Sunday, August 24, 2014

Vigil of the Feast of St Bartholomew the Apostle



Vigil of St Bartholomew         24, August 2014      Fr. Robert RM Bagwell+

Deuteronomy 18:15-18                                                  Psalm  91:1-4               

 1 Corinthians 4:9-15                                                            Luke 22:24-30

After getting all Pope John Paul II's luggage loaded in the limo (and His Holiness doesn't travel light) in NYC, the driver notices that the Pope is still standing on the curb. "Excuse me, Your Holiness." says the driver, "Would you please take your seat so we can leave?""Well, to tell you the truth," says the Pope, "They never let me drive at the Vatican, and I'd really like to drive today.""I'm sorry but I cannot let you do that. I'd lose my job! And what if something should happen?" protests the driver, wishing he'd never gone to work that morning."There might be something extra in it for you," says the Pope. Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Supreme Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 105mph."Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!," pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens. "Oh, my God, I'm gonna lose my license," moans the driver. The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the patrolman approaches, but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio. "I need to talk to the Chief," he says to the dispatch. The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going a hundred and five."So bust him," said the Chief."I think the guy's a big shot," said the cop."All the more reason.""No, I mean really a big shot," said the cop."What'd ya got there, the Mayor?""Bigger.""Governor.""Bigger.""Well," said the Chief, "Who is it?""I don't know", said the cop, "but he's got the Pope driving for him."

Today we celebrate the Patron Saint of this congregation:  St Bartholomew.  I wonder how many of us know anything about this saint?   Are you aware that the name Bartholomew is never mentioned in the gospel of John?  I wasn't.  Instead we hear of another follower of Jesus named "Nathaniel".  Perhaps you remember the story?  John writes :in  John 1:47 (KJV)

" Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, 'Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!"  The word "guile" means "deceit". His heart was pure, honest and true. In the day in which we live, when deceit is practiced widely by the famous and powerful, and apparently without shame, it is hard to conceive of those who have not been shaped by such forces.

The name "Bar-tholomew" is a name based on the name of his father, 'bar' meaning "son"  of Tolmai (or Talmai)  Scholars think then that he also may have had another name, being Nathaniel a name that means "gift of God". Therefore in the a Jewish way of naming he was Nathaniel Bartholomew

 

Ancient tradition says that when the disciples dispersed to share the gospel, Bartholomew went to preach in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India. The tradition says he was martyred by being flayed alive, that is, having his skin cut from his body  or skinned alive, until he bled to death. In fact, his symbol is the "flaying knife." The church in Armenia believes that he and the disciple Thaddeus were the first to bring the gospel to Armenia.

 

A very different story of St. Batholomew's mission appears in the traditions of the Egyptian Coptic and Ethiopian Abyssinian churches, which also honor him highly, celebrating his day on August 29. Their accounts tell of his preaching at an oasis in Upper Egypt (there is a special commemoration of this event on November 15), then going among the Berbers where he was rescued from wild beasts by a cannibal, and finally preaching along the coast of North Africa where a local king, Agrippa, had him sewn into a leather bag and dropped into the sea.   He is the patron Saint of tanners and butchers.  The only Apostle not martyred was St John.

The readings for the Feast of St Bartholomew seem to have a common theme of "greatness" and how we should approach it.  Paul never exalts himself although in one passage he says in effect:  "I have a right to" Moses speaks of a great prophet being raised up by God. 

The Apostles seem to miss understand greatness.  We read about this in Luke chapter nine: "

 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.  Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

 

This is very consistent with how Jesus presents himself.  In Luke 22 Jesus says: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves."

In another passage people came from afar and when they got to the disciples they said: " They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”    John 12:21   That is what God and others need and want from us to see Jesus not the messenger of Jesus.

 

In an age where "self-esteem" and "self-image" seem to be the highest of cultural concerns, this may be difficult to grasp.  However to those who are in need of our kindness, love and help they are of no consequence.  They don't matter.  Survival matters. Kindness and understanding matter.  The gospel is not meant to conquer by force but by love. Servant hood is a difficult concept when the first person we think of is ourselves.  That  concept was perhaps no more strange in our secular age than in the age of the disciples.  The Newer Testament is an exercise I servanthood.  But this servanthood is for Jesus' sake and in the service of righteousness.  Indeed, as Paul wrote in today's lesson, "we are fools for Christ's sake."   But as he also wrote: " you are wise in Christ".  How difficult it is to be "in the world" and not "of" the world.   When we consider the examples of the Apostles, St Bartholomew who left the security of Judea burdened with a message, he could not keep to himself, one more important than his own life,. He had experienced the gift of eternal life and the power of God's Holy Spirit living in him. His love of the human beings for whom Christ had died made him almost fearless.   Jesus had placed a holy hope in them for the world to come.

