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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

More Than Twelve

Acts 1:12-17, 21-26

Everyone is in their seats. Within the crowd there is a mixture of anxiousness and excitement as they wait for what will happen next. The buzz intensifies as the time grows closer. Then the voice: “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on The Price is Right!”

It’s one thing to watch from afar and another thing to be called into the spotlight. Some handle it better than others. People jump up and down with excitement when their name is called, and they run down the aisle. Then they are asked to guess a price. Their self-confidence fades as they turn to look at the audience for help trying to identify a familiar voice among the many shouts of advice. It sure was easier to be one calling out than to be the one who has to make the choice. Choosing wrongly leads to groans and head shaking. Making the right choice puts you on the stage where you will be under even more scrutiny.

Not everyone relishes the thought of standing in front of a crowd. It can be an uncomfortable, even frightening place to be. I know. I’ve been there.

When I was in high school, I got involved in the drama department. I loved building sets, moving scenery, flying backdrops, and getting the props ready during the show. Climbing into the rafters to set the lights and running the light board was fun. Even doing sound was okay although I was nervous about missing a cue. But doing anything on stage with the lights on so I would be seen by the audience? Not a chance.

Then it happened. We were putting on the musical, “Once Upon a Mattress.” The story of the Princess and the Pea with songs and dancing. The director decided she wanted the set changes to happen with the lights on. And, since I had a lot of experience with resetting the stage for the next scene, she wanted me to be one of those in the spotlight.

For me, it felt like a fate worse than death. Not only that, she wanted those who did the set changes to wear costumes! My jaw dropped. This wasn’t what I signed up for! Being behind the scenes was where I belonged. On stage with the lights on was way beyond my comfort zone. I was ready to opt out. If not for the intervention of the technical director and a few of my behind-the-scenes friends, I would have. But the show must go on. So ,with quaking knees and huge butterflies in my stomach I put on my costume and soldiered on.

Living in our comfort zone is the preferred option for most people. Doing what is familiar, following the regular routine, is generally a low stress place to be. Disruption of the routine or changing the scenery is upsetting, stressful, and anxiety raising.

Just ask the disciples. They expected to follow Jesus in his travels for a long time. They enjoyed being in the background when he was in front of the crowds. Even when Jesus asked them to help out – like distributing lunch and collecting the leftovers – all eyes were focused on the teacher. That was their comfort zone.

Jesus, however, knew that things were going to change for the disciples. And change more quickly than they imagined. He knew the road ahead would include pitfalls, roadblocks, and challenges unlike anything else they had ever faced. He knew these last days with them would be the most important in getting them ready.

For the disciples, this would be like cramming for a final exam although they didn’t know the exam was coming. Jesus spent more time with them, taught them in more explicit terms than he had before what they would need to know after he left them. The volume of material to learn increased.

The most important preparation of all was prayer. Jesus spent much time in prayer for his friends. He prayed that all that he had shown and taught them would become a part of them – heart and soul. He prayed that they would be protected by God. He prayed for the strength they would need. Jesus surrounds the disciples with prayer.

Now here they are, discovering that the final exam they didn’t know was coming would be a practical. They would have to do all that they had learned. A multiple-choice test would have been easier! Not only that, the teacher was no longer in the room to answer questions.

The disciples were sure they needed more help. They felt like a piece was missing. A necessary part wasn’t there. There had always been 12 of them. Now there were only 11. The group felt the need to be whole again. They needed a 12th member.

The crowd in front of them was excited yet, at the same time, anxious. Waiting for what would be next. The spotlight was on the disciples. It was time to choose. To find the one voice that could help with the decision. The voice of Jesus.

Their new member had to be one of those who had been in the group that followed them from place to place. Someone who had seen what they had seen. Who had heard Jesus teach, saw the miracles, the cross, the resurrection, and had seen him rise into the heavens. One who had the experience and had seen the drama unfold before him.

