Sunday, May 13, 2018

Joseph, called Barsabbas, but known as Justus

Acts 1:15-17; 21-26


        While stationed in Korea, I was a member of the 2nd Division. Our motto was Second to None. I rarely find anyone who relishes finishing second. We are a nation of winners. This means name recognition is very important to us. Too many times, due to laziness, I have gone into a voting booth and not recognized certain people on a ballot. I have voted for a name I am familiar with or the party they associate with rather than merit. I figure if I have heard of them, they must be important.

        I suspect we do the same when we read the Bible. How many of us know the story of anyone in the Old Testament other than Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David or Elijah. Those are the winners, the heroes. But what about Miriam, Caleb, Deborah, Hannah or Josiah? Were they not equally heroic?

        Of course we know the New Testament better than the Old. But other than Peter, John, Matthew and Judas, how many other disciples can you name? What were their stories? Why have we forgotten them? Is it because they were second division disciples, second to everyone else?

        How many of you are familiar with Joseph, called Barsabbas, but known as Justus? Don’t be upset if you don’t remember the name. He gets one verse in the entire Bible and that verse announced that he was a loser. So why are we giving him 12 minutes of attention this morning? I believe each one of us knows someone who has finished second or perhaps not finished at all and yet possessed qualities seldom seen or experience by others.

        Imagine the problem Peter faced. After the ascension of Jesus, Peter decided it was time to get the band back together. Unfortunately they were one member short. You might think eleven disciples were enough but not Peter.  Twelve was a magic number. It symbolized completeness. Jacob had 12 sons. Israel had 12 tribes. There were 12 months in the Jewish year.  Peter believed the disciples would be incomplete if they settled with eleven.

        A nomination committee was formed. It was made up of 120 folks. After much prayer and I imagine a little politicking, two men were nominated. And here is the weird part. Instead of holding an election, they cast lots. Basically they flipped a coin and Matthias hit the jackpot. Matthias took his place among the highly respected apostles. Joseph, known as Barsabbas, but called Justus, doesn’t even become the answer in a biblical trivia question. He just finished second. So what happened to Joseph, known as Barsabbas, but called Justus? Folklore says he became a Bishop. Scholars insist he was never heard of again.  I bet he just continued doing what he had done all along. Folks like Joseph, known as Barsabbas, but called Justus often go unnoticed by those who write history. But not by God.

Every minister arrives at their new call ready to set the world on fire. What we soon discover is that the spirit of God was there before we arrived. We first meet the movers and the shakers in a congregation. They quickly tell a new minister what needs to be done and what needs to be left alone. These are the folks who are serving or have served as elders.  They are the backbone of any church.

Then are the folks who seem to show up any time the doors are open, be it a workday or a church meal. They quietly carry the load. Yet these folks, these irreplaceable jewels, are folks seldom remembered when it comes time to elect elders. In one of my earlier churches there was an elderly woman who seemed to always be pitching in, never missed worship or Sunday School but had never served as an elder. I asked the nominating committee if she might be considered and the response was, “She was once asked, but she said no.” Curiously I asked, “How long ago was that?” No one could remember. So I went to see her. She remembered she had been asked twenty five years before but at the time she didn’t feel women should be elders. I asked how she felt about that now. She said, “Some of our best elders have been women.” Bravely I continued, “So would you agree to be nominated now.” She smiled, “O no, now I am too old.” She continued to work in the shadows and I always thought what an opportunity had been lost just because she was never approached a second time.

        I wonder what those 120 folks saw in Joseph, known as Barsabbas, but called Justus. Can you imagine what an honor it must be to be one of two chosen from a group that large? I am only guessing but I figure he was chosen for one of two reasons. Since Judas was being replaced, the group might have figured it needed a treasurer. After the Ascension the task of spreading the name of Jesus had fallen squarely on the shoulders of the disciples.   Donations would be needed to run the group. When Jesus was around he seemed to pull fish and bread out of thin air, but now the disciples had to get organized. They needed spread sheets, flow charts, balance statements, and someone who could make heads and tails of all that information. The person who replaced Judas would need a degree in mathematics.

        On the other hand, maybe the group desired someone who believed in and practiced the power of prayer. Judas often divided the group with his questions and questionable antics. Perhaps the best choice was someone a bit more spiritual, a person who loved the Psalms, one who had a grasp of the Jesus’ parables. After all, there is more to spreading the word than reading a spread sheet.

        Nomination committees face a similar problem when choosing church leaders. There is the practical side of wanting someone who is task orientated. There is the sometimes forgotten responsibility of seeking out folks who can offer spiritual guidance to the congregation. Sometimes we are so task orientated, or so name driven, excellent choices go unnoticed.

        I wonder if that is what happened on that day between the Ascension and Pentecost. Two men were chosen. One was practical, one was a dreamer. Both possessed qualities needed and both probably had recourses that had gone untapped. One was about to become an apostle, the other historically forgotten. No one wanted to make the choice between the two, so Peter flipped a coin. Is it any wonder the next day God sent the Holy Spirit to remind them what the church does is much too important to leave to chance?

        During the next couple of weeks your Nominating committee will be compiling our elders for the class of 2021. It has been a delight to work with the uniquely qualified folks who have served as elders during my tenure. Some have been task oriented. Some have shown mystical qualities. Each has loved and served this church admirably. Now the time has come to call on four more folks as a continuing source of inspiration. You are a congregation driven by faith. While paying bills and making budget is important, it is secondary to the compassion and mission of this church. Today’s scripture reminds us there are always folks who might not seem to be the obvious choice but they are the person God wants us to pick.  Hear at Rockfish we understand the power of prayer and the necessity to dream.

        I have come to believe in God’s eye no one is too young to dream or too old to pray.  There is a Joseph, known as Barsabbas, but called Justin among us who might have been overlooked or perhaps gone unnoticed. I entreat each of you to be in a season of prayer. Allow the Holy Spirit to open your eyes. Look beyond the obvious and open your hearts to a seedling ready to blossom. Then contact a member of the nominating committee. They are anxiously awaiting your prayerfully inspired wisdom. This community of faith deserves better than a coin toss.  

                    To God be the Glory.  Amen.

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