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Sunday June 30, 2013
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

I Kings 10:15-16,19-21

Apostolic Succession

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Our reading this morning from the First Book of the Kings is about the great prophet Elijah and Elisha, his also great successor. It’s part of a fascinating story, some of which needs telling. Following his epic showdown with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel when the Lord showed up with fire from heaven, Elijah fled from the wrath of Queen Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife; Jezebel was a sponsor of Baal-worship. Elijah fled all the way to Mount Horeb (Sinai), where the Lord spoke to him in the “still, small voice” after the earthquake, windstorm, and fire on the mountain.

Our passage today begins as the Lord in his still, small voice tells Elijah he is to return to Northern Israel – Ahab-and-Jezebel country – where he will have some assignments to anoint kings, as well as to appoint his own successor Elisha. But the only one of these tasks actually performed by Elijah is to lay his mantle on Elisha. Elijah’s time is at an end, and as we all know, he was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind accompanied by chariots of fire. The jobs of anointing kings will be done by Elisha – or by Elisha’s assistant. The point is, the word came to Elijah, was passed on, and was done.

Given my retirement message at the beginning of the liturgy today, you won’t blame me if I tell you I thought this lesson from I Kings is timely. God’s work was accomplished. Great as Elijah was, his days came to an end. But God’s work goes on, until the end of time.

Yesterday, June 29, was the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the great apostles of the New Testament whose lives ended in martyrdom in Rome. The two apostles were very different. Peter, at the time of his call by Jesus, was a Galilean fisherman. Paul, at the time of his amazing conversion by the risen/ascended Jesus, was a zealous, scholarly Pharisee and persecutor of the new Christian movement. Yet both conferred and agreed (after some words of their own about how to deal with the non-Jews) on the Gospel of Jesus as the life-saving message for the world. Great as they were, when they died, the apostolic message was carried forward. Their words, canonized in the New Testament, have been the standard of the Gospel for what we profess in the creed as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

The day before yesterday, June 28, was the lesser feast and commemoration of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (Gaul, now called France) who died in 170 AD. He was a first-rate theologian and he had the gift of engaging in theological controversy with heretics without getting nasty – a rare gift! Irenaeus also shows us how the apostolic faith was passed along and was a standard of belief in Jesus Christ. Irenaeus was from Ephesus in Asia Minor (Turkey). He was taught as a young man by Bishop Polycarp, who was a heroic martyr. And Polycarp had known Saint John the Evangelist, the Beloved Disciple who wound up his life in Ephesus. So when Irenaeus heard strange teaching, he would say, “Who told you this?” “Where did you get this?” For his part, he could say where he got the orthodox teaching about Jesus Christ! We call this the apostolic succession, not only of bishops leading back to the apostles and the Lord himself, but also of teaching, the teaching of Jesus Christ our Lord and God.

It’s the message, the word, and the good works that stem from the Gospel, that matter. I hope, over the years I have been Rector of Saint Thomas, that it has been clear that Jesus Christ is the subject, the predicate, and the object. Of course we have a glorious tradition of Anglican worship, of our unique choral heritage, of this beautiful church, all within the amazing panoply which is New York City. But the soul of it all is Jesus Christ, true God and true Man; Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for our salvation; Jesus Christ, calling each of us to witness and to work. Without that soul, the body is dead.

The person of a particular priest is important. I did not replace Father John Andrew; I succeeded him. The next Rector cannot replace me; the next Rector succeeds me. Each of us as a person is unique and irreplaceable. Certainly Elijah was; but Elisha succeeded him. Certainly Peter and Paul were; yet their episcopal successors – like Irenaeus – have carried on the faith, right down to us. Commenting on this to the Corinthian Church – which was as challenging as Saint Thomas – Paul addressed the Corinthians’ attachment to the persons of various leaders – Peter, Paul, Apollos, etc. He wrote, “You are God’s field, God’s building. I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the growth.” The life and growth are from God, and his Son Jesus Christ is the very soul of the Church, which is Christ’s Body.

Well, you get my point at this time which is the beginning of the end of a rectorship, only our twelfth since 1823. We have been blessed all these years with Jesus Christ-centeredness. Don’t settle for anything less than what Saint Thomas exclaimed when he saw the risen Lord in the Upper Room eight days after Easter morning: My Lord and my God! That is the apostolic faith of the ages that will give our beloved parish perennial life and growth.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Apostolic SuccessionSaint PeterSaint PaulIrenaeus