Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Ecumenical Lenten Service, 2023

MACCA Lenten Service
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
March 8, 2023
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

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

Our theme for these Lenten services is, God's Call, Our Response.  God calls, and sometimes the faithful response is simply not to say “no.” Now, some people who end up being pastors have an intense internal call. "God told me to be pastor, and so I will be."  And then they pastor a church in town, and that’s that.  For most of us though, there’s a requirement for an external call as well, where the larger church body affirms that call.  Like, sure God might be calling you, but let’s see if church is also calling you.  Then, usually, there’s seminary, and exams, and boards and committees, and MAYBE the church agrees.  My own bishop calls the path to ordination “the world’s longest low-hurdle race.”

But then some people only feel the external call, like medieval monks who had to run away into the woods. Ambrose hid out in 374, trying desperately not to become a bishop.  Athanasius—of the Athanasian Creed fame—fled town to avoid being ordained.  St. Ammonius cut off his ears and nose because the people insisted on his ordination, and he threatened to cut out his own tongue, if they didn’t stop trying to make him a priest.

My own story is less dramatic, but has a similar ring to it.  At some point, I thought I’d like to write a book, and figured I should take a theology class or two before jumping into that.  So, I went to my priest and said, “I’d like to take some seminary classes.  Can you suggest a place I might go?”  And he said, “Well, that depends on whether or not you want to be ordained.”  And I said, “Pffft.  I don’t want to be ordained!”

And then I just kind of submitted myself to the process.  And all along, I knew that the Church would catch up to where I was.  God was certainly not calling me to be ordained, and the Church would figure that out, eventually.  I trusted myself to the process, completely confident that a door would one day close, and I could walk away assured that I had submitted myself fully to this insane idea that I should become a priest.

Then the Bishop sent me to seminary, and I met with various discernment groups, and took Ordination exams, figuring that if God wanted me to be a priest, God was going to have to work really hard on that external call thing.  Halfway through my final year of seminary, it dawned on me that the doors never closed.  And I had walked right into the trap!  I was going to be ordained, without regard for my own internal feelings about this.  And it was far too late to cut off my ear and nose to prevent it from happening.  There is an internal call, and an external call, and that’s when I finally came around to the internal call.  Like, if everyone else sees it, it must be true.  Mere months before I was about to be ordained.  God’s Call, Our Response.  Sometimes the faithful response is simply not to say no.

In the reading we just heard from the book of Acts, the disciples have two options in front of them to replace Judas.  Matthias, and Justus.  A slate of candidates as it were. How did they get them?  Who knows?  But rather than have a church convention, they cast lots.  Now, casting lots was an ancient and traditional way of discerning God’s will in those days.  We don’t know the specific way they did this, but however it was done, the point was to discern whom God had chosen.  The most extreme form of an external call.

Neither candidate has any say in this. And no matter how you view games of chance, and whether God helps you win the lottery, or find a parking space, the lot falls on Matthias—whose name means “gift of God,” interestingly enough.  There they are, looking to choose someone to replace Judas after his death, and they get someone named “gift of God.”

This is Matthias’ introduction into the scriptures. It’s his big day. Maybe he is surprised. Or maybe, like in Jesus Christ Superstar, he “always knew that I’d be an apostle.”  But there he is: Matthias. Ecce homo.  And after this big moment, after he becomes the 12th Apostle of the Savior of the World . . . we never hear his name again.  He’s the first Apostle not directly chosen by Jesus.  Essentially, the Church itself chose him.  It’s a huge deal! He’s the first of a new generation.  But he never comes up again.

Strange right?  Never comes up again. He obviously did stuff. Probably led a church somewhere. Laid his hands on people to ordain them. There are certainly bishops walking around today who can trace their authority back to Matthias, whether they know it or not.  He must have done what apostles did back then. But we have no biblical record of it. Nothing.

Which got me to wondering . . . Did Matthias sense an internal call?  Did God lay it on his heart?  Hard to say, since we know nothing about him. But we have a record of the external call. Of the Church calling him. And using a game of chance to do it!  Sometimes the faithful response is simply not to say “no.”

God’s call is seen in the people assenting to his “election.”  Did Matthias feel called?  We don’t know.  How did he respond?  We have no idea!  Sometimes the faithful response is simply not to say no. And that’s why I love this story. Because we can read into it whatever we want to. Just like our own lives. 

God is calling each and every one of us to some ministry. A couple such calls are proclaimed in newspapers and church publications.  But most are not. Most of us feel called to a thing, and if there’s a need for it, we end up doing it.  Or sometimes, you need the 2x4 upside the head, like me, and it takes a village to point out what God is obviously doing in our lives.  Whether we get there through a bishop laying hands on us, or through a game of chance on a hill in Palestine, or because the church council didn’t say no, we are each called to some very specific thing that only we can do.  Where our skills and the world’s needs meet. 

Impact Massillon is a great example of this.  The churches, and the local civic organizations, and companies with supplies, we all come together, with the gifts and skills we have.  Every year, on the first Saturday in June, we bring all those gifts and skills and resources together and point them at a couple of blocks on some street in Massillon.  God calls, and good things happen because some people say yes, and because some people didn’t say no.

However God calls you, internally, externally, or both, I hope you respond with a yes, or that you don’t say no. Whether or not that’s the last time you get mentioned in the Bible, or you go on to become the Bishop of Rome. God is calling you to something only you can do. And sometimes, with a little luck, the church catches up to what God is already doing in this world.


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