Easter 7B, Sermons

Witness to the Resurrection

(A sermon for Easter 7B– May 20, 2012–Acts 1:15-17, 21-26)

They came to the door while I was puttering around the house Friday morning, thinking about getting ready to write … this sermon. When they rang the bell it set off the dog, and I opened the door with one hand on his collar. He’s friendly, but he’s big, and I could see the effort on the younger woman’s face to look *not* worried, *not* afraid. “We’re glad to find you home,” said she said, the brave one, as Hoagie nudged his snout against her. I knew what was coming. “We’re having a convention here in town soon.” I stopped her. “Who is ‘we,’” I asked? “We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses,” she answered, and her older companion echoed, “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”.

I smiled and said what I always say in such situations, as nicely as I possibly can, “I’m a United Church of Christ minister, so I probably won’t be coming to your convention. But thank you for coming by. And blessings to you.”
Never mind where we differ theologically; I admire their courage.

Ya gotta want it, to be a witness to the Resurrection.

Chapter 1 of Acts begins a great new adventure: the formation of the Christian community. In the beginning they had no name for it. They were simply the disciples and followers of Jesus, the recently crucified man from Nazareth. Some thought he was a teacher. Some thought he was a prophet. Some thought he was a rabble-rouser. Some thought he was a madman.

Some thought he was the Son of God.

For three years a band of followers had followed him around, not just the 12 disciples, but other men and women, too. Maybe these two were among them, Joseph/Barsabbas also known as Justus and his one-named compatriot, Matthias.
And when it was time to choose a new 12th member for the leadership team, Peter and the others decided it needed to be someone who had been with them since the beginning. It needed to be someone who had seen it all, from Baptism to Crucifixion to Resurrection to Ascension.

The first part of the chapter describes the departure of Jesus into the heavens, and not surprisingly his followers once again retreat to the rented room where they spent the last evening with him before his arrest, the same place where he reappeared in his resurrected form. They have stood staring slack-jawed after him, and two men in white have appeared to tell them to get on with it. They have work to do until their Lord returns, work he has given them, to go out and keep telling the story.

Ya gotta want it, to be a witness to the Resurrection.

Really, it’s not something they could have taken lightly.

So they went back to their safe space in the upper room, and they prayed. The disciples gathered, the eleven who remained after Judas’ betrayal, and they prayed along with Jesus’ mother and brothers and some of the women who are not named. And this first church committee determined that the way to proceed was to bring their leadership numbers back up to the level they remembered from before the crisis.

This obscure little story that most of us never think about has some relevance, doesn’t it? And although we wouldn’t be likely to cast lots or draw straws or spin a wheel to decide who should be the Moderator of the church or to choose between two new members for the Board of Deacons – Nominating Committee, I’m serious, we would not do these things! –there are some things we do just the same way now. We look around and consider who we know, and whether they have the church experience to be able to fill the post.

The early church worked hard to make sense of the appearance of these two men in the first chapter of Acts, because they never make another appearance, and they aren’t mentioned by name in the gospels either. Matthias needed to be made a little more important, retroactively. He’s a Saint just for being a disciple! No further scriptural recommendations required. Various Early Church Fathers decided he was misidentified. Maybe he was really Zacchaeus, the short tax collector who climbed a tree for a better look at Jesus. Or perhaps he was Barnabas, who later traveled with the Apostle Paul. Or maybe he was really Nathanael, mentioned in John’s gospel but nowhere else.

Joseph/Barsabbas/Justus with all his names disappears.

Ya gotta want it to be a witness to the Resurrection.

I wonder if they both held their breath a little when the lots were cast, Matthias and what’s-his-name? Did they want to “win?” We don’t know anything about their gifts for the ministry of evangelism, spreading the Good News. We don’t know anything, and nor would anyone there have known about their gifts for church planting or church building or church maintaining. We don’t know who or what they had left at home and whether they were praying “pick me” or “Lord, please, no.”

We only know they had been there from the start, maybe even longer than some of the Twelve. They witnessed the baptism of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit lit on him like a dove from heaven. They saw the other disciples gathered. They went out on the road with Jesus. It seems pretty likely they were among the seventy he sent out in pairs to walk from town to town spreading his message, to take hospitality where it was offered but otherwise, brush the dust off and head to the next town.

Ya gotta want it.

They had trouble with the authorities and felt the dangerous edge of Jerusalem during the Passover Festival and they hid themselves after he was arrested, and they rejoined their friends in time to see the Risen Lord. Anyone who wasn’t in it for the long haul had long since gone home and stayed there.

It’s a little daunting, isn’t it? When we choose among ourselves for leaders, when we decide how to live as a church, we’re not sending our friends out to evangelize door to door or to risk arrest simply for what we’ve asked them to share with the world. And maybe it all feels too far away. After all, we didn’t actually witness these things. Maybe it’s okay that the bar is lower and the urgency has lessened. Maybe.

But I think of those nice suburban ladies, because that’s who they appeared to be, smiling at my front door and pretending not to think my dog was terrifying despite his big bark and his eager attempt to surge through the door. They didn’t know he just wanted to say hello in hopes that someone had a treat for him the way some of you always do. They don’t know what they’re going to meet at any of the doors they face. I’m guessing most people aren’t as kind as I tried to be on Friday morning.

Ya gotta want it to witness to the Resurrection.

How do we witness to the Resurrection when we didn’t see it happen?

Maybe we testify to the things the Resurrection means to us:
• that a man lived who was also God
• that God showed love for us by becoming one of us
• that even though we killed him, God still loves us
• that even when things seem darkest the sun is still going to come up again in the morning
• that no matter how bleak things look, there is still hope to be found

And I do believe we can witness to this love and hope and grace through our actions, through the care we show for those in need. Jesus demands that of us. But think of the people who do not know and have not heard what we trust and believe. Think of them. Isn’t it up to us to let them know what we know?

Ya gotta want it.

We have to want it to overcome shyness with new people or anxiety about whether we know the right words to say. We have to want it living in the state identified as the least religious in the whole country, where we know the people around us have other things on their minds. We have to want it to overcome the sense of decorum I learned in the South or the sense of reserve more common to Yankees, the philosophy that we don’t talk about money or sex or religion, for heaven’s sake.

We have to want it to keep telling the story even when we doubt it applies to us.

Are we willing to take a risk, to encounter rejection, to receive it with graciousness, brush the dust off our sandals and keep going?

Ya gotta want it to witness to the Resurrection.

In the name of the One who lived and died and lives again, Jesus Christ. Amen.