One of the oldest trick questions ever asked at summer youth bible camps back in the day was, ‘Who was the 13th Apostle?’ Thirteen? No, there were 12 Apostles – Right? Well… yes and no. Who was the 13th ? Here’s a clue. It comes in the form of another old bible camp question. How many disciples were there after Judas died? Answer: 12. But how could there still be 12 even after Judas’ passing? You read about the answer to that question in the first chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles of the Bible, the Book that speaks of the activity among the earliest Christians. And the answer is, as the Book says, ‘they gathered everyone together and they cast lots for who would be the new 12th Apostle in Judas’ place. THAT”S RIGHT, the earliest Christian community basically drew straws – except they used colored stones- to determine who would help lead the community of faith from then on.
Talk about having faith in God and the people who professed to have faith around you! The early followers of Christ trusted in God and in one another’s faith to the degree that whoever won the draw in the crowd would be given support and respect as a new leader. SO… I HAVE A BUNCH OF STRAWS HERE THIS MORNING , ONE FOR EACH OF YOU AND WHOEVER DRAWS THE SPECIAL ONE GETS TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR FAITH, MISSION AND MINISTRIES FOR THE NEXT YEAR OR lifetime. Any takers? READY? NOT READY? NOT REALLY. And the scripture reads, “… the lot fell on Matthias,(whose name in Greek means Gift of God) and he was added to the eleven remaining apostles. Matthias made it 12 Apostles again and he was the 13th overall. He was added by lottery TO BRING THE NUMBER BACK UP TO 12 APOSTLES. He served faithfully THEREAFTER WITH GOD’S HELP.
Just yesterday the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire raised up a new leader – our new Bishop. His name is Rob Hirschfeld and he comes to us from Massachusetts where he has served as a priest with distinction and vision for some time. Now the Diocese of NH does NOT draw straws to choose our Bishops/our leaders. And, unlike most other denominations in the world and some Anglican dioceses, the state, Queen, or nation does not appoint our Bishops and our Bishops are not elected by a group of clergy or cardinals. Rather, our Bishops are elected by a majority vote of the regular lay delegates from each our NH congregations AND a majority vote of our NH clergy. And then, once a Bishop is elected in a diocese, a service of Consecration is set, in our case for August 4 2012, where the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church lays hands on the head of the Bishop elect asking for God’s Holy Spirit to make that faithful servant a Bishop of the Church, thus preserving what we have come to call over the centuries the chain of Apostolic succession. Yes, all these centuries we have tried to preserve a spirit powered chain – a direct connection of our leaders going all the back to Matthias, to Peter and Matthew and Mark and Luke and John and straight back to the Jesus Christ the Lord himself, who, in His farewell discourse from St. John’s gospel which we just heard ‘…looked up to Heaven and prayed… ‘As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them’ – SO JESUS SENDS US-into the world. ‘ …protect them, sanctify them, as you have sanctified me.’ Set us aside to do your life affirming will in all that we undertake. (John 17:19)
Friends in Christ we are each part of that unbroken chain of spirit - fueled faith and service to which our new Bishop was just elected, in which countless generations before us have witnessed as loving ambassadors of Christ in their time. Through Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, ordination and consecration, one way or another every one of us has been touched directly by the hand of the Holy Spirit of God to be strong and of good courage, to be like trees planted near living waters. It is to be for you as Jesus said, “ Just as God sent Him into the world , so now God sends you and me and Bishop Rob to take the Word and the Way to the next level in our hearts and homes /our communities and nations.
The 14th Dali Lama says, “The very purpose of incarnation is to fulfill the good work that has been started by the previous life.” Today, on this Sunday traditionally known as Ascension Sunday, the day when Christ was taken up into Heaven, and Holy Spirit of God – Jesus Spirit- His propellant- kicked into gear in the hearts and lives of His followers; on this great day, I hope you will allow yourself the sense of honor and power and trust to do the good that God puts before you daily, to fulfill the good work that has begun through the mercies and merits of Jesus Christ. Let His solid, faithful, calm and loving spirit become your spirit and now take your place next to Matthias and Bishop Hirschfeld , standing on the shoulders of the saints, to be an agent of blessing to the world around you today and tomorrow. For I tell you, as you do this, it will be easy for you to answer one last question not so often asked at Bible camp or scripture study, “Who is the latest among the disciples?” Let your be, ‘ Today I am’ – ‘Here I am Lord, send me.’ Amen