Irreplaceable Witness – Lectionary 05/16/2021

Acts 1:15-26

          In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “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— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (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. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “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.’

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning 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.”

So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Sermon Text

            Today we begin with a simple truth. You, yes you, are significant. Let us say it again. Every person gathered here as individuals, is significant. The call upon your life, given by God, belongs to you alone. The breath of Life in you is meant to animate you particularly. Your existence is not accidental nor are the circumstances which have nurtured you to be where you are today. God has given you life for a purpose.

            There is a great injustice in our modern age that this sort of message has been co-opted by feel good, self-help personalities and prosperity Gospel preachers. Yet, there is an essential truth in our life that we are magnificently beloved. The claim of scripture from Eden to the New Jerusalem is that God loves creation and seeks to make it more lovely. The garden planted for primordial humanity was full of all good food and required no plowing or planting to be tended. It was an ideal place where God was together with not only humanity- but all living things.

            The fracture of sin meant that we were torn from our God. The ultimate giver of love in all existence was now unable to be with their beloved. The gap which seemed insurmountable had to be bridged not only for the sake of human beings, but of God. God desired to be present with us, no matter how far afield we seem to be. No matter how lost we may be and how twisted our conduct may become, this remains the case.

There are those who believe God created the universe to be glorified through a sheer show of power, might, and will. I believe it is just as likely that God created to glory in the relationship God made between humanity and the Divine. As God so loved Godself – the Father loving the Son loving the Spirit in infinite cycles – so too could God now love us and we love God.

The Divine call rang out across all of creation, “Come Home!” The desire of our God to know us could not be quenched. Though we tried by murder and theft, crime of all persuasions, the flood waters of our iniquity were not enough to halt the redemptive powers of God. From Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses, our scripture recalls God’s continual attempts to redeem a world that tried its best to remain wicked and apart from its source. Sinai smoked and burned, wonders were worked to show the assembled people they had found their way to bliss. Still, there was an impulse within us to stay, to build idols in the Shadow of our God.

The prophets attested to God’s love, of a world beyond our own broken one where God would make right the hurt we had inflicted on one another. Though we stopped up our ears, the love of God reached outward until God finally enacted a drastic plan to set things right. Rather than sending envoys to tell us, God would put on flesh and live among us. The Trinity volunteered the architect of creation, the Divine Word of God, to take on a human life full of joy and grief, celebration and pain.

This same Divine Word who lived among us taught us of the great love of God. Love that could overpower sin, that could expel all excess and cruelty and render us holy and beloved in the presence of our God. Though this love shown bright, we did our best again to reject it. We snuffed out the bright light that set the stars to burn. The world grew dark, our victory over our God – who longed only to embrace us – seemed complete.

The victory was false on our part, because as we know nothing can stop God. Our rejected savior tore down the Gates of Death and broke the pivots to ensure they could never be erected again. The Love that had pursued us this far would not be stopped by something as trivial as death. Soon, at last, we began to accept – as a few had done in every generation – the love of our God. The disparate people scattered throughout all the world, now they could claim a common heritage. We of one source, now loved through the death and resurrection of the same. This long, twisting love story is what the past seven weeks have celebrated. The season of Easter comes to a close this week. With this ending we begin to turn outward in a new way – enlivened by the Spirit to serve God as we never have before.

Yet today we can choose to glory in the love of God. Our unique story of love between us and God defines the story of our lives. We all have a testimony of faith, some of us were born into the Church, others found their way here over time. Some have a long and convoluted past and others have lived quiet and simple lives. All stories find legitimacy under the banner of God’s love, all people find a home. There is a wideness in God’s mercy and in that mercy, we find ourselves at home with a family that stretches back eternally and of a God who never stops seeking to know us more.

Our call is restorative it depends on us repenting and chasing away evil from our hearts. God calls us not so that we can have a surface level faith or a half-hearted devotion. God desires us all and asks us to cast off the sin that had so long kept us apart. The reality of our need to reform should be plain. God did not die to free us only so that we could willingly give ourselves back over to our old ways. We were not saved simply from Hell but from the oppression of Sin and Death, freed for joyful obedience to our God.

The balance of our life is between the freedom we are given by God and the responsibilities that freedom has given to us. Yet, it seems that we can over emphasize either one – toward legalism or antinomianism – a pendulum from one error to another. Thankfully, despite our attentiveness and the necessity of our devotion, the focus of our life is not upon our striving but upon our status as, “Beloved of God.” Through endless ages, the truth of creation is summed up in God’s loving care for us, God’s loving redemption of us, God’s glory in raising us from the depravity of our loveless life enraptured with ourselves into the incredible love of our God.

Our scripture today is a story of the apostles trying to replace Judas, but the wonder of the Gospel means that this action is impossible. Judas was given a share of ministry all his own. Though he rejected it, it would always be his. Judas, the great betrayer, was beloved of God, a friend of Christ. Even on such as this was capable of redemption, if only he had heard the call and returned home. If only the fear of disaster had not overcome the reality of God’s love.

If God had a place for Judas, can we ever doubt God’s place for us? We are all of us members of Christ’s body, the Church, redeemed by his blood. While we must never cease to chase the holy life Christ would have us live, we do not have to chase God’s love for us. We have run long enough, have wallowed in guilt and doubt for long enough. The shackles upon our lives are of our own construction, we are free in Christ. We are loved in Christ. As a people we are loved. As a person you are loved. The everlasting love of God is what we witness to with our life. No one can witness in your place – because God has called you to proclaim that love in your own way, in your own time.

Praise God, who of all people, saved us. Praise God who longs to see the same for all people. Praise our Risen Lord who wants you as you are and will walk beside you all the way home to Glory. Praise all Eastertide long, for next week is the Pentecost, and we go forward to share this love with all the world. – Amen.

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