Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sermon, Easter 7B, Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

It's good to be home. A week ago Monday, I left the house at Oh-Dark-Thirty on my way to Atlanta for the annual Festival of Homiletics. This was my first time attending and it was amazing. I arrived home Saturday morning at 2 a.m. both exhausted and energized.

Some of the descriptions that I heard about the Festival included the following: my congregation makes sure I go every year so that I can learn to say something different; it's like drinking from a clear, ice cold glass of water after you've been eating hot, dry sand; it's a fountain of ideas that refreshes my creative sermon gene; and, it's like drinking from a fire hose. I heard some amazing sermons and lectures. And even in sermons that pushed my buttons and even made me think about walking out, even in those sermons, I heard things I could use. Even in those sermons, I heard ideas that laid the seeds of creativity. Even in those sermons, I heard things that made me think. Even in those sermons, I heard God.

This past Thursday was Ascension Day, the day on our calendar when we celebrate and recognize Jesus' ascension to the Father. These, then, are the days following the Ascension. These are the days we hear about in Acts where Peter stood up and spoke to the disciples about finding a replacement for Judas.

The criteria was simple, it was to be a man who was with the group from the time of Jesus' baptism through the Ascension. That criteria apparently whittled the pool down to two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. Each man had his own gifts and talents. Each man had his own skill set. Each man was a faithful disciple. Each many left all he had to follow Christ. Each man deserted Jesus. Each man experienced the joy of Easter. Each man returned to Christ. Each man witnessed the Ascension. And now, each man was up for election.

Do you remember records? For the younger members of our congregation, records are these large vinyl discs with grooves cut into them from which you could listen to music; your parents might have a stash of them somewhere in the house even though they probably have nothing to play them on anymore. But when we did play them, we had to listen to all of Side 1, there was no skipping to favorite tracks. After Side 1 was over, we had to turn the record over to listen to Side 2. This turning the record over led to the term, "See you on the flip side." And in the event that we did want to listen to a specific track, we had to manually move the arm, get down to eye level, sort of squint, and try to line up the needle with the blank space on the record.

I'm willing to bet that we liked one side of the album more than the other. And I'm willing to bet that it was Side 1 we liked more. After all, it was Side 1 that held hits such as Babe, Stairway to Heaven, Come Sail Away, Hotel California, Don't Stop Believing, and many, many more. If we had the right kind of equipment, we might stack up two or three albums on the spindle with our favorite side up to hear our favorite music.

But in the playing of Side 1, we might miss some things on Side 2. We might miss hearing a musical nuance or two. We might miss hearing how a Side 2 song complements a Side 1 song. We might miss hearing music not made for the Top 40, but music made for music's sake. And we might miss hearing how a band develops and changes.
By playing only Side 1, we limit our range of hearing. By playing only Side 1, we hear only part of the story of the album. By playing only Side 1, we hear only part of the musician's intent. By playing only Side 1, we hear only what we want to hear. By playing only Side 1, we choose to exert our control over what the creator of the album intended for us to hear.

And so it was with the two replacements. Joseph Barsabbas Justus was the more popular of the two. Joseph Barsabbas Justus was the more important of the two. After all, he was known by three names. His given name was Joseph; but people also knew him by another name, perhaps a nickname within the community, the name of Barsabbas. Still others knew him as Justus. A person known by three names must be well-known.

He is also listed first. Think back to the list of disciples and start naming them -- who do we have? Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Nathaniel, Matthew and Bartholomew, three others and Judas. Note that the ones we consider most important are listed first. So was Joseph Barsabbas Justus. He's the Side 1 replacement. Matthias, Side 2, was tossed in because he just happened to meet the criteria.

And the disciples cast lots to determine who would replace Judas, and the lot fell on Matthias. Do you see what's going on here? Joseph Barsabbas Justus is the Side 1 disciple. He's the one we want to hear. But God, the creator of the music of discipleship, says, "No . . . I want you to hear Side 2. I want you to hear my full intent for discipleship. I want you to hear the whole story. I want you to give up control to me."

Side 1 and Side 2. Side 1 is the side we play most often. Side 1 is the side we would rather hear. Side 1 is the side we control. Side 1 is the side that gets worn out from overplaying.

Side 2 is God's side. Side 2 is the side that challenges us, changes us and develops us. Side 2 complements our Side 1. Side 2 completes the whole story of our life with God.

What will you hear when you allow God to play the flip side of your life?


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