 

In closing let me relate what Paul says of our following of the Lord Jesus as he writes to the church of Philippi:

 

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father  Philippians 2:6-11

 

AMEN

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Acceptance: The Character of Christ.


Proper XV+A                 August 17, 2014  The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
St Thomas Parish                                                               Isle of Hope, Georgia
Genesis 45:1-15                                                                                                               Psalm 133 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                                                                                     Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

A poor widow with three young daughters lived near the Methodist church. The pastor went to visit and invited them to services.

"We would love to come," said the woman, "but we don't have any Sunday clothes."

The pastor went back to the church and talked to some of the women in the church who bought and delivered a really nice Sunday outfit for the woman and each of her three daughters.

The next Sunday, the whole congregation watched for the family, but they never showed. Disappointed, the pastor went to their house after the service and asked why they did not attend church.

"Well," the woman said, "we got all dressed up in our new clothes, and we looked so nice that we went to the Episcopal Church instead!"

Have you ever experienced being excluded?  Perhaps, it was when you were a child and your parents said you couldn't=t do something or go somewhere because, Ayou weren't old enough@.  Perhaps there was a group in school that was the Ain@ group and you wanted very much to be a part of them and their activities, but they shunned you.

The Scripture presents us, this morning with exclusion, especially the story of an excluded woman, prejudice, hurt at rejection.  The human race is divided: from others, from God and even from ourselves as psychology will attest.  Exclusion is a reality, a part of this sinful worldCdoes God have an answer for it?

I.                    The Gospel Says that Jesus and His Disciples withdrew to the District of Tyre and Sidon.
A.                 This was a withdrawal to the Gentile (non-Jewish) territory.
1.                  His mission and ministry were exhausting and he needed time to become refreshed, physically and spiritually.
a.                   It is clear that earlier in this chapter, Jesus was being attacked for not keeping strict adherence to the laws of purity, associating with those the religious authorities deemed unacceptable. 
B.                 He also is dealing with the issue of the outward keeping of rules and regulations versus, the inward attitudes associated with the "keeping of the laws." 
1.                  I once heard a story about a little boy in Church with his father.  He was a very hyperactive child and kept standing up in the pews, looking at the people behind him and not being still.  It was driving his father crazy.  He finally in desperation pulled his son down in the pew beside him and said "would you please sit down and be still!"  The little boy not to be outdone said "well I may be sitting down on the outside, but I'm standing up on the inside."
2.                  This is an example of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.  Jesus came to teach us that outward conformity is not as important as inward believing--conformity versus obedience. Or look at it this way: would you rather have someone "have to" give you a gift or "want to" give you a gift?
a.                   God is not different from us in this regard.
C.                 Churches have this problem constantly when we look down at others. In my fundamentalist youth we judged others by their not doing the things that we thought they should be doing and doing things we thought they should not.
1.                  This usually was to do with going to certain movies, dressing a certain way,
listen to certain music and the like. We judged ourselves morally superior if they did what we thought they shouldn't. 
II.                 Today, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus.

