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11. Sunday after Pentecost / The Feast of St. Bartholomew, 08/24/2014

Sermon on Exodus 19:1-6, by Beth Schlegel


Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
It is good to be back among you on this feast day of St. Nathaniel Bartholomew - for that is the best explanation of the variation in names in the Bible. Nathaniel being the given name and Bar meaning "son of" Tholomaeus, a common name, or perhaps referring to the corresponding occupation, plowman.

But there may be more to it than that. It may be that just as the Lord God made something more of the band of Hebrew slaves he rescued from Egypt so Jesus, the Son of God, is making more of Nathaniel.

The Armenian church makes a big deal of St. Bartholomew because he brought Christianity to their land. One of their scholars has a theory that Jesus gave his disciples nicknames - most of them ironic. http://www.armenianchurch-ed.net/feasts/the-holy-apostles/essay/ According to this theory, Nathaniel is nicknamed "son of a thief", since there was a notorious thief named Tholomaeus running around. In so doing, Jesus reminds him of the past which he renounces in joining up with Jesus.

When he meets him, Jesus calls Nathaniel "An Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathaniel recognizes the sarcasm and realizes that Jesus knows more about him than meets the eye.

So he asks "Where did you get to know me?" - referring not to his innocence, but his guilt.

And Jesus answers with another double entendre - "I saw you under the fig tree" - a common euphemism for Jewish boys studying the Torah and a reference to hiding from sin, as Adam and Eve did.

Whether or not the theory of nicknames is true, with this brief exchange, Nathanael finds himself in the presence of someone he has never met before, but who knows his inmost heart. He finds himself in the presence of God.

"Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"

But Jesus isn't after an ego trip - he is making a disciple.

Do you believe because I said I know everything about you? (We might even think of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman, who told her friends "He told me everything I ever did! Could he be the Messiah?")

And Jesus sets his claim on Nathanael - You will see greater things than these.

And referring to his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus tells Nathanael Bartholomew solemnly "Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

And in that moment, Nathanael Bartholomew was called to be one of the Twelve. Jesus had made more of him than he was when the day began.

God is always doing that, isn't he? Always making more of something that seems so unlikely to be useful at all.

Take Abraham and Sarah - very senior citizens whose newborn son became the first generation of countless descendants.

Or take Moses, the timid introvert whom God made into the great leader of his people,

Or Saul, the murderer and persecutor, whose encounter with the risen Christ sent him on a journey of baptism and conversion to a great apostle.

Or 1 prophet Elijah against 450 prophets of Baal.

Or a small shepherd boy David against a giant Philistine Goliath.

The Bible is full of the ways in which the Lord God takes unlikely, ordinary people or groups of people and makes of them more than what they were.

In the wilderness of Sinai, after the Lord delivered them out of Egypt, God called Moses up to the mountain to give him a message for the people.

To this group of refugees fleeing at the hand of the Lord, Moses is to remind them of what they have just seen and experienced - God's mighty power that defeated the Egyptians, the way in which God made their way smooth through the sea -

"Look, O my people, how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself...

"Now, therefore, obey my voice and keep my covenant, and you shall be my treasured possession out of all the people . . . you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation."

By this word, God made these refugees more than what they were - they now had identity, status, and purpose.

They were God's people. God's possession.

Chosen out of all the various peoples God had created in order

   • to be the ones in a covenant relationship with him
   • To be the ones whose worship would be a blessing to all peoples
   • Whose sacrifices would deliver the whole human race
   • Whose presence on earth would be a portal to the living God

Yes indeed - Nathaniel Bartholomew would see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the one Israelite sacrifice to end all sacrifices - the sacrifice that would destroy death forever and bring in life everlasting for all. The sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

And now, who is it that the apostolic witness refers to as

"a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9

The church - the baptized people of God - us!

God is making more of US than what we were.

The Holy Spirit took us out of our parents' arms and placed us into the arms of the church, immersed us in the death-destroying and eternal life-giving waters and by the laying on of hands bestowed on us gifts we did not possess of our own substance.

Paul names some of them - teaching, prophecy, healing, language ability, generosity, hospitality, leadership - this is not exhaustive by any means.

We are God's treasured possession - his own beloved people.

I can remember a time when this congregation went through a bit of wilderness.

   • The steeple was crumbling to dust
   • An underground oil tank that needed to be removed
   • And roof after roof that needed repair or replaced
   • The flooding basement
   • The Christmas Eve when people sat and manually fed steam into the boiler so    that the temperature got above 60 because the return pipes had finally decided to spring leaks
   • The parsonage porch that nearly collapsed
   • Child care woes
   • And the bat in the basement - poor bat
   • That preacher who didn't know when to stop

But look at what the Lord is doing! Look at how the Lord has borne you on eagles' wings to bring you to himself!

Look at all he has done to make you more than what you were!

You have grown in size and diversity.

You have been earnestly using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to make disciples of all nations.

You are a vibrant witness to the mighty acts of God in this neighborhood and this city.

And today, like the apostle Bartholomew, Jesus welcomes you to break bread with him, to be in communion with him and with each other.

We entered individual sinners and we will leave God's holy nation, his priestly kingdom, forgiven and full of grace.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? You bet! Can anything good come out of Trenton? You bet!

The whole earth is the Lord's and you are his treasured possession.

In the Name. . .


The Rev. Beth Schlegel
947 N George St.
York PA 17404
E-Mail: pastorschlegel@live.com

Sermon for the commemoration of St. Bartholomew, Apostle
Exodus 19:1-6; 1 Corinthians 12:27-31a; John 1:43-51

This sermon is written to be preached during the 100th anniversary celebration of St. Bartholomew Lutheran Church, Trenton, New Jersey.