Monday, May 14, 2012

St Matthias

Today we celebrate the feast of St Matthias, who was chosen to complete the number of the Twelve after Judas, who betrayed Jesus, had committed suicide.

Just as an aside, I think it is because Judas was dead that the Eleven decided to add Matthias to their number, not because Judas had acted so badly in betraying Jesus.  After all, the others didn't do so well - Peter denied Jesus and all the rest abandoned him.  If there were points for behaviour, then it would only be Mary Magdalene and some of the other women who followed Jesus who counted as apostles.

But let's look a little bit more at Matthias.  First of all, he wasn't the obvious choice.  There are two candidates, Matthias and Justus.  Whilst both fulfill the criteria of having been with Jesus from the beginning and being a witness to the Resurrection, neither is just appointed.  They draw lots and Matthias is added to the number of the Twelve.  So, according to the story from the Acts of the Apostles (1.15-26), it is by chance that today we celebrate St Matthias rather than St Justus.

And you might be forgiven for thinking that, given that Matthias had been with Jesus from the beginning, there are references to him throughout the Gospel stories. But no, despite the best efforts of some to identify Matthias with other characters in the Gospel stories, he is not to be found anywhere.

Perhaps then St Luke, who wrote this story about the choice of Matthias right at the beginning of the book of Acts, goes on to tell of his great works in the early church.  But no, there is nothing.  In fact, this is the one and only occasion in which St Matthias is mentioned in the whole of the New Testament.

There are, of course, stories of Matthias in later Christian legends.  My favourite is that he went to Ethiopia, where he preached the Gospel to cannibals.  But you have to balance that against other traditions which say that he died of old age in Jerusalem.  There is a report that he wrote a gospel, but even if he did it has been lost.

Matthias is someone who plays a bit part in the story of the church.  He is chosen by chance, and there to make up the numbers.  Apart from that he is unknown and unheard of.

And yet we celebrate his feast day today.  We celebrate that it is through seemingly random events of chance that the Holy Spirit works.  Matthias was chosen by chance, he was also chosen by the Spirit.  And that can transform the way in which we think of seemingly random events - the Holy Spirit can work through them.  

And we also celebrate the anonymous role of St Matthias.  We know nothing about him, other than the Holy Spirit chose him to serve.  That same Spirit has called us here to serve.  But we are not called to be heroes about whom books will be written.  We, like Matthias, are called to be part of God's people doing God's work.  We, like Matthias, are called to make up the numbers!  Having our choir here is a great model for us of how we are called to serve.  Choirs work by the voices blending together to make the beautiful sound.  Within the choir, some are stronger singers, but if any one voice dominates it spoils the sound of the whole choir together.

St Matthias reminds us that we are too look for the work of the Holy Spirit in seemingly chance events.  He also reminds us that we are called to serve God as part of the whole of God's people, not to be solitary heroes plowing our own furrows.  We do not always, in fact we rarely do, know the end result of what we do in our service of God.  So we offer our service in faith and trust and hope that God will make something greater of it.  As we gather at the altar this evening, we offer bread and wine in the faith and trust and hope that God will make it and us into the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.  May he take our service and make something great of it for his kingdom. Amen.

Given at Derby Cathedral 14.5.12

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