Uncelebrated–Acts 1:21-26

Preached by Terrell Carter on 2/10/13

Can anyone guess what the following names have in common?  Tim Toone, Ryan Succop, David Vobora, Ramzee Robinson, Kevin McMahan, Andy Stokes, Andre Sommersell, Ryan Hoag, Gustavus Adolphus, Ahmad Miller, Tevita Ofahengaue, Michael Green, James Finn

Some of them are democrats and some are republicans and some are independents, but none of them are political officials.  Some live in the South and some live in the North, but none of them are world leaders.  Some graduated college and some did not.  While they were in college, they each had various majors.  Some are black, some are white, and some are other.  Can anyone guess what their link is?

They all hold the dubious honor of being Mr. Irrelevant.  Mr. Irrelevant is the title given each year to the very last pick of the National Football League draft.  Every year, Mr. Irrelevant has to endure hearing the name of at least 250-300 people called before his.  250-300 people who are having their dreams fulfilled, hard work and talent recognized before theirs.  The first Mr. Irrelevant was Kelvin Kirk, who was picked number 487 in the 1976 draft.  Last year’s Mr. Irrelevant was quarterback Chandler Harnish of the Northern Illinois Huskies.  He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts as pick number 253.

Most Mr. Irrelevants usually flame out in obscurity, never making an official NFL roster.  A few have had success, and made teams and contributed significantly.  But, in general, over 90% of them never make it out of training camp.  They usually end up as a footnote or as a punch line to a joke, or worse yet, as an illustration in a sermon.

Have any of you ever been picked last for something?  Especially something you enjoyed, or thought you were good at?  Something you have worked hard at?  Maybe you were chosen as the last person for a basketball team.  Or, maybe as the last person that anyone wanted to dance with at a middle school mixer?  At work, you were the last person chosen to be on an important team that would help to decide an important part of the company’s future?

As a youth in junior high, my favorite sport was basketball.  The problem I faced was that I was uncoordinated and not very good at the game.  Big feet and small hands will do that to you sometimes.  Add to this the fact that I was short and chubby, and you had the recipe for disaster.  My twin brother was skinnier than me, but his feet were just as big, and his hands were just as small.  It goes without saying that we spent a lot of time on the sidelines.  It got to the point that when friends from the neighborhood saw us coming to the basketball courts at the park, they would argue over who would have to have us on their team.

Now, in unison, everyone say, “Awww, how sad!”

But, in order to keep my street credibility intact, I have to say that I eventually grew into my body, became coordinated, and am still dangerous with the “rock” in my hands.  I play full court ball a couple of times a week and run with the best of them.

But, I ask you the question, again.  Have you ever been chosen last for anything?  It’s not a good feeling is it?  It’s never fun when someone tells you that you just don’t measure up, or that your skills are not good enough, or you’re not pretty enough, or strong enough, or you just aren’t what they are looking for.

Many egos have been checked into place after situations like this.

But, maybe there’s another way to look at it.  Being chosen last for something may not necessarily be a bad thing.  It may sting to be last, but at least you’re on the team.  At least you were chosen.  At least you’re in the game.  At least you get to participate/contribute to whether the team wins or losses/succeeds or fails.

In the Bible, there are several people who could be considered insignificant, almost like footnotes.  Mr. and Ms. Irrelevant.  The Old Testament is littered with names of insignificant people, who begot other insignificant people, who begot other insignificant people.  There are entire chapters of genealogies of people like this.  All we know about them is that they had babies.  In the New Testament, the gospels give genealogies of men and women whose names and heritage seem to be of no consequence outside of the fact that Christ was a part of their family tree.

Within today’s readings from the Book of Acts, we are given a glimpse into the beginning/formation of the church and the place that one particularly insignificant person played in it.  The group of disciples that had previously followed Christ had now grown in number to at least 120 people.  They had been in hiding from the Jewish religious leaders in fear of what these leaders might do to them.

Eventually, Christ appeared to this group of believers on multiple occasions, verifying and reinforcing that fact of His resurrection.  He reassured them of the validity of the promises He previously made to them.  During His visits, He also encouraged them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit as He previously promised.

Peter, at one particular gathering of the disciples, decides to address the tragic decisions made by Judas, the former disciple of Christ turned betrayer.  Peter says that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, King David prophesied that the Savior would be betrayed.  And that’s just what Judas did.  He led a group of captors to Christ so they could apprehend Him.  All for what?  A bag of coins.  Eventually, Judas used that bag of coins to buy a plot of land, the same field on which he eventually died.

Peter also says that now that Judas was gone, it was time for them to consider choosing someone to replace him, bringing the number of disciples back to 12.  Why is it important to have 12 disciples?  No one can say definitively what the specific reason was, but one well held belief was that it was an allusion, or nod, to the number of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Whatever the reason, they needed/wanted one more person to make their band of misfits complete.

The criteria that Peter proposed for this new person, this replacement disciple, was that they had to have been around/involved since the beginning of Christ’s ministry, essentially since the time of His baptism by John the Baptist, and they had to have seen the resurrected Christ.  All of this was so they could testify to whom Christ was.

