May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
When I was first called to serve at St. John Lutheran Church in Oak Harbor, Ohio, many people talked very lovingly about the Pastor who was the interim before the congregation called the senior Pastor that I worked with, Bill Diehm. He was a solid preacher, to be sure, but he was especially appreciated for his pastoral care and counseling skills. Many had confided in him during his year at the church, and as it turned out, many had done so with him at a number of congregations in the synod as he had served as interim pastor for quite a number of them. He was well-respected among the Lutherans in Northwestern Ohio.
So you can imagine how, when this man's face ended up on the front page of the Toledo Blade newspaper, and as a feature story on news broadcasts, people were shocked. He was involved in a serious scandal, exhibiting behavior that was not acceptable. I am not going to go into the details of the controversy, but let's just say that it not only shook the synod and dozens of congregations that he had served as interim over the years, but it also shocked his wife and children who had no idea it was going on. We were all surprised, as we discovered that someone who we held up with deep respect had a secret life.
As I read and studied our first lesson this morning from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, I found some very insightful words from a commentary written by Frank Crouch, dean of the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Crouch claims that by the actions that the apostles take in our reading, when they move to replace Judas and bring their number back up to 12 apostles, it seems clear that Judas' betrayal of Jesus left a deep wound in this early Christian community. Peter begins to speak to this crowd of a little over 100 people, and he struggles out loud with the fact that the scripture had to be fulfilled, from David all the way through Judas. Judas – who was one of them, who lived with them for the 3 or so years that they travelled with Jesus. We still don't quite know what to do with Judas, do we? Although we are quick to admit that he was only acting according to what God had set in motion, you will still not find any, “St. Judas Lutheran Churches” anywhere in the world! So it was with Peter and these people. Judas was numbered among them – he not only betrayed Jesus but he betrayed them all as well. He wounded them too in ways that run even deeper than Jesus' wounds. They don't seem to be worried about the part that the Romans or the Jewish Religious Leaders took in Jesus' death – they are most concerned with reacting to the part that Judas had in it because he was so close with all of them.
How do we react when trusted leaders betray our confidence? How do we recover when someone like that pastor I told you about – a gifted spiritual leader – goes dramatically astray? Does Judas' betrayal negate everything that he did that was good? Did the scandal of the Northwest Ohio pastor negate the good pastoral work that he did in so many churches? You can understand how wounded these men and women were as they tried to figure things out. You can understand how, during this time in between Jesus ascending into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit they would be thinking and talking about their brother who betrayed Jesus and all of them in the process.
So Peter does what he often does – stands right up, takes charge and tries to lead them through this crisis. In the midst of the very first of a whole book-full of, “Acts of the Apostles”, that being the activity of watching, waiting, and praying for the Holy Spirit to come and guide them, Peter breaks the silence and says what everyone is thinking: to get through this, let's get our numbers back up to 12, that holy number, the number of the tribes of Israel, and the sum total when you multiply the trinity times the four directions of the earth. They pray that God will show them who he has already chosen to take Judas' place in this team of apostles. Then, in an act that took all control of the decision out of their hands, they cast lots – they engaged in a game of chance, like flipping a coin or drawing straws – to lift up the one who God had already chosen to be their new twelfth. Matthias – he was the one. And I imagine there was some semblance of closure on the whole “Judas” scandal, as we might call it.
While I admire the faith of these people to put this decision in God's hands, I also question whether or not Peter was a little impatient in his decision to do this. I can identify with Peter – I think I share a bit of a personality type with him. On the Myers-Briggs Type Personality scale, I am an ESFP – Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving. I like to be with people, entertaining them often. I read a description of what hell would be like for each of the personality types recently, and for us ESFPs it simply said, “An eternity spent in a bare room all alone.” There is truth in that for me, and I would venture to guess that it would be the same for Peter. So, I can identify with him in the fact that it is often a challenge to just not do anything – to sit, wait and let things unfold, often things that God is putting into motion - especially when it comes to wanting to actively participate in recovering from being hurt and taking the next step in life!
But as I said before, that time for the disciples is a lot like life for us now – it is lived “in the meantime.” Jesus has descended and we are desperately looking for signs from the Holy Spirit to show us what to do next. Today, Logan Prater takes a next step in his faith and participation in this faith community. As he has grown and matured so far, he has done so with close parental involvement. They had followed the promises they made at his baptism by bringing him to the services of God's house, teaching him the Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments and creeds, placing in his hands the Holy Scriptures and encouraging him along the way. Many of us are thankful for parents that did the same for us as well.
What is he to do now? What do any of us do when we spend time in the “meantime”? We watch, wait and pray! We try to decide when it is time to move and when it is time to be still. We do all of this in community with our Christian brothers and sisters, fellow baptized people who are all in this together. And when scandal arises – when one of our own betrays us or hurts us, especially when it is a well-respected leader – we do what we can to allow God's healing power to work for us. Sometimes THAT means just sitting and praying and being still; sometimes it means sharing with each other our stories of pain; other times it means taking action, like Peter did. Even if Peter was a little early in what he did, we know that God blessed their decision. Legends tell us that Matthias preached in what is now Eastern Europe, especially the area around the Caspian Sea. God still used their decision and this man to share the Gospel with people who would not have otherwise heard it.
As we live in the meantime of things, today we join Logan and everyone who has affirmed their baptism in waiting, watching, praying and acting together to be led by the Holy Spirit. May God lead us, comfort us in the disappointments and scandals of life, forgive us when we get too hasty, and give us all that we as a community of faith needs to be active witnesses of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus in our midst. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.