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24th August 2014 - Sunday Morning - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for the Feast of St Bartholomew - Apostle
Acts 5. 12-16
Luke 22. 24-30




Amid the sea of green - which is the colour of the church for all the Sundays after Trinity, today we are red in honour of St Bartholomew, whose feast day this is.

How many here are sometimes known by two names? Maybe one in the family and a different one at work? When my mother first met my father, she quickly discovered that although he was always called Jack - his given name was really John - but he hated being called that, as it made him think he was being ticked off! He also said that he had one brother and two sisters. The brother was OK - he was called George, and nothing else. But his sisters were referred to as both Flo and Pat; and Lizzie and Lil - Mum found it most confusing to begin with!

Well, Bartholomew is like that - one person with two names - he is sometimes also associated with the disciple named as Nathaniel in the New Testament, and was one of the closest friends of Jesus - one of the twelve. We first meet him in John's gospel as being introduced into the fellowship of Jesus by Philip. His name, coming from the Aramaic Bar - Tolmay may simply mean that his father was called Tolmay - or rather interestingly for us, it may also mean "Son of the furrows" - suggesting that he came from a line of ploughmen or farmers! If so, then he is a balance to all those fishermen traditionally numbered among the apostles He is also listed by each of the other Gospel writers - always in the company of Philip - and is definitely among those who witnessed the Ascension.

It seems likely that he was a down-to-earth sort.... initially rather sceptical that the Messiah could possibly come from such a remote backwater as Nazareth, but Jesus immediately recognises him as "a man in whom there is no deception or guile." Later Nathaniel (Bartholomew) recognized Jesus as both the "Son of God" and also as "King of Israel"

After the resurrection, Bartholomew / Nathaniel seems to have travelled east and the site of his martyrdom is in historical Armenia. Some traditions have him visiting India on a missionary tour, and leaving behind there a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Others say that he travelled to Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia and Lycaonia, then embarked for India and finally to Greater Armenia, (now in south-eastern Turkey or Azerbaijan) where his earthly life ended.

Both Eusebius of Caesarea (in the early 4th Century) and Saint Jerome, writing in the later 4th Century place the apostle in India - and some maintain that his missionary work was centred on the ancient city of Kalyan - in the Bombay (Mumbai) region.

He shares patronage of the Armenian church with St Jude and he is reputed to have converted Polymius, the king of Armenia to Christianity, which so annoyed his brother, Astyages that he had him executed. The manner of his death is suitably gory - so I won't distress you here - suffice it to say he has become the patron saint of Tanners!

His relics were by various miracles supposedly appeared in various places in Italy, eventually being conserved in the basilica of San Bartolomeo in Rome. Because this church eventually inherited an old Pagan Medical centre, the Saint's name has with time, come to be associated with medicine and hospitals - and apart from the church dedicated to this saint in Penn, in our own deanery, many will have heard of the world-famous St Bart's Teaching Hospital in London.

There are two rather curious miracles associated with the Saint - or rather with a Silver Gilt statue of him from the Cathedral dedicated to him in the town of Lipari in Italy. Each year - on his feast day - the good people of that town would process around the streets carrying the image of the Saint .... (You will have seen pictures of the sort of religious processions much loved of the Mediterranean nations!) One year the statue seemed to get heavier and heavier - so much so, that the men carrying it were forced to put it down and rest. They tried a second time, and a second time were forced to stop and rest it. Shortly afterwards, some walls further downhill of the statue collapsed. If the statue could have been lifted, many of the townspeople would have been killed. So maybe the Saint was trying to save the lives of those who so venerated him?

Then, years later during WWII, the Fascist regime - getting strapped for cash - thought of melting down the statue for its silver content. But when the statue was weighed, it was found to be only a few grams.... so they never bothered with it and it was returned to the Cathedral in Lipari. In reality the statue is made from many kilograms of silver and it is considered a miracle that it was not melted down... although maybe this has more to do with some faulty measuring devices!

But whatever the explanation, St Bartholomew is credited with many other miracles having to do with the weight of objects.

Of course, because the Bible in fact gives us so little details about the early companions of Jesus, Bartholomew's 'biography' has been greatly added to over the years as people have sought to provide interesting detail to augment the few nuggets of information that we have.

So what are we to make of Bartholmew, and what can he teach us today about what it means to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth? Well, perhaps his basic honesty and integrity - as recognised by Christ, is the main quality to which we could all aspire.

Also that we may find that listening to God's call may take us along unexpected paths - to places and situations that we would never have contemplated?

