Ascension, asserts his leadership position among the apostles and the disciples. They are in the Upper Room, which must have been a very large room, because 120 people are gathered there. Peter addresses the group.
Peter explains that what Judas did was foretold by scripture and more explicitly in the Psalms (probably Psalm 69:25). He reminds his hearers that Judas was part of this ministry and just what it was that Judas did.
This serves as an introduction to Judas’ betrayal. In the verses that are omitted, Peter recounts the consequences of this betrayal. This is a convenient way for Luke to tell his readers what happened to Judas after his betrayal.
Just so you are brought up to date, Judas buys a small farm with his ill-gotten gains. While on his farm, Judas fell and died a horrible death. (This differs from Matthew who claims that Judas hung himself.)
In any case, Judas is dead and they need to appoint his successor. It would have been very awkward to keep Judas around if he was still alive. Peter lists the qualifications for Judas’ replacement: tell others about Jesus’ resurrection and he (then it would have been a he) must have followed Jesus from the time of Jesus’ baptism through the time of Jesus’ ascension. There were two nominees: Joseph Barsabbas, with an alias of Justus, and Matthias.
This was the election process: first, they prayed that God would show them who should be an apostle. After they prayed, they engaged in a time honored Old Testament tradition for making decisions, they rolled dice, or, at least, something similar to rolling dice. The actual medium of casting lots varied. They could be stones, sticks, or even something like dice. Justus and Matthias must have had pre-designated numbers or some other identification so that a winner would be known to all once the dice were thrown.
This demonstrates that old habits are hard to break. Jesus told them, before he left, to wait for the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom. Remember this decision was made before Pentecost. They couldn’t wait. King Saul lost his favor with God and his crown for not waiting for God. But this method does have something going for it. It takes all the bias and politics out of the process, even though it is entirely a random decision.
What ever happened to Matthias? We don’t know. This is the only time he is referred to in scripture and we have no other reliable documents about him.
And what about Justus? Did he leave and miss the coming of the Holy Spirit? Did hang in with the rest? We don’t know about him, either. We assume his faith in Jesus was unwavering. There are hundreds of unnamed people who pass through the Book of Acts. Most are less well known than Justus. Without these people, who would listen to Peter and Paul talk about Jesus?
You are here because someone told you about Jesus. You may consider yourself ordinary, but you are not. The body of Christ, otherwise known as the Church, collectively embodies a divine being. We are Christ in the world. And we can only do Christ’s work collectively. It takes all of us working together to continue Jesus’ ministry, even if it is as simple as yelling, “Give the kid the ball!”
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we thank you for the gift of wisdom, through which we discern to do your will; always give us wisdom that is best found collectively in the church, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 (NRSV)
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believersd (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends,e the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the placeg in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. 
d Gk brothers
e Gk Men, brothers
g Other ancient authorities read the share
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.