By Fr. Timothy Kroh on the Seventh Sunday of Easter:
In the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mathias was called. With Judas’s departure and death, the disciples were down to eleven, but Jesus had appointed twelve to this special office. So it seemed good to the early church, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, to bring the number back to twelve, the number of wholeness and completeness. So there was a position to fill.
So, the eleven other disciples interviewed every member of the community and asked them about their expectations. They wanted them to have demonstrated leadership, a good background, a seminary degree. Once they determined the candidates that met their expectations, they interviewed them.
Now some of you, at this point, are wondering what version I’ve read, because that’s not what happened – of course that’s crazy. They actually went to a body called the Crown Appointments Commission, and they recommended candidates, and then the candidate was approved by the Queen. Now of course that’s not how they chose Mathias, that’s how we choose Bishops in the Church of England.
This is how they called Mathias: they prayed. First, they prayed. No other process has any value at all without being grounded in prayer. We talk a lot about discernment, and that’s a fancy word that means figuring out what God wants of us. The only way we can ever figure that out and engage in discernment is by first grounding it in prayer. So first they prayed, and then what did they do? They cast lots.
We might wonder what it means to cast lots, it’s a lot like rolling dice or drawing straws. It’s a random exercise, or at least one meant to give us a random outcome, but when it’s grounded in prayer, it becomes something far deeper than just a random decision. Because discernment is about listening to God and seeing whom God is calling.
Biblical leadership was never based on resumes or complicated call processes. God called Moses, a shepherd, who, if you hadn’t forgotten, had a murder on his record. God called Aaron, who was really good at making idols and worshipping them. He called David, the youngest son who was out taking care of the sheep, an unclean job. There’s a theme there.
God called Mary, a little girl in a patriarchal society, to engage in the most important ministry any human being could ever be called to undertake. Jesus called his first four disciples, not by interviewing them, but by walking around and saying, “Hey, you! Follow me.” And they did. God called St. Mary Magdalene, a woman, again in a patriarchal society, to be the first witness of the Resurrection. The men did not believe her until they saw the risen Christ themselves. Nevertheless, it was God’s will to call Mary of Magdala to that high calling, not because she would be believed by everyone, but because it revealed the Wisdom of God.
You are called. Now you can sit here today and you can think, “No I’m not. How could God use me? I’ve done a lot of bad things. I’ve made so many mistakes. God hasn’t called me.” Think again. God doesn’t call the qualified, God qualifies those whom God calls and God displays his Wisdom not by calling the people everyone thinks would be the best candidate, but by calling the people who have human weaknesses. By calling the people who would not be the obvious candidate, because God’s Wisdom is so much greater than ours, and God is always raising up the lowly and casting down the mighty from their seats. God is always choosing unlikely people who don’t have the perfect resume in order to show the world that God calls all of us, not just some of us, all of us. You are called.
What are you called to? You are called to nothing less than being God’s partner in the renewal of the world. How? There are so many ways! Let me tell you a couple quick stories. The Reverend Canon Scott Slater is the Canon the Ordinary of our diocese. He’s a man I admire very much, with many gifts for ministry, but there’s one story about him engaging in ministry I want to share with you. He wasn’t in a pulpit or leading a vestry retreat. He was out jogging on the streets of Baltimore, and he saw a bus stopped in the middle of the road and an elderly African-American gentleman standing in front of that bus, not moving. Obviously, this was a problem, and he could tell it was a problem by all the horns being honked, as you can well imagine, being people who live in and near this city. So Scott stopped, and he discovered what had happened. The bus was full, well past capacity, and all of these other people rushed in front of this man to get on the bus, and this man felt, quite rightly, as if he had been wronged, and so he was standing his ground and demanding that he have a seat on that bus. This was a problem for the bus driver was just trying to do her job; had a bus full of angry loud people behind her in cars.
So Scott walked up and introduced himself, not as a priest, but as a Christian, someone concerned. And he negotiated someone exiting the boss, in order for this gentleman to get on the bus. What an act of ministry he engaged in! Not because of his seminary degree or because he’s in Holy Orders, but because he’s a Christian and there was a situation that needed a Christian to intervene and he did that.
Now I’m going to tell you another story about ministry. This happened to me many years ago in a different church. I was an interim rector, and this church had too many services on Sunday. The early service was not at eight, it was at seven-thirty. And the only people who attended were the priest and the server. Now the server was a man who had served at that Mass every Sunday for fifty years. He had watched that service shrink to almost nothing, just the priest in the acolyte show. Which isn’t really what Church is about. The vestry and I felt like it was time to stop offering that service. And this man was understandably very anxious and one of the things he said to me is, “You’re all taking away my ministry. You’re taking away my ministry.” And I said to him, “We’re not taking away any ministry that God has called you to do. God is calling you to do it in a new way, in relationship with people.”
But it’s important for us all to remember that the ministry we do within these walls is not our whole ministry. If we fall into the trap of thinking that our church involvement is our full ministry, we’re ignoring the call of God to go out from these doors, “To love and serve God,” what the deacon calls us to do every Sunday at the end of the Mass. In frankly, more frank terms than the Prayer Book, “To get out of here! And to go and serve God!”
You are called, my sisters and my brothers. You are called to do ministry. Not because of your qualifications, but because of the gifts God has given you and because God has chosen you. If you think you’re unworthy or not called, you’re just wrong. If you’re here and you have accepted the waters of Baptism, you have accepted God’s call in your life. Mathias was called. He may not have expected to be called in that way, he may not have thought he could do it, but he did. He said yes. And that’s what we’re about here. Not to make ourselves great, but to glorify the greatest of all, the one who’s given us life. As I conclude, I want to say something about the gospel. We hear our Lord’s prayer, or a portion of it. He’s praying for us, those who will be his Body on Earth after he’s died and ascended into Heaven and fill the whole world. And he says, “Holy Father, protect them in your Name, so that they may be one, as We are one.”
The man who was afraid that his ministry was gone, and all of us, need to be reminded that we’re one. And sometimes it’s tempting to want to do our ministry alone in a vacuum, because sometimes it’s hard to be the body of Christ and to be in relationship. It’s a great blessing to be in relationship, but sometimes it’s hard. We are one, and we can’t be who God calls us to be without each other and without God. So, even though we are one body and we have many members, when we forget that, we become disconnected, not only from one another, but from God. And so we need the Church, we need the Sacraments of the Church, we need our relationships with each other, we need our life of prayer, we even need the challenges we face here in this church. If you’ve ever left this church frustrated because of a relationship with a sister or brother, you need that frustration as much as you need the feeding and nourishment you receive from the altar, because we’re one and we can’t be who God wants us to be, unless we really are one body in Christ.
You are called. Amen.