In the Background

Acts 1:15-17; 21-26

There is a decent chance that you may not immediately recognize the name Eric Roberts.  If you saw a picture of him you he would likely look familiar, but you may not be able to place why you recognize him.   Eric Roberts is one of the most prolific actors in Hollywood.  The sixty eight year old actor has been in over 450 movies.  When TV shows are included his onscreen credits climb to 728, and with more than 80 projects somewhere in production he does not show any signs of slowing down.   With that many credits in a career spanning decades, there is a good chance that most of us have seen Roberts in something over the years.   Despite being incredibly prolific, the reason why Eric Roberts is not a household name is because he rarely plays the leading role.  Most of Roberts’ roles have been as supporting characters or as minor characters with only a handful of lines.  He tends to play authority figures such as politicians, doctors, priests, or mob bosses.  However, he is known for his adaptability and has played wide variety of roles in just about all of the genres.  Even though they are never the focus his believable performances tend to add a lot to the production which is why he seems to never have a shortage of work.

Often people go to Hollywood with dreams of making it big and starring in movies.  Eric Roberts ended up pursuing a different path.   Instead of being the big movie star, he became the most prolific actor of the modern era by being willing to play characters in the background.  As we seek to faithfully follow Christ and live out our faith in this world, I think there is a lesson there for us.  In a culture obsessed that measures success by being the biggest or having the most, we can learn that there is value to seeking an alternate path.  Eric Roberts might have a lot less headlining roles than today’s leading actors but he has arguably been seen by more people more often because of his consistency.  This morning’s scripture introduces us to Matthias, the forgotten apostle.  As we consider this earlier follower of Jesus, we might that we too do our best work from the background.

This morning’s scripture beings with “In those days”, the days in question are the ones in between the time that Jesus ascended into heaven and before the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost.  It is a bit of an “in-between” time for the disciples and the early church.  It is a time where they likely all found themselves asking “now what?”  The answer that it seems they arrived at is that they should replace Judas.  I guess this makes sense.  After all Jesus picked twelve followers to be his closest disciples.  In the gospels, they are regularly referred to as “the twelve.”   It must have important to Peter and the other ten remaining of the twelve to get back up to that number.  What I especially find fascinating is how Matthias is selected.  They narrow down the replacement to Judas to two people and then the scripture states “they cast lots”, which means they essentially rolled dice and Matthias got the high roll.  Believing that God’s divine will influenced the random chance he was accepted as the twelfth apostle, and then . . . that’s it.

Seriously, that it.  Matthias is selected to be an apostle and then never shows back up in scripture.   He is not mentioned by name anywhere else other than this single instance in this morning’s scripture.  Even church tradition, which tends to have a fairly strong memory for the lives of the apostles is fuzzy on Matthias.  One ancient source has him undertaking missionary work in sub-Saharan Africa, while another claims he helped establish the Armenian church in modern day Georgia, and yet another claims he was martyred in Jerusalem by a lance (or maybe an axe, again the stories are not clear).

However, there is some information we can infer about him from the scriptures.  This morning’s scripture states that Matthias was a follower of Jesus from the beginning.  Matthias was one of the first people to realize that Jesus was worth following.  When Jesus ascended to heaven, he was also there.   Matthias is not mentioned by name in the gospels, but we can infer that he was there.  For instance, in the gospel of Luke Jesus sends out 72 followers in pairs ahead of him to heal the sick, cast out demons, and proclaim the good news.   It very likely that Matthias was part of that.   In the same way when the Holy Spirit came upon the twelve in Acts chapter 2, Matthias was part of that.   Later Acts 5:12 states, “The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people.”  Again, that included Matthias.  Matthias was not originally one of the twelve, but he was a disciple of Jesus.   He was included as the one of the apostles and leaders of the early church in Acts.

Matthias is not recorded giving dramatic sermons like Peter or Paul.  He does not get name checked in any of the four gospels, and he does not have any specific miracles credited to his name.  The non-biblical stories of Matthias cannot even agree where he preached the gospel, but they all do agree he preached the gospel.   We honestly do not know much about Matthias, but what we can infer about him is that he was a faithful disciple.   He was never in the spotlight but he also was not just a spectator on the sidelines.  We can infer that he faithfully followed Jesus, not only that but he lived out his faith sharing the good news with people who needed to hear it.  Matthias was never the star of the show, he was not front and center, but he was an essential part of the early church.  In fact in every faith community since then, some of the most essential people who make the biggest difference are those who are in the background.   Again, I think this is a lesson we need to remember because we have some really strong cultural messages that tell us the opposite, and we even hear these messages in church contexts.

