St Bartholomew

St Bartholomew is usually identified with the apostle Nathaniel, best known from his appearance in the first chapter of John’s Gospel when he asks, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ and to whom Our Lord says, ‘Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.’ After Pentecost tradition holds that he went East; taking the Good News to Armenia or even India, and was martyred by being flayed alive.  He told people about Jesus and suffered a painful death for the sake of the Kingdom. He bore witness to the truth of Jesus’ life and resurrection, and lit a flame which burns to this day. We would not be here, doing what we do, believing what we do, and encouraging others so to do if it were not for the example and witness of people like St Bartholomew who preferred nothing to Christ, who was the very centre of their lives, who gave them meaning and purpose, and who told others so that they might believe and encourage others so to do.
In this morning’s Gospel we are presented with a challenging scene: it’s during the Last Supper, where Jesus takes bread and wine to feed his disciples with his Body and Blood, to explain what is about to happen, that he who was without sin might become sin so that we might have life, and life in all its fullness. In the midst of this we see the disciples arguing about who is the greatest. During the most momentous events of human history Our Lord’s closest friends are engaged in a squabble which seems childish and stupid, ‘I’m better than you’ ‘No I’m better than you’. Rather than being close to their Lord they’re involved in petty one-upmanship, thinking about themselves, about honour and position. It’s remarkably human, we can well imagine ourselves saying and doing exactly the same – we know it’s wrong, and we need to turn away from it.
      Rather than explode with anger, Our Lord makes a simple point ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.’ In Christianity we have a different paradigm of leadership, that of the servant – here worldly values are turned on their head – the Kingdom offers an entirely different way of life, diametrically opposed to the ways of the world, something radical, something transformative, something which offers the world an entirely new way of living, where the service of others is seen as the most important thing. This is not power in worldly terms, the Creator and Redeemer of all humanity takes on a servile role – the greatest becomes the least, and encourages others to do likewise.
      Thus, rather than worrying about worldly power the disciples become servants, looking and acting like Jesus, they become transparent so that the light of Christ may shine through them in the world, so that their acts of loving service proclaim the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of the Kingdom. They go from worrying about power and position, the things of this world, to being concerned wholly with the Kingdom of God.
We need to do the same, nothing more, nothing less. In our baptism we put on Christ, we were clothed with Him, we shared in His Death and Resurrection, and were filled with grace and the Holy Spirit, so that we might follow Him, and encourage others so to do. We have everything we need to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles. We too are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might have life in Him, so that we can give our lives to proclaim Him to the world.

As Christians we need to live lives of service, the service of others and of the God who loves us and who saves us. We need to live out a radical alternative in the world, and for the world, to embody an alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, and helping others to enter into the joy of the Lord. We need to do this together, serving and loving each other, forgiving each other, bearing witness in the world, not conformed to it, so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

The Parable of the Sower

I’ll let you into a secret – I’m really fond of church buildings, especially when they’re beautiful. There’s just something about them – built for the glory of God and as a foretaste of heaven, and a celebration of human creativity, they can lift the spirit. But at one level we can do without them. It would be sad if these stones which have echoed with the praise of Almighty God for nearly one thousand years were not here, and I’m certainly not advocating that we should simply knock down old buildings, and worship God in a garage or a front room. However a church is not a building, rather it is a gathering of the baptised, it always has been and always will be a group of people, people who are in Christ, whose nature and identity is bound up with and conformed to their Lord and Saviour.
        In this morning’s Gospel Jesus speaks of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God. He uses an image to tell His story. Whether we have a garden or farm, if it’s only a window-box, then we will at some point have sowed seeds. There’s something quite miraculous about it. The seed grows; it becomes a plant, which in turn produces seeds, which can grow into plants, and so on. Without this we could not live, we would have no food, the earth would be a desert, our life wouldn’t just be miserable; there wouldn’t be any life at all.
        As the people of God we are both the sower and the seed – it’s up to each and every one of us to deepen our faith and understanding – to get the roots which will nourish us so that we can grow and flourish in our Christian lives, but we also need to scatter seed, to invite other people into the Kingdom. Christians do not appear by magic, rather they have been made through their baptism, through being taught the faith, through coming to know and love Jesus. If we want, as I suspect that we all do, to see the Kingdom advanced, if we want to see the Church grow, then each and every one of us has to tell people about Jesus, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions, so that people can be invited to share in the joy of the Kingdom.
        One of the saddest parts of the parable has to be the plants which are choked by weeds. I speak as someone who tries to garden – in the beds outside my home I’ve planted various things, lots of roses, which both look and smell lovely, but the soil is so fertile and there’s so much bindweed and chickweed, that if I didn’t weed the soil then, very quickly, the beds would become overgrown – I wouldn’t have lovely plants to look at, or smell, I’d have a patch of weeds. This would be sad, regardless of the cost of the plants, and the effort of nurturing them, I would be deprived of the joy of a garden. The world around us has changed and developed in ways which we scarcely thought imaginable, but the thing which concerns me is that nowadays the cares of the world, the variety of things which one is able to do on a Sunday morning mean that people no longer necessarily gather together week by week, as Christians, as the Church, to be fed with Word and Sacrament, so that their souls can be fed, so that they can be nourished to live the Christian life. ‘Oh we need to go shopping’, ‘Tommy’s got rugby’, ‘Jane wants to ride her pony’ – we can make any excuse we wish, I should know, I have myself. It’s sad to see such potential go to waste, choked by the cares and concerns of the world, where people do not grow and develop as Christians because other things get in the way. When the plants grow as they are supposed to they bear fruit, they bear a wonderful harvest. Can we help to keep the weeds down, so that people can grow and develop into fully-grown mature Christians, nourished and helped to flourish.
        Our faith matters, we need to help people to come to understand that just as a garden needs work and effort for it bear fruit, so likewise Christians are made rather than born: we need to do all that we can to come together day by day and week by week to be nourished by Word and Sacrament so that we can have life in Christ, and life in all its fullness, helped to grow and develop into spiritual maturity, to be given a foretaste of heaven, and to grow more and more into the likeness of Our Lord and Saviour, who gives himself for love of us, to heal and restore us, to take away our sin.

        So let us come to Him, and encourage others so to do, that they may believe and may bear fruit and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.