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Sermon for May 20, 2012

1 John 5:1-8 (Seventh Sunday of Easter—Series B)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 20, 2012

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the First Lesson from Acts 1:

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

So what do you do in the “between” time?  The Ascension of Our Lord, forty days after Easter, came and went mostly unnoticed on Thursday.  We give it some recognition this morning with some of the Ascension hymns we are singing.  Yet, this year it isn’t even mentioned in the Scripture readings.  Instead, we are with the disciples, about 120 of them, “in between” Easter/Ascension and Pentecost.  It’s technically still the Season of Easter, but it’s the 7th Sunday of Easter and it’s pretty hard to actually remember back to Easter 43 days ago.  Next Sunday is the Day of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit was poured out in power on the chosen disciples, the birthday of the Christian Church.  So what do you do in the “between” time?  You fill an apostolic vacancy.

There were supposed to be twelve apostles.  Why?  Because, “twelve is the number of the faithful, God’s chosen people.  It was through the children of Israel, the twelve tribes, that salvation history unfolded in the Old Testament. . . . Jesus chose twelve apostles from among his many disciples to anchor his church, which would be ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone’ (Eph. 2:20).  That same church is declared by Peter to be ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Pet. 2:9).” (Miesner, Keys to Revelation, 38.)

A twelfth apostle was now needed because the Scripture was fulfilled concerning Judas Iscariot, “who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.”  Therefore, according to the Word of God which the Holy Spirit had spoken by the mouth of David, “Let another take his office.”  Now can you imagine taking nominations for such an office?  “Ok followers of Jesus Christ!  We have a vacant position among the apostles.  It was Judas’ share in this ministry.  Anyone want to fill the spot once occupied by a betrayer?”  Would you volunteer?  Would you want to be the one with the baggage of being “the guy who replaced Judas Iscariot”?  That does not sound like a dream position to me, taking over for the one who betrayed Jesus into the hands of sinners.  Yet, filling this position was entirely necessary.

The Lord would have His Twelve as Peter, speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit, makes clear.  The Scriptures said that someone needs to take Judas’ place.  Peter then proclaims, “Therefore, it is necessary for one of these men who were going with us in all the time in which 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, to be a witness of His resurrection with us.”  In other words, the apostles were not simply filling Judas’ slot on the roster.  There was to be twelve apostles who were witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection—a portion of the people of God representing the whole people of God testifying that Jesus is alive and has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  And the Lord picked Matthias to be this apostolic witness.

Notice what Peter and the other apostles did not do?  They didn’t pick the guy they wanted.  There were two candidates that met the requirements of being with Jesus from His baptism until His ascension—Barsabbas and Matthias.  I suppose Peter could have asked John to go “eenie-meenie-mynie-moe,” but thankfully he didn’t.  No, they turned it over to the Lord in prayer: “You Lord, O Knower of all hearts, clearly show which one you chose out from these two to receive the place of this ministry and apostleship from which Judas went aside to go to his own place.”  And through the giving of lots God clearly showed them that He chose Matthias, and so he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

So what do you and I do in our “between” times?  No, I’m not talking about the time between Ascension and Pentecost, but the times where we find ourselves at a crossroads in life.  I’m talking about the moments when we just aren’t sure what to do about a given situation.  Maybe we have two or three very good options.  Either one or both or all would likely be God-pleasing.  But how do we choose from the other viable, God-pleasing choices?  We want to get it right, after all.  We want to do what God wants us to do.  We earnestly believe in praying “Thy will be done,” but why is it so difficult to discern that will?

Do you relate to that struggle?  I know many of you do because we’ve talked about it together.  You know I have that struggle.  I still look for one of the bushes outside my office to be on fire but not burned up.  Moses got a burning bush, and I would really like one too sometimes!  But that’s not how God is going to help me and you to discern His will.  Well, maybe we can cast lots like the early church did when God chose Matthias.  But I really don’t know how that all worked and wouldn’t know if I did it right.  I’d probably muddle the whole process and end up in more of a mess than when I started.

No, there is no magical way to figure out what God’s will in our lives would be.  There is no crystal ball into the mind of God.  There is no burning bush.  There is but one thing for us to do.  We let the Holy Spirit guide us through God’s Holy Word in the Bible and, as the Spirit gives us the words and the faith to speak them, we pray, “You, Lord, O Knower of all hearts, clearly show what I am to do or to say.”  Then you trust Him that He will show you in His way and in His time.

That’s a pretty tall order.  Maybe you think that your faith isn’t big enough or strong enough for something like this.  I don’t doubt that the apostles felt the exact same way.  They had been with Jesus for three and a half years.  He was there to “bail them out.”  But now He is ascended into heaven.  His physical presence is not among them just as His physical presence is not among us.  Yet that doesn’t mean our Lord is no less with us.  What did Jesus Himself pray in His high priestly prayer in the Gospel lesson today?  Take a look.  “I have given them your word. . . . I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them (make them holy) in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:14-17)

Jesus Himself is that Word of God, who was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.  True God, Jesus came into the world as a man in order to fulfill the whole will and law of God.  Jesus made all the right decisions in accordance with the perfect will of God so that when you and I don’t, because of our sinful weakness, the Lord credits us for actually doing it.  That’s grace!  The blood Jesus shed on the cross covers over our sins and forgives our failings.

We now stand before the Lord, washed clean from our sins.  He who through Baptism has made us His children, His holy people, will He not then guide us into all truth through His Word?  Of course He will!  Has the Father and the Son not sent to us the Spirit of truth?  Absolutely He has!  Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)  Again our Lord Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

In those “between” times, the decisions that we face are not left to us alone.  We look to God’s Word for guidance, wisdom, and truth.  And the Holy Spirit who has been given to us has promised to work through that Divine Word, leading and guideing us in wisdom and truth—in the Lord’s wisdom and the Lord’s truth.  It is the Spirit Himself who gives us the very faith that trusts the Word of Christ to be the inspired, without error, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness Word that it is!  It is this Word of truth, revealed to us by the Spirit of truth, that makes us competent and equipped for every good work, for making the decisions we need to make in accord with God’s Word and will.

Peter and the apostles trusted God, the Knower of all hearts, to chose His next apostle from among Barsabbas and Matthias.  They trusted in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Lord’s will would be done among them.  When faced with life’s decisions, know that you are a child of God.  Be assured that the blood of Jesus Christ was shed for you and covers over and blots out all of your sins.  In that assurance, look to the Word.  Read the Scriptures and let the Holy Spirit fill you with the wisdom that comes down from above.  Let the Spirit guide you into all truth, for His Word is wisdom and truth.  Offer your prayers in faith in the blessed name of Jesus.  Trust that His will is going to be done among you because He has filled you with His Word and Spirit.  Then make your choice; make your decision.  Be confident in Him who has guided you to that point and let Him walk with you and clearly show you what He has in mind, even if that means making another decision.  Amen.


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