But if we keep with us the basic message of the Gospel - remember Bartholomew seems especially close to that of Matthew - then we may have long-reaching and long lasting influence on others - beyond our wildest dreams.

And if we can keep to all that - our lasting memorial may be one of healing the wounds in God's wonderful, but sadly broken world.
Amen.


24th August 2014 - Sunday Evening- Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs


Sermon for St Bartholomew's Day - evening 2014
Ecclus. 39. 1-10
Matthew 10. 1-22

So last night he arrived! The new Doctor Who....
We have known for months that Peter Capaldi was to take over from Matt Smith in the eponymous role. But how would they manage the regeneration? And how would the Doctor's companions react to his new (and much older) persona?

Now on one level, this is just a TV programme - and one aimed at children - or at least aimed at the child in each of us... On another, I have long argued that the premise of an extra-terrestrial being who is always looking out for the human race in the face of evil has a lot of biblical overtones... Indeed it probably only really makes sense (and holds a deep fascination) to those of us raised in a Judeo-Christian culture.

Just think about our first reading tonight - from the Apocrypha, true, but still part of the Canon of Scripture... A reading that speaks of one who comes seeking wisdom... one who works to preserve the past ...one who is at home with mystery .... one who will travel in foreign lands and who battles with what is good and evil in the human lot.

Are we discussing a prophet, a priest, a Messiah, or Dr Who?

Now I don't want to push the analogy too far - because like all metaphor, it eventually breaks down.

Dr Who is not a human being. He may have a great affection for the human race and our strange blue-green planet lurking out here on the arm of the spiral galaxy that is the Milky Way, but he is undeniably an Alien when all is said and done.

Jesus - the messiah we worship - was totally human (as well as being totally divine) His was a body that truly died, and resurrection is not the same thing as regeneration - although it seems that in both cases, his friends have a hard job recognising the new identity!

And what about our second reading for this, the Festival of St Bartholomew? Well, if the first reading tells us something about the one we follow, then the second reading tells us something about what it means to be one of those followers, to be a disciple. And there is good news, and bad.

Bartholomew - one of the 'Bethsaida boys' - as I remember a biblical archaeologist once describing the disciples to me, the one who is always a close companion of Philip and one of the trusted 12. Bartholomew - who might well have been a farmer - would have been one of those that Jesus sent out as his special messengers. They are sent first and foremost as healers - although their mission at this point in the story is restricted to the lost sheep of Israel. No matter.... Bartholomew would eventually venture far beyond the confines of the Holy Land.... to India and beyond! But all that is in the future. For now they are sent out in twos to bring Good News and healing to their compatriots in Israel. And they are to do so freely. Both giving and receiving is to be an important feature of their new life in Christ.

It is a bit like being taught to drive for the first time. Now they get a turn in the driving seat.... but they still have the L plates up it seems!

They are to accept hospitality wherever they find it, and they are not to waste their energy on those who are not open to the message they bring.

We can imagine 'the lads' listening with mounting excitement as Jesus tells them of the task they are to undertake and promises to confer some of his power on them too!

Then comes the downside of the rollercoaster! Having been built up, they are brought down to earth with a bump.
Not only are they to take no money with them ('for emergencies' as my Mum would have said!) but they are to expect a pretty rough ride.

And what is all this about being "as wise as a serpent and as innocent as doves?" How can anyone be both?

Well, perhaps what Jesus is trying to tell us is that both are useful qualities and characteristics for those who devote themselves to God's work. But without some innocence, shrewdness - our native intelligence - our craftiness even, can become manipulative of others.
Equally, without some shrewdness, our innocence can become just naievety - and nothing is more annoying that one who goes through life being totally gullible and easily fooled.

No, it seems that if we are to accept Jesus into our lives - become his disciples, his apostles, then we have to adopt some of his characteristics also and that means holding these two aspects - shrewdness and innocence, in some kind of creative tension within ourselves.

Bartholomew was to go out - to travel widely in foreign lands, carrying the Good News. His ministry was to last another thirty years or so after witnessing to the resurrection - so he must have used both shrewdness and innocence to survive so long in what was a hostile world to the Christian message.... as perhaps it still is today? True, at the end he would meet his fate in martyrdom, but only after he had travelled perhaps as far as India and taken his message - taken Jesus' message with him, proving himself to be a 'good and trusty servant' to his master. And so at the end we can imagine him embracing death, knowing that he had succeeded in the task he had been given and would pass to his eternal reward. May the same be said for each of us in our turn! Amen.