“It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time ” Acts 1:21
George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”
All progress depends on unreasonable people– it’s an interesting thought. When you think back through history, when you think of explorers, and inventors and the scientists who made great breakthroughs, they were unreasonable people. Some were people who just didn’t conform, some were eccentric, some were regarded as being quite mad. Had they been reasonable, they would have accepted the world as it was, they wouldn’t have questioned what was seen as being the way things were by everyone else.
You have to be unreasonable if you’re going to make progress, because progress demands disagreeing with what everyone else thinks, it means disturbing people, it means annoying people. Being unreasonable means asking questions about what everyone else takes for granted; it means being prepared to say what no-one else has so far said; it means being prepared to go where no-one else has been prepared to go.
Exploration, invention, science, each demanded unreasonable people to make progress. Being unreasonable is also at the heart of the history of Christianity. Being a Christian is fundamentally unreasonable because what we say we believe simply does not fit in with the way our world understands things.
When we look at the first days of the Church, Matthias was an unreasonable man. Jesus’ followers are looking for someone to take the place of Judas and Peter says, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” There are two candidates for the job, Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.
Can you imagine the comments and the criticisms both of them would have got over the previous three years? Peter says that the person to replace Judas must have been with them right from the time Jesus’ was baptised until the time when he ascended into heaven.
What would Matthias’ friends have said to him? What are you mixing with those people for? Sure they don’t even count you as one of their number. Why are you always hanging around on the edge of things? Matthias, why don’t you take some good advice and go back to the day job? Nothing good can come from following that Jesus from Nazareth. Matthias, be reasonable, go home, go back to your house and your family and your work, do that religious stuff in your spare time.
Matthias is unreasonable, he is the most unreasonable of the Twelve because he had never been given any hope that he would be anything other than an unknown person on the fringe of things. There must have been moments when he got comments from the Twelve. ‘What are you doing here, Matthias? You’re not part of the group. You weren’t invited. Why do you keep following us?’ The Twelve included people like James and John, who argued about where they would sit in Heaven. If they had such petty squabbles among themselves, we can be sure that Matthias would also have been subject to comments and criticisms and snide remarks.
It is by being unreasonable that Matthias shows that he is faithful to Jesus; it is by being unreasonable that Matthias shows he is worthy of his place amongst the Twelve; it is by being unreasonable that Matthias is part of a group that progresses from being a group of wandering Jewish men to a worldwide movement.
If Matthias had shown proper sense and caution, he would have stayed at home and got on with sensible things and worried about getting that job on the house done that he had promised his wife he would do last year; and whether that young man down the street was a suitable match for his daughter; and telling the rabbi that synagogue had got very long on the Sabbath. Those would be reasonable things; being sensible means doing reasonable things, doesn’t it?
It’s because he was unreasonable that we remember Matthias today, it’s because he and the rest of the Twelve went around telling an astonishing story that we have a Church today. Being reasonable, most of them would have spent their advancing years catching fish in the Sea of Galilee; thank God they were unreasonable, or we would never have heard about Jesus.
We are a very reasonable church, the Church of Ireland is known for its reason, its common sense, its moderation. Perhaps the time has come for us to be unreasonable. If George Bernard Shaw is right, and progress depends on unreasonable people, then telling the story of Jesus in the 21st Century will mean doing things differently.
In science, in technology, in medicine, we don’t expect people to do things as they did fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. Our human bodies have remained more or less the same over the centuries, but we wouldn’t expect a doctor to treat us in the same way as he might have treated us in the 1960s. When it comes to the Church, we know that the Good News of Jesus doesn’t change, but we know that down through the centuries the Church has changed many times, yet we think we can carry on being the Church in the same way as we were in the 1960s.
It is time for us to be unreasonable and for each of us to ask serious questions about what is needed for our church to be able to carry on telling the Good News for generations to come. No-one is going to do that for us. Peter looked for an unreasonable man to replace Judas, “one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us”.
Following in the tradition of Matthias, we are called to be unreasonable people.
Sermon at Saint Matthias’ Church on Sunday, 24th May 2009