Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sermon -- Festival of St. Matthias, Apostle (February 24, 2019)

ACTS 1:15-26


In the name + of Jesus.

     Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:17)  That means everything God the Father gives us is good.  It may not always seem like it because God's gifts get messed up.  But the problem is never with the giver of the gift or with the gift.  It is with the sinners to whom the gifts are given.  For example, marriage is a gift of God, and it is good.  I am sure you can think of some marriages that are not good.  But the problem is not with God or with marriage; it is with the sinners who are in the marriage.  Likewise, government is a gift of God.  It serves our good by keeping society orderly and peaceful.  But politicians can be crooked scoundrels, and governments can become corrupt, oppressive, or even tyrannical.  Once again, God is good and his gift is good.  The people in those positions of government may not be good; nevertheless, God still grants blessings, even through flawed people.
     Jesus Christ is our good and merciful Savior.  He established the Christian Church for our good, and he gave the holy ministry for the good of the Christians in the church.  However, horrible stories of clergy abuse have become all too common these days.  Many claim the Church is wicked and that the ministry is an abomination.  But Jesus Christ is good.  The Church is good, and the office of the holy ministry is good.  Sadly, the office has been occupied by some wicked people.  Just as married people and politicians are accountable for their sins, so are the clergy who are guilty of their scandalous actions.  Nevertheless, God is still good, and his gifts are still good.
     The Christian Church was in its infancy when the first clergy scandal hit.  Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus, showing himself to be a traitor.  Although Judas tried to return the money and stop Jesus' trial, the priests had no interest in letting Jesus go.  In his grief and despair, Judas went and hanged himself.  His suicide became well known throughout Jerusalem because of the grotesque nature of his death.  Meanwhile, the apostles with whom he had served for three years were coping with all that Judas did.  I imagine their emotions ran the full gamut—disbelief, sadness, anger, bitterness, and even guilt from thinking that they should have seen it coming.
     Judas proved to be a tremendous disappointment.  His betraying of Jesus and his suicide were a great scandal.  But the office of apostle was still good.  The other apostles, even with their own faults, were still beneficial to the Church.  And so, based on the Psalm which said, “Let another take his office,” (Acts 1:20; Psalm 109:8) Peter led the effort to replace Judas, restoring the number of apostles again to twelve.
     Peter noted the qualifications for apostleship.  “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.” (Acts 1:21-22)  The choice came down to Justus and Matthias.  They invoked Lord in prayer.  They cast lots.  And Matthias was chosen to fulfill the place of apostleship.
     From this point on, the Bible says nothing of Matthias.  We assume that he served the Lord faithfully, that he bore witness to Jesus' resurrection, that he declared salvation in Jesus' name, and that he served the Church as a pastor.  Where he went, what he did, and what he suffered for Jesus and for the Gospel remains unknown.  We don't remember Matthias because he perfected the apostolic ministry.  We remember him because the Lord chose to work through him.  God grants blessings, even through flawed people.
     Now, the Lord has not called you or me to be an apostle.  But he has given us our various vocations.  These vocations are where God has called you to honor him and to serve your neighbor.  These vocations are good, but we are not always good in fulfilling them.  Just as the other apostles regarded Judas, so people have been disappointed or saddened or even angry with you.  You and I have not been flawless in our service.  We have failed.  Whether we forgot to do what we were supposed to or intentionally didn't do it, we have sinned against others.  We have not glorified God with our vocations, even considering them to be a punishment or a curse rather than the blessing and the gift they are.  As Judas' failure grieved our Lord, so do our faults and failures.  Repent.
     We do not know where Matthias went to preach, but we can be sure of what he did preach.  Matthias did what Peter said he was appointed to do: “One of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22)  Matthias, a sinner himself, preached to burdened and broken sinners the comfort that comes from a good and merciful Savior.  He bore witness to Jesus' flawless love and faultless service to sinners.  Jesus never loved people because they proved themselves worthy.  Jesus loves people because they need his love and compassion.  He reached out his hands to heal the sick.  He lent his ears to cries for mercy.  He opened his mouth to soothe frightened souls and to encourage struggling believers.  And then he offered his ears to hold up a crown of thorns.  He kept his mouth silent when vicious accusations were leveled against him, accepting the guilt of every charge.  He stretched out his hands to be nailed to a cross so that he could pay for the sins of everyone who has failed him, who has fled from him, and who has fought against him.  Matthias had witnessed it all.  And then Matthias got to declare that he saw Jesus, after his death for sinners, alive again—risen from the grave.  Jesus did not come breathing fire against those who sinned against him.  Instead, he proclaimed peace.  Jesus lives to credit you with his innocence.  Jesus lives to grant forgiveness to flawed people.  Jesus lives.  His love endures.  He calls you to honor him with a life of service, and he blesses it.  God grants blessing, even through flawed people. 
     When St. Peter added Matthias to the number of the apostles, it seems to me (this is opinion; take it for what it is worth) that he acted rashly.  He quoted Psalm 109: “Let another take his office.” (Acts 1:20), but it seems to me that our Lord had another man in mind to fulfill that prophecy.  Later, the risen and ascended Lord Jesus personally did add another man to be among the apostles—St. Paul.  So, Peter may have overstepped his bounds in adding Matthias.  But even if Peter's actions were presumptuous and flawed, God still blessed the Church through them.  The office of apostle is good, and God did good things through the addition of Matthias to the apostles.  Matthias served as a witness of the resurrection and proclaimed salvation through Jesus. 
     You and I serve our Lord as best as we can.  As children of God, that is our duty.  As those who are loved by God, it is our joy.  But none of us serves perfectly; and God still blesses it.  Even if our efforts are less than perfect or our motives are less than pure, God still grants blessing through flawed people.  Riddle: What do you call someone who graduates from medical school last in his class?  Answer: Doctor.  Not everyone can graduate at the top of the class.  Yet God still blesses people through the work of those doctors, too.  In the same way, our works are not perfect.  Not every meal prepared will be gourmet.  Not every word of advice will be life-altering.  Not every sermon will be an award-winner.  But God will still work through these things to feed people, to encourage people, to help people, and to bless people.  For, God is good, and the gifts he gives us are good.  God works good through them, and God is even pleased with them because Jesus Christ has made you pleasing to him.
     God grants blessings, even through flawed people.  They cast lots....  The lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:26)  We don't know what became of Matthias after that.  You might not even remember his name after today.  That's okay.  The Lord knows him and was pleased to work through him.  Likewise, the Lord gives you ways to serve him.  The world may not remember your name or your service.  That's okay, too.  The Lord knows.  He loves you.  He delights in your works, and he blesses people through them.  You may recognize your flaws, beat yourself up over them, and strive to correct them.  Know that the Lord has handled them differently: He forgives them.  He covers them in Jesus' innocence.  Therefore, he delights in you.  He is proud to call you his own.  For, God is good.  His gifts are good.  And his love and his blessings are flawless.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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