SCRIPTURE READING Acts 1:15-17,21-26
In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus … So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 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.
MESSAGE “Restoration” Rev. James R. Renfrew, Pastor
Do you recognize this? What is it? Of course! It’s an egg carton. How many eggs does it hold? One dozen. Doesn’t that seem strange? Based on our system of counting and calculating, shouldn’t it be ten eggs? But, no, eggs are sold by the dozen, in sets of “12”.
The key number in the story from Acts today is “12”. As with the egg carton, “12” is the key to understanding the story. “10” will only get you confused. There was something about that number 12 in the ancient mind that represented completeness, balance and harmony.
Of course, the number 12 is significant in the Bible as key stories unfold: twelve sons of Jacob, twelve tribes of Israel, named after Jacob’s twelve sons. Who can name them? Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Isacher, Zebulon, Benjamin, Dan, Gad, Asher, Joseph and Levi. And Jesus had twelve disciples, apparently demonstrating that the twelve disciples are the new Israel, just like the twelve tribes represented the old Israel.
The number “12” means more than that. Twelve is the number of months in the year, one of the earliest ways that people counted the passage of time. And our day is measured as two spans of twelve. Twelve hours before noon, and twelve hours after noon, and don’t forget that the seconds and minutes into which we divide each hour are also based on a multiples of twelve, not ten. There are twelve signs of the zodiac, and even in this modern era many people see these twelve signs influencing our lives. On top of that, the Chinese have a cycle of twelve years. We’re in the Year of the Dog, sorry cat owners, but we won’t return to the next Year of the Dog until 2030.
I always thought that ten was the basis of all human calculation, because of the ten fingers each of us has on our two hands. But as I learned last night, maybe not. Twelve turns out to have been the original key number.
I always wondered about the names we give to our numbers. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten. What comes next? Eleven and Twelve. But you’d think these numbers would be Oneteen and Twoteen, or tenty one or tenty two, but, no, they seem to maintain an earlier orientation to counting, in which twelve is the key. The earliest numerical systems going back to Mesopotamia were based on 12 rather than 10. My own theory is that ten is limited, you can only divide it into twos and fives, while twelve can be divided into twos, threes, fours and sixes, one of the most versatile numbers in everyday life. Much handier for commerce and sharing. I think the continued use of “dozen” for counting things like eggs still captures the old preference of 12 over 10. Also note that juries have twelve members, a tradition that seems to go way back in history.
In medieval times when an author used the word “hundred” it required additional specification as to whether that number represented 100 or 120. It was only when Arabic numbers spread into Europe around the 12th century that the number 100 became fixed in the way it is now, before that it could mean one hundred or one hundred twenty. You may noticed that the number “120” is also mentioned in today’s reading from Acts, more evidence of the essential role of twelve.
The importance of the number twelve helps to explain why the remaining eleven disciples felt completely out of balance after the death of Judas Iscariot. As you may recall, Judas was so overcome by guilt after Jesus’ death on the cross that he took his own life. With only eleven, the remaining disciples made it a first order of business to get back in balance again. And so Peter proposes that the number 12 be restored by selecting a replacement for Judas. The basic requirement Peter proposed was that it had to be someone who had been a follower of Jesus from the time he had been baptized and who had also witnessed the resurrection. Two of them qualified, Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. Then to decide between these two, they flipped a coin, and Matthias became the twelfth disciple. With that, the disciples were restored, and in Luke’s telling, they are now ready for the next chapter of the story of the followers of Jesus Christ: Pentecost. More about that next week!
Now, I want to step out of the world of twelves to make a different point about this story from Acts. It’s all about restoration. God creates. God also restores. Jesus called twelve disciples, and when the number was reduced to eleven, the number was restored. Now, this relates to you in the present day.
In several recent funerals I have looking to the 23rd Psalm for inspiration, particularly the verse about God restoring your soul.
Has anyone here ever been restored?
Vacations can do it. When you go on vacation, a week on the beach, a week traveling, a week camping, a week sailing or a week biking, a week spent with grandchildren restores you. You were feeling depleted, less than 100% and restoration is when your gas tank gets refilled.
I am one of the ones whose life was restored with the help of excellent medical care after a serious accident. Different ones of you have needed this kind of restoration after sickness or injury or struggles with mental health.
Maybe you’ve restored a car, or a piece of furniture, or even a house. Lately, our Trustees have been working hard to restore our church, with a new roof and new front doors.
But restoring the soul is more than the surface appearance, it’s at the heart of who we are, created in the image of God, but from time to time in need restoration.
I think that one of the reasons we come together for worship on a Sunday is to seek restoration, restoration from God who breathes life into our souls, restoration in Jesus Christ who offers healing and forgiveness, and restoration in the Spirit, giving us a family of faith and purposes to live for. forgiveness in the Spirit.
How is your soul doing today? I can run a diagnostic on my computer, but there’s no test I can give you to determine the health of your soul. Yet, I think I can ask you – flat out – how’s your soul doing this morning?, and I bet a lot of you would have an answer. A big part of why we are here is restoration, restoration of hope, restoration of peace, restoration of the heart, restoration of the mind, restoration of the soul. Why? Because that is what God does, it’s what God delivers, and it’s what gives life even in the hardest moments.
What are the ways that God restores your soul? These days I think for me it is mainly music that creates an opening for God’s restorative work, music that I listen to, and music that I practice, music that I share, music that I am teaching my granddaughter to love. It is through music that God restores my soul; how does God reach your soul? Prayer, meditation, poetry, gardening, singing, exercise, reading, cooking, painting or drawing, hiking and camping, traveling, playing with children & grandchildren?
The eleven disciples knew that they were out of balance, they needed their number to be restored. We no longer measure our faith or the quality of our ministry in twelves, as they once did, but we do seek restoration, and God offers it in Jesus Christ!