Saturday, May 19, 2012

I'll Take . . .!

20 May 2012

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            I have always been what is politely called 'stocky' all my life.  I cannot remember any men's clothing advertisements that have included men built like me.  We rarely are the leading men in movies or television programmes.  We are always seen more as comic leads rather than romantic ones.

            When I was younger, being stocky meant that playground games were often painful moments for me.  It didn't help that I have one far-sighted eye and one near-sighted eye, a condition not identified until I was eighteen and out of high school.  Any game that required speed and hand-to-eye coordination were moments of severe trial to others and mild to severe trauma to me. 

            You all know how choosing teams goes when you are children.  Two team captains, always slim, trim and athletic, would be chosen and then started calling out their picks for their two teams:  "I'll take Bill!"  "I'll take Chuck!"  Back and forth it would go and my deepest hope was that I wouldn't be last.  Next to last was far better than last.  A lot depended on what kind of game we were playing.  But most of my playground hours were spent as one of the last chosen.  Sometimes, the worst of times, I would be the last chosen and my team captain would arrange for our team to have some sort of handicap based on my inadequacies.

            As an adult I have had other experiences of not being chosen.  Each one, I must admit, have re-awakened these childhood memories and brought to the surface all the same emotions.  Perhaps you have had similar experiences in your lives, but I have always envied those who seem to go from success to success effortlessly.  In my mind's eye they are the beloved of fate and history will remember them long after my name has faded even from the memories of my descendants.

            When Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and departed from the company of the apostles, the community faced a crisis.  Because they understood themselves to be sent to share the good news of God in Jesus to the Jewish people, the apostles knew they needed to replace Judas as one of the Twelve.  The number was significant:  There were twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus' decision to appoint the Twelve was a symbolic message that his ministry would extend to all the tribes.

            But how was the community to appoint a new apostle now that Jesus had ascended and was no longer among them to choose Judas' successor.  Peter, as leader of the apostles, speaks on behalf of the Twelve and gives the community of the disciples the criteria for choosing a successor:  a man who has been a disciple from the beginning of Jesus' ministry through the trauma of Holy Week until the triumph of Easter.  Two candidates were chosen:  Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  After prayer and some form of divination, Matthias is chosen and enrolled to restore the leadership to twelve.

            This is the last time in the New Testament we hear Matthias' name or, for that matter, Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus.  They fade from sight if not from legend.  The rest of the story will focus on the 'team captains':  James in Jerusalem, Peter roaming the Middle East and Paul travelling into Near East and Europe.  From time to time we will hear the names and stories of a few momentary star players:  Lydia, Phoebe, Onesimus and the like.  But like my childhood experience, being chosen last seems to lead inevitably to disappearing from view as the glory of the captains overshadows any of the 'lesser' players.

             But I had a small revelation this week:  Being last, being nameless, does not matter to God.  Whether we are chosen first or chosen last, whether we are the captains or just players on the bench, we are each precious in God's sight and we are each necessary to God's purposes for the renewal of creation.  Just because dear Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus did not become one of the Twelve, I doubt that he went home and sulked until his life's end.  I imagine he went back to his family and community and shared the good news of God in Jesus.  Perhaps he became the first teacher of a generation of teachers that led to the first Christians who came to the British Isles and shared the faith with my ancestors.  Perhaps Phoebe, a deacon named by Paul in the letter to the Romans, became the first to teach generations of women to celebrate their place in God's mission and whose witness led to Christine choosing to become a deacon.  Perhaps all of us here today are here because of those who were chosen last or whose names were never remembered.  We are their legacy; we are their continuing presence in God's unending work to all humanity into the fullness of life.

            Saint Faith's is not the Cathedral nor the largest parish in our Deanery.  We are not located on any of the major thoroughfares of our region where we can proclaim our presence to every passer-by.  We are here in the heart of a neighbourhood that is changing, but whose need for a community of open hearts, open hands and open minds has never diminished.  Our neighbours do not need stars; they need Joseph's and Phoebe's and all other quiet folk whose witness to the new life begun in Jesus and continued in us points the way to life with meaning and hope.

            I can hear God calling out the names for the team and they are the names of everyone here and everyone who is not here but who has found a place in this house of prayer and study.  There will be no one on the bench and no one who will be asked to play a position that they are not good at playing; but everyone will be playing.  Amen.

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