May 17, 2015 - Acts 1.15-26

“Lead By Following”

Acts 1.15-26

May 17, 2015

 

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) 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 during all 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.

 

The Acts of the Apostles begins with a real bang – the ascension of Christ into heaven.  Wow.  The first scene in the book is Jesus rising up into the heavens, departing this earth to sit at the right hand of God.  How do you follow that?  Apparently with a business meeting.  Jesus ascends to heaven and the disciples have a meeting to see who will replace Judas.  Boy, talk about downshifting.  How anticlimactic can you get?

 

It is interesting that Luke should choose to tell this story.  It is almost like a church business meeting.  They must replace Judas, and so they decide on 2 candidates:  Justus and Matthias.  And to make sure that they follow God’s will in this decision?  They draw lots.  Really.  They put both names on small stones, rolled them around in a jug and whoever rolled out first, that guy was the new Apostle.  (And so began the church’s long fascination with Bingo.)

 

Now this must have been very important because certainly Matthias went on to do great and wonderful things.  Maybe.  Possibly.  Except that there is no other account of Matthias in all the rest of the New Testament.  None.  Neither is there any mention of Justus.  This is it.  Why? 

 

Well, that was kind of the reality for the disciples.  Jesus goes to heaven and we are all stuck here.  There is no avoiding it.  That’s kind of the cycle of things.  No matter how spiritually uplifting the event might be, we always have to come back to earth when it’s over, and the disciples were no different. 

 

The number of the disciples was about 120.  That’s about twice the size of our active membership.  That’s one for every 30,000 inhabitants of Palestine.  And they were told to go spread the good news to all the world.  One for every 30,000.  Imagine being the only Christian in Mandan.  Better yet, imagine all of us constituting the only groups of Christians for the city of Minneapolis.

 

Perhaps the reason that this scene is placed here, right as the disciples come to grips with their new situation, is so that we may always realize that Jesus cares about what we are going through, how we are running the church, what we are doing to preach his gospel, how we are adapting to the changing world, and how we get together to do this work.

 

The Christian church is dependent upon many different gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the gift of leadership.  Leadership in the church is not like leadership in society, or the military or any other organization or group.  To lead in the church means to follow the Holy Spirit.  Lead by following is the only leadership axiom in the church.  There is no other concern for a church leader.  Where is it that the Holy Spirit is leading?  To follow that path is the sole task of a church leader, but great concern must be given to learning to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.

 

This text is not without its irony.  The disciples are faced with a dilemma.  They must continue on as Jesus led them.  They must carry on, yet EVERYTHING is different.  Jesus is gone.  Judas is dead.  So they adapt.  They find a new disciple, led by the Holy Spirit, to take Judas’ place.  He is not what they had; yet he fulfills the need for the symbolic 12.  While the disciples adapt to their new needs, they retain part of their tradition.

 

The election of Matthias is an answer to their prayers.  They are not going to be without guidance.  The church is not forced to live in the past, when confronted by new challenges, forced to repeat the cliché like a mantra, “we’ve never done it that way before, we’ve never done it that way before.”  Christ intends to go with us into the future, and the only way Jesus won’t be with us in the future is if we don’t go.  That’s why the Holy Spirit is always prodding us forward.

 

The church leaders that we have are an answer to prayer.  Just as God provided for the early church in a pivotal time of transition, God provides for all churches by giving the gift of leadership to some among them.  We are no exception.  I thank God for all our deacons, S.S. teachers, Children’s Workers, Musicians, church officers, and every person that contributes to the life of this church through God’s gifts to them.  That’s you folks.

 

This text reminds us that in the body of Christ, leadership has some great responsibilities.  Leadership in the church is required to make sure that the gospel preached today is the same one that was preached by Jesus, and the same message Jesus died to give us.  It is a sacred responsibility.  The first apostles had a message to give and church leaders exist to ensure that we give the same message.  They were witnesses to Jesus and all he did.  It was imperative to them that a solid witness should be found to replace Judas.  Today, we too are called to be witnesses.

 

What is a witness?  A witness testifies to what has been personally seen and heard. A witness is not expected to come up with new information, but rather faithfully to testify to something that has been witnessed. Our proclamation today should be in the interest of encouraging evangelism in today’s church. Christians are called to be witnesses, beginning in our churches and then moving out to the ends of the earth.[1]

 

Who is a Christian? Today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles implies that a Christian is a “witness.” A Christian testifies to something that has happened to us and to our world. The gospel is more than personal and it is never private. The good news has got to be shared in order to be kept. We are witnesses.