As they surveyed the group of 120 their eyes landed on two men. “Barsabbas, Matthias, come on down…” One of you will join us. They cast lots and Matthias was chosen. An odd way to choose the new member of the group. Imagine choosing a new pastor by throwing darts or rolling the dice! God, of course, was involved in making the choice.

One hurdle jumped, albeit a small one. The group was whole again. They could embark on the journey ahead to…? They didn’t have a clue. The instructions Jesus gave them were to wait. Wait for his gift, the Holy Spirit. And then go and share what you have seen and heard. They had no idea what to expect.

Let’s turn back to the crowd. Any number of them could have been chosen. Many had the necessary qualifications. Two had been chosen, 118 had not. What were these others supposed to do? Go on their way? Wait for instructions? Wonder if they would be called on down later?

We, too, are part of the crowd. Those who have followed Jesus from place to place. We have heard what he taught, about his miracles, and the details of his death and resurrection. Our names could be called.

Guess what? Our names have already been called. We are now in Jesus’ spotlight on Jesus’ stage. We have our marching orders – go and share what we have seen and heard. Our practical exam is in progress. We’ve learned the material. We are able to take the exam. But are we willing? Maybe – it depends on what we have to do and how hard it is. If it requires stepping out of our comfort zone.

Jesus’ instructions are clear. No maybes. Go and do what he has shown us to do.

But Jesus, it is easier to pick and choose what we want to do. What we are willing to do. We may not like what you instruct us to do. Could we negotiate?

Jesus tells us to look around and he will show us what to do. Listen for his voice rising above all the others in the crowd. He’ll give us instructions for the road ahead. He has already given us the most important thing – the Holy Spirit. So go and do. The world awaits.

The world is a pretty big place. Deciding what Jesus wants us to do in our big world feels like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It is if we are looking by ourselves. But we aren’t. We have someone who is pointing to the place the needle is hiding.

Look around Jesus says. Pay attention to who you see and to what you observe. Connect the dots to what matters to you, what gives you joy. Go and do. Make a difference. Help change a life or two or three.

You may be shaking your head and saying to yourself, not me. I don’t have much to offer. I don’t have what it takes. I am anxious about disrupting my routine, of doing something different, of taking a risk.

A phrase we hear a lot these days is “the new normal.” What we knew as normal a year ago isn’t the same as it is now. The pandemic has changed our world and our lives. We see a different world than we saw before. Our “new normal” requires us to re-evaluate who we are and how we see others.

People’s needs have changed during the past year. Many small businesses have closed. People mourn the loss of friends and loved ones and that they couldn’t even say good-bye or attend a funeral. Loneliness is more prevalent than ever because people haven’t been able to see friends and loved ones. Children who have been doing virtual school may struggle with adapting to in-person school. Some may not have learned all they would have in a regular school year. Working at home has become wearisome.

Our heads spin when we look at all the changes and all the needs. Jesus tells us to go and do. Do what? Where do we start? We can’t possibly address all the needs we see when we look around.

I am sure the disciples felt the same way. They had seen so many needs as they travelled with Jesus from place to place. Looking around they see many of those same needs as well as people who were looking for direction now that Jesus was no longer with them. Go and do he had told them. Do what? Where do we start?

Start small, I think. We can’t address all the needs we see. If we try, we will give up and do nothing. Do something simple that might let someone else know that they are not alone. That they are thought of, cared for.

I worked at Starbucks for several years. Each morning, there was one man who came in and gave me an extra dollar to help pay for the drink of the next person in line. That next person was invariably touched by the gesture of kindness.

When I have gone through the drive-thru at Starbucks, I have often paid for the order of the person in the car behind me. It’s a small thing. I know that when someone in front of me has done the same for me it has changed my attitude about the day in front. I have even heard about long lines of cars where each driver paid for the one behind them. Think of how many people were touched by another’s gesture of kindness.

Each of us can do something to help another. Look around at the needs. At the people whose lives have been impacted by the events of the past year. Find something you can do to make a difference. Go and do. The world awaits.

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