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Show and Tell

This is a picture of the twelve apostles, Jesus’ closest followers. Judas Iscariot was one of them. Judas’ story was terribly sad: he’s the one who betrayed Jesus on Maundy Thursday, and he died soon after that. In today’s story, let’s listen for a new apostle being named.

Scripture Reading: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26

This is a picture of Matthias, or like the others, it’s a picture of what we imagine he might have looked like. Let’s stick that on here in place of Judas.

But the story keeps going. God keeps on naming apostles. First there’s Paul, who became one of the most famous. He and the rest of Jesus’ disciples told the story to many others who came after them, and they became apostles in a way. And then there’s us! We can color our own picturesApostle Me like the rest of these and remember that we’re called to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with everyone.


I talked two weeks ago about how hard waiting is. It’s like this: three days into the wait for the Holy Spirit, Peter decides to act (actually, waiting three days is pretty good for him). He decides that we need another apostle. I’m immediately suspicious, because Jesus has just been here for 40 days. Why wouldn’t he have chosen someone if it mattered so much to have every chair filled on the Board of Apostles? And I think my suspicions are borne out, because Matthias disappears from the biblical record after this. We have some legends about him, and of course he matters to God, but it turns out he was not the leader we’d expect him to be.

In Peter’s defense, his reasoning is sound. Twelve is an important number, the number of tribes of Israel, so if the church is a kind of restored Israel, it’s incomplete now. And there’s nothing unusual about drawing lots – it was a standard way to discern God’s will in that time and place. Peter even has scriptural prooftexts for his plan (although of course there are plenty of other texts in the Bible).

The thing is, God has something else in store, plans much bigger than Peter’s human ideas. God will call another apostle, but not according to Peter’s plan. Peter wanted an eyewitness who had been a companion of the disciples from the beginning, but you’ll never believe who Jesus eventually chooses. Saul of Tarsus. We’ll meet this guy in a few weeks, but here’s the executive summary: he’s not an eyewitness of anything to do with Jesus except in a self-reported vision, and he’s an active persecutor of the church that is just taking shape. That’s the guy who becomes St Paul, the great apostle. In Paul, God moves on from what we expect and creates an expansive community of reconciling love for all people in a way that far exceeds Peter’s big ideas.

God’s love, worthy of the name Mother, transcends any barriers and routinely reaches beyond what we thought was acceptable. That’s the great theme of scripture, especially the story of the church, and it’s the entire life of Jesus in a nutshell.

I believe this love is acting right now, opening possibilities we didn’t imagine two years ago. Here in Minnesota, the state Senate will vote tomorrow to make us the twelfth state in the nation with marriage equality for same-sex couples. Much like with Peter’s attempt to choose an apostle, I think God is acting here beyond what the church can comprehend, and we’re going to be running to keep up with the Spirit. Of course, if you’ve been following the news, you know that the Presbyterian church is not subject to this bill. It’s clearly written to deal with “civil marriage,” and religious institutions have full jurisdiction over their own religious criteria. In our case, even after tomorrow we’ll still be prohibited by the Book of Order from recognizing a same-sex marriage. We have our own ongoing debate in the Presbyterian church, as we seek to reconcile what (I believe) the Spirit is doing all around us with what we read in scripture. My progress on this front has depended on realizing that more than my own sexual orientation is “natural,” that my friends Brian and Glen didn’t choose their orientation any more than Leanne and I chose ours.

But my joy at the prospect of marriage equality is not about sexual biology. The Bible is not a biology textbook. The Bible is a book about love, and my joy – my eager anticipation – today is about love. It’s about the love between Catherine and Kirsten, who were married three weeks ago in Iowa – a love that has already surprised their expectations about themselves and their plans for their lives. It’s about the love between Nancy and her partner, who nine years ago requested an expedited marriage license in Massachusetts so their civil marriage could take place on the 34th anniversary of their first commitment ceremony. It’s about the love between Megan and Sarah, who have been married more than once, whenever and wherever it has been legal. They said, “We’ll just keep doing this until it sticks!” It’s about to “stick,” as if their two beautiful and happy children weren’t enough to demonstrate that.

The Spirit of Love tends to surprise us. It upsets our ideas about categories of people: people whose loving relationships are different from ours; people who don’t experience Christ in the same way we do; people who have been hostile and even treacherous to us. The Spirit of Love reaches out to reconcile us to each other. God’s love keeps surprising us, because it’s far bigger than we imagined it could be. God is far more willing to embrace her people than we can reason out.

Because there’s one other thing I know this Mother’s Day: love is not about having good reasons and making sense. Even Peter made sense. But love is about love, and that’s that. Love is about giving new life to the world. So may the Mother’s love continue to flourish among us, now and always.