And the lot fell on Matthias

Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
Feast of St Matthias
24 February 2019

 

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It was the first extraordinary General Meeting in church history, and they had to fill a key position in the inaugural leadership team of the Jesus movement.

At least that is how the Acts of the Apostles, written by “Luke” as a sequel for his version of the great tradition about Jesus, tells the story.

Judas was no longer with them. His place needed to be filled. The Twelve needed to be complete as the new global mission commenced.

Two candidates are put forward: Joseph and Matthias. Both of them apparently from the circle of people who had been with Jesus since his Baptism, although there is never a mention of them in any earlier traditions. Not even in the earlier verses of Acts 1.

It was not only the first GM. It was also the first church raffle! And the prize went to … Matthias.

All told, this is a strange story and it sits oddly alongside the traditions found in the four Gospels as well as the letters of Paul. Matthias comes from nowhere and disappears just as fast. He is never heard of again.

Matthias matters more to me than most because my first appointment after my ordination as a Deacon was the Church of St Matthias at Zillmere, in Brisbane. The white vestments worn at my first Eucharist as a Priest were a gift from the Church of St Matthias, as was the pottery mass set made by Brother William, SFF and used at that first Eucharist.

So, what do we do with a story like that and a feast like this?

Well, in the absence of any solid information let me offer some reflections as we seek wisdom for the journey of life.

As Luke tells the story in the book of Acts, the early Jesus movement was a religious community with soft edges.

Already the boundaries were loose and expanding.

There were the surviving 11 male disciples, there were “certain women” (as if Luke could not quite bring himself to call women like Mary the Magdalene disciples or apostles). There was Mary the mother of the Lord. (A rather surprising tradition, given the life expectancy of peasant women in first-century Palestine.) And Luke says there were the “brothers of the Lord”.

All up around 120 people, according to Acts 1.

One hundred and twenty people less 11 disciples, less Mary and less the 4 brothers of Jesus, leaves quite a large group of “certain women” as well as quite a few other blokes, it seems.

Even if Luke, deferring to the cultural bias of his second-century audience, prefers not to name the women, or even count them.

That’s not many people really, but a lot more than we would imagine from the earlier Gospels.

Two of this larger group—excluding the brothers of Jesus (interestingly) and all of the women (not surprisingly)—were nominated at the Special Meeting to fill a vacancy on the Parish Council. Well, not exactly a Parish Council, but you get the idea.

Our AGM after church this morning will be a lot less dramatic, I expect. And women are welcome to nominate!

How widely do we cast the net when thinking of our membership circle?

Are we a community which new people find easy to join and navigate?

Will they be welcomed into key roles in the parish without having to serve a lengthy apprenticeship while we get to know them and make sure they know how things are done around here?

Are we a faith community where people are welcome and included no matter their gender or their sexual orientation? Thankfully we can say YES to that one!

Many churches in town could not say that.

Are we a community where people bring their gifts as volunteers and contribute to building and shaping spiritual practices that are diverse, healthy and life-affirming?

Again, I think we can say yes, even if it is one of the best-kept secrets in town.

Later in the service and again during the service on Wednesday morning, we shall be recognising the ministry of the dozens of volunteers who make our shared life happen. On Wednesday we shall focus on those who contribute primarily to the Op Shop, the Bookshop, and the Cathedral grounds. But in a few minutes, we shall recognise those who do so much to enable and enrich our Sunday worship gatherings,

Every Sunday is a team effort, and the ones you see up front in fancy robes are just the tip of a large iceberg.

Meanwhile, whatever happened to Matthias and Joseph?

For that matter, whatever happened to the other 102 persons whose names are not even mentioned?

We have no idea, but we do know that because of their faithfulness the legacy of Jesus did not vanish after Easter but became a social movement that challenged, confronted and defeated the Roman Empire.

Two hundred and ninety-five years after that first Extraordinary General Meeting of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem, the Christian Emperor Constantine summoned the bishops of the Roman world to a council in Nicea. The creed they agreed upon is what we shall stand to say together after this sermon ends.

It all began with Matthias and the other 119 people who Luke says were gathered in the secret room between the Ascension and Pentecost.

From little things big things grow.

Thanks be to God.

 

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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