The George and Augusta Gibbs Society, a community of CDSP friends and alums who have remembered the seminary in their estate plans, met for its annual gathering on Wednesday, February 24.
The program included an introduction to CDSP’s new faculty members, small-group conversations with current student leaders, and the chance to participate in the school’s regular Wednesday midday worship—with special prayers for Gibbs Society members who died this year. The Rev. Linda L. Clader, PhD, professor emerita of homiletics and former dean of academic affairs, gave the sermon, the recording and text of which are included below.
Because the meeting happened over video conference, a much larger than normal group was able to convene.
“Pandemic fatigue and Zoom fatigue notwithstanding, I expect I am not the only person present who enjoyed connecting with such a large and geographically distributed network of friends who hold CDSP dear,” said the Very Rev. W. Mark Richardson, PhD, president and dean.
In addition to participating in the activities from the formal agenda, Gibbs Society members took advantage of ample opportunity for informal conversation. Many had not seen each other for years.
For more information about making a planned gift to CDSP, contact the Rev. Richard Schaper, Gibbs Society coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 204-0700.
Sermon by Professor Emerita Clader
Acts 1:15-26; John 15:1, 6-16
Another one of those red-letter saints who drift through the New Testament without a single spoken line. His claim to fame is that he was chosen to fill in for Judas, who is a somewhat more talkative character in the drama. But Matthias doesn’t say a thing that we ever hear about. Matthias doesn’t do anything that we ever hear about. So it’s kind of hard to identify with someone like that. It’s kind of hard to hold him up as a saint to emulate.
And it does seem that we want to identify with the characters in the story. At least, we want to identify with all the good guys.
Somehow, we want to believe that everything we read about in the scriptures is essentially about…us. Well, why else do we read them? How else could they be relevant?
Especially, I think, we identify with the people in the stories when they’ve been designated “apostles”. You know, the “Go out and preach to all nations” people. The “proclaim the Good News” people. (Let’s face it: the “be leaders of the Church” people.)
Say the word, “apostle” around a seminary, or around the church, and instantly you’re in the presence of people watching their own private dream-sequences—you know, visions of ourselves at the pulpit of Grace Cathedral, or Glide Memorial (or, maybe, the Lincoln Memorial); visions of throngs of children listening to us in hushed silence, or visions of ourselves at the head of a march on one or another “agent-of-injustice”: visions of heroism, and the hero is—me!
(I wonder if Judas Iscariot had such visions.)
The stories in the Book of Acts offer us plenty of pictures of heroic activities. We have Peter and John, preaching and healing in Jerusalem. We have Stephen, forgiving the people who are stoning him to death.We have Paul, speaking on the Athenian Areopagus and getting caught in a riot in the great theater in Ephesus, standing up to Greek officials, standing up to the Jewish religious authorities, standing up to the Roman Empire.
These heroes of the gospel offer us inspiring models. Models…of a sort.
And then here’s Matthias–and he was an apostle, an official apostle, and his story doesn’t excite much in the way of dream-sequences. It’s enough to make you wonder whether the “point” of the story (maybe) wasn’t to provide a hero to emulate at all. It’s enough to make you wonder whether the story actually might have a different point.
There are some clues in this Matthias-story. Take, for instance, the emphasis on the number 12. Why did Peter (and, apparently, the other 10 original apostles)—why did they think it was so important to bring their number back up to 12? As we ponder this question, we might add another thought: of the 12 apostles mentioned in the New Testament, 7 or 8 have speaking parts, and about the other 4 or 5, there isn’t even agreement on their names! Amazing–it seems that the number of them may actually be more important than who they were!
And there’s the matter of Matthias’ being chosen by lot. In the story, nobody makes arguments
about his worthiness to be one of the Twelve. Matthias didn’t become an official apostle because of anything he had done, or anything he had said. His only qualification was that he had been around to witness Jesus’ baptism and ministry and death and resurrection. And in all those stories about Jesus, not once was Matthias even mentioned.
We all–all of us here, even those of us who are occasional members of this congregation—we’re all caught in a trap: we’re all in positions of leadership of one sort or another in the church. And as leaders, we’re continually grooming ourselves, and being groomed to stand in the front, to carry the banner, to talk while others listen. This is all very conducive to identifying ourselves with apostles. Let’s face it: it’s also very conducive to identifying ourselves with Jesus.
But let’s be clear: the identification that Jesus himself invites us to make isn’t the heroic kind.
Jesus himself may have had secret dream-sequences about messiahship and heroism—
his equivalent of preaching from the pulpit of Grace Cathedral or carrying the banner against the injustice of his choice—he may have shared those heroic dream-sequences of ours.
In fact, the people who recorded the story of Jesus did say he flirted with those dream-sequences. But did you notice? Where was Jesus when he had those visions? He was in the wilderness—firmly, squarely in the wilderness, and the dreams he had were produced by Satan.
The identification that Jesus invites us to make isn’t heroic. Classic heroism is Lone Ranger stuff. That sort of hero has followers, not peers. At best, a hero can have a faithful companion, a side-kick. That’s not the life Jesus calls us to. Not to hero-ism. Jesus calls us, rather, to friend-ship.
Friend-ship is about being equals. About being open with one another. About walking shoulder to shoulder, or about taking turns going first.
Friend-ship is about choosing and being chosen. You know all there is to know about me,
about my weaknesses and my foibles, about my secret impulses to be a hero, about my fears and my longings, and yet you choose me, as I am, to take a walk with, to have lunch with, to go shopping with, to play tennis with, to hang out with, to share your dreams with.
And I choose you, not by overlooking your weaknesses, but by seeing you as you, as unique and individual, as odd and sometimes funny. I guess there is something in that, in that friend-ship,
about seeing you as a fellow child of God. A fellow saint of God, in fact. Before the life of heroism, before the life of apostle-ship, Jesus calls us to friend-ship. To be friends with him, to be friends with one another, to love one another as he loved us.
And there is death in this kind of friendship, Jesus warns us. There is death in loving each other–just as Jesus loved us.
Jesus calls us to a friendship that celebrates variety, and celebrates diversity, and still recognizes that before the variety, and before the diversity, we are one, in him.
You can’t live a life based on this kind of faith and still see yourself as the Lone Ranger.
There is a kind of death in this Christian friendship.
Now, Matthias, Saint Matthias—could he teach us something about this kind of death?
Matthias starts out as a replacement, chosen by lot, for Judas Iscariot, the greatest failure of all time. And that’s his big moment in the story.
He goes on to lose his identity, to lose his individuality, to become simply one of “the apostles.”
“The apostles,” who were in the business of spreading the Good News. “The apostles,” who were in the business of changing the world—as servants, as friends of their risen Lord.
If we’re looking for a model to emulate in our ministry, we could do a lot worse than to think about Matthias. Saint Matthias.
We could do a lot worse than to dream our dreams about leadership less and about friendship more.
We could do a lot worse than to meditate on what it might mean, and what freedom it might offer, to lose ourselves in the service—and friendship—of our Lord.