Easter VII Year B Sermon, "No Child Left Behind"

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Acts 1:15-26, Ps. 68:1-20; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19

So whatever happened to Joseph called Barsab’bas, who was surnamed Justus? His name certainly is a mouth full. You know, the one not chosen in the lottery to fill the empty apostle’s slot left open by the death of Judas Iscariot. We hear of Joseph’s story in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostle’s.

Joseph Justus - let’s call him JJ - was one of two names put forward to replace Judas as one of the twelve apostle’s. He fulfilled all the prerequisites that Peter said were required to become the new 12th apostle. JJ was with Jesus from the time of his baptism until the day Jesus ascended into heaven. In other words JJ was a faithful disciple who witnessed and participated in the entirety of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And Peter said that only someone who had those credentials could become, along with the remaining eleven apostles, “ a witness to [Jesus’] resurrection.”

JJ was one of only two men in the assembled group of brethren numbering 120 that day who met that standard. That alone was impressive. The other person who had those credentials was named Matthi’as. And so both JJ’s and Matthi’as’ names are written on dice and placed in an earthen jar which was then shaken. And prayer to God is offered up asking God to, “ show which one of these [men God ] has chosen to take . . .Judas’ place.”

As the dice that fell out of the jar showed Matthias name and not his, it had to be a painful moment for JJ. In elementary school I can remember captains choosing up their teams from the gathered group of boys wanting to play football. All the jocks and popular kids always got chosen first until the teams were filled. There was always a couple of kids left over and invariably I was one of them. My heart always sank with that sense of rejection that came with being left standing on the sidelines, as those chosen ran off onto the field to play ball. That rejection was painful. I imagine JJ felt the same pain in his rejection . . . even worse.

And imagine the tension that these two men felt waiting to see whose name would show face up on the die that fell out of that jar. The event in recent history I can liken it to is the 2000 presidential election. Imagine the stress and tension George Bush and Al Gore felt as the dice were cast in the Supreme Court determining the outcome of the election in Florida, and thereby who would be the next president. The whole nation sat on pins and needles with these two men on that decisive day. It had to be the same for JJ and Matthi’as, only it wasn’t the Supreme Court deciding the outcome, it was God.

It’s a heavy burden to bear knowing that God has rejected you for anything. At least when the Supreme Court rejects you, you can pick yourself up, continue your journey and even make a film. But when God rejects you the devastation wreaked in your life can be irreparable. And so it had to be for JJ when the die falls and he sees it’s Matthi’as name showing. Imagine the scene: Matthi’as with his arms raised up in victory, a huge “Yes” coming from his mouth. JJ, his heart sinking, tears welling up in his eyes, as he slinks away while everyone rushes up to Matthi’as to congratulate him .

A painful moment indeed.

All of us experience rejection. In our love lives, families, careers, friendships. Those moments when someone we love tells us they do not love us. That cuts like a knife. When those who offer jobs we desire to improve our incomes and self-esteem do not ultimately select us. That brings anguish. When an organization or group that we would like to be a part of denies us admittance for whatever reason. That stings.

But of all the forms of rejection humans experience, the most painful of all is when we believe that God rejects us. We might call this JJ’s pain.

But did God actually reject JJ? Does God reject anyone?

There are plenty of people of faith who would tell us that God does in fact reject people. And for all sorts of reasons. That you are not orthodox enough. That you do not believe in the inerrancy of the scriptures. That you are divorced. That you love the wrong person. That you have not been “born again” and therefore you are not “saved.” Many people have experienced JJ’s pain. The world is filled with people who have been told that they are rejected by God.

But does God who made “humankind in [his] image”, the very same God who sent Jesus into the world so that we might all “become children of God”, does that God leave any child of his left behind?

While some would answer yes to that question, the God that we know in Jesus and the scriptures says no! Instead our God desires to gather all God’s children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. (Lk. 13:34b) Our God sweeps and sweeps and sweeps the house until the lost coin is found. (Lk 15:8-10) Our God pursues all the sheep, especially those not in the fold, every last one of them. (Jn 10:16). Our God stretched out his loving arms on the hardwood of the cross so that ALL people could come into the reach of his loving embrace. (BCP p. 101) Our God became rejected and despised, so that we might no longer be.

Scripture tells us that the after Jesus ascended into heaven that the disciples gathered together in Jerusalem to, “ devote themselves to prayer” as they waited for the gift of the Holy Spirit. JJ was there. Ten days later on Pentecost as the Spirit arrived, tongues of fire rested on each of them and empowered those children of God to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Each in their own unique and lovely way. JJ was there too.

In Ephesians we are told that, “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. . . some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:7, 11-12)

Even though he was not chosen an apostle, JJ figured out his gift and he used that gift fully to build up Christ’s body. JJ realized that God had not rejected him in that roll of the dice and that God never would.

Has someone told you that God rejects you? Don’t believe it! Do you know someone who believes God has rejected them? Tell them that’s a lie. Tell them about the Good News of God in Jesus Christ who desires them, and each and every one of us, beyond our wildest imaginations. Tell them that in God’s Kingdom no child ever gets left behind.

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