The First Letter of Matthias to the Church in Chattanooga

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1. Matthias,

called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, by the eleven who remained after the death of Judas, through the casting of lots.

To the Church that is in Chattanooga, to those who call themselves Disciples, called to serve and proclaim wholeness in a fragmented world, together with all of those who are welcomed to Christ’s table as guests, for there is but one host, and that is Jesus Christ.

I know that you have long waited for me to write, and that you have waited longer for me to come to be with you, for you have many questions for me.

As one who was called late as an Apostle, after tragedy, (after a game of dice, even!), I can only come to you in humility and in fear and in much trembling.  But I can tell you, too, that I was there from the beginning, Baptised by John, and following Jesus even to the day he was taken up.  I proclaim the Resurrection.  That is my call.

No doubt you have heard legends and rumors and stories of my demise, but I appeal to you to consider that despite the time that may have passed from my call to proclaim the resurrection to the time when you are called to practice resurrection, to proclaim wholeness, to serve Chattanooga and the world, that I write to you. 

There are those letters that an apostle might write in order to teach; there are those letters that an apostle might write to comfort those who are afflicted with the grace of the resurrected Christ; there are those that an apostle might write to afflict those who are comfortable with the reminder to hear Christ’s righteousness—God’s Way, God’s Call.  There are letters that call you to love one another.  There are letters that remind you that Justice is what love looks like in public life.  But this is not a letter to admonish you about love, but to write of the love I, an Apostle, have for the church, your congregation, in this season of ministry.

—-

2. For it is

in the close of this season in which you celebrate Christ’s resurrection that this letter finds you.  You are peering over the week toward the day of Pentecost, when you will celebrate the spirit that burns between you.  You will celebrate the church that I knew, that lit up my life like fire, and you will celebrate the church that you know so well.  

I celebrate with you, friends, for I have seen that spirit among you.  I have seen God’s love among you:

I have seen you feeding the hungry.  I have seen you open the doors of your church to students, to families, to children, to mothers, to widows, to those struggling with addiction, to anyone who is seeking God, or seeking new life, or seeking a hope they don’t have words for.

I have seen you care for one another, from the tender way you prepare your sanctuary, to the way you open the door for one another, to the way you greet a stranger with a smile or a touch, to the way you offer one another coffee, especially on the cold mornings.

I have seen you care for this place, always making it a place filled with light, always lifting your voices and lifting the sounds of the pipes so that songs of praise fill this place, in the stories told in carved wood, in perfectly preserved chrismons, in the echoes of stained glass prism.  I have seen you, clearing and planting, never forgetting the names in the garden of those gone before, those beloved saints, those who taught you resurrection.

I have seen you look for them, as you clear away the weeds.  As you do the work of the gardener.

And I have remembered that Mary mistook Christ for the gardener on the morning of his resurrection, and I have asked, is it perhaps Christ the I have see in all of your care? And is it resurrection that I see in all that you do?

3. But even as I

have seen the ways you proclaim new life, Chattanoogans, I have also seen you struggle. Many of you have known this church most of your life. I have seen you pause in the garden as you’ve passed a familiar name.  I have seen you pause and  put your hand on the cracks in an aging wall.  I have seen you pause as you look over a financial statement, another bill to repair the heating system, or a shorter attendance role for the Christian Women’s Fellowship.  I have seen you love the place you call “your church.”

And many of you have just recently found this place.  I have seen you as you walked in for the first time, wondering what to expect.  I have seen you learn new ways, new songs, perhaps feeling the words on your tongue like a brand new foreign language.  I have seen you pause in the sanctuary, wondering if you hear more of something new or more of something familiar.  I have seen you pause as you ready to claim your own voice, to feed the ones who welcomed you for the first time, and to call this place, for the first time, “your church.”

I have seen you look for one another in the pictorial directory, mispronouncing one another’s names.  I have seen you wonder aloud at timeless traditions and new ideas.