     And yet, sadly, when you look at the numbers related to our church’s growth and decline, you would have to conclude that when it comes to witnessing to our faith, we haven’t been faithful to Jesus’ command and promise.  The recent numbers that came out regarding how many Americans call themselves “Christian” are depressing. 

The Christian share of adults in the United States has declined sharply since 2007, affecting nearly all major Christian traditions and denominations, and crossing age, race and region, according to an extensive survey by the Pew Research Center.

Seventy-one percent of American adults were Christian in 2014, the lowest estimate from any sizable survey to date, and a decline of 5 million adults and 8 percentage points since a similar Pew survey in 2007.[2]

We need to do more witnessing.  In our youth group meeting this Wednesday, we made bracelets that can be used as evangelism tools.  It’s a simple thing, but you never know when that opportunity will present itself.

 

The first thing that needs to be said is that being a witness is relatively simple. A witness is not expected to be original, or creative; all a witness does is to testify to what he or she has seen and heard. A witness isn’t expected to come up with some new information; a witness simply states clearly, and without embellishment, “Here’s what happened to me.”


     Having heard many stories of faith, I can say that God has blessed most of us with some fascinating material! Your stories of Christ at work in your lives are too mysterious, too wonderful and strange to be kept to yourselves! Share your story! Witness! I’m a preacher and I work on my sermons, but I know from firsthand experience that nothing beats first-person testimony when it comes to witnessing to the faith. Go ahead and tell somebody about what Christ means to you, about the ways that he has impacted your life. Witness!


     Some of you may be saying something like, “Well, I find it difficult to speak to others about something so personal and emotional as my faith.” Or else you may say, “I don’t want to come on too strong. I don’t want to force my beliefs on others.”


     Well, get over it! Our Lord and Savior has not only forgiven us of our sins but also commissioned us to be witnesses. When something good happens to us, we naturally want to share the news with anyone whom we care about. And our Lord has commanded us to care about the world. People are literally dying to know about the news that you have received. Witness![3]

 

We should pray that God would raise us up, just as God raised Jesus from the dead, that God would transform us into Spirit-filled people who are willing to risk, to dream, to be God’s agents of transformation in everything we do and say.  It should become our very mindset to be about transforming the world around us into what God wants it to be.

 

Most church leadership, real leadership, involves the same kind of thing.  The church is caught between the tradition that birthed it and the need to adapt to the changing world.  Church leadership walks a tightrope between innovation and tradition.  We must always preach the gospel that Jesus gave us, and we must also always follow the Holy Spirit wherever we are led.

 

Many church families seem to be in danger of falling off of the tightrope to either side; one side is forgetting our past and proceeding to be washed away in a tide of culture, or two, ignoring the leading of the Holy Spirit to the point of excluding God from our church life.

 

Loren Mead said: “one of our most important tasks as pastors is to is to orchestrate transferring the ownership of the church to the laity.  Every great reformation of the church has been a restoration of the legitimate baptismal ministry of the laity.  At every step along the way of our ministry, we… must find a way to authorize the laity to live up to the promises of their baptism.”[4]

 

Not everyone in every congregation is called to be a leader that is sure.  Yet we all have a stake in leadership, all of us have a responsibility to Jesus, to follow the Holy Spirit, to meet the challenges of giving witness to the gospel in our own time and space.  All of us have been baptized into the body of believers, and we all have spiritual gifts that God has given for your work in His church.  If you do not know what your spiritual gifts are, I suggest you pray that God will show you yours.  Many of our leaders have found their gifts and use them here in this church weekly:  deacons, S.S. teachers, children’s teachers, musicians, sound technicians, the list goes on and on.  The ordained ministry is merely a species among a larger genus called Christian.  What species are you?

 

Christ is with us every step of the way.  Christ is present with us through our church leaders.  Christ calls each of us to some sort of service.  Is Christ calling you?  No doubt, Jesus is calling you, but to what?  Do you hear it?  What can you give in the way of service to God?

 

[1] Willimon, William; Pulpit Resource, May 20, 2012.

[2] http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mead, Loren: Five Challenges For The Once and Future Church, Washington, DC, Alban Institute, 1997.

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