25 August 2007

The Feast of St. Bartholomew, the Apostle

Jesus is among you as the One who serves. He does so by the way and means of the apostolic Ministry of the Gospel, within His holy Christian Church, which rests upon the foundation of His holy Apostles, St. Bartholomew among them. Make no mistake, therefore, the office of the Apostles is a high and holy office, worthy of honor (for Jesus’ sake), and for which we rightly give thanks and praise to God.

Yet, for all of that, consider the disputes that arose (more than once) among the holy Twelve Apostles, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Instead of humility and rejoicing in the vocation to which the Lord had called them by His grace, there was prideful competition and dissatisfaction. When considering themselves and each other according to the measure of this world, they failed to recognize the greatness and glory of Christ (in His Cross), but dreamed only of power, prestige and prerogative.

But do not be quick to despise the Apostles for their bickering. Do not give yourself over to the same vainglory and worldly spite; for you do no better than they within your own vocations and stations in life.

You do not consider yourself and your neighbor according to the Word and wisdom of God, but according to you own self-righteousness (which is rot) and from your own covetous lust for more and more, so rarely ever satisfied and content with your lot in life and that which the Lord has graciously given you.

You do not look upon your parents, your spouse, your children, your boss, coworkers or employees, your teachers or your students, through the lens of God’s commandments. He truly honors all of these neighbors of yours with His own holy Word, and it is for the sake of His name that you are to honor them — but you do not.

Neither do you consider yourself and your own station in life according to God’s Word, His Law and His Gospel. You are prideful when you ought to repent, and you despair when you ought to rejoice in Christ Jesus. When you succeed, you glory in yourself, and when you suffer, you complain that God has been unfair to you and mistreated you.

Repent of all this foolishness and sinful unbelief. Stop rebelling against the Word and wisdom of God and resisting His good and gracious will for you. Humble yourself before the Lord, and quit your complaining.

Do not despise the place that He has given you, be it great or small. Do not despise your neighbors, whether they be strong or weak. And do not despise the holy Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, their frailties and failings notwithstanding.

You are not the man (or woman) to trade tales of woe with these twelve men, who, for the name and sake of Christ and His Gospel, were persecuted and put to death. Or will you compare your suffering with that of St. Bartholomew, who is said to have been flayed alive and then beheaded for his faithful preaching of the Gospel? He and his fellows were persecuted, but not forsaken (they were never forsaken; nor are you). They were struck down, but not destroyed; afflicted, but not crushed; often perplexed and confused, sometimes mistaken, but, by the grace of God, not despairing.

By their own wisdom, reason and strength, they could not fathom the greatness of the Cross of Christ. And they, like you, could not comprehend the greatness and the glory of His Cross in their own lives. But His true divine greatness, and His true divine glory, never do depend upon the wisdom, reason or strength of man. Nor does He require that you first of all understand before He comes to serve you with His life.

Everything is other than you imagine or suppose. In your sinfulness, you covet to be God-like, but you do not know what God is like. Here the one true God, the Lord almighty, comes to you, reveals Himself to you, and gives Himself to you by His Word (by His Gospel of the Cross). His greatness and, indeed, His almighty power, are manifested in His mercy toward you, His divine compassion and holy love, for the sake of which He humbles Himself to serve you, to save you.

He humbles Himself for the sake of those who are prideful and presumptuous. He becomes obedient, even unto death, for the sake of those who are disobedient, unfaithful, irresponsible and lazy. He takes on the form of a servant, strips Himself of all prestige in the eyes of the world, gets down on His hands and knees to wash your dirty feet with free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and girds Himself to be your waiter, to serve you wholly and completely, to feed you with His very Body and give you to drink the finest of wines, His own holy and precious Blood.

By His Cross and Passion, He has reconciled you to the Father, obtained eternal peace and rest for your body and soul, and received all authority in heaven and on earth to forgive your sins and free you forever from death and the grave, from the devil and hell. Thus, in His Resurrection from the dead — because you share His Cross and Passion by your Baptism into His death — you also are raised up, exalted and ushered into the Kingdom of God with Him.

It is this Kingdom that He shares with you, freely, by His grace, by the ways and means of His Gospel. It is for this purpose that He is among you and serves you in the office and ministry that began with Himself and continued in His calling and sending of the Twelve Apostles: with Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, and all the rest.

He called these men, as He continues to call and ordain men to the Office of the Ministry all over the world, to serve His Church, His people, in His name and stead. This is a holy and honorable vocation, for which we give all thanks and praise to God in Christ. Yet, it is an office of service, and the greatness of this office is in its serving you with the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins.

Who is given the greater honor, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines, who is served, who eats and drinks? But here the Lord Jesus, the One who is truly the greatest in the Kingdom of God, He is among you as the One who serves. He tenderly invites you to recline here at His Table. He opens your mouth to feed you with Himself, with His Body, from His own hand. He pours out His Cup of Salvation to give you drink of His own Blood. Here the Lord of Life honors you with His gifts, and you live with Him in His Kingdom, by His grace. All glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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