So, two men were chosen who fit these criteria.  Joseph, who went by two other names; Barsabbas or Justus, and a second man, Matthias.  We don’t know anything else about these two men.  Perfect candidates for the title of Mr. Irrelevant.

After choosing these two men, the disciples prayed for God’s guidance, and then cast lots.  Casting lots was a long held tradition that went back to Old Testament times.  In their eyes, it was one of the ways that God directly and indirectly communicated with them.  It was essentially the act of rolling the dice.  Casting lots could also entail actions like writing the name of each candidate on a separate stone, putting those stones in a container, shaking it up, and pulling one of the stones out.  Whatever the name on the stone that was pulled out would have been the man that God had chosen.  Or, everyone wrote a particular candidates name on a piece of paper, and that name was placed into a container.  The name that was drawn out first was understood as being God’s choice for that position.

Have any of us ever done anything like this before?  Now, I’m not questioning the spirituality or legitimacy of their methods.  What I think we should recognize about their actions is that they sought God’s guidance in the midst of their decision making process, and they used the means that were available to them.

After the dice were rolled, and names were pulled out of a hat, Matthias was chosen as the newest disciple.  He was now one of the few, the proud, the chosen.  A leader.  One of the elite.  People probably wanted his autograph.  He was probably invited to preach at several prestigious synagogues.  He even probably received a book deal from the Jerusalem Publishing House.

In today’s culture of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, his photo would have been uploaded, his status would have been updated, his grandmother would have Instant Messaged her knitting group, and someone else would have posted a blog comment about the new position.

But that didn’t happen in the 30s A.D.  What really happens next for Matthias?  We don’t know.  He is never mentioned again.  As a matter of fact, the only original disciples that we hear about regularly in Acts are Peter and John.  It seems like everyone else falls into obscurity, including Matthias.

I sort of feel sorry for him because no one knows what he did or what ever became of him.  No one even knows for sure where and how long he lived or when he died, if he had any kids, the number of church plants that he started.  One rumor said that he was beheaded for sharing the gospel.  Another said that he was beheaded.  A third said that he met his end at the hands of a group of hungry cannibals that he attempted to preach to.  Talk about a rough crowd.

Matthias’ story is brief and really……irrelevant.  He’s born.  He follows Jesus.  He’s chosen as a replacement for Judas.  He then goes off into obscurity, never doing anything to bring positive or negative attention to himself.  He is the epitome of someone who is uncelebrated.  Someone obscure, not famous, inconsequential.  Someone who didn’t do anything worthy of honor or recognition.  Reginald Fuller says this about Matthias, “He vever held a position, never had a title, and was never noticed until the moment of need.  He was not even a consensus candidate during the first round of balloting.  But, in the end, he was present, available, willing and able.”

So What?

As the Bible is filled with uncelebrated, obscure people, so will God’s kingdom be.  Not only will God’s kingdom be filled with uncelebrated people, but His church is currently full of them.

Being uncelebrated is not necessarily a bad thing.  Being uncelebrated is how men and women categorize each other.  It is not how God sees the situation.  I believe that God sees each of us as celebrated, relevant, noteworthy, valuable, and integral to His plans, whether we make the newspaper, or preach from the pulpit, or sing in the choir, or sit on the front row or the last pew.  God has an open place for all of us.

In order for God to use us, we all must answer the internal questions that I believe that Matthias had to answer on that day so long ago.

Are you available for God to use?  I didn’t ask if you were present in church.  Being present means that you are just physically present at particular location at a particular time.  I didn’t ask if you were a member of this congregation, or what church your parents went to, or how much you put into the offering, or how many degrees you may have earned.  The question is, are you available?  Being available means that you are suitable and ready for God’s use no matter where you’re physically located.

Being available means that you are accessible to God.  That you are ready to be used in His service whenever He is ready to use you.  Are you available?

Are you willing to allow God to use you?  Are you ready and consenting for service?  Do you hope that God will include you in the work that is being done on behalf of the coming kingdom?  Are you inclined to say “yes” when God calls?  Or do you have a ton of excuses for why you can’t be involved in God’s kingdom work on a regular basis?

“But, Terrell, my life is busy.  There’s work, and school, and the kids, and my attempts to have a life.  I can’t keep up with what I am doing, let alone what God is doing.”  You’re right.  None of us can.  But God doesn’t ask us to keep up.  He asks us to be willing to get involved and find our niche, just like Matthias did.  And Thadeus.  And Bartholomew.  And all of the other uncelebrated followers of Christ.  Are you willing to follow in their footsteps?

There’s no need to wait until you get some official title.  The word apostle that is used at the end of Acts 1:26 simply means messenger.  One who is sent out as a messenger on the behalf of someone else?  I believe that words like this describe all of us.

There’s no need to roll the dice, either, to see if God will choose you to do something.  He has already said that He wants us all to get to work sharing His love for the world.  He’s just waiting for us to get involved.  “But, Terrell, where am I supposed to work, and what am I supposed to do?”  Work anywhere.  Anywhere that God’s name needs to be shared.  Anywhere God’s love, peace, grace, or mercy needs to be shared.  And do what you can to make sure that God’s presence is experienced.  Go anywhere people will listen, and do what you can to show them what the kingdom of God looks like.

Will you pray with me?

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