Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Barsabbas Moments -- the sacred opportunity of rejection" -- a sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 11, 2015

“So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”


What happened to Barsabbas?

Our reading from Acts tells the story of the disciples choosing a replacement for Judas. There are two finalists, Barsabbas and Matthias. They pray and ask God which one of these two should be chosen. Who should be the 12th apostle? And they cast lots, which was pretty much the first century version of flipping a coin and trusting God to guide the result.

Heads, Matthias. Tails, Barsabbas.

Heads it is. Matthias is one of the twelve. And he goes on to do great things.

Tradition holds Matthias planted the faith in Cappadocia and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea. Every February 24th, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthias and we pray “Almighty God, grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors.”

Matthias is remembered to this day.

But what happened to Barsabbas?

Barsabbas is never heard from again.

We’re a little schizophrenic about our faith. We hear Jesus say things like “the last shall be first and the first last” and “those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Paul gives us the beautiful image of the Body of Christ and says “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.”

The central image of our faith – Jesus on the cross – is the very embodiment of the worst of rejection. He is mocked, spat upon, nailed to a cross and killed and we call it his glory.

And we know all of this. And then what do we do? We turn around and we celebrate Matthias the winner … and we think Barsabbas is someone mispronouncing the name of the thief whom the crowd wanted released instead of Jesus.

So I want to spend just a few minutes this morning talking about Barsabbas. Because we don’t like to talk about Barsabbas. We don’t know what to do with Barsabbas. Most of us live in fear of becoming Barsabbas … or worse of being discovered that we have been Barsabbas all along.

That’s because Barsabbas was a loser. Literally. Barsabbas and Matthias both offered themselves for a position of great honor and difficulty. Matthias was told “Yes” and Barsabbas was told “No.” Winner. Loser.

So right there, we need to stop and own something.

Losing stinks. Not being chosen hurts.


Well, I suppose there are lots of reasons. When we get chosen, we get an opportunity and when we aren’t chosen we don’t get that opportunity. But I think we all know it’s more than that.

Not being chosen, whether it be in a job, in a relationship, in the church or wherever. Not being chosen taps into our deepest insecurities and triggers painful memories.

Not being chosen can fill us with embarrassment and shame. It can make us feel two inches tall and want to run away and hide.

Not being chosen stabs like a knife. It makes our hearts cry out “Why not me? What’s wrong with me? Why am I not good enough.”

Or even worse, it makes our hearts crumble and whisper: “See, I knew it, I’m not good enough. I was right all along.”

Not being chosen is like a giant amplifier for all the voices in our head and our heart that tell us we are less than, that we are unworthy, that we are unlovable.

Losing stinks. Not being chosen hurts.

And because we don’t like that. And because especially in the church where we are called to love each other -- and not choosing someone doesn’t feel particularly loving – especially in the church, we don’t deal with this particularly well. My experience in the church is we deal with – let’s call them our “Barsabbas Moments” – the experience of not being chosen, in one of three ways.

One, in the words of Brene Brown, we “silver lining it.” We tell people it’s not that bad, encourage them to see a bright side even if it takes some serious gymnastics to invent one.

Two, we offer consolation prizes. You didn’t get chosen for this? OK, we’ll give you this to make you feel better.

Three, we say and do … nothing. We don’t mention it because we fear mentioning it will be painful and make things even worse. So we just say and do … nothing.

Now all three of these responses have several things in common.

First, they are incredibly human and they are at least in part motivated by compassion. We hate to see each other in pain.

Second, they are each at least equally motivated by our own discomfort. We feel badly that someone else didn’t get chosen so we want to make them feel better so we’ll feel better.

Finally, none of these responses actually make it better and mostly they make things worse. Because, frankly, we all know when someone is trying to make us feel better and though we might appreciate the effort, often we end up just being more embarrassed and half the time end up reassuring them.

So what do we do instead?

We realize that our Barsabbas Moments are an incredible opportunity to lean into the deepest truth of our faith.

Hall of Fame baseball manager Sparky Anderson once said: “I’ve had to fire a lot of people. Most of them 18 year-old kids. When you tell them they can’t do it, they think you’re talking about life, when all you’re talking about is second base.”

Much of the time, not being chosen is painful because we take a single experience of “sorry, not this” and inside turn it into a rejection of who we are as a person. And that begs the question where does our sense of worthiness as people come from?

The truth we absolutely must remember is while we can and should affirm each other’s goodness and belovedness, if we are dependent on human beings for that sense of goodness and belovedness we will always be subject to brutal disappointment.

The deepest truth of our faith that our Barsabbas Moments invite us to lean into is that our goodness and belovedness come from God and God alone.

We can know we are good because God created us in the divine image and looked on us and said “this is very good.”

We can know we are beloved because for each and all of us, God loved us so much that God was willing to empty the divine self into human form and love us to the point of death on a cross.

Our Barsabbas Moments are opportunities for us not to lean on the admiration and adulation of one another but in those moments where we are feeling the deepest rejection to lean back into the loving arms of a God in whose eyes we are always good and always worthy and always deeply, deeply beloved.

And that is incredibly difficult to do. And that’s why we have to help each other. And we help each other not by offering consolation prizes or silver linings or silence but by speaking deep truths to one another.

We help each other by speaking the plain truth when we believe someone is not the right person for the job. And if those words are painful to hear, we sit together in the pain, letting words and tears flow as need be. Not offering a consolation prize or looking for the silver lining but just being with each other in the pain and reminding each other that even though any rejection can be hard, our goodness and our belovedness are never up for debate. Our goodness and belovedness were established by God in creation and sealed by Jesus on the cross. And let our steadfast love for one another, let our ability to sit in the pain and not try to fix it be the incarnational testimony to that.

One of the best leaders I have ever known is the Bishop of Nebraska, Scott Barker. I’ve known Scott for nearly 17 years now and I have seen him fearlessly speak difficult truths, take bold chances and offer himself up to the flip of a coin. And through it all he maintains a calm, deep faith and sense of self.

And so I asked him one day, Scott, how do you do it? How do you risk rejection and suffer disappointment so well? And he looked at me and said with utter conviction:

“Because I’m absolutely, positively sure that Jesus loves me.”

As we as a church cultivate that conviction in ourselves and one another. As we more and more joyfully embrace our Barsabbas moments as opportunities to lean into the arms of Christ , there will be no limit to what we can do and who we can be.

What happened to Barsabbas? We are Barsabbas. Rejected and hurting. Beloved and good. Letting the truth of Christ’s love take root in our hearts, in our lives and in this world.


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