Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter - May 28, 2006

Thursday was Ascension Day.  It’s classified as a Principal Festival of the church year, right up there with Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, but it pretty much slips by unnoticed every year (unless it is observed or mentioned on the following Sunday).  Ascension Day doesn’t get much respect.  In the past on the planning calendar that Thrivent sends every year to all pastors Ascension Day has always received its own page, but it didn’t even get that this year, plus to add insult to injury they had it listed on Friday rather than Thursday.

It is kind of the black sheep of principal festivals yet it’s a great story, an important story, one which makes an important theological statement about Jesus.  This is certainly a story that the early church fathers used in coming to agreement on who Jesus was and is as part of God, truly God and truly man, the means by which heaven and earth are joined, things like that.

I can also see a touch of humor in this story.  I’m reading between the lines a little bit here, but you’ve got the disciples standing there, gazing into the sky long after Jesus is out of sight and it takes the two mysterious men in white robes to snap them out of it, basically saying, “OK, enough’s enough.  Jesus will come back in the same way you just saw him go; but in the meantime you’d better get busy.  There’s things to do.” 

And then, what’s the first thing they do when they get back to Jerusalem?  They have a council meeting!  They don’t gather for worship or prayer; they don’t sit around and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit that had been promised; they have a business meeting because there’s business to take care of.  In the person of Judas there has kind of been a resignation from the council, so there needs to be a replacement.  They have to get the number of apostles back up to twelve which is one of those magic biblical numbers that represents wholeness or completeness. 

How they do this is interesting too.  Peter says, “One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us, one of these must be a witness with us to his resurrection.”  That makes sense to us.  There have to be a few prerequisites; it can’t just be anyone; they have to have the necessary qualifications.  So they have two candidates who meet the requirements of what they’re looking for; there’s Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus (I always think that’s kind of funny too.  It’s like some of the obituaries you see around here where they have to list the nickname of the person or else no one would know who it was that died); Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. 

But then, there’s no discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, no interview process, no trial sermon; they simply pray for guidance, cast lots, and that’s it.  Matthias drew the long straw so he became one of the twelve.  Imagine if this was how pastors were assigned.  It would make it easier on call committees, easier on Bishop Skrenes.  He could say, “I’ve got two qualified candidates for you.  I’m going to say a prayer, flip a coin and the new pastor will start in two weeks.”  It would make pastoral vacancies much shorter, and who knows, it might work just as well as what we do now. 

Once the selection process for Judas’ successor is done, neither character is ever heard from again, just as neither of them was heard from prior to this story.  Matthias, the winner slips back into biblical anonymity along with the loser, Joseph, called Barsabbas, also known as Justus.  The chances are that this story is included in Acts mostly because of the number 12.  It was important to them that the number of apostles be one of those numbers of completeness.  The number is more important than the names.  But that was true in the case of the original twelve too.  Most of them are quite anonymous too in that we know their names, but apart from Peter and Judas we know very little, if anything, about them.  Occasional snippets about their presence at certain events, but that’s about it.

But Matthias, upon his selection to be one of the twelve must have been out there with the others; preaching about Jesus, witnessing to his resurrection, risking persecution or even death because of his witness.  He must have been involved in the disputes of the early church between Jewish and Gentile followers, questions about who could legitimately follow Christ.  Even though it’s not written down anywhere, Matthias must have been part of all that.

And Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, he who drew the short straw, what about him?  He was close, real close.  He had all the qualifications to be an apostle, just no luck.  Or maybe he was the lucky one.  Legend has it that all the apostles died as martyrs so maybe he did luck out.  But if this Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus had been present all along with Jesus and the others, witnessing all that happened, I have to think that he didn’t just pick up his toys and go home just because he drew the short straw.  He too must have been out there, preaching and witnessing and playing a role in spreading the word about Jesus in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

When you study heroes of the Bible or great stories of the Bible, these names don’t come up, but the church, whose birthday we officially celebrate next week on Pentecost Sunday, the church wouldn’t be here without the contributions of these anonymous early workers or overseers as they are called in today’s passage from Acts; and of course that is still the case; that is who the church continues to depend on.

A text like this one today lets us think about the fact that we’re all basically anonymous overseers of the ministry of the church.  No one is likely to write any books about any of us.  Within an individual church like this one there are individuals who play more prominent roles, some have their names listed on the board out there in the narthex, but still much of the ministry is done quietly, behind the scenes with little fanfare or notice.

I think this morning of a couple of groups who have recently completed their work until fall anyway.  There’s the quilters; a faithful group of women who gather every Tuesday morning to cut and sew and make quilts out of whatever materials they can find.  Most of them would not claim to be expert seamstresses or anything like that; they just do what they do, making quilts and shipping them out in the fall through Lutheran World Relief.  To the person who receives one of these quilts, a person who would be cold otherwise, these women make a difference.  They witness to the love of Christ.

Then there are the people who work as part of our Sunday School.  Unless I missed someone, there were fifteen adults or confirmed youth who served in some capacity in this year’s Sunday School.  I think that’s pretty impressive.  The teachers are here at 8:30 on Sunday mornings and in the winter that means it’s often still pretty dark not to mention cold and snowy, but they come in order to share the faith and teach the kids the great stories of the Bible.  From my years of teaching I know there are times when they wonder if any of it is sinking in at all, but I know that these teachers make a difference.  Just being there makes a difference, and some of it does in fact sink in and nurture those seeds of faith, again witnessing to the love of Christ.

That’s just a couple of examples of some of Bethany’s anonymous overseers.  I don’t mean to slight any individual or group but I also don’t think you want to stay here all day.  One of the nice things Linda is doing with the newsletter is getting more information out about what some of the groups here do quietly, behind the scenes, witnessing to the love of Christ.

In his sermon at Synod Assembly Bishop Skrenes called on those present to fall in love with a ministry of your church.  I think that’s good advice.  Don’t fall in love with everything, but pick one ministry of the church that you think you can contribute to and then do all you can do to make that aspect of the church’s work as good as it can be.  Fall in love with a ministry of the church.  Don’t fool yourself with the “I don’t have the time” argument.  Everyone has time for those things that they have decided are important.

The work of the church depends on the anonymous overseers like Matthias and Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and you.  Think about it.  And think about it not as a sermon everybody who isn’t here today needs to hear; think about it as one you need to hear.  There is a ministry waiting for you.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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