The story is told of Jesus ascending into heaven. He arrives in heaven, after dying on the cross and then resurrecting from the dead just three days later and the ascending into heaven.
He is greeted by the angel Gabriel. “Pretty awesome thing you did down there, Jesus. Just incredible. Does the whole world understand what you accomplished? Do they all know what you did?”
Jesus replies, “Not really, just a handful know.” “Just a handful? But how is the rest of the world going to know? How will they all understand what you’ve done?”
“I’m entrusting a few men with the message that their sins are forgiven, that I died for them, that I now live in them through my Spirit.” “I’m leaving it to them to take that message all over the world.”
“But what if they don’t? What if they decide to just go back to their fishing? What if they’re afraid? What if they get entangled in relationships that distract them from their mission? What if they get involved in businesses that take priority for them? What if they don’t do it, Jesus? What is your plan then?”
Jesus responded, “I have no other plan.”
This morning’s short Gospel passage gives Jesus’ plan for telling the world just what he has done and what it means for them. It begins with apostles. Jesus chooses 12 men – called apostles – which means “those who are sent.”
Now we’ve see great men of history. Plato – known for his remarkable philosophical insight. Michalangelo for his unmatched artistic talent. DaVinci was the renaissance man – gifted in music, art, science.
But Jesus’ apostles – what talents are they known for? What outstanding abilities did they contribute to history? We don’t remember them for any expertise they might have had.
The extraordinary thing about these men was not their talent, not their expertise, not their savvy or skill. It was their message. They brought a unique and critical message to mankind.
But what would happen when they die? What would happen to their message, their witness? Would that die with them? How could they ensure that succeeding generations would get the message?
The Early Church instituted the practice of Apostolic Succession. That had a tangible meaning. It meant that the original apostles would designate men to succeed them, These chosen ones would be entrusted with the message. They chose ordinary men – bishops – to protect the extraordinary message. The message – not the men – was everything.
But what happens when that message would be jeopardized by the men chosen?
For a lot of folks, “Apostolic Succession” is like a pedigree. We say our bishop is in Apostolic Succession because he can trace his authority back to one of the original 12 apostles.
That is to say, the original 12 apostles made new bishops by laying hands on selected men and passing on their authority. Then that generation made new bishops by laying hands on the next generation of bishops on down the line to modern day. But the Church has always believed that the purpose of apostolic succession is not a pedigree. It’s the message, the pure doctrine and the teaching of the apostles.
The manner of apostolic succession has been the laying on of hands by one generation of bishops to the next. And the manner of apostolic succession has been taken seriously because of the message of original apostles. Indeed, wherever the pure New Testament message is received hospitably, we see apostolic succession.
But bishops are human, they’re sinners! And over the years, the message entrusted to some of them was not faithfully passed on as they had received it. When that happened, the church saw the need for reforms. That was what the Reformation was all about.
Martin Luther led the way to restore the message that the church’s bishops corrupted. But Martin Luther was not a bishop. So in the Reformation, part of the church decided that tactile succession of bishops was not necessary for apostolic succession. For them, Apostolic Succession focused on the message. Apostolic Succession was the passing down of the message as received from the first apostles – regardless of who brought the message. You don’t need bishops!
Anglicans were not ready to dispense with bishops. Bishop Thomas Cranmer led the way. He preserved the tactile succession of bishops. But he also led the way to reform the church’s teaching to preserve the message. Anglicans found a way to keep both the men and the message.
In 2007, our Diocese faced a decision on Apostolic Succession. The bishops of the Episcopal Church had changed the Apostolic Message. They changed the message when they consecrated a bishop who was living in a partnered relationship with another man.
Now, to be sure, this new bishop was in tactile Apostolic Succession. That is to say, he was consecrated by three bishops. He could trace his consecration in an unbroken line of bishops extending back to one of the original twelve. And the Episcopal bishops who consecrated him were all in tactile Apostolic Succession. But when they changed the message, they broke the Apostolic Succession of the message. They no longer handed down the message that Jesus entrusted to the original 12 apostles.
We had a decision to make: Do we continue under the authority of bishops who have changed the message? Or do we align ourselves with bishops in the larger Anglican Communion who continued faithful to that message?
We chose the larger Anglican Communion. We did it because it was important for us to remain in Apostolic Succession, both bishops and message. Something that we could NOT do if we remained in the Episcopal Church.
It was an historic step that no other diocese in the worldwide Anglican Communion had ever taken that step. And you were a part of that historic reform.
That was in 2007. The very next year, that reform went global. A group of 291 bishops and 1,148 lay and clergy leaders met in Jerusalem to take a stand against the break we were seeing worldwide in the Apostolic Succession of the message. In that moment the Global Anglican Future Conference was born – GAFCON for short.
The conference drafted the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration to affirm the authority of the bible for faith and morals, But also to categorically reject the authority of those churches and bishops who have denied the Apostolic Message. Since then, the movement has grown steadily.
Today, there are some 85 million Christians in the worldwide Anglican Communion. They are spread across 40 regional Provinces. The GAFCON movement represents the majority of those Anglicans worldwide and it continues to grow.
We are not like a congregational church out there on our own. We answer to the authority of a bishop who answers to the authority of an Archbishop who answers to the authority of a communion of Primates worldwide. We do it to preserve and pass on the Apostolic Message just as it was received 2000 years ago.