The whole idea of bigger is better, more is winning, and being number one is the most important thing is a notion that has really taken root in the American church.   Seriously, whenever someone finds out what I do.  The very first question is always how big your church is.  Every single time.  It is not how has your church served the community, how is the love of Jesus evident within the congregation, or how are disciples being made.  The first question is about numbers.  On the one hand I get it, numbers are important because numbers are people.  We should always want more people to come and know Jesus and we should always be willing to include more people into the community of faith.  On the other hand though, it should not be all about numbers.  Because often the question of size has the unspoken understanding that bigger is better and that success is only possible at a certain size.   This creates the illusion that something is only worth doing if it has the possibility of large numbers.   In how we live our faith out we should not be measuring success just by size, by how many people know our name, or how we can brag about being the best by whatever metric cast us in the best light.  There is no reason for us to assume that Matthias was anything but faithful in following Jesus, but he is not remembered and celebrated like the other apostles.  Despite that he still made a difference, he still shared the good news, and his witness was still a light shining in the darkness.

There is a tale that illustrates this.  The story goes that long ago there was a candle maker who lived far on the outskirts of a village.  The candle maker lived alone, but he did employ a young boy from the local village to help out around the shop with the hopes that someday the boy could be an apprentice.  At the end of the day there were often scraps of wax leftover that were not good for much, and the candle maker instructed the boy to clean up and throw away the mess.  After a few weeks of observing the candle maker, the boy cleaned up these scraps but instead of throwing it away he managed to fashion a little candle out of it.  To see his own handiwork the boy lit the small candle and put in the window.

The candle maker did think it was silly, the candle made from scraps was much too small to be of much use.  It burned out far too quickly, so the candle maker believed it not to be of much use.  He supposed that it did not hurt and gave the boy a chance to practice even if the candle was worthless.  This became the pattern the two fell into.  At the end of the day the boy would fashion a small candle from the scraps, and the candle maker would roll his eyes at how useless the small candle really was.  That is until one day a terrible winter storm came in.  The snow fell and the temperature dropped.  The boy was stuck at the candle maker’s cabin.  As night fell he lit his little candle and placed it in the window as conditions and visibility outside worsened.  Before the little candle burned out, there was a pounding at the door, the candle maker opened it to discover a half frozen traveler.   As the traveler came in and warmed himself by the fire, he explained how he had gotten lost in the storm, he feared the worst, but he had seen the light from the candle in the window.  Following that light is what brought him to safety.  In awe, the candle maker looked at the little candle made from scraps that was just about burned out in the window sill.  The candle maker had made many, many candles in his time but never had one of his candles saved someone’s life.  From that night on the candle maker never thought the boy’s little candles were a waste and useless.  Even after the boy grew and went off on his own, the candle maker kept making little candles out of scraps and put them on the window sill to be a light into the darkness.

In the story the candle maker dismissed the usefulness of the scrap candles because they were not as big or last as long as the candles that he made.   This story is a reminder that things worth doing are worth doing-even if they are not the biggest or the best.   Just because we can point to some other church with more people, some other person with a bigger platform and more followers, or some other organization with a bigger reach does not mean that we should stop ourselves from even trying.  Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and serving others with love in His name is ALWAYS worth doing.  It does not matter if our audience is 1 million or 1 the gospel is worth sharing.  It does not matter if we are new and inexperienced or the best in the world, serving others is always worth doing.  If our efforts to serve others and meet their needs only help one person, then it is worth it-because one light in the darkness is sometimes all it takes to make an eternal difference.

Even though he was not as well-known as Peter, John, or some of the other apostles Matthias faithfully did the same work for God’s kingdom as they did, and his contributions were just as valuable and important.   Matthias was not the kind of Jesus follower who was ever going to see his name in lights, get a book deal, or be nationally recognized as a difference maker.  Matthias is the kind of disciple we should seek to emulate.  A person who loves Jesus and faithfully works for Christ in the background.  Our legacies is not going to be measured in net wealth or awards garnered.  Our eternal legacy is going to be measured by the lives that we touched with the love of God.  So may we consistently and faithfully seek to share the good news and light candles that shine in the darkness.  May we seek to follow our Lord and savior.  May we let Jesus take the lead and do it all for his glory while we work in the background.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *