The Feast of St. Bartholomew, The Blessing of Liturgical Ministries, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville

“In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15).

Our reading this morning for the Feast of St. Bartholomew, from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, underscores an important truth about the early Christian movement: that is, the spread of the Gospel and the formation of Christian community in those early days was intensely relational and personal. Christianity did not just spread, willy nilly, like a popular post on social media that gets shared around. It required more than this in order to become a powerful force in the first century; more than this in order to shape and form a society. The Gospel spread through human contact. It required the human element, the God-shaped force of human personality and human relationship, in order to grow and spread.

This is why St. Paul claims the privileges of a father in our reading today; why he claims to have “begotten” the Corinthian Church in the Gospel. We know that the sort of evangelism that St. Paul practiced required human contact. It spread from person to person. This is the story that is told in Acts, over and over again: Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Peter and Cornelius the Centurion. It’s the story we find in the Gospels, as Jesus practices his ministry one on one.

Now this sort of observation is not particularly profound. On one level we can take it as a given. “Of course,” we might say, “spreading the word requires personal contact, the direct, human touch.” Anybody in sales can tell you as much. What St. Paul is talking about in our reading, however, is more intense. As St. Paul says elsewhere, “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). What he’s talking about is not transactional but relational; it requires the labor of love that marks a parent.

Note that the familial language is important in its own right. Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection brings about not just an imparting of information but a whole new community of faith, a relationship of persons. The Gospel makes new relationships of the most significant sort possible. In fact, the Gospel makes them necessary.

Through the Gospel, people become brothers and sisters, kinfolk in the faith. St. Paul, as it says in our reading, became the father of the Corinthian Christians, a person who could make claims and with whom claims could be made. Paul is invested in this relationship; it’s “personal” as they say. He’s imparted to them his very self because they have become very dear to him.

Our celebration of St. Bartholomew today reminds us of the enduring relationship we have in Christ Jesus, of the importance of the personal tie. Our liturgy itself testifies to the connection. The celebration of the saints, calls to mind the communion of saints, that great article of the Apostles’ Creed, that commemorates the reality of the ties we have in Christ. The apostolic band that set out in mission after the Day of Pentecost was armed with Jesus’ commission and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The apostles, in turn, stood at the base of a great “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) that have been generated ever since. We continue to be brothers and sisters, connected to those like Bartholomew or Paul, who first received the commission and begat our forebears and indeed us in the faith. We are connected in a fellowship of love and prayer that endures even to this day.

If Jesus Christ is, as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians, himself the “cornerstone” of the community of faith, the apostles and prophets are themselves “the foundation” (Eph. 2:20). The architectural metaphor of Paul’s reminds us that in the Christian tradition, churches are always dedicated to God but often given in memory of a saint or saints: that is, placed under a particular patron, a testimony to the personal tie that abides. A name like Holy Trinity or Christ Church or Messiah reminds us that all churches are dedicated to God; while St. Mary’s or St. Paul’s or even Otey Memorial reminds us of the personal relationship that we have in Christ with those who have gone before us, stretching back to the beginning.

We too are apostolic in that we all have been begotten in the faith. We are connected in a fellowship that is personal and relational, not transactional. We are called to share not only what we know but who we are, as we carry forward the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is painstaking work, one on one, demanding the best that we’ve got, but also promising us the kingdom.

On this feast of St. Bartholomew, we give thanks for the witness of this apostle and martyr, and pray God that we may be firmly grounded in the truths that he taught, and continue fervent in prayer, following in the footsteps of those who have been our fathers and mothers in the faith.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee