When we last left the disciples, they had been gawping at the empty sky and then wandering back to wait on the Holy Spirit, pray, and seek guidance from God. There were more than just the eleven, something along the lines of 120 men and women including members of Jesus’ family. Somewhere amid their praying and seeking God, Peter stands up to address an issue that apparently needed to be dealt with. He tells them that certain scriptures needed to be fulfilled regarding Judas which meant that someone would have to take his place as one of the twelve. It would have to be someone who had been with the group from the time of Jesus’ baptism all the way to the ascension. This person was to be an apostle, sent to be a witness to everything Jesus taught as well as the resurrection.
Replacing Judas was an emotional and symbolic need. It was emotional in that someone trusted by Jesus himself to be among the leaders of their movement had betrayed both Jesus and the others. “This [Judas’ betrayal] happened even though he was one of us and received a share of this ministry,” says Peter in Acts 1:17. Scholars have debated Judas’ reasons and cited everything from greed to desire to see Jesus go nuclear in a moment of pressure to Satanic possession to a God inspired/directed plan. Peter, in verses 17-20, reasons that it was a divine plan. The truth is, neither we, nor they, knew for certain. Judas decided for his own reasons and that decision caused great pain and distrust within the movement. They needed to restore trust in their leadership and begin healing the hurts it caused.
It was symbolic in that the early followers of Jesus were Jews following a Jewish rabbi and their worldview and orientation toward who Jesus was and why they should follow him was decidedly Jewish. That symbol is found in Luke 22:28-30,
You are the ones who have continued with me in my trials. And I confer royal power on you just as my Father granted royal power to me. Thus, you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones overseeing the twelve tribes of Israel.
The symbol here is the connection of the twelve apostles with the twelve tribes of Israel. Each of the apostles is set aside as a judge over a tribe in the Kingdom of God after the return of Jesus. With Judas gone, they were missing a judge for one of those tribes.
Jesus has ascended to heaven, and the apostles and disciples now inherit the leadership and responsibility of carrying on with the ministry Jesus started. They are tasked with teaching what Jesus taught, living as Jesus lived, making disciples, and doing it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the promised teacher. They do this to bring the hope of Jesus’ message to those who, oppressed, hold no hope for themselves.
With all that in mind, the disciples gathered had two candidates (same party in this case) named Justus and Matthias. Both men were capable and had proven themselves to be men worthy of the leadership position that was being filled. The process of choosing the new apostle was a combination of prayer and casting lots. In this sense, leadership is based on qualifications and divine choice. I imagine the prayer part was what led them to the two candidates and from there, with either man able to do the job, the lots came in. Casting lots is an interesting practice and one that goes back to ancient Israel. In this case, the name of the two candidates was written on a small piece of wood and added along with other blank pieces to a container. The container is shaken and the name that falls out, Matthias, becomes God ordained choice.
Sounds like a fun way to do committee nominations for next year. Maybe I’ll just put the name of every church member on a small piece of paper, put them in a Mason jar, and shake them out one at a time, going down the list of positions that need to be filled. The committee can take the year off and we’ll let God decide by lot. Somehow, I don’t think the church will go along with this.
The man sittin’ next to the man
When we look at where we might go from here, one thing we will need is good leadership. I’m not just talking about from the pulpit, although that is certainly part of it, I mean from and for the entire congregation. As United Methodists, our greater church body sends pastors to local churches for a season and then sends them on to other places. So, the leadership of the local church is critically important, maybe more so in some ways than the pastor. We need to have godly, Spirit-led leaders to keep the mission of the local body going pastor or not. How do we find them? The same way the early church did, they let the Holy Spirit point them out. For us, we have a bit more to go on than they did in Acts 1. I see three things we can use for identifying leaders: the right Spirit, the right gifts, the right calling.
The right spirit
The first thing that comes to mind is that we need to have the right spirit to connect to the right Spirit. What I mean by that is that we need to have the right mindset and right viewpoint on life and living to connect with the Spirit of God so that we can hear the voice of the Spirit speaking. I think there are two good places to look to get started with this: The Great Commandment and the fruit of the Spirit. If we are people who can truly love with everything we have and love neighbor as self and if we learn to do that by being people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, I would say we are well on our way to having the right spirit. In fact, I would say the practice of these things, even if we have not or never completely master them, is good starting place.
The right gifts
All of us are gifted in some way or another. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12-13 and especially in verses 4-11. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, powerful acts, speaking truth, discerning spiritual things, and speaking in other languages and their interpretation, although I have a feeling that we need to brush up on what those things meant in their time and place to really understand them. I think the issue is to recognize that we all have something, some gift to contribute to the work of the church. Not only that, but as we said previously, that work has to be done in the right spirit. Though the next chapter is often used in weddings, it actually was meant to say that if we use the gifts we have in the wrong spirit – any spirit other than love – we are wasting our time. The right gift is the gift given by the Spirit of God and used in the spirit of love.
The right calling
The final thing I would say is that each of us has a particular gift to go along with our spirit and gifts. We can get an idea of this by looking at the lives of the apostles and especially Matthew. In the call story of Matthew, Jesus asks Matthew to be one of his disciples and Matthew throws a party to celebrate and show his friends the new rabbi he is giving up everything to follow. Though the bible does not say it for certain, I imagine Matthew would be able to reach quite a few Jewish tax collectors. He would understand their pain at being ostracized from their community and people while being looked down on by the Roman empire they worked for. He would be able to connect with them in a way that others might not even begin to know how to. We too have those around us that we know who ‘get’ us and whom we ‘get.’ This is our mission field, our people to invite to the party.
What do we do with that?
From all this, we see that we need good leadership in the church, not just in times of crisis but all the time. We need to be able to trust in God and allow the Holy Spirit of God to guide to those who have the spirit, the right gifts, and the right calling for the circumstances. This begs some questions for each of us. What kind of spirit do I have? What are my gifts that god has given to be used in the service of Kingdom? What have we been called to do?