I have seen you as you’ve heard the statistics of shrinking churches all over North America and as you’ve seen the calendars stuffed full of Sunday morning soccer games or weekend trips or work commitments or brunch reservations.  I have heard you talk about emergent church or millennials or the ways things used to be or what the church is and what it is supposed to be.

I know of your fears.  I know of your hopes.  I know of your grief.  I know of your love.

And I know you find them all in this resurrected body, for I see in you what I am called to proclaim.

4. And I appeal to you

to consider this, because I know you know now that it is all of these things that I preach.  Though I may be the last of the apostles called, I am the first to tell the truth. 

And I tell you the truth in this: As one called to be an apostle, I was called to constant change.

I was called to change when John called me to the water to be baptized.

I was called to change when I took up my staff and followed Christ Jesus into the wilderness, heard him preach on the plain, followed him to the horrors that we found in Jerusalem, and saw in him a love that the tomb could not contain.

I was called to change by the resurrection, and called to proclaim that the resurrection would and will change the world.

And in following that call, I have heard echoes of the call of Israel:

For Israel was called out of slavery into uncertainty and found new life.
Israel heard that call sung by the prophet Moses, who was himself changed,
caught by surprise by a burning bush—the gift of a God who is beyond what we can imagine

Israel challenged that change, longing when they were uncertain and hungry, in the desert, to go back to the world they knew, even though it meant slavery.

And they tried to trap the God who had freed them by making the form of a Golden Calf.  Repeating an Old Way when they were called to something new.

But God reminded them that only by changing would they find the promised land.

And I have become one who sings that ancient song:

A wandering Aramean was my father,

he went down to Egypt and sojourned there,
he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon
they became a great nation, mighty and many.
And God took us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and long arm, terrible and great,
with signs and miracle-wonders.

And he brought us to this place,
gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.

And along with my ancestors, I say:

So here I am. I’ve brought the firstfruits
of what I’ve grown on this ground you gave me, O God

Even as I look for the gardener, I am called to tend the garden.

We are called to be changed, beloveds,and we are called to change the world.

So though, in the days to come, you will be asked to change in ways that may pushcand stretch you.

There may be goodbyes to governance structures and ways of doing things.

Though there may be familiar building smells to say goodbye to, I ask you to imagine what milk and honey taste like.

Though you may sing new songs, remember that that was what the Psalmist longed for!

To sing a new song!

5. I give thanks

for each of you
with every breath.

And so I implore you to give thanks for one another
and to give thanks for those whose names you haven’t quite learned yet.

Give my greetings to all of those who serve, in an abundance of love, the deacons, the elders, the teachers, the choir, the covenant groups, the children, and of course, everyone named Betty or Gail, for you also share an abundance of those names.

And while I am yet to get there to greet you, know that I, as one late to be called as an apostle, one who is called to proclaim resurrection, Sees NEW LIFE in you.

Christ is among you, though I may never step foot in Chattanooga. 

Greet every stranger you meet as if you are greeting the Christ, and remember that you are the very body of Christ, welcoming one another to the table for the feast. 

May you discover that despite my absence, you are greeting me in that way, proclaiming that very hope that I am called to proclaim, and may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, be with your spirit, sisters and brothers.

Amen.

Author’s Note:  According to the Book of Acts, the early followers of Jesus drew lots to decide which of two followers would replace Judas as the twelfth Apostle, and Matthias, who had been baptized by John the Baptist and had witnessed the resurrection, was chosen.  There’s nothing else in Acts (or in the Gopel Accounts) telling the story of a Matthias.  I preached this as a sermon a week after concluding a class on how the New Testament was written, which included a brief discussion of non-canonical texts.  I introduced this letter as a non-canonical, pseudepigraphic text that hadn’t been studied by scholars that I was reading aloud in lieu of a sermon.  By the time I mentioned Chattanooga, I think most people had figured it out.

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