In today's reading from Luke's Acts of the Apostles, we get a window into the life of the very early church. About what it was like to be a believer in the first days and weeks after the resurrection. And if you believe Luke, things are going great. After Jesus was raised from the dead, Luke tells us that that Jesus stayed with the disciples for another forty days, telling them even more about the kingdom of God and offering them "convincing proofs" of his resurrection.
They're filled with hope for the future. In Luke's words, they're "constantly devoting themselves to prayer." And attendance is way up. Luke tells us that there were a hundred twenty people around to hear Peter's speech. And they're not even in worship. They have a hundred twenty people showing up for what's basically a Tuesday night meeting.
And after those forty days, Jesus ascends into heaven in this glorious scene where the disciples are promised the Holy Spirit. It was a great time to be the church. They know the Holy Spirit is coming. They know what the mission is. All they have to do is keep doing what they're doing.
It is a vision of church that we love. It is a vision of church that we aspire to. It is a vision of church that lasts for three verses.
And after those three verses, the church has to deal with something every other church since has had to deal with. They had to deal with change.
Now there's not much use in telling you all about change. In the next few weeks, our congregation will celebrate the ministry of our beloved cantor while we select someone to help us, as the psalmist puts it, sing a new song to the Lord. Next month, our congregation will vote on exploring a shared future in mission with our partners from Sion Iglesia Luterana. In the next few years, our synod's strategic plan will change the way our synod engages in ministry in this city. And that's only a fraction of the changes we are going through.
The change the early church is going through is that they need someone new to round out the twelve now that Judas is gone. They need a new apostle. And Peter even gives this big speech to explain why they need to choose someone new. And he alludes to that truth about change that we all know. That it's just part of the deal.
There's no way around it.
Now, the gospels are full of stories of people being called. Full of stories about Jesus calling disciples, calling people to come follow him. Of Jesus calling people out of their worlds, telling people to put down their nets. And now at the beginning of Acts, we get a new kind of call story. But it's different. Because it's not about the calling of disciples, but about the calling of an apostle. The vision of being a disciple that Luke gives us is about following Jesus, about breaking bread with him, about listening to his teachings. But the vision of being an apostle is about something else. It's about being sent into the world to tell people about Jesus. It's about the mission of our life together as the church.
So Peter lays out what they're looking for. It needs to be someone who was with them from the time of Jesus's baptism through his ascension. It needs to be someone who followed Jesus. It needs to be a disciple. Which sounds reasonable enough. If you want a new apostle, if you want someone to tell people about Jesus, you want someone who's got the basics of the story down.
But Peter says something else. He says that the person they choose will become a witness to the resurrection. Peter doesn't say that they need to find someone who is a witness to the resurrection. Peter doesn't say that they need someone who saw the empty tomb. Peter doesn't say that they need to find someone who heard one of those "convincing proofs." But that whoever they choose will become a witness to the resurrection.
What Luke is lifting up here is the strange truth of the resurrection. The strange logic of the Easter season. If you want to be a witness of the resurrection, you have let the Spirit lead you out of that upper room. Out into the world.
That's something this congregation's mission statement captures perfectly. A church that doesn't only seek to make disciples, but to make apostles. That's what we say when we call ourselves an evangelical Catholic communion nourished by God to "creatively shape life in the city." But there's a flip side to that phrase. It's one that goes unwritten in that mission statement, but it's exactly what Peter is getting at in today's reading. If you go out to creatively shape life in the city, you're going to be
creatively shaped right back. But don't shy away from that. Don't let it scare you off. Don't worry that you'll lose your identity. Because it's in being creatively shaped, it's in being formed by the stories of those around you, it's in being molded into the lives of the community, that we become witnesses to the resurrection.
We become witnesses of the resurrection not by seeing empty tombs, but by seeing hearts full of hope. We become witnesses of the resurrection not by feeling the wounds of Jesus, but by feeling the scars of those around us. We become witnesses of the resurrection not by appearances on the road, but in the lives of those we travel with.
What Peter tells the church in today's reading is one of the hardest lessons we've had to learn as the church. Which is that we never have God, never have the Spirit, we never have the resurrection under our control. We're just trying to keep up. That's why we can't avoid change.
God never promises us a church free of change, or free of risk, or free of uncertainty. But God promises us something more. A church led by the Spirit. Led by the Spirit out into the world.
Out into the world not just to find signs of the resurrection but new life itself. God never promises us a church free of change, or risk, or uncertainty. But God promises us something more. That by living in that uncertainty, we become witnesses of the resurrection. We are always in that process of becoming witnesses, but we are becoming witnesses together.
The apostles approach this big decision a little differently than we would. There's no search committee. No job description. No interviews. No, the apostles are so sure of the God's presence, that they end up casting lots to see who the twelfth will be. Now, normally the way we think about that is that the apostles thought that God would act through the casting of the lots. That God has someone in mind and the lots are just some means to make that clear to the apostles. But maybe it's something else. Maybe there's another reason why they chose to cast lots. Not that God is acting through the casting of lots, but that God is acting through the world. That they can send out Joseph or Matthias, and God will make both of them witnesses of the resurrection. What's important isn't what Matthias or Joseph is bringing to this. God's not thinking, I really hope it's not Joseph. I just can't
work that guy. What's important is that because they're disciples, they're going to be shaped by God to become apostles, to become witnesses. If you think that God is going to shape you into a witness, then all you have to do is cast your lots. You're going get creatively shaped no matter what.
We might see casting lots as irresponsible, an impossibly naĂŻve way to go about the business of being the church. But in the light of the resurrection, everything looks different. When the disciples decide to cast lots, they're doing something far more important. They're offering their future up to God. Trusting that God is going to meet them and guide them in their mission. They're not just casting lots. What they're really doing is casting nets.
Those nets that the disciples cast haven't come back empty. They've come back full of light and life. Those nets have come back with the communion of saints. Those nets have come back with all of us. The Spirit that the disciples were promised to help them in their mission is the same Spirit that has gathered us in this place today. And the same Spirit that promises to be with us and in us in our life together.
Always making us into witness of the resurrection. Always getting us creatively shaped. Always leading us into the future together. Giving us the confidence to say, Alleluia, Christ is Risen.
Joseph Schattauer PaillĂ©