Better Than Second Best

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, May 12, 2024
Acts 1:15-26

    My freshman year of high school, I tried out for the basketball team and didn’t make it.  I had played basketball in middle school, but this was definitely a situation where I was going from a big fish in a small pond to the small fish in a big pond with way more talent.  I still remember that sinking feeling as I looked at the list and didn’t see my name on it.  I was pretty disappointed to not make the cut.  But then just a few weeks later, my choir director invited me to try out for the winter musical.  I had never really been into acting or singing solos, and I never really did, but I got a spot in the chorus and had a small part pushing a cart as a waitress across the stage  (no lines!) in my first musical performance, “Anything Goes.”  I could not have even tried out for the musical if I had made the basketball team, because practices were at the same time.  And as they say, the rest was history: I actually participated in six musicals during my high school year, and made lifelong friends – these are some of the best memories I have of my high school years.  This experience formed my identity in enjoying being a part of a larger group in the chorus, not a lead, and being OK not being in the spotlight.  I also learned that I can still enjoy playing basketball for fun and even played pick-up coed basketball in seminary, but it was OK not to be good at every sport I had done since elementary school.
    In our first reading from Acts, we get the story of how the disciples chose Matthias to be Judas Iscariot’s replacement as the twelfth disciple after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost in chapter 2 of Acts.  I wonder, what did poor Joseph/Justus do when Matthias was chosen, when he didn’t “make the cut,” so to speak?  Acts doesn’t tell us about his reaction, but my guess is that he was at least a little disappointed.  What’s interesting is, apart from this short story in the first chapter of Acts, we know nothing about nor do we hear about either Joseph or Matthias again, just that Matthias is now one of the twelve leaders of the early church.  I think what we can learn from their story is that just because God doesn’t choose you for one role, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have something else in mind for you.  We all have a purpose, and as people of faith, God has chosen us, even if we don’t get the spotlight.  We prayed this morning, “Gracious and glorious God, you have chosen us as your own.”  Us is all of us!  In our gospel this morning, Jesus’ prayer is not just for the twelve disciples, but for all of us who dare to follow Jesus today, that we be sanctified, protected, and one with all believers in Christ.  The choosing of Matthias is a good reminder that all of us have a place in the church to do God’s work, and that even the little-mentioned or even unnamed people throughout the centuries of Christianity can have a big impact, if we can be comfortable accepting a more behind-the-scenes role; if we can be comfortable following God’s lead rather than our own.
    Early in all four gospels, Jesus appoints twelve disciples following the Jewish tradition of the twelve sons of Jacob, who was also called Israel, which became the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Luke tells us that there were about 120 early believers in the first days of the church, and Jewish tradition also called for a leader to be appointed for every ten people, so twelve leaders were needed, hence Matthias’s election to replace Judas Iscariot.  We also learn in this passage that there were others who accompanied Jesus from the beginning, from his baptism by John through the resurrection – not just the twelve; both Matthias and Joseph were among them, and we know Jesus’ followers beyond the twelve disciples also included some women like Mary Magdalene and Joanna.  So often we think about the twelve disciples as the heroes of the New Testament, but let’s remember that Paul also was not one of the twelve, the greatest evangelist of all time, and other important people we learn about in his letters and in Acts like Silas, Barnabas, and Timothy.  
    If you go back and re-read our first reading, Luke, the author of Acts, intentionally uses the title of “apostle” instead of disciple.  A disciple is a student of a teacher – a follower.  In the Greek, the word, “apostle,” literally means “sent one.”  Now that Jesus has ascended into heaven, it becomes our turn to do what we have seen and learned from Jesus.  We are sent, and next week of course, we have this reminder that the power of the Holy Spirit goes with us and propels us forward in faith.  There are not just 12 apostles, but rather every believer becomes a “sent one.”  No matter what our role as a more up-front leader or a behind-the-scenes collaborator, all of us have been commissioned and sent by Jesus to live like Christ in our communities.  We may think of times like I shared where we shift from one role to another; we may change careers or find one door closed and another door open on our faith journey.  Like Joseph and Matthias whose names are fleetingly mentioned, we may not get much attention or glory for the work that we do in the name of Christ.  But God assures us that we are ALL of us called, chosen, and much better than “second best.”  There is no cut, so to speak, to be an apostle and follower of Jesus Christ. We all have a job to do!
    In seminary, I had the opportunity to take a class entirely on the theology of Martin Luther King Jr. taught by the first African American Lutheran to receive a PhD in systematic theology, Dr. Pete Pero, may he rest in peace.  It ended up being one of my favorite classes in seminary.  There I learned that the Civil Rights movement grew out of Christian churches and theology, for the most part.  Dr.  King himself was a respected Baptist pastor named of course after our Lutheran hero, Martin Luther.  I learned that many unnamed and now forgotten people helped Dr. King become the powerful and influential leader of the movement.  I learned that Rosa Parks was not the first person of color to refuse to give up her seat on a bus.  These well-known celebrities of the Civil Rights movement would not be known or have been successful without the hard work of thousands of others, faithfully following Jesus to fight for the rights of all people in this country, without some brave anonymous person taking the first step of faith.  In fact, most movements in history happen like this:  there’s the few leaders who are prominent, and there are thousands or even millions of people backing them up, doing the work, working together behind the scenes, to make something amazing happen.
    So for anyone who has ever felt like Joseph – second best, left out, didn’t make the cut; this story in Acts is for you – God still wants to use you and will!  You may not get your name in the paper or go viral on social media, but who you are and what you can do is vital in our collective call to live like Christ right here and now, for the sake of the gospel and the kingdom of God.  You are one of Christ’s apostles, he has chosen and sent you.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.