Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

Alfred Gorvie



Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
Analysis by Ben Williams

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus – 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 21“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Acta Apostolorum (Acts of the Apostles) The return of the Apostles from Mount Olivet and the election of Matthias as Apostle, after Heemskerk. 1575 Engraving. From Wikimedia Commons

“The Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts so that we can trust in Jesus who calls us to wait on God to act.”

Author’s Note: For a much more thorough reflection on the implications of this text, the formation of the church, and state of the church today, I encourage you to read Andrew Root’s and Blair Betrand’s book, When Church Stops Working.


DIAGNOSIS: As Fate Would Have It

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): A Church Administration Crisis
At the beginning of the Christian church, as the disciples spend forty days with the resurrected Christ before his ascension, Jesus orders them to remain in Jerusalem and to wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). And so, the disciples wait, for a time. They wait and pray. And pray and wait. Until eventually, Peter gets a bit antsy. He looks around and notices a problem. The Twelve – as in the twelve whom Jesus had called (Luke 6:12-16) – has a vacancy to fill. Judas, who had been numbered among them and allotted his share of ministry, had met a most gruesome end. (It is no wonder the lectionary doesn’t include this section!) So, Peter – being the ever-astute church administrator – calls together a call committee to fill the vacancy (though don’t be too critical of Peter unless you are also critical of yourself).

Today, the church is no stranger to administrative crisis. The crisis appears by many names; “The Great Clergy Resignation/Burnout” and “The Great Dechurching” are personal favorites. No matter the alarmist headlines, the solution the church has turned to again and again is to hurry up and get busy. “If only we had the right program,” stressed church employees think, “then we would be okay.” So, a committee is formed. A new innovative program is tested. And little changes. Rinse and repeat.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): Distracted Hearts
“One of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” Peter declares.  Apparently, waiting and praying was not enough for Peter. Actionable steps must be taken to show… something… anything to distract from the burden of waiting. “Surely, God didn’t actually mean wait,” Peter might have thought, “Jesus would want twelve apostles to continue the work now that Jesus had ascended” – twelve to sit on the twelve thrones of the kingdom (Luke 22:28-30).

Perhaps it is easier to trust our own efforts than to trust that God will do something while we wait. Perhaps we are impatient, which clouds our vision from something truly new. We may confess that God is at work in and around the church, but how do we know unless we are busy proving it! And the crisis the church faces only makes us more anxious and desperate for a distraction. So, we turn to anything and everything to “get busy living” so we don’t “get busy dying” – let alone, dying with Christ.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): Left to Chance
For Peter, that meant casting lots. Two candidates rose to the top of the call committee’s list. But, how were they supposed to know who God called to be one of the Twelve? “Leave it to chance,” Peter thought, “then we will know God’s desire!” And so, the lot fell to Matthias. Only, in the story Luke writes in Acts, Matthias is never heard from again. He may have done great ministry, or not. His isn’t the story that God desired to tell. His was the story of chance. The dice chose Matthias. The resurrected Jesus chose Paul; but more on that in a moment.

When our distracted hearts trust in chance over the promise of God, we find ourselves in the hands of fate – a nebulous idea that turns coincidence into meaning. The problem is whether, or not, so-called fate is trustworthy. If it is, then we have little to worry about. If it isn’t, then we would be better off letting truly random chance decide our demise. Because God is not coincidence. God is God and God acts decisively.

PROGNOSIS: As God Would Have It

Step 4-Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Left to the Resurrected Christ
The promise of Easter is that God decisively does a new thing! The one who is a crucified scandal, taking on our human form and likeness, is raised from the dead. This resurrected Jesus, in the grace of the gospel, choses even those whom we would least expect. People like Paul.   Who, with no other disciples around, experienced the living, resurrected Jesus in a life-altering encounter. Afterwards, Saul (soon-to-be called Paul) is instructed to enter the city and to wait until he is told what to do. With scales on his eyes, and some very helpful friends by his side, Saul endeavors to wait. For what? He couldn’t possibly have guessed. Meanwhile, Ananias – one whom Saul was sent to kill – was called out of waiting by the living, resurrected Jesus to minister to Saul so that he may be filled with the Holy Spirit; what God had promised from the beginning (Acts 9:1-19). This is the story God desired to tell.

An encounter with the living, resurrected Jesus is life altering because it is solely dependent on God’s action. And God’s action is decisively about resurrected life. It was not chance, or coincidence, that the tomb was found empty on that first Easter morning! It was the purposeful, deliberate action of God to bring forth life from death; ultimately, freeing us from the clutches of death – leaving us in the arms of the resurrected Christ.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): Known Hearts
Ironically, the call committee led by Peter prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.” And, indeed, God did. The selected apostle (sent one) Matthias, surely did good ministry – that is, ministry rooted in the gospel. After all, he would have been in the room when the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost. He surely would have spoken in another language, as the Spirit gave him ability. He surely would have gone on to ad-minister the good news to the Parthians, or the Medes, or even the Elamites. He may even learned how to wait on God’s promised action before rushing into the “busy-ness” of ministry. We simply don’t know because the story God chooses to write is the one about God’s acts, not the apostles (despite the title of the book).

And, God knows our hearts too. That is why the promise of the Holy Spirit is given to us. The Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts so that we can trust in Jesus as our Lord, the One who calls us to wait on God to act upon our lives. And by that very Spirit, we wait and pray; and pray and wait. Until, that is, God acts in us to respond!

Step 6-Final Prognosis (External Solution): A Crisis of God’s Action
The real crisis Peter faced was not a vacancy on the apostle’s staff. It was that God acted through Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and raised up the apostle Paul, who persecuted Jesus through his followers. The crisis Peter faced was that the God he knew is the God who cannot be known unless that God reveals Godself to him. So, whether Peter realized it or not, he continued to wait and pray until God revealed the true twelfth apostle when Paul was brought into the life and crisis of Christ.

As Andrew Root and Blair Bertrand write in their book, When Church Stops Working, “Faith is the crisis of knowing the true God by how God has revealed Godself in the world. The church has no life other than waiting for and witnessing to the God who reveals Godself in the world in the backward way of love.” Our act, as followers of the living, resurrected Jesus, is to wait, and pray, and witness to God’s acts revealed to us by that very God.