Psalm 1 & Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26
“…And Then There Were 12”

“…And Then There Were 12”

Psalm 1 & Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ May 5, 2024


What’s in a number? Usually…a lot! You need 11 football players to make a squad, 5 hockey players to make a team, 11 soccer players to make up a club, and 12 to make up a basketball team. To go out without the complete number puts one at a deficit; you can’t complete the intended goal.


In scripture, there are few numbers more sacred than the number 12. Twelve were the number of tribes of Israel. One of our earlier songs was the familiar “To Abraham and Sarah”. Their son, Jacob, had twelve sons of his own. Each of his sons became the father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. And throughout the land of Canaan, as you can see on the map on the screen, each of the twelve Israelite tribes settled into a different region. The number 12 stands for Israel as the embodiment of God’s people blessed to inhabit the Promised Land.


Shifting now into the New Testament, the number 12 continues to be equally important! Reading from the Book of Acts, we remember that we find ourselves in a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. The writer of Acts is either the same as Luke or they write with his theological understanding in mind. And that belief is that Israel’s restoration has been placed in the hands of Jesus’ apostolic successors. Israel would be restored through the 12. The gospel of Luke concludes with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Acts picks up that narrative and shows how the restoration of Israel will occur through the 12. All 12 are essential for the body of Christ to be alive! Now, we have a problem. The twelve had shrunk to eleven. After Judas’ betrayal and subsequent suicide, the apostles number only 11. This morning’s text pertains to the election of that 12th apostle. Who would it be? The apostles come up with two worthy candidates. Perhaps it should be Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus or, it could be Matthias. They cast lots and then there were 12. Matthias was chosen. The circle was now complete, and Jesus’ ministry can proceed to be fulfilled through them.


But…what if? What if they couldn’t decide between the two? What if the vote was split. What if it was uncovered that one of the candidates was under some type of investigation? What if one didn’t pass the criminal records check? What if they just couldn’t decide on who the 12th should be? What if the Apostles only remained at 11? The Book of Acts was clear that they needed the entire group to be complete…they needed that 12th Apostle for Jesus’ ministry on earth to be fulfilled.


I wonder if we might consider the wisdom of this text in light of modern day. While the Protestant tradition does not have apostolic succession embedded in it, we do have a strong belief in the necessity of each and everyone one of the members of the body of Christ in order for it to function effectively. We need you! What if you were to consider yourself as the twelfth member? Have you ever considered your ministry as essential for the living body of Christ to thrive in the world? It is, you know!  


Easter is one of the special seasons in which we ponder the gift of New Life that God offers through the resurrection. However, as we draw ever closer to the gift of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost, we are reminded that we are part of that resurrected body of Christ. We are not separated from it! We are part of Christ’s living body on earth. Our ministry is essential for Christ’s mission to continue to thrive!


You might think of the special people whose ministry allows this church to thrive and serve so many! Think of the many leaders over the years who have tirelessly given their time, talents and treasure that we might fulfill Christ’s ministry in this little part of the world. Some of them are gone; many are here (in person and online) allowing this church to continue to serve in the varied ministry expressions that make us ‘Northwood’. We give thanks for each and every one of you. For your passionate commitment…for being that 12th member that continues to allow us to complete the work of Christ.


Christ’s work doesn’t just occur in and around the church. Christ’s work occurs in the day in/ day out living that we do in our workplaces, communities, and families. Perhaps you might think of an opportunity that God has placed in your path to be that 12th member serving in Christ’s community? When did you show up with Christ’s love and compassion? When were you a neighbour to someone in need? To someone who was a stranger? When did you enable Christ’s love to be poured out?


This might seem like a tall order. You might worry that you don’t have it in you? That you aren’t worthy to be an extension of Christ? How could Christ use ‘little old me’ you might wonder? It might be helpful to be aware of the “Dei of Divine Necessity” which stipulates the two credentials required for the choosing of the successful candidate. Firstly, the one chosen will have accompanied the Apostles through Jesus’ life. The candidate would have been there from Jesus’ beginning… his baptism by John until his Ascension into the heavens. The second credential is that he would become a witness with the 11 to Jesus’ resurrection. The reason that I share these standards is that, ironically, not even the Apostle Paul could have met this standard! Yet, Paul became an essential element of the church and the body of Christ would not have unfolded as it did without him! You are indeed worthy and essential for the body of Christ to thrive on earth!


You are essential for the unfolding of the body of Christ. You are here for a purpose. Christ is calling you right now! We commenced with the consideration of the power of numbers in different sports: basketball, hockey, football. Football has another interesting number that, I think, is informative for us. As we know, 11 football players are on the field as a team plays offense or defense. There is a special assignment, though, for the 12th player in that sport. The 12th player is the fan. The fan is the one who elevates the spirits of the players on the field; the 12th player is the one who cheers and waves and encourages the athletes; the 12th player reminds us that there is no room for spectators…we all participate in the victory that the team seeks!


I wonder if we might take the wisdom of this to heart? The circle is not complete without you! What role will you play? How will you live as Christ’s disciple? How will you be a part of Christ’s body each and every day? Indeed, it shifts as we age: we might do certain ministries in our youth and different ones as we are older. The common thread is that we always have a ministry as long as we live and serve as Christ’s disciple. What was yours? ~ May we celebrate that! What is yours today? ~ may we live that essential ministry today!


It is perhaps most fitting to close with the blessing of the 16th Century Spanish Saint: Teresa of Avila who reminds us: “Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world; yours are the feet with which he walks to do good; yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes. You are his body. Christ has no body now but yours.