No bishop, or Archbishop of Canterbury or even the Pope is free to tamper with the pure message of Christ entrusted to the original 12. Today is GAFCON Sunday. And we give thanks for the GAFCON movement that is defending the message and passing along the message of Jesus Christ worldwide.
So the church is doing her part. She is working to protect and pass on the message of Christ. But you can have faithful bishops who bring you the Apostolic Message and it will do you no good unless you welcome that message.
Notice something that Jesus said to his apostles. He gave them their instructions – he warned them of perils that they would face. And then he told them of the reward that will be given.
But I wonder if you caught who gets the reward. It’s not the apostles that he sends who get that reward. It’s the people who show hospitality to the apostles. It’s the ones who receive the apostles with open arms that get a reward! “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”
Now there are degrees of hospitality, there are levels of welcome. For instance, when you answer the door to a visitor, you exhibit degrees of hospitality. If it’s the UPS guy, you would keep him on the front porch.
But if you knew the visitor, if the visitor were the next door neighbor, you might invite her in. If the visitors were dinner guests, you would not only invite them in, you would offer to take their coats – which would be a cue that they are welcome to stay for a bit. You could offer additional hospitality when you offer him something to drink.
These are degrees of hospitality which cue the visitor to the depth of his welcome. We do the same thing with the Apostles and the message they bring.
Then there are those folks who greet the Apostles at the door and do invite them in. But when they see the luggage that the Apostles bring with them, they cry out: “Whoa, you can’t bring all that stuff in here. My closets are full. I don’t have room for your stuff.”
That is to say, many times folks will take the time to read the bible. They want to welcome the Apostles into their living rooms, but they don’t want the Apostles bringing in the full message. They like to pick and choose the parts of Scripture that suit their lifestyle. The rest stays outside on the porch.
You see, they’ve already filled their closets with their own beliefs, their own feelings, their own outlook. And now they have a decision to make. Do I hang on to my preconceptions and keep the Apostles truth on the front porch, or do I clean house and make room for all that the Apostles bring with them.
Some folks treat the Apostles like the UPS man. They know about the New Testament – but when it comes knocking at the door of their heart, they keep it in on the front porch. They don’t invite the message into the dining room of their heart where they might feast on it.
It’s not that they’re opposed to the bible. It’s more that they don’t see a pressing need it at the moment. But they know where to find it and they’ll get around to checking it out a little more when they have some time. In the meantime, the Apostles stand on the front porch of their heart waiting to be invited in. And by keeping their distance, they miss out on the rewards it brings.
Jesus says: “Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet receives a prophet’s reward.” What did he mean to “receive a prophet because he is a prophet”? Well, perhaps he was alluding to the story of the prophet, Elijah and the widow.
The bible tells of a time when there was a drought in the land. There was a widow living in that land who was at the point of starvation. All that was left in the pantry was a handful of meal and a little oil. God sent his prophet, Elijah, and when he arrived he found her gathering twigs to make a little fire. She had planned to fix a final meal for her and her son. It’s all that she had left.
Elijah called out to the woman for some water and a little bread. She explained that she only has a little flour and oil which she was going to use to prepare a last meal for herself and her son. Surprisingly, Elijah asks her to use that last bit of flour and oil to make Him a cake of bread. Now who would blame that widow if she turned to the prophet and said, “Look, Jack, this is all I have. I’ve got a son to feed.” But the widow recognized a prophet in her midst. And so she put him first. …..even though it went against her common sense, it violated what she thought in her own mind was right. Nevertheless, she stepped out in faith. The reward for that woman was a jar of flour that was never used up and a jug of oil that never ran dry.
Sometimes you’ll read something in Scripture that just might make you uncomfortable. It doesn’t square with what you want. It’s too impractical to follow. You’re tempted to just dismiss it. Apostolic hospitality means we remember that the message isn’t from another self-help book. It’s a message sent by God – through his apostles. And even though it might seem just a little impractical or unrealistic, you trust because you know the source. Just like the widow trusted, because she knew the source. And God promises a prophet’s reward.
To close, I like telling the story of The Winklevoss twins from the movie, the Social Network. The movie is about Mark Zuckerberg – the bazillionaire – and his founding of Facebook. The Winklevoss brothers were identical twins and went to Harvard with Mark Zuckerberg. They learned a lesson about hospitality.
You see, they heard about Mark’s reputation as a whiz kid on computers and wanted his help to start a social media site. So they invited Mark to meet them at their exclusive Harvard club in order to recruit him for their project. When Mark arrived, they met him in the first floor foyer. They explained to Mark that they would have to have their meeting right there. To go any further was limited to “Members Only.” The unspoken message: Mark was not a member. Big mistake.
Mark agreed to help them on their project. But after he left, he dropped those twins like a bad habit. Then he used their idea to invent Facebook. Mark is now worth 63 billion dollars. The Winklevoss twins? Not as much. You’ve got to wonder whether things would have worked out differently for the Winklevoss twins if they had found a way to be more hospitable to Mark.
We are a church that continues in Apostolic Succession. That’s important to us. Not for the pedigree of our bishops. But for the primacy of the message. Apostolic Succession ensures that we receive the same message entrusted by Christ to the original 12.
It also means that we who receive that message, we who show hospitality to the message, will receive a prophet’s reward. It’s a promise that Christ made to the apostles. And for over two thousand years, that promise has never changed.