Sermons from San Diego

Mary Magdalene and Peter Armwrestle

April 14, 2024 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ
Mary Magdalene and Peter Armwrestle
Sermons from San Diego
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Sermons from San Diego
Mary Magdalene and Peter Armwrestle
Apr 14, 2024
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

Peter decided what criteria should be met for a 12th apostle to fill the seat of Judas Iscariot.  He overlooked the one and only candidate that should have been considered.  Why?

Read text from Acts 1

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Show Notes Transcript

Peter decided what criteria should be met for a 12th apostle to fill the seat of Judas Iscariot.  He overlooked the one and only candidate that should have been considered.  Why?

Read text from Acts 1

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from Mission Hills UCC

San Diego, California


Rev. Dr. David Bahr


April 14, 2024


“Mary Magdalene and Peter Armwrestle”


Acts 1: 15-16, 21-26 – The Message

15-17 During this time, Peter stood up in the company—there were about 120 of them in the room at the time—and said, “Friends, long ago the Holy Spirit spoke through David regarding Judas, who became the guide to those who arrested Jesus. That Scripture had to be fulfilled, and now has been. Judas was one of us and had his assigned place in this ministry.


21-22 “Judas must now be replaced. The replacement must come from the company of men who stayed together with us from the time Jesus was baptized by John up to the day of his ascension, designated along with us as a witness to his resurrection.”


23-26 They nominated two: Joseph Barsabbas, nicknamed Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, O God, know every one of us inside and out. Make plain which of these two men you choose to take the place in this ministry and leadership that Judas threw away in order to go his own way.” They then drew straws. Matthias won and was counted in with the eleven apostles.

After the resurrection, Jesus spent another 40 days with his 11 remaining disciples and many more followers before leaving them to figure out how to keep his message going:  Love one another as I have loved you.  They returned to Jerusalem and gathered.  The Book of Acts says there were about 120 in the family of believers at that time – named as both men and women.  Peter stood up and said they should choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot.  Peter told them his criteria and to cast lots – think of it like drawing straws.  As in, the one with the longest straw “wins.”


Did you know that the Amish choose their pastor by casting lots?  The way I heard it told, and I could be completely wrong, is that a slip of paper is put into a hymnal.  A stack of hymnals is put on a table and then all men over a certain age go forward and choose one.  When every man has a hymnal, they open it up and the one with a slip of paper becomes the pastor.  It doesn’t matter how qualified that man may be, they believe that because God has done the choosing, God will give that one all he needs.  Of course, what about the women?


And what about the women among the 120 gathered in that room in Jerusalem?  Peter addressed them, “Brothers and sisters,” the person to replace Judas could include anyone who had been with Jesus since his baptism and who stuck with him until the moment Jesus just ascended.  Anyone who fit these criteria could become among those who now go forth to share the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.  


Oddly, that would have included no one in the room.  At our bible study on Thursday, Rachel pointed out that no one was with Jesus at his baptism since it happened before he began his public ministry and began gathering disciples.  I had never noticed that before.  


And if we look more closely at Peter’s criteria, the only ones eligible on the second point would have been women.  While the men had locked themselves behind closed doors, only women stuck with Jesus through it all.  It was only women who discovered the empty tomb.  And women were first to preach that Jesus had risen to men who thought they were telling idle tales.  More importantly, Jesus appeared to only one woman in particular on the morning of his resurrection.  In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene, named as present in every gospel…  Jesus appeared to Mary, the one and only one who should have been named the 12th apostle.  But as Renita Weems said, they chose what was expedient over what was prophetic.  


Perhaps a power struggle could have been settled if just one man had stood up and said, “What about Mary?”  The history of Christianity would have been radically different.  Overnight, the false argument that women can’t be ordained because Jesus only had male disciples would be gone – an already absurd argument given the unwavering faithfulness of his many women disciples.  Just one man to say, “How could we not consider Mary?”  


