Friday, August 19, 2016


Wednesday is actually St Bartholomew’s Day and it also marks the 18th Anniversary of Eira and me being ordained as Anglican Ministers – and that after being ministers in Churches of Christ for 17 years.  So St Bartholomew is a somewhat significant person for us among that great cloud of witnesses we call the Saints of God.

As Anglican’s we already have the name of St Bartholomew in our mind because of the wonderful Anglican Agency in our city, St Bartholomew’s House that began as a doss house for derelict and homeless men and has become one of our leading agencies addressing the enormous issue of homelessness.

But, who you may ask is Bartholomew, and why did we read a Gospel story about Nathanael on St Bartholomew’s Day.

Well, any Hebrew reader would have immediately recognised that Bartholomew is not the personal or given name of anyone.  That is a patronymic name or family name – it means Son of Tolomai.  There is another name like that in the Gospels that you will remember – Bartimaeus meaning Son of Timaeus.

Because of this, and the fact that Bartholomew’s name in the lists of Apostles in Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts is always placed after Philip’s name, when scholars look at this story in John’s Gospel about Philip and Nathanael they have drawn the conclusion that Nathanael is the son of Tolomai.  Thus his full name is Nathanael Bartholomew.

So Nathanael Bartholomew was one of the 12 Apostles – those Super Disciples who became the leaders of the early church as it spread out across the Mediterranean and other parts of the known world.  This story of him in John and his presence in the four lists of Disciples mention is all we know of him from the Bible, but that does not mean we know nothing else about him. 

There are stories of him in other sources and from these and the accumulated tradition of the church about this saint we could paint a very detailed picture of his exploits as an Apostle and missionary.  Some of them are reasonably historical but much of it is what we might call these days legendary.  But that’s not a problem – we generally think very highly of someone we describe as a legend.

There are stories that connect Nathanael Bartholomew with missionary work in various towns around the Eastern Mediterranean – Egypt, Turkey and more. 

In the fourth century, Eusebius found a story about a Missionary named Pantaenus who was evangelising in India in the area around Mumbai.  He was there near the end of the 2nd century and the people there told him that Nathanael Bartholomew had already been there years before to share the Gospel.

The later stories of his life, centre on the area we call Armenia – around the Caspian Sea.  This is where he did his greatest missionary work and even persuaded the King of Armenia to become a follower of Jesus.  This infuriated one of the Kings relatives and eventually Nathanael Bartholomew lost his head.

It certainly seems to be the case that most of the Apostles embarked on missionary journeys, not just Paul and his companions.  It was through this work that Christianity spread quite rapidly through what we call the Ancient Near East, and these early Christian missionaries did a wonderful and very important work.  But what about you and me?

Maybe some of you wanted to be missionaries but circumstances intervened.  Maybe some of you want to become missionaries yourselves and go to faraway places and evangelise the people there.

The reality for most of us is that if we are ever to be missionaries it will be here within our own communities in the suburbs of Perth.  And one good thing about that is that you are not likely to get your head chopped off for doing it.

In Acts 8.4, Luke tells us that the early Christians who were scattered by persecutions, proclaimed the Gospel wherever they went.  Michael Green suggests that this was not so much a preaching proclamation as it was what he called “Gossiping the Gospel.”

I like this idea and I offer it you for your consideration – and perhaps your inspiration.

Gossiping is something that most people engage in at some time or another.  Sometimes we lay fairly negative connotations on it.  Other times it is just part of the fun of our social interaction within our community.

There are usually two elements to gossip that makes it work.  Firstly, what we are telling someone is either secret or something we think they don’t know.  Secondly, we think that they will really want to know what we are telling them.

You and I love what we get from our relationship with God and this community.  That is what keeps us going in our faith.  One of the greatest single problems in our society is social isolation – our Nuba people can’t understand that.  Our community, the place where we nurture our faith, offers a place to belong, the companionship of like-minded people (and others) who share one very important thing – we are all discovering each day something new about the Way of Jesus which we have decided to make the purpose of our lives.

Talking about this doesn’t involve theological education and understanding doctrine or dogma.  If you are passionate about your walk with Jesus, talking about it should be the easiest thing to do, and it should be the easiest thing for someone else to listen to.

The only thing else for you to think about is “Who am I going to gossip to?”  Do you belong to a group that meets each week somewhere – not this church?  Sometimes you could gossip to them.  Sometimes do you meet with your friends from work or your former work life for a coffee or to play golf?  You could gossip to them.  I think the possibilities are endless.  I hope you do, too.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

PROPER 19C - Are You Ready?

