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



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