Sunday after the Ascension

May 13, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

They do not have church buildings, but instead meet in their homes.  A gathering of Amish Christians come together with a purpose – to elect their bishop, their leader.  The names of several men are put forth.  Each name is written down and put into a Bible.   The Bibles are then presented to someone who picks one at random.  The person whose name is in that Bible is now the new bishop for that group of Amish.

That sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?  It sounds like the way in which the apostles picked Matthias to take Judas’ place among the twelve.  I consider this to be the first election of a bishop.

Bishops are important in many different parts of the Church.  I just spoke about bishops in the Amish tradition.  We know that bishops play a strong role in the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the Bishop of Rome.  Bishops are also important in the Orthodox Church.  There are Bishops in the Lutheran Church as well.

Our very name tells us that Bishops are important in our tradition.  The word “Episcopal” comes from the Greek word Episcopas, which means Bishop Overseer of the Church. 

If I might also point to two documents in our current Prayer Book, found in the historical document section, pages 876 and 877 called The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral adopted by the House of Bishops in Chicago in 1886 and the Lambeth Resolution of 1888. 

In both of these documents is listed what we believe to be essential to the unity of the Church.  One of the things listed is “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.”

The Episcopate is important to who we are as Episcopal/Anglican Christians.  It is a part of our inheritance from those who have gone before us, both in the Roman Catholic and Celtic traditions, which have influenced who we are.

Because of this, one of the things which we hold as important is Apostolic Succession.  What is this about?  It is the idea that our Bishop can trace his Episcopal Heritage back to the original Apostles.  I have a d chart in my office which does this very thing.

Why is this important?  The idea behind apostolic succession is that the people who were originally with Jesus, the twelve apostles, experienced the truth of Jesus Christ.  They heard His teachings, witnessed His miracles, experienced His betrayal and death on the cross, and then spent time with Him after His resurrection until He returned to His place in Heaven.

These twelve taught others about Jesus, and this truth was passed through the generations in those who were ordained in apostolic succession.  It is not some mystical, magical lineage, but instead it is the idea that those who are in apostolic succession are given the truth and asked to guard it and pass it on to those in their generation.

The election (if you would allow me to use the term loosely) of Matthias to take Judas’ place among the twelve, is important.  Look at what the criteria there were for choosing the candidates.  In the lesson from the Book of Acts, St. Peter says:

 “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 men must become with us a witness to his resurrection."

They chose someone who had experienced what they had experienced, because it was important for those who were going to witness to the truth to of Jesus Christ and teach others about that truth to have had that experience.

How does this affect us today?  We are blessed to have a Bishop who takes seriously his role as one who witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ, and seeks to have clergy in his diocese who do the same.

Even though we do not have a Pope, as Christians in the Anglican Tradition, we look to the Archbishop of Canterbury – who throughout history of the British Isles has been the senior Bishop. 

In these uncertain times in the Church and the world, it is important to have someone in this position that can carry this burden.  Even though we are American Anglicans, it is important for us to pray the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion.

We do not put names into Bibles and choose by lot, but it is still important for us as Christians who have inherited an apostolic episcopate to pray for our Bishops as they seek the mind of Christ in an age of uncertainty and change.

“ And (the apostles) prayed and said, ‘Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast 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 enrolled with the eleven apostles.” AMEN.