When I asked that question I wonder if deep down in you, you had a thought of doubt. 

“Maybe I am not ready.” 

“Maybe I am not really good enough.”

The readings we had from Isaiah and Luke today are full of good news for you all, but I know that it is hard for us to get it.

It is really easy for us to live by a set of rules.  We like rules.  If we keep the rules, we will get our reward.  If we break the rules we will miss out .  Maybe even we will get punished.

That is how the people of Israel had come to live.

Sadly, that is how Christians came to live – and very early on.  But Jesus did not give us a set of requirements – of things we had to do – in order to receive God’s blessing.  He turned that system upside down.

Jesus had a lot to say about the rule book of The Law and most of it boiled down to living by the two great commandments – not the 10 Commandments.

Love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength.

Love your neighbour as yourself.

These are the only rule.

In the Sermon on the Mount – in Matthew 5 – there are six examples of Jesus quoting an aspect of the Law – and he turns those rules upside down by saying “But I say to you …”

So, keeping the rules will not make you ready.  That is the whole thrust of the reading from the beginning of Isaiah.  What he said God wanted most of us was that we would “see that Justice is done.”  How much of your religious practice is focussed on that?

Let’s have a look at these two Gospel stories we had from Luke 12 today.

The first story is called “Riches in Heaven” in our Good News Bibles.  This story is trying to tell us what is really important.  It is trying to tell us what God really cares about.

“Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor,” Jesus said.  “Save your riches in Heaven. “

This is a really hard saying.  Most of us have lived our lives doing the opposite of giving our money away – we have tried to earn as much of it as we can.

You will have heard of John Wesley, I am sure.  He was an Anglican Priest, but he became the founder of The Methodist Church.

His dad was a Priest and they were very poor.  One day, when John was a young child, he saw his dad being taken away to a debtors’ prison.  So you can imagine Wesley might had made a decision that he was never going to be poor like that.  And he nearly did.

He was lucky enough to go to Oxford University.  He was going to become a priest like his dad but changed his mind to become a teacher at Oxford – that way he wouldn’t be as poor as his dad.

One day he had been out to buy some nice pictures to put on the wall of his room at Oxford.  While he was putting them up the maid came in to clean his room and he noticed that she was freezing because she didn’t have warm clothes.  He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a warm jacket when he realised that he didn’t have enough money left after buying those pictures.

He felt very embarrassed because he could almost hear God saying to him You have adorned your walls with the money which might have sheltered this poor woman from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”
This changed his life because from that day on he lived a very frugal life, even though he earned a lot of money at times.  He had learned to live in those days on about £28 a year – labourers earned between £25 and £30 a year.  But some years he had an income in excess of £1,000.  He still lived on £28.  The rest he gave away.

He said one time: “Money never stays with me.  It would burn me if it did.  I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible lest it find some way into my heart.”

I think he understood this teaching of Jesus.

The second story is another one by Jesus that turns the world upside down.  This story is called “The Watchful Servants” in our Good News Bibles.  In this story, the servants who are awake and ready when their master returns in the middle of the night get a big surprise – the master tells them to sit down, he takes of his outside clothes and then makes a meal for them.  This is not the way it is supposed to be.

But this story is clearly telling us that this is the way it will be for us when Jesus returns – if we are ready.

I can almost hear some of you thinking “Oh well, the Second Coming of Jesus is a long way off.  I’m okay.”  And that might be true, but I wonder if there is another way that Jesus comes again.  This might be something that we need to take notice of every day.

Do you remember that story Jesus told in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats?  I don’t think the Nuba people think of sheep as good and goats as bad – but that idea serves Jesus purpose in this story.  In this story Jesus is talking about the final judgement.  I guess most of us would think of this as the time of what we call “The Second Coming”.

He tells the sheep that they will get their reward because they had been kind to him.  They tell him that they never saw him anywhere to be kind to him.  He tells them that every other person they were kind to that was as if they were being kind to him.  What he is telling them is that He comes to us again and again – every day – in the people that we meat during our daily routines.

Those goats didn’t see him either – so they didn’t bother being kind to anyone.

Can you see what this is leading to?

Seeing that Justice is done is about being ready.

Seeing that you share and give away as much as you can is about being ready.

And when you are ready – really ready – the Master who is coming will come in to you and serve you.