Renewing the Community

Reading: Acts 1.15-17, 21-26
We live in a generation that wants everything at the double.
"Rush Job" Calendar
    This calendar will solve these problems:
  • It will eliminate Monday blues
  • Many want their job done by yesterday
  • There aren't enough Fridays in a week
  • Every week we need a miracle day
  • We need more time at the end of the month

A couple of years ago I showed you this "Rush Job" Calendar. It tries to set out (humorously, of course) the solution to satisfying the impatient customer. Those who have been in business will recognise the point of view.

From the other side of the counter (or end of the phone) we all know in our role as customers the frustration of being continually put off. So often, we are told, the problem is with suppliers, or manufacturers, or the postal system… I have been present during such a phone call when the response (after the customer has hung up) has been to phone the supplier and place the order. Yes, there has indeed been a problem with the suppliers - they hadn't been asked yet!

How do you like being put "on hold"? Not very much when it our STD call! And the sweet music does nothing to sweeten our impatience!

But what if you have been given a difficult and challenging job that looks as it it's beyond you… ? You have brought yourself to the point of "if I have to, I will." But then you are told, "Hold it! Not yet!"

When people are told they need to have by-pass surgery, I have the impression that the operation is often scheduled for just a few days' time - before they have much time to think about it and back out!

Go but wait

Eleven disciples of Jesus were waiting… Well, these eleven were now more than disciples. We begin to call them "apostles" - "sent ones". Among the followers of Jesus, these were the central core group who had spent much of the past three years with Jesus, the ones Jesus was training up for leadership. They were being sent out with the good news to all people and all nations. Jesus had said, "Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…" (Mt. 28.19).

Jesus called them "witnesses…". True, they had observed the personality and character of Jesus, heard his teaching, seen his miracles, watched him die on a Roman cross, seen him alive after the third day… Jesus had now explained to them that these things had to happen - they were in fact part of God's plan to redeem sinful people. So the disaster of his death turned out to be good news after all. But now "in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations" (Lk. 24.47).

But such a task is unbelievably big, impossibly big… How could eleven men do that? Of course, there were more than just eleven, even then. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15 that on one occasion, the risen Jesus appeared to "more than 500 of his followers at once" (v.6). Yet even so…

Wait! "I myself will send upon you what my Father has promised. But you must wait in [Jerusalem] until the power from above comes down upon you" (Lk. 24.49). "But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1.8). The time will be soon - wait!

What do you do when you are waiting? Suppose you are packed and ready to go on holidays when an unexpected important phone call comes. One of you will be tied up for the next hour - what does the other one do? Mostly we find something else to do - something additional towards the holiday, or something so that the home will be better prepared for our return.

So what did the waiting witnesses do? They prayed. It appears that the upper room where the twelve had met with Jesus for the Last Supper became a meeting place for worship and prayer. About 120 in all gathered there regularly.

What did they pray about? We aren't told. But we do know that their concern was that they be ready to be witnesses to the Lord Jesus. We know that because they felt there should be twelve of them - perhaps symbolically one for each tribe of Israel, but certainly twelve because Jesus had chosen twelve to be part of that inner group.

Now Judas the betrayer had hanged himself and "gone to the place where he belongs" (v.25). We notice that Peter says that Judas "had been chosen to have a part in our work." None of them had thought suspiciously about Judas - he was fully one of their number, part of the plan and ministry of Jesus. There is nothing to suggest that everyone but Judas had healed the sick and cast out demons when Jesus sent them out!

"So then, someone must join us as a witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He must be one of the men who were in our group during the whole time that the Lord Jesus travelled about with us, beginning from the time John preached his message of baptism until the day Jesus was taken up from us to heaven" (vv. 21-22).

Peter had set out clearly the qualifications for apostleship, but how are they to choose? They haven't done this before and they haven't yet received Holy Spirit empowerment. So this prayerful group made their choice on the best evidence available to them. There were two disciples who seemed equally qualified - Barsabbas and Matthias (v.23). They then prayed, asking for divine guidance - and drew lots for them. And Matthias was appointed.

There is no evidence that the early Church ever again used lots to decide anything. Some have suggested that they should have waited for Pentecost - even that the twelfth position should have been kept open for God to fulfil later - after Saul of Tarsus was converted. The Bible tells us nothing of the ministry of Matthias, we are told. That is true, but then it tells us virtually nothing about any of the twelve except Peter.

It is interesting, from later writings to learn that according to early tradition Barsabbas, when challenged by unbelievers, drank serpent's poison in the Lord's name, with no harmful consequences (cf. Mk 16.18). The early church historian Eusebius says, "Matthias, also, who was numbered with the apostles in the place of Judas, and the one who was honoured by being made a candidate with him, are like-wise said to have been deemed worthy of the same calling with the seventy" of Lk. 10.1 (H.E., i.12; and also ii.1). Later tradition represents Matthias as a missionary to the Ethiopians.

What is important here is that Matthias was "added to the group of eleven apostles". The group was waiting and praying, being as ready as was humanly possible… for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of their mission.

Ready and Willing

But the whole community shared in this. It was not just the mission of the twelve - it was their mission too. All have been called to be witnesses and all are waiting for the promised Spirit.

A generation ago there was a wealthy man in the American midwest who was an outstanding Christian layman. When asked what he did, he would reply, "I am a witness for Jesus Christ, but I pack pork to pay expenses."

It is said that during the rule of Oliver Cromwell the British government began to run low on silver for coins. Lord Cromwell sent his men on an investigation of the local cathedral to see if they could find any precious metal there.

After investigating, they reported, "The only silver we could find is in the statues of the saints standing in the corners."

To which the radical soldier and statesman of England replied, "Good! We'll melt down the saints and put them into circulation!"

Perhaps we need to ask the Lord to melt us down so that he can put us into circulation! Are you ready and available to be his witness where you are? He who has called you has also promised to equip you!

(c) Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 11 May 1997
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, (c) American Bible Society, 1992.

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