Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Glory of Obscurity

Feast Day of St. Matthias, Apostle
February 24, 2011

The Lord be with you

Today is the Feast Day of St. Matthias, the man who was appointed by lot to replace Judas. According to tradition he was one of the 72 sent out by Jesus (Luke 10), which seems reasonable enough considering the requirements laid out in Acts 1:21-22. While tradition does assign certain deeds to him, for the most part he is a mystery. This is true of most of the Apostles (and most of us, if we are honest).

Today I read part of an address given by Martin Luther Koehneke (1916-1995) to the graduates of Concordia Teachers College in 1961. He had some great insights about this whole obscurity thing that I want to share with you. (It will help to remember that the word “apostle” means “sent one.”)

If I allowed you five minutes, could you name the twelve apostles? Peter, James, and John we know. Oh yes, there is another James, and then there is Matthew. If you could mention the others, how do you explain the way the New Testament permits them to appear on the stage of history as if they had dropped from the clouds, only to vanish as abruptly as if they had fallen through a trap door?

I should like to pursue this question a little further with you who have been summoned by the Lord and sent out by Him to serve, and discuss briefly the thought of The Glory of Obscurity.

Your purpose as a twentieth century apostle is the purpose of any apostle of any century: to bear witness to the Light. From beginning to end, the true Hero of the Scriptures is not men; it is God. Men are important only as instruments and organs of God. Christ is the Vine, we are the branches, and without Him we can do nothing. Nothing! But He is by His Spirit the sole worker in the progress of His Church. He builds, He sanctifies, He glorifies. And He must remain our strength, our wisdom, and our righteousness, our all in all, our alpha and omega. We are channels; He is the flashing water of life.
    “Thou are the organ, whose full breath is thunder;
    I am the Keys, beneath Thy fingers pressed.”
Ever since Christianity began, men have been talking as if it were at the point of perishing. But they leave Christ out of their reckoning. When you become conscious of your own weaknesses, are tempted to think of your tasks as heavy, or when you are complacent in your own power, or tempted to regard your task as easy, think of Him Who braces you for every duty and rebukes your easy-going idleness. Union with Him remains your only true strength, and oblivion of yourselves your highest wisdom.

No doubt those apostles who have no place in history toiled honestly, did their Lord’s commands, yet oblivion has swallowed it all. They became partakers of the glory of obscurity.

So will it be sooner or later with us all. Much of our work may go unnoticed and unknown. The memory of our service may live in the hearts of some few who loved us for a while, but will fade wholly when they follow us into the rest which remaineth to the people of God. The world has a short memory, and the saints of God can also forget.

The apostle of any century is not destined to be a man of notoriety, but of obscurity. The big issue is one of faithfulness if we serve either at a conspicuous or obscure post in the Kingdom. We need to be careless of praise or censure, because God is our Judge; careless whether we are unknown or well known, because we are known altogether by and to Him. He measures excellence by the quantity and quality of love poured into our ministry.

The final and great glory of obscurity is this, that forgotten work is remembered, and unrecorded names are recorded. The names of these almost anonymous apostles have no place in the records of the advancement of the Church. They drop out of the narrative after the list in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. But we do hear of them once more. In the last vision of the great city, we read that in its “Foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

When the Church reaches that great moment of final triumph, the works these men did will be forever remembered. Though unrecorded on earth, they are written in heaven.

The forgotten work and its workers are remembered by Christ. He is faithful, and He sees. He will never forget. …

But there is one other note of triumph of triumph for the apostle in obscurity. The faithful servant of his faithful Lord cannot be robbed of the blessings of faithfulness for the doer. Nothing done for Christ is ever wasted. What is done for Him leaves its mark on the doer. The act itself becomes its own benediction. The service is transformed into blessing. You cannot love another in the name of Christ and not feel the warmth of love’s rays. You cannot give a cup of cold water to the thirsty in the name of Christ without looking into His eyes.

(For All the Saints, A Prayer Book For and By the Church, Volume III, Year 2: Advent to the Day of Pentecost, The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 1309-1311)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

P.S. The Icon is of St. Matthias

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