The Background

Scripture: Acts 1:15-17; 21-27

Earlier this year, I observed something that I thought I would never see happen.  I saw long time Colts fan give Tom Brady begrudging respect.   While there overall opinion of him might still be slightly deflated, winning his seventh super bowl with Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year caused even his toughest critics to admit that he is kind of good at throwing a football.  Winning the 2021 Super bowl firmly cemented Brady as the player with the most super bowl rings, but he is not the only person with seven Super Bowl rings.  Winning Super Bowl 55 allowed Tom Brady to tie Neal Dahlen.   The eighty-one year old also has seven Super Bowl rings.  Now Dahlen’s football career actually ended in college, though he did coach at the high school level before taking a part time front office job with the 49’ers in 1979.  He spent the next twenty years in administrative positions for the organization and during that time the team won five Super Bowls.  Neal then finished out his career with the Denver Broncos where he served as the general manager and while there the broncos won two Super Bowls.  For several years Dahlen held the record for the most Super bowl rings ever.

I appreciate that when professional sports teams win championships the win is credited to the entire organization, not just the players.  Players like Tom Brady get a lot of the media coverage, name recognition, and glory for the championships but the reality is that it takes more than just a star player to win.  In professional sports teams behind the players are dozens of coaches, trainers, and support staff.   Most of these people never get coverage on Sports Center but they all play a critical part in the team’ success.  If Tom Brady is able to continue to prove he is the best quarterback of all time and go on to win that eighth super bowl ring, it will only because he has people like Neal Dahlen behind him in the background who help make it all possible.

I think there is a faith lesson there for us.  I also think it is an especially important faith lesson for American Christians.  We live in a culture that chases fame, purses winning above all else, and idolizes ambition.  Our society is one where second place is the first loser, and participation awards for a job well done are mocked not celebrated.  We could stand to learn a lesson about the importance of being in the background and I think this morning’s scripture about Matthias is the lesson we need.

I find a lot about this morning’s scripture fascinating.  It begins 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 in the background.  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 one of the twelve, but he was a disciple of Jesus.  He followed Jesus and was a witness to the resurrection.

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.  He acted upon what he believed, he did good in the world and shared the good news that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sin and life eternal.  We should be more like Matthias.

Matthias was not front and center and he was not the spokesperson, but he made a difference from the background.   Just like all the members of the organization make it possible for a sports team to win, Matthias 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.

Every year I am required to complete so many hours of continuing education.  A couple of years ago one of the ways I met this requirement was attending a Christian Writing Conference.  While it was an overall worthwhile experience, I did find some of the messaging concerning.  One of the major messages communicated was that if you have something important to say, the only way to get people to hear it is to have a platform.  A lot of the content of this conference had less to do with how to communicate Christian truth in writing and more about how to self-market and make oneself into a brand.   The message communicated, intentionally or not, is that your writing-your message- is only worthwhile if you have a large audience.  This feeds right into the message of the greater culture, which is obsessed with being the best, with being a winner, and with having the most likes/follows/subscribers.  I think  this message keeps a lot of people from sticking with something or ever starting, because if they feel like they cannot do it at the level of the best or the biggest then why even try?  We get this notion that the only things worth doing are the things we can do well.

I reject that notion though, because the things worth doing are worth doing.  It does not matter if someone else is doing it bigger, better, or with more fanfare.   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.  It does not matter if we never build a platform, leverage our own brand, or gain name recognition.  Because as Christians, our life should not be about impressing people anyway-it should be about faithfully following our savior.

Often following Jesus will lead us not to the spotlight, but to the background.  Serving in the background will not garner us a lot of fanfare, but it can absolutely make an enteral difference.  Anne Lambert is an example of this.  Before her passing in 2013, she was not famous, she did not a strong personal brand, or a large social media following.  However, she impacted the lives of many people.  I know this, because I am one of them.  You see, Anne Lambert was my Sunday school teacher at Milan United Methodist Church when I was a child.  I was very little, so while I do not remember the specifics of any of those Sunday school lessons, I do remember being impressed upon me the importance of following God and I remember feeling cared for and valued.   For decades she taught Sunday school and touched the lives of many children now grown.  She contributed to my faith development and to who knows how many others.  She faithfully served Jesus, told children about his love, and made a difference in the world.  She did it all from the background, and I fully confident that when her course on earth was finished she heard her savior say, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

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.  The same is true for the thousands of faithful disciples like Anne Lambert who live out a life of faith by loving Jesus and loving others.  Nearly all of these faithful workers for Christ do it in the background, they do not gain accolades, they are not famous, and they do not have a personal brand with a lot of followers.  Yet all of them make an enteral difference.   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 what about you?  What is the eternal legacy you are building?  When your finish your course on earth and stand before Jesus, what have you done that will lead him to say “Well done”?   There are so many ways that we can share God’s love, put others first, and make a real difference.   If you already doing this, then you are likely doing it in the background. A lot of people probably do not see and they are not aware of what it is you are doing.  If that is you then:  Thank you.   Even if your contributions are not seen, I am grateful for all that you do for God’s Kingdom.  I am thankful for you, for your faithfulness, and for the difference that you are making.

However, if you know that you could more faithfully follow Jesus by living out your faith in action or by sharing the good news with others then there is no better time like today to start.  If you need help finding your place to best do that, then let’s talk about it and I would love to help you discover where and how you can serve.  But remember we do not engage in work for God’s kingdom because we want fame and acclaim.  We do it to faithfully follow our Lord and Savior.  We let Jesus take the lead and we do it all for his glory, while we work in the background.

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