A.                 She was descended from the pagan nations from those non-Jews or Jewish enemies who had populated the region since the fall of the Jewish KingdomsCand the exile in Babylon.
1.                  This was old prejudiceCdeep prejudiceCnational prejudice against 'her kind'. .
B.                 This was also a religious prejudiceCA woman from a mongrel race, non-Jewish pagan race, rejected by God. The Jews especially rejected them for their sacrifices of their children to their god  Jesus had a myriad of reasons to reject her from His Jewish heritage and tradition.  This was an enemy. And yet she approaches Jesus.
1.                  She says,AHave mercy on me Lord!  O Son of DavidCmy daughter is severely possessed by a demon@. Jesus ignores her. She persists, again and againCshe can=t take a hint. The disciples say to Jesus Csend her away, she is crying after us!  She won=t leave us alone! 
a.                   They had been brought up in good Jewish tradition to avoid such people!
2.                  Jesus puts her off though she had called Him, ASon of David@, a Messianic title.  He then explains his current charge and mission: AI was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, saying, "I am called to minister to the Jews for now.
a.                   "What is important here is to note her persistence. But she falls before Him, ALord help me!@ she says. It isn=t fair to take the children=s bread and throw it to the dogs.A
C.                 Dogs@ or "goyim" was the term Jews used for non-Jews. It was as though Jesus was seeing just how far she would go.
1.                  She replies, Aeven the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master=s table@.Jesus responds in a way he only responded a few times in His ministry, AGreat is your faithCbe it done as you desire@.
2.                  Jesus in the midst of being rejected by His own people is believed in by a pagan woman. This gesture became fundamental to His mission after the  resurrection.
D.                 Jesus Christ came to Initiate the Breaking Down of Division, Prejudice and Pride, that sin has brought into the world. It is said that the ground is level at the foot of the crossCAll earthly distinctions are abolished because all are sinners alike saved by grace alike, all divisions are abolished.
1.                  It is on this basis that we are to love everyoneCno matter how unlovable. In Jesus  Christ we have God=s breaking into our word and the beginning of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of GodCthe reign of God, the Spirit Aon all peoples@ That we will see following the resurrection and Pentecost..
E.                  Who are the "dogs" in your life and mine?
1.                  These are the folks that we shirk from, the ones we'd just as soon not deal with.  We think "here we go again". We all have them, those people!
2.                  These are the people we prejudge or dismiss because they are different from us.  Did you get the memo?  Everyone, without exception, is different from us.
a.                   Jesus Christ loves each of us although He certainly is different from all of us!  Can we do less for anyone made in the image of God?
b.                  Before you say "physician heal thyself", I know it is a part of the human condition even if we have been redeemed into Christ's body.

III.               Paul tells the Church at Rome that God has used the rejection of Jesus by the Jews to bring mercy to the GentilesCyou and me! 
A.                 Paul hopes that the Jews response over God=s actions will bring them to the conclusion that Jesus is Messiah and they will be saved. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches.
B.                 You do not support the root, but the root supports you. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! Then the Gentiles joyfully received the gospel!

What does the example of JESUS   have to say to us? Today? In this church?  That it does not matter our history, background, family, nationality, intelligence or even faithfulness to God's Law. Jesus Christ is open and available to you, just as you areCHe will accept you, just as you are, not as you should be. Those who think that, they are where they should be spiritually, intellectually or morally, don=t need God. They have created their own god and it is them!. We also learn that God honors persistent faith-filled prayer. Some of us, when our prayers are not answered instantaneously, quit praying. YetCin the glorious mystery of the incarnation the Spirit, God became united indissolubly to human flesh creating a new creation of God=s adopted, children who are one with His Spirit.

Faith, not believing the impossible, but believing persistently, in the person and character of God,  is that faith that changes us to be like Him, bridges the gap between God and humanity and brings kingdom to personal lifestyle. 

The Canaanite woman is our ancestors in faith because we are GentilesCseparated from God, but God has included us ad opened salvation to all who will accept Him as LordC master, Savior, redeemer, mediator, brother and friend.  Does God have an answer to exclusion?  Yes! Come, He says and be received into the unconditional acceptance of God in Jesus, Our Lord.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Proper XIV+A 10, August, 2014 The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+

 
A little boy was afraid of the dark.  One night his mother told him to go out to the back porch and bring her the broom.  The little boy turned to his mother and said, "Mama, I don't want to go out there.  It's dark."

The mother smiled reassuringly at her son.  "You don't have to be afraid of the dark," she explained.  "Jesus is out there.  He'll look after you and protect you."

The little boy looked at his mother real hard and asked, "Are you sure he's out there?"  "Yes, I 'm sure.  He is everywhere, and he is always ready to help you when you need him," she said.

The little boy thought about that for a minute and then went to the back door and cracked it a little.  Peering out into the darkness, he called, "Jesus?  If you're out there, would you please hand me the broom?  FEAR!

 

I find the readings appointed for today very frustrating.  Why?  Because any of the three are resplendent with themes that can be preached on with fervor and importance so you'll forgive me if I try to say too much or too little on any of them. One thing is clear: they speak of God's desire to share his character and purpose. The other is how important faith and belief are in our participation in God's great plan.  In all of the readings there is one answer: God.

