• Steven Marsh

Connecting–Lack of Renown is Wondrous: a Reflection on Psalm 1, John 17:6-19, and Acts 1:15-17

In my life, I’ve struggled with ambition. Oh, ambition is important, but when it controls one’s every move, it’s dangerous. Until October 2010, who I knew, what church I served, and how successful I was in my career was an inner drive that truly was destructive. My self-importance became controlling, pride was deeply rooted, and “image management” ruled the day. Although I could not keep all the balls in the air, I tried. I was determined to be self-sufficient. And then I was fired for plagiarism in three columns I wrote for the monthly church magazine. Coming up on my eighth anniversary, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Should I say that my “renown” as a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister caught up to me?

The Hebrew word “Torah” is translated “law” in Psalm 1. The word “law,” however, does not capture the full meaning of Torah. Torah comes from the verb “to teach.” With that etymology, Torah implies the practice of instruction. Instruction captures a relationship between teacher and pupil. To be happy, one must be in relationship with the instruction of God. God is our teacher. We are God’s pupils. As trees are in relationship with “streams of water” and prosper, so will the people of God prosper as they are in relationship with God. According to Psalm 1, the wicked have yet to experience their salvation. Therein lays the urgency of our relationship with the instruction of God. We are to love others. Why? “…the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”[1]Loving others, then, provides an opportunity for those who are not happy, the wicked, to be encountered by God and just perhaps turn away from “wickedness” and turn to righteousness.

In Acts 1, the disciples are regrouping after Jesus’ ascension. They are still fearful, yet a bit more confident and “down one.” Judas had hanged himself. And so, they tended to their organization from a leadership perspective. They were mindful of their ancestral roots…the twelve tribes of Israel…the twelve sons of Jacob. After hearing Peter’s sermon, the 120 members of the community of faith recommended Matthias and Justus. They cast lots. Casting lots was a method used by the Jews of the Old Testament and by Christian disciples prior to Pentecost to determine the will of God. Lots could be sticks with markings or stones with symbols that were thrown into a small area and then the result was interpreted.[2]Matthias was selected. He was not well-known. We do not hear anything else about Matthias, this new disciple, in the New Testament. As Barbara K. Lindblad notes, “…we can be grateful for the witness of those who are so little known.”[3]

How easy it is to have disdain for the seeming “nobody’s” in our midst. How arrogant of us. Richard Lischer in his book Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey through a Country Church, writes about his coming to terms with having a PhD in theology and being bitter about being assigned to a small rural church in the middle of no-where. Lischer notes that in his first sermon he quoted James Joyce, Heidegger, Camus, and Walker Percy. Looking back on that first sermon and over the course of his tenure, Rev. Lischer realized that he failed to honor the ordinary people of faith who sat in the pews. There were the times they helped one another put up hay before the rains came, grieved when a neighbor lost his farm, and together, walked the fields every April, blessing the seeds before planting them. These are all signs of “church” that were worthy of mention in the Sunday homily.[4]Our everyday life occurrences are opportunities to be “church.” In the gospel reading, Jesus says when praying to his Father, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctifymyself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”[5]

Often, we lose the roll of the dice, just like Justus. I imagine, Justus continued to love Jesus and share his testimony with others. Often when I lose the roll of the dice, I stew in self-pity. How could I be overlooked, as if the rolling of the dice had any objective reality? Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

The heart of God is Jesus’s hiding place, a strong protective space where God is near, where connection is renewed, where trust, love, and self-awareness never die but are continually rekindled. In times of opposition, rejection, hatred, and danger, Jesus retreats to that hiding place where he is loved. So essential is this connection that Jesus encourages his disciples to take up the same practice of rest and respite.[6]

Yes, we must go to that “hiding place” but only for a season. And then reengage the world with the good news of Jesus for eternal and abundant life. Stuff happens my friends, but the testimony of God’s love for us and others goes on. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Psalm 1:6

[2]This definition of “casting lots” was adapted from the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry website, carm.org.

[3]Barbara K. Lundblad in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 529.

[4]Some ideas in this paragraph adapted from Richard Lischer, Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey through a Country Church (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 75.

[5]John 17:15, 18-19

[6]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 123-124.

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