Sunday, August 24, 2014

St. Bartholomew's Day Sermon

St. Bartholomew’s Day – August 24th, 2014 – John 1:43-51

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          So, today is St. Bartholomew’s day, and if I were to ask, “Alright, tell me what the Apostle Bartholomew ended up doing, where he preached, where he taught” – I doubt many in this room could answer.  I myself had to look it up.  When it comes to the Apostles – he’s not really one of the big ones, the famous ones.  We really don’t know much about him.  We know he was called by two names – Bartholomew and Nathanael.  He was a friend of Phillip.  And according to the legends, he heads north and east, preaching in Arminea, and then even heading all the way over to India.  And as for his death – well, he was reported to be martyred most horrifically, being flayed alive.  Hence you will see artwork with Bartholomew holding his own skin – and he is also the patron saint of tanners.  So why today, then?  I mean, if we were observing a day for Paul or for Peter there would be many great tales that we could tell, that we could learn from.  But why today, this day for this Apostle who is, really, relatively obscure?

          We like to judge people by their works.  We like to assign people a place in the holy and spiritual pecking order on the basis of what they have done.  It can be almost like the college football polls – which Christian is number 1, which one is moving up in the ranks?  I’m sure this fall will lead to discussions of whether OU or OSU is better, even though the answer should be obvious to everyone.  While that can be fun and games, that’s not how we are supposed to be approaching our lives as Christians, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Our job is not to try to point out that I’m better than him or she’s better than her or what have you – for we are all alike sinners forgiven by God, called out of darkness into His marvelous light.  And here today we see the call of Bartholomew, the call of Nathanael.  And this reminds us that our standing, our place with God is not based upon what we have done, nor upon the fame that our works bring – but rather upon His love for us.

          So, let’s look at our text.  “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Phillip and said to him, ‘Follow Me.” Now Phillip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Phillip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  There was a switch there in the text, a simple, common, egotistical switch there in the text.  Jesus finds Phillip – all the credit goes to Jesus… but then what does Phillip say?  “We have found”.  Did you see it – Phillip shifts the focus, Phillip takes the credit.  Instead of saying, “The Messiah came to me” Phillip talks about himself, what he found.  I figured it out, Nathanael, I got the right answer!  And this helps to explain Nathanael’s answer – “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’”  Your answer, what you think you’ve done – it sounds stupid.  And this actually is funny – we are used to Jesus of Nazareth – we give Nazareth honor.  Back then, it had no honor.  It was the back of beyond.  And Nathanael is skeptical.  But Phillip leans upon Nathanael, and he comes along, and then we hear this: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’”  Well look here, an Israelite who doesn’t let the wool get pulled over his eyes, who will speak his mind, who will say something sounds like bunk when it sounds like bunk.

          And Nathanael remains skeptical.  “Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do you know me?’”  Now, that’s sort of a saucy reply.  That “how” is a word of doubt – when Sarah hears that she is going to have a kid at 90 she asks, “how”.  Yeah, just how do you think you know me, pal?  We ain’t never met and you don’t know me from Adam.  “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’  Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!’”  Actually, Nathanael, I do know you, and I know Adam, for I created you both.  I am well aware of who you are, even more aware of you than you are yourself.  And Nathanael is quick on the uptake; he’s read his scriptures, he knows what this means.  The Son of God.  The King of Israel.  Two great confessions of faith.

          And Jesus responds:  Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.”  And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  It’s good that you know who I am, Nathanael, but do you know what I have come to do?  I’ve come to do something much more important than merely show that I am the Son of God, the King of Israel – I have come to open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers, I have come to win redemption and forgiveness and eternal life with My own death and resurrection.  And you, Nathanael, you will see these things, and I will use you to proclaim these things both near and far… very, very far away. 

          Because that is the point – Christ Jesus and what He is going to accomplish.  The question, dear friends, ought never be about which of us in the greatest, or who is better than who.  That misses the point.  The point is this – that Christ Jesus, God Himself, becomes man and comes to us.  He has beheld you, seen you, and He comes to you, calls out to you, speaks His Word of life to you, so that you would receive the forgiveness of sins.  The Christian faith and life isn’t a contest, it isn’t a matter of acquiring bragging rights, but rather it is receiving from God the blessings He has won with His death and resurrection – it is being called out of darkness into His marvelous light – it is being baptized into Him and receiving His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

          And then there is Nathanael – Saint Bartholomew.  And it’s fitting this day to remember him, not because of what *he* did – but rather because of what Christ Jesus did through Him.  Through His servant Bartholomew, Christ Jesus took the message, the good news of salvation, and spread it to many places, many tongues.  And this was without great fanfare, without great aplomb.  It’s funny, because the Apostles we know more about, most of the time we know about them because of stories where they messed up, where they didn’t get the right answer and Jesus had to correct them.  But Bartholomew, he just goes quietly about the work that God has given him, that God works up in and through him – without the praise, without attention.  He lives the life God gives him, and many people benefit.

          Now then, let’s consider ourselves.  I think it’s safe to say that most of us here are not famous.  Most people even 50 miles from here wouldn’t know us from Adam, and certainly not out of state.  And as for a lasting legacy – well, I don’t think we’re going to have biographies written about us, school kids won’t learn our names in the centuries to come.  And that, contrary to what American culture says with its love of fame, is perfectly fine.  Here you have Bartholomew, an Apostle – and God puts him to work in relative obscurity.  And here you are, a simple Christian.  And what does God do with you?  He puts you to work here, in a small town, in a wheat field.  No fame.  Very little renown, very little recognition.  And here, Christ Jesus makes you to be the servant He would have you be.  He gives you your family, and puts you to work loving them.  He gives you simple (and maybe annoying) neighbors, and puts you to work loving them.  He feeds you upon His Word, and then you simply share and speak that same Word with others – others in your family, your neighbors, your brothers and sisters here at church – and we live and grow and receive forgiveness together.  And while it does not bring about fame and glory that the world would recognize – it is a great thing.  It is heaven itself being opened, it is the Cross proclaimed, it is forgiveness.  It is life and love and compassion – things far, far greater than worldly fame.

          Because that is what Christ Jesus teaches us.  He does not crave worldly fame or power.  Look at how He brings Himself to you and you to Him.  Baptism – uses just plain water and attaches the world of God.  We don’t even need to use fancy French bottled water, any water will do.  Or the Supper.  Simple bread and wine, and the Word of God is added, and we receive Christ Jesus’ true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  It doesn’t have to be fancy bread, it doesn’t have to be a $100 bottle of wine.  Fame and expense isn’t the point – given and shed for YOU for the remission of your sins - that is the point.  Christ comes to you, and He sees that His Word, His life, His forgiveness comes to you, without any crazy hoops to jump through, without any worldly standards to meet.  No, Jesus comes to you.  Just as He came to Bartholomew – just as He came to those who heard Bartholomew preach.  You are redeemed and forgiven by Christ not because of what you have done for Him, but because of His great love and mercy for you.  All praise and glory be to Christ Jesus alone.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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