 

Think back to a time when you were afraid.  We deal with fear in many ways, many of them less than helpful.  There are myriad examples of people afraid in the Bible.  Fear is a great motivator.  It gets us to take action. It can also immobilize us and stop our ability to function. We use phrases like: I froze, I trembled, my heart-stopped to describe the effects of fear on human beings. It is the character traits to overcome these circumstances that are described through words like: courageous, fearless, heroic.  We look up to people with these qualities.  But the Bible talks about a good kind of fear. .Proverbs tells us: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

 

Throughout the Bible you find the righteous and godly described as "fearing God" and the unrighteous as having no fear of God.  Clearly this is a different kind of fear from the stories of Elijah and that of Peter. This fear is a healthy respect, an acknowledgement of who God is and what his authority entails.  This reveals to us a very important principle: the opposite of faith is not doubt.  The opposite of faith is FEAR!

 

We come to find the prophet Elijah, Elijah hiding in a cave.  At least he was at "Horeb, the Mount of God", so he was moving in the right direction. The Spirit of the Lord comes to him and says: "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  What we hear from him is not the fiery rhetoric of a fiery prophet, but more akin to that of a child being picked on by bullies. "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."  It hardly sounds like the same guy who had confronted the 450 prophets of Baal and challenged them to prove whose God was real in a trial of proof by fire in the previous chapter!  Elijah was in a bad way. He afraid and depressed. He saw his circumstances more than the God he was called to serve.  Remember how he challenged them to prove who really was God? They cried for Baal to consume the sacrifice without the prophets lighting it.  All day they cried.  Elijah said, "cry louder, perhaps he is asleep". He then rebuilt the altar of God, had them drench it with gallons of water on it and then cried out to God.  The fire fell, consumed the wood, the sacrifice and even the very stones! He has seen God's power. Then forward to Mt Horeb. Here God gives the prophet a glimpse of his power in a profound experience as his "shekinah" glory passes by. . But the profound experience was not in this. It is seen in the powerful wind or the earthquake,  or any mighty act of power but in what other translations do not translate as 'silence' but as a still small voice, the voice of God.  The opposite of faith is FEAR!

 

Then we see a scenario where Peter the "rock" asks the Lord to prove if it was "really him".  Peter steps out of the boat but rather than keeping his eyes on Jesus, he begins to look everywhere but at the Lord.  He really wasn't looking in the right direction. When he sees himself all alone trying to do what he had asked to do, he forgot to look at Jesus. He saw circumstances, not Jesus.  He then began to fail. He could not do it without God's help. The "Rock" became a "sand-pile." But he then cries out to the Lord.  This was the good kind of fear, fear that turned him to the source of security. The opposite of faith is FEAR!

 

The Collect says this: "Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right,…"  How does anyone find "right thinking"?  I would suggest that it comes through being "rightly related to God".  This is what is also translated in Holy Scripture as "righteousness". Righteousness is not the abundance of "good deeds." It is believing God, believing 'in' God, depending upon God.

 

Paul addresses this important point in our Epistle reading today.  This is the remedy to fear. Paul writes to the Church at Rome: "because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved."  How did the later Christians marched into the Coliseum singing hymns do so? The opposite of fear is FAITH.  They could have looked at their circumstances and let that overshadow their faith in Christ, One of the ancient Fathers, Tertullian, wrote:"the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."  When the Romans saw this spectacle, what did many of them do?  They became Christians who could stare death in the face without fear.  For this they were immediately declared 'saints' by the Church. As we see our sister and brother Coptic Christians being slaughtered my Moslem extremists, let us remember them in our prayers. May they keep their eyes on Jesus!

Salvation is effected by confessing or professing with the mouth and believing in the heart.  Have you noticed the new rites for Baptism and Confirmation?  They each ask: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? and the candidate says: I do. Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? I do. Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? I do. Being a "secret disciple" is really not an option when we must profess with our mouths.

Paul then writes a verse that many if not all of us are familiar with being from the South: 'For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."  This is also a quote from the Book of the Prophet Joel (2:32) who writes: "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;" This text seeks to recruit us into the sharing of this "good news."  But do we or does "fear" (there's that word again) keep us silent?

The presupposition here seems to be that calling on the Lord for salvation is a sign of faith in the heart.  God wants desperately be in relationship with humanity, that is why Jesus died!  But God does not pound on the door of the heart, he speaks in the still small voice that the loud din of the world tries to stamp out.

The Apostle John wrote: " Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." (Revelation 3:20)

French Hermit Religious, Charles de Fould wrote this: "the one thing we absolutely to God is never to be afraid of anything."  That is the Way of Jesus.