FEAST OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW – August 24, 2014

SCRIPTURES – Proverbs 3:1-8; 2 Cor. 4:6-10; Matt. 16:13-20

 

     Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven… I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16)

 

August 24 was set aside by the Church centuries ago as the day to remember St. Bartholomew, a disciple of Jesus whom the Lord also called to be one of His Apostles. But, it is really only in recent years that we Lutherans have again begun celebrating Saints Days along with our Catholic friends. For a long time we didn’t do so. I don’t remember doing so when I was growing up. And yet, it was a practice of our Lutheran Church from its beginning in 1530. Art. XXI of the Augsburg Confession states:

“Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling.”

As I was preparing for today’s celebration, however, I suddenly realized that perhaps it was better when we were less “Catholic” and didn’t celebrate Saints Days. For, I have discovered a real problem, a conflict that we have created. St. Bartholomew is the Patron Saint of tanners, as he was put to death for preaching Jesus by being skinned alive. Those who prepare the skins of animals are to look to him. But, that puts him at odds with St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony the Abbott, the Patron Saints of animals. Is Bartholomew battling it out in heaven with Francis and Anthony as he tries to help tanners remove the skins of animals and they try to help the animals keep their skins?

 

Thanks be to God for the wisdom of our Lutheran forefathers! They pointed out in the Augsburg Confession:

“The Scriptures do not teach that we are to call on the saints or to ask the saints for help. Scripture sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Atoning Sacrifice, High Priest, and Intercessor [1 Timothy 2:5–6]. He is to be prayed to. He has promised that He will hear our prayer [John 14:13]. This is the worship that He approves above all other worship, that He be called upon in all afflictions.”

There’s no fighting going on in heaven. The saints aren’t turning their ears to us but have their focus on Christ. Thank goodness!

 

So, what can we learn from St. Bartholomew? That the Christian life is a life of confession: a bold and heartfelt confession, in word and deed, of the truth of God and His faithfulness to His promises, even when His truth and faithfulness is hidden behind seeming uncertainty and lack of fulfillment.

 

Consider Bartholomew. As one of Jesus’ first disciples, he was there when Peter confessed of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” He believed this, also; but, why? How? After all, even though Bartholomew and the other apostles saw Jesus do great and mighty works, similar works had been done by prophets in the past.

  • Elijah had raised the dead to life.

  • Moses had called forth great plagues of devouring insects, turned the water of the Nile River into blood, and parted the waters of the Red Sea.

    No matter how great the miracle, however, no prophet had ever been worshiped as God’s Son, as God in the flesh. How could Bartholomew see this in Jesus? After all, Jesus was just a man; and a very poor and lowly man, at that. He didn’t come from the upper class. He wasn’t hailed as the nation’s deliverer by the leaders of Israel. And, Jesus suffered a horrible death. How could Bartholomew believe in Him as God, come in the flesh to be our Savior, especially when he faced his own horrible death for this belief? He could because he saw Jesus rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. And yet, even before then he believed in the divinity of Jesus. His faith was more, then, than a decision or a conclusion based upon evidence. It was much more, much greater. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven,” Jesus declared. His faith was the work of God the Father in heaven, a blessed gift from Him. And, if you also believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and your Savior by His death and resurrection for you, then you, too, have been blessed by the Father in heaven. He has opened your heart and mind to this faith in Jesus. What is hidden to the world is seen by you, to your eternal blessing. Great is the gift and blessing of faith!

     

    Because faith in Jesus has a mighty source – God the eternal Father – it also has a mighty power: the power over heaven and hell, over life and death, over sin and its judgment. “I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus did not give these keys, this authority, to Peter alone. Our Lutheran Confessions point out:

         Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of apostles, as appears from the text itself. Christ does not ask Peter alone, “Who do you say that I am?” [And] what is said here to Peter alone, “I will give you the keys” [16:19], is elsewhere expressed in the plural [e.g., Matthew 18:18,] “Whatever you [plural] bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you [plural] loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” These words show that the Keys are given to all the apostles alike and that all the apostles are sent forth alike.

         In addition, it must be recognized that the Keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church... For Christ, speaking about the Keys, adds, “If two of you agree on earth” (Matthew 18:19). Therefore, He grants the Keys first and directly to the Church. (The Power and Primacy of the Pope, par. 23-24)

    These mighty keys are given to all who believe in Jesus. With them Bartholomew went forth to proclaim Jesus and open heaven to those who had never heard of Him and had only hell before them. He went as far as India, where he left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew, and then greater Armenia. It was there that his life was brought to a horrible end as he was put to death for proclaiming Christ.

     

    But, Holy Scripture promises (Prov. 3), “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths... It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” Perfect and complete healing, a new flesh and body, was prepared for Bartholomew by Jesus in His resurrection. Such healing and flesh is yours, also. It is Christ’s gift in the mighty keys of the kingdom of heaven. Even though right now you carry in your body the death of Jesus – you bear sins and rejection for your faith and are weak and afflicted – yet with Christ’s mighty keys of the kingdom you triumph!

  • Sins you have, but they cannot condemn you, for by your Baptism into His death and resurrection Christ has forgiven them and opened the kingdom of heaven to you.

  • You may be laughed at and rejected for your faith, but the Father in heaven is pleased with you and His blessing rests on you.

  • Weakness and death will come, but by Christ’s keys you have already been brought into the kingdom of heaven. You have eternal life in Christ!

Rejoice, then, with Bartholomew as you look forward to that glorious Day when what is now hidden becomes visible, when Jesus returns and His life is manifested in your body. Boldly confess Christ, in word and deed. Speak of His testimonies, even before kings. You will never be put to shame! In the name of Jesus. Amen.