Thursday, September 1, 2011

An anniversary remembrance...

Sermon preached on St. Bartholomew, Apostle, August 24, 2011.

    Bartholomew.  One of the Twelve Apostles.  Sixth in order in the three Gospels, seventh in Acts.  Today we remember him – even though we don’t know much about him.  The name Bartholomew means son of Tolmai and would be more of a surname, like Johnson or Anderson.  By it we know that this guy was Hebrew.  Outside the Gospel and Acts mentions, the name never appears elsewhere in Scripture.
    Most identity him with Nathaniel (John 1:45051; 21:2).  I accept that Nathaniel was the first name of this son of Tolmai and it is always associated with Philip.  It was Philip who told him of Jesus and to whom Nathaniel son of Tolmai wondered what good might come from Nazareth.
    Nathaniel was from Galilee, the region from which Jesus found and called most, if not all, the twelve disciples. St. Bartholomew lies unmentioned in Christian history before Eusebius, who tells us that Pantaenus was told this was the Apostle who had preached in India before him and bestowed upon the Church there a copy of Matthew’s Gospel.  “India” is not a precise name of place but was, at the time,  a generic name used even for part of Arabia.  Other accounts point us to Bartholomew preaching in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, and on the shores of the Black Sea.
    Tradition suggests he died in Aramenia, martyred to be sure, but how we do not know.  Some suggest he was martyred by the brother of the King of Armenia for having converted his ruling brother to the Christian faith.  In his great work, “The Judgement” Michelangelo depicts Bartholomew as having been flayed in death. His feast day has always been August 24, even from the early church.
    Now that you know something of him, let me tell you something of me.  It was on August 24 that I was installed as Pastor of my first parish well over 30 years ago.  I stood a young man in a parish situated between Albany and NYC, with a seminary education but an untried pastoral temperment, inexperienced in the art of seelsorger (the care of the soul in German).  The Bishop went out into the woods surrounding the parish and brought back this rough piece of pine and handed it to me in the installation, saying, “Take heed therefore unto yourself, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you Bishop, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”  It was this staff I hold before you now and which I carry around every now and then for my own reminder as well as for yours.  It was there I was first called Pastor by most, Father by some.
    Truth to be told, I feel much like that untried young man, still struggling to know and discern God’s voice and His will, to know how best to steward God’s mysteries without guile but with a genuine heart, absent of deceit or personal gain.  But it is no different that the tension in which we all live, hearts still marked by sins of thought, word, and deed, yet reborn in baptism and clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness.
    None of us is a completed work but a work in progress, still attaining and not having attained the full measure of the stature of Christ.  Yet God does not disdain our weakness nor count us unworthy of His work.  God does not call the qualified but qualifies the called, whether Bartholomew wondering what good can come of Nazareth or a young Pastor standing before His first congregation, or you, the baptized, from many backgrounds, whom He makes one body in Christ and calls you in this baptism to be His witnesses, pointing not to ourselves but to Christ, inviting all to “come and see” what God has done through His Son, forgiving, saving, giving us life.
    As we heard from Proverbs today, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.”  God seeks us not for who we are but in spite of that.  God loved us enough not to leave us where He finds us, but to redeem us, restore us, and equip us with His Spirit, faith, the gifts needed to do what He has called us to do, and the grace to become the people He has declared us to be in our baptism.
    We have this treasure in earthenware jars, as St. Paul reminded us.  But the surpassing power and grace of God work in us frail and flawed though we be.  For we carry in our body the death of Jesus so that His life may also be manifest in us.  I did not have a clue where my life might lead when I was handed this staff and installed as Pastor in that first parish.  What I knew then, I know even better now.  It is not me but Christ in me.  If that is true for me, it is also true for you.  Whoever we are, from wherever we have been, God calls us to be His own, to be connected to the death and resurrection of Christ in baptism, and to live under Him and for His glory the new life that is His gift.  That is what Bart found out when Philip invited him to “Come and see.”  It was I found on Bart’s day when I was first installed as a Pastor in a parish.  And it is what you encountered in the call of God in those living waters of your baptism.  And it is our glory here today.  Amen.

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