Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
One of my grandfathers was a Presbyterian Elder. He was also many other things including the superintendent of the cotton mill in Cedartown, Georgia. But in my heart, and I believe in the hearts of those who knew him best, one of his proudest accomplishments was being elected an elder and serving as Clerk of the First Presbyterian Church.
Until I reread this passage in Acts, I never thought much about the folks that ran for elder against my grandfather and lost. We are pretty civil in our election of officers today. We have a nominating committee that prepares a slate with the exact number of folks needed. People are called in advance and asked if they will serve. When the names are placed before the congregation, there is no resistance and the election is a formality. That is not the way it used to be done. I have been a member of a church and I have served churches where the election of elders and deacons was a process that could be drawn out over two or three weeks. A slate was presented to the congregation. There were always a greater number of nominees than available slots. Ballots were cast and in some churches a person had to receive 50% of the votes to be elected. Often the results remained private until I could contact the folks who were not elected. Those visits were not always pleasant. It is difficult to be asked to run for the office of elder or deacon, prayerfully consider the opportunity, agree to run and then not be chosen. We know the stories of those who are elected. I could list dozens of elders who have influenced my life before and after my ordination. What about those who were not chosen? What of those who were never asked? The church, be it local or universal, is made up of many folks whose stories are seldom remembered, except by one or two, and to those individuals, the forgotten are silent saints.
Who on earth was the man “some knew as Joseph, others called him Barsabbas, but seemed to go by the name Justus?” Nobody knows! He is not mentioned in any of the gospels, and is not spoken of again in the Book of Acts. But for one critical moment, Joseph, “known as Barsabbas, but called Justus”, was at the center of the conversation.
One hundred and twenty men gathered with Peter and the rest of the original disciples to select an Apostle. Because of the significance of the number 12, remaining eleven apostles was never considered. Peter set the ground rules. Because the original disciples were chosen by Jesus, the man selected had to be someone who had witnessed the entire ministry of God’s son. This person had to be someone who heard the sermons, grappled with the parables, witnessed the miracles and lived with the transition of Jesus from baptism to resurrection.
The 120 men eventually picked two candidates, Joseph, called Barsabbas, but known as Justus and Matthias. In order to decide which of the two was to be selected, lots were cast. It was a long established Hebrew tradition that rocks or dice with symbols on each side were rolled to determine the will of God. Once the dice were cast, the decision was considered holy.
On this ordinary day, between the ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost, the roll of the dice selected Matthias to fulfill the role vacated by Judas. Joseph, called Barsabbas, but better known as Justus became the answer to a Biblical Trivia question. Truth is, before the scripture was read this morning, most of you had never heard of the man called Justus by any name.
Did he just disappear from the face of the earth? After three years of following Jesus, his big chance arrived, only to be squashed when the dice revealed snake eyes. I can’t begin to imagine his disappointment but neither can I imagine him retreating from his relationship with Christ. He didn’t ask to be an Apostle. He was put up for nomination by folks who had witnessed his faith in action. Nothing had really changed. Joseph Barsabbas, but better known as Justus could resume his more familiar role of one who was never in the spotlight, making sure everything was always done properly.
Every church I have ever served has had a Joseph called Barsabbas, but also known as Justus. Their voice is seldom heard. They sometimes get nominated for elder but never survive the first round of consideration. They might sing in the choir, but they are usually an alto or bass. They seem to always show up for a workday. They seldom miss church and regularly attend Sunday School although they never have a need to speak. They are always around, pitching in without having to be asked, yet many folks have to pull out the church’s pictorial directory to remember their name. But someone knows who they are because once, at the most appropriate moment, your own personal Joseph called Barsabbas, who was known as Justus, stepped out of the shadows and made a quiet statement in your spiritual development.
Play along with me for a moment. I want you to take out a pencil or pen. If you don’t have one there should be plenty in the pew racks. On the front of your bulletin I want you to write down the name of someone who quietly became a mentor to you in your spiritual development. It could be a Sunday School teacher from the past. It could be someone whose quiet direction you have admired from afar. It could even be someone with whom you became engaged in deep conversations of faith. I suspect we all have someone who spiritually helped us become who we are.
Has everyone written a name down? If so, turn to your neighbor and share the story of your silent saint.
I am hearing some great conversations. Is anyone willing to share their story?
(A time for conversation)
Sometimes in life it seems like we are on the wrong end of the draw. Maybe we were up for an important position, maybe it was a new job, maybe it was just the last bunch of bananas in the grocery store and someone spied them just before us. We end up being second best. The next time you find yourself being in the position of Joseph known as Barsabbas but called Justus, remember the stories you heard this morning. Also remember tradition tells us that Joseph, known as Barsabbas but called Justus became a Bishop in the early Christian Church. Each October 30th Joseph of Eleutheropolis is celebrated as one of the Saints of the Church.
Being second does not mean your life ends. REMEMBER THAT PERSON OTHERS OVERLOOKED who made an impact on your life. Then go forward. Put the past behind you. Look for an opportunity to touch someone who needs a quiet voice or a comforting hand of assurance.
As a prayer of praise on the count of three, together let’s shout the name of the person written on our bulletin.
One, two, three …………. May God be praised. Amen.