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  • Writer's picturePastor Elaine

Seventh Sunday of Easter: "On Praying for Guidance"

May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you, O God.


Our lectionary reading today from the Book of Acts left out a few verses.  I think it is worthwhile hearing the story of the selection of a new apostle to take the place of Judas again.


Acts 1:15-26

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about 120 people) and said, 16‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’ 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20‘For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead become desolate,  and let there be no one to live in it”; and“ Let another take his position of overseer.” 21So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning 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.’ 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles."


We find ourselves in the upper room once more.  Peter has become the new leader of these followers of Jesus.  Peter is overseeing the process of replacing Judas.  As we heard in the verses that were missing from our lectionary Judas’ death was very different than our Gospel account of his hanging.  Another example of conflicting accounts in our scripture. 


As the leader perhaps Peter could have just selected someone to bring their number up to 12 again.  It seems that it was very important to have the number of apostles at 12.  Early Christians saw the number 12 as symbolizing a completed whole and the 12 apostles as a reiteration of the 12 tribes of Israel.


Peter references scripture in the selection process and we see the importance of prayer.  In the upper room as the process of replacing Judas began we are told there were 120 people.  The author of Acts makes it clear what the requirements were to fill the role of Apostle.  The person had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of his baptism by John through to the present time.  To fix the time of this election we know that it fell between the ascension of Jesus and Pentecost.


Why was it so important to fill this position before the arrival of the Holy Spirit?  This is about process, not mission!


We know very little about the actual election process that the Book of Acts relates and we know even less about the candidates.  How very different from the elections we are familiar with in our political process or in the elections we know of within the Church!


There are two candidates who fit the requirements, Matthias and Joseph, who was also known as Barsabbas or Justus.  And then they prayed.  It is a simple prayer - God you know everyone’s heart - show us which one you have chosen.  Then they drew lots and Matthias was chosen.  And this is the last time we hear his name.  We could wonder - did he have a falling out with the other apostles?  Was he the right person for the job? 


We are left with questions.  Perhaps that is okay.  We could use our imaginations and dream up stories about both Matthias and Justus.  What really matters is the way that the election took place.  They followed tradition and there was utter certainty that God would give the answer.  The prayer may be the most important thing about this story.


God, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which one.


In a little over a month our synod will be electing a new Bishop.  We know more about the candidates than we do about Matthias and Justus.  We know their backgrounds, their areas of interest, we know where they stand on issues that are important to the Church.  We know what congregations they have served. We may know them personally.  There have been personal introductory videos and opportunities for questions and answers.  This process will continue at assembly until it is time to vote.


As I read the story of the election of Matthias, I was thinking a great deal about our coming election of Bishop of the Eastern Synod. This is a time of some unease for people.  Bishop Mike has served as Bishop for a very long time.  We will miss his leadership.  I will miss his pastoral care. 

 

There may be some questioning about “who will we get?”  “Will the new Bishop take us in new directions or follow the same path?”  And which is better?  There is excitement and sorrow at this time of change.  Change does that to us.  Some changes we handle better than others, and some changes are better than others.


As we enter the election process we should be reminded of this story from the Book of Acts and the importance of prayer in the election.  Prayer mattered to Peter as leader.  Prayer mattered to the 120 followers gathered to elect an apostle to take Judas’ place.  At the assembly, delegates will pray many times during the time together.  We will pray for guidance.  We will pray for the candidates and we will ultimately pray for the new Bishop.  But this election and these prayers must not be limited to those in the room.  As congregations and individuals, we will be asked to pray.  We must join these prayers for God’s guidance.


This is process - this is some of the mundane work of the Church.  This has to happen in order for mission to follow. Our story from the Book of Acts this morning took place in an uncertain period.  Jesus had ascended.  He was gone.  Peter was now leading the early followers.  The Holy Spirit had not yet come.  Pentecost was days away.  So they got down to the business of the Church.  They completed the number of apostles.  The 11 became the 12 once more.


They prayed, as we will.  God, You know everyone’s heart.  Show us the one You have chosen.


AMEN



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