You may or may not know that there were more than four gospels written.  Four were included in the official canon – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – but other gospels were written.  For example, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, which portrays the actions of Judas Iscariot in a very different, and positive, light than the others.  And a Gospel of Mary – Mary Magdalene.  She didn’t write it – it came after her death, written in the second century, just like the Book of Acts was written in the early second century.  But it tells a story lost – perhaps intentionally lost as Mary was minimized in that room of 120.  It was just the beginning of Mary’s character assassination and the start of a betrayal of Jesus’ egalitarian intentions.


There are only fragments of the Gospel of Mary,[1] but this is what we know:  Just like today’s text began, “Jesus departed.”  Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Mary continues:

1) But they were grieved. They wept greatly, saying, How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If they did not spare Him, how will they spare us?

2) Then Mary stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brethren, “Do not weep and do not grieve, for His grace will be entirely with you and will protect you.

3) But rather, let us praise His greatness, for He has prepared us… (skipping ahead)

5) Peter said to Mary, “Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. 

6) Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them.”  (Peter admits she knew more than the men.)

7) Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.”

8) And she began to speak these words: “I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to Him, Lord I saw you today in a vision. He answered and said to me,

9) ‘Blessed are you that you did not waver at the sight of Me. For where the mind is there is the treasure.’”  


The next fragments are lost, but when it resumes in chapter 9, she concludes telling them what Jesus told her.  2) But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, “Say what you wish about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.”

3) Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things.

4) He questioned them about the Savior: “Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?”

5) Then Mary wept and said to Peter, “My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?”

6) Levi answered and said to Peter, “Peter you have always been hot tempered.

7) Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries.

8) But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well.

9) That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and go as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.” (that was repeated several times in the Gospel of Mary – no other rule or law beyond what Jesus himself said)

10) And when they all heard this, they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach.  


Thank goodness that at least Levi spoke up and defended Mary, accusing Peter of treating Mary like their adversaries.  And did you notice Peter’s comment – do you really think Jesus preferred Mary to us?  Why wouldn’t he?  Her devotion was unfailing and she deserved to be named the 12th apostle.  But the power dynamics revealed in the Gospel of Mary are pretty much what we might expect.  


Jesus’ intention for those who followed him were radically egalitarian, upsetting the status quo in many ways, including the patriarchy.  But as time went on, the farther the church got from Jesus, the more anti-woman it became.  The final nail in the coffin for Mary Magdalene came from Pope Gregory in the year 591.  He claimed that Mary was a prostitute – a complete fabrication.  A total lie to discredit women.  But with that, her character assassination was complete.  The doors to women completely shut.


Though Mary wasn’t named the 12th, scholar Therasa Topete makes the following points:[2]  When Mary stood up to speak, she had a leadership role among the apostles.  She spoke of courage to a group that was distraught and afraid to stand firm.  They listened to her and believed that she had knowledge the others did not have.  They acknowledged she had received a revelation through a vision.  Only someone with strong moral fiber and considered a pure soul was considered worthy to receive revelation.  It wasn’t the revelation, though, that Peter attacked.  It was that she was a woman.   If only they had arm-wrestled to settle it.  I put my bet on her.


Yes, the Gospel of Mary is not in our Bible, but its existence along with other writings that were not included show the struggle to fulfill Jesus’ vision against the prevailing attitudes toward women at the time.  That still plague much of Christianity to this day.  Thank God the UCC has ordained women since 1853, through our Congregational tradition, since before Arizona adopted a code of laws or was a state.  And do you know why Antoinette Brown, the first woman ordained in the Congregational Church of South Butler, New York, was allowed to be ordained?  One male pastor stood up and said, “Wait a minute.  Women were the first preachers of the gospel.  Why would we not ordain her?”  He didn’t say it, but we could add, just look at Mary Magdalene.


As the role and rights of women in church and society continue to be the subject of debate, let’s make it simple.  What would Jesus do?  The Gospel of Mary has great advice:  “Let’s not lay down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior himself said.”


Oh, and by the way, that 12th apostle chosen by lot – which one was it again?  Don’t worry.  His name was never mentioned ever again.  Instead, let’s remember and honor Mary Magdalene’s extraordinary witness as we preach the good news of Jesus Christ.  Are you a disciple of Christ?  Then treat one another – everyone – as you would like to be treated.