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Sitting with Barsabbas –
Scripture Reading: Acts 1:15-26
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters,[a] the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas,who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our numberand shared in our ministry.”
18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms:
“‘May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,’[b]
“‘May another take his place of leadership.’[c]
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptismto the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show uswhich of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
- Acts 1:16 The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family; also in 6:3; 11:29; 12:17; 16:40; 18:18, 27; 21:7, 17; 28:14, 15.
- Acts 1:20 Psalm 69:25
- Acts 1:20 Psalm 109:8
Sermon: “A God of Surprises“
Let’s start this morning with a little musical quiz. I’ll play you a snippet of a one hit wonder and you tell me the artist and the approximate decade. Ready? Here we go!
Matthias, winner of the strange little election to replace Judas among the twelve, qualifies as a scriptural one-hit wonder. Today’s verses are the only time he’s mentioned in the Bible. After this, he disappears.
That’s bad enough. Now imagine life as an also ran to a one-hit wonder. Welcome to the world of Barsabbas.
What happened to him was a smaller piece of a much larger situation, the confused state of the church after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus told his disciples to wait, Luke says. So, they did.
Some waiting is a waste of time. It might be waiting for your number at the DMV, or waiting for someone to call your name so you can get your flu shot at your doctor’s office.
Other waiting, though, carries weight. You could be sitting at that same doctor’s office waiting to hear the results of your biopsy, or to see the ultrasound of your coming baby. Some waiting feels empty and pointless. Other waiting matters.
The waiting in Acts matters. The disciples pray together, support each other, and try to come to grips with the death of Judas and what it means.
The early church had the same trouble, and it wasn’t of one mind. In Matthew’s gospel, Judas repents, throws the thirty pieces of silver back at the chief priests and elders, confesses his sins, and then hangs himself, heartbroken and penitent.
In Luke’s gospel there are no signs that Judas had second thoughts about anything he did. He bought a field with his silver—actually, the Greek word could mean something as big as a small farm. Maybe he had hopes of moving himself up the social ladder.
Then, Luke says, Judas had an accident at his farm and, as we heard, literally spilled his guts. In stories of that day, the more wicked the deed, the more graphic and horrible your death. Judas hits one out of the park where that’s concerned.
Judas’ betrayal of Christ and his following death were more than just the failure of one person, though. They were a threat to the church. How far could anyone trust God or believe in God’s power if an apostle God chose could do what Judas did?
In the end, the remaining eleven decided that God’s plans would go forward, whatever Judas had done and for whatever reason he had done it. It was important for them to, as quickly as possible, restore a twelfth apostle to their number. It was a way of making things whole again, of moving forward while trusting in Christ’s word and in God’s promises.
We’re now back to the strange election Luke describes. At least, it sounds strange to us. The disciples picked two candidates, Barsabbas and Matthias. Both were good men. Both had followed Jesus from the beginning. Both had witnessed his resurrection. How to decide?
The disciples believed that the risen Christ knew everyone’s heart. They asked him to show which of the two candidates he had chosen—by casting lots, the ancient equivalent of flipping a coin.
There was no question for the disciples that God was actively present when they drew lots—which meant that Matthias was inand Barsabbas was out. You have to wonder how Barsabbas felt, this good, faithful man, now rejected, so the disciples thought, by God. Should he stay, or should he go?
For my part, I’m guessing he stayed. Barsabbas stayed because he’d followed Jesus. He stayed because he’d experienced the resurrection. Most of all, he stayed because he knew it was important for him to nurture his shared faith with others in the church.
It’s still important for us. The strongest kind of relationship with God is only possible in community. We need people checking in on us, asking the tough questions, and challenging us to live out our faith. There’s real power when we gather and worship together.
It’s only when we’re in community that our gifts and talents become clear and we put them to their best use. In community, we’re encouraged to see the needs of those around us, strengthening the weak and encouraging the down hearted. God works through other people to call us out of our self-centeredness, telling us to look outward rather than inward.
We can only know love when we share ourselves with others. Here in the church, we find the courage and humility to confess our sin, to work through conflict, and forgive each other.
So, we stay, as Barsabbas did, even when it’s hard. The early church wasn’t perfect. No church ever has been or will be, just like the pastors who serve them. That wise person, anonymous, said the church is like Noah’s Ark. “If it weren’t for the storm outside, you couldn’t stand the smell inside.”
Martin Luther, never at a loss for words, said, “Farewell to those who want an entirely pure and purified church. This is plainly wanting no church at all.”
Flawed and imperfect as we are, people need us and the community we offer. A survey out just this Friday showed 39% of adults in the United States are more anxious and worried today than they were a year ago. We’re people of promise, and we have a message of hope to share with them.
Mark’s gospel can give us a lesson along those lines. Most scholars think that the first verse of that gospel, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Son of God,” wasn’t meant to be the first line of the book, but its title.
Mark begins his story of Jesus Christ with Isaiah’s promise of comfort, deliverance, and new life, a promise that Mark says Christ fulfills.
God’s promises speak to a future of hope. They also set in motion events in the here and now, events in which God calls us to take part. If we believe in God’s promises, we’ll also be about God’s work of comfort, renewal, and deliverance ourselves.
Mark said his gospel was only the beginning of the good news. You’ll remember how the gospel ends, with the first witnesses to the resurrection running away, frightened out of their wits, from the empty tomb.
Mark leaves the ending open because we’re still writing it, you and I, as we fulfill God’s promises in our lives and in our world.
God works through the very famous and the not so famous, through promises that shape and change our present while inviting us into God’s future. May we share God’s promises with those who need to hear them, and may we, like Barsabbas, persevere in our faith no matter what our lot.