Acts 1: 15 – 17, 20-26 Blessed to Be a Benchwarmer Sunday, May 16, 2020

Blessed to Be a Benchwarmer

Acts 1: 15 – 17, 20 – 26


(preached May 16, 2021)

When I was growing up, summer was my favorite time of year.  I loved summer because I could play outdoors all day long.  Right after breakfast, I would head outside.  There were lots of kids in the neighborhood, so I didn’t have to go far to find somebody to play with.  Just about every day we’d get together for a game of baseball.

For the most part it was lots of fun, but one thing about those baseball games wasn’t so much fun.  We played in two opposing teams, of course, each one headed up by a captain.  At the beginning of the game, the captains would choose up teams.  The kids who could hit the ball and field it well were snapped up right away.  But those of us who weren’t the most athletic people in the world would stand and wait until somebody called our names.  We had to wait and wait and wait, hoping to be chosen.

In our passage for today, from the New Testament book of Acts, two men are also hoping to be chosen for the team.  Jesus has ascended to heaven and the disciples are gathered in Jerusalem.  With Peter as their leader, they’re beginning to plan how they will spread the good news of the gospel.  They know they have a job to do.  They want to carry out Jesus’ command to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).

The disciple Judas, who betrayed Jesus to the Roman authorities, is gone now.  They have to find a replacement for him.  There’s a lot of work to be done and they badly need another person who has known Jesus as they have. They need someone who, as Peter says, “was with us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.”  Two names are put forward:  Joseph called Barsabbas, and Matthias.  One of these men will be chosen to take the place that had been occupied by Judas.

In those days it wasn’t uncommon for people to choose leaders by casting lots.  Along with prayer and reading of Scripture, casting lots was a way of discerning God’s will.  The names of the candidates would be written on stones, and the stones were put into a vessel.  The vessel would be shaken till one stone fell out.  The person whose name was on that stone was the winner.

This day in Jerusalem, as they begin to organize the movement that will become the Christian church, the disciples cast lots.  The lot falls on Matthias.  Matthias is the one chosen to join Peter and the other disciples.  He is chosen to work on the leadership team of the movement that will tell the world about God’s love in Jesus Christ.

We don’t know how Matthias reacted when he was chosen.  Did he invite the disciples out to the nearest tavern where they could celebrate?  Did he withdraw to a quiet place, as he had seen Jesus do so many times, to give thanks to God and pray for guidance in his new job?  Whatever he did, we can imagine that Matthias was thrilled.

But what was it like for Joseph, Joseph who was also called Barsabbas, Joseph who wasn’t chosen?  He had also been a faithful follower of Jesus, as faithful as Matthias.  Like Matthias, he had traveled with Jesus and listened to his preaching.  He had cried after the crucifixion and laughed with joy when the risen Christ appeared.  As a faithful follower of Jesus, Joseph will continue to be part of the movement.  But now he won’t be one of the leaders.

He won’t be in the group that’s out in front.  He won’t be up there in the spotlight, where the action is.   It’s as if the disciples are saying, thanks very much Joseph, you’ve been a trouper, but you can go back to your normal life now.  We appreciate everything you’ve done, but the lot has fallen on Matthias and we’re all set.

Was Joseph disappointed?  If so, we wouldn’t blame him.  Instead of being first in the batting order, he was going to be sitting on the bench.  But I doubt that Joseph spent much time dwelling on his disappointment.  In fact, I have a strong hunch that Joseph continued on his way, at peace with himself and with God.  After all, as Peter said, Joseph was part of the group that had been with Jesus for all the time he “went in and out among [them].”  Joseph was there on the day Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan until the day he was lifted up from this world to be on high with God.  He would have heard many times from Jesus himself that he was a beloved child of God.  He would have heard many times about God’s unconditional love and acceptance.

Joseph was with Jesus at those dinners shared with tax collectors, prostitutes, and others who were outcasts in Joseph’s world.  He saw Jesus’ miraculous healings, where Jesus never blew his own horn, but always gave credit to the person who had been healed.  As Jesus told them, “go in peace, your faith has made you well,” Joseph would have listened carefully.

So, in all those days of traveling with Jesus, Joseph would have heard over and over again that all of us are loved, all of us are valued in God’s Kingdom.  All of us are loved and accepted, whether we’re in the spotlight or backstage.  All of us have a part to play in God’s holy project of redeeming the world.  In fact, often the people who are not center stage have an important role to play.

The composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein was once asked what instrument of the orchestra was the hardest one to play.  Without hesitation, he replied, “Second fiddle.”  He went on to explain.  “I can always get plenty of first violinists,” he said, “but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem.  And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”

Joseph had traveled with Jesus in the country, in the city, over mountains, by lakes, and in all kinds of places.  Touched by the risen Christ, he was convinced that nothing, not even death, can get in the way of God’s love for us.  He wasn’t chosen to be one of the twelve leaders, but he could still share the good news wherever he went: in the marketplace, on the road, and whenever he gathered with friends.  He might not be in the spotlight, but there was plenty of light he could bring wherever he found himself.  There were plenty of ways he could share the acceptance and love he had experienced in Christ.

You and I can see from the story of Joseph that we don’t have to be in the limelight to shine as beloved children of God.  We don’t have to be front and center to be part of God’s work of redeeming the world.  You and I can be part of God’s holy work from behind a desk, or in the halls of a hospital, or the aisles of a supermarket.

In the work of redeeming the world, each of us is essential.  God has created each of us to play, wherever we are, with all our might, in harmony, that the world might know the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ.


Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Easter 7


To the Poor a Lasting Treasure             – Francis Patrick O’Brien

Maria Ferrante, Soprano

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist