“St. Bart’s Day – What Day is That, Exactly?”

Sermon Preached on August 25, 2019 – St. Bartholomew’s Day
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Deuteronomy 18:15-18
1 Corinthians 4:9-15
Luke 22:24-30
Psalm 91:1-4

“St. Bart’s Day – What Day is That, Exactly?”

It’s our anniversary today, yours and mine. It’s okay if you forgot, it’s not like 13 years is one of those big anniversaries that you are supposed to celebrate with a lot of fanfare. The traditional gift is lace, but really – let’s just throw a party in red, like we do every year, on this feast day of St. Bartholomew.

I still remember the phone call in 2007 with a member of the vestry, discussing my start date. We were aiming for mid to late August, so I suggested my first Sunday be St. Bartholomew’s Day, I figured that would make sense. There was a pause. Then the person on the other end of the phone said: “St. Bart’s day – what day is that, exactly?”

Which is perfect – it pretty much sums up St. Bartholomew. One of the 12 apostles, just not one of the popular ones. He’s more the working-man’s apostle. He is the patron saint of tanners, plasterers, tailors, leatherworkers, bookbinders, farmers, housepainters, butchers, and glove makers. He may have been a relatively good healer – as his name is often associated with hospitals. Bartholomew is named in three of the Gospels as one of the 12 disciples, though in John’s Gospel he might be Nathanael.

As an apostle, Bartholomew walked with Jesus in his life, and after Jesus’s death and resurrection – he went out into the world as a witness. We have it from very ancient sources that Bartholomew took the Gospel to India, to the region around Mumbai actually, and he died in Armenia. We don’t know much else about him, which is fine. Saints are icons of the holy – it’s never about themselves, their purpose is to serve God and God’s people. And, through them, people encounter God.

So today, as we celebrate St. Bart’s Day for our 13th time together, I thought we’d answer that original question, “St. Bart’s Day – what day is that, exactly?”

It’s a good day to follow in the footsteps of the saints – to be willing to love God and one another, in ways that allow others to experience God’s grace. To use the gifts we’ve been given to the glory of God and the benefit of God’s beloved people.

But what does that look like? Three examples from this week in history:

First example
St. Bart’s Day is a good day to: take a stand for Creation, and to celebrate our National Parks. Today, August 25th, marks the day the National Park Service was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. By signing the National Park Service act, Wilson put people on the ground at the parks, provided for the preservation of these spectacular sites, and kept developers and poachers at bay. Our National Park Service continues to be a living witness to our call to protect and care for all of God’s Creation.¹ Today is a great day to renew our commitment to Creation – be inspired on this 103rd Birthday of our National Park Service.

Second example
St. Bart’s Day is a good day to: take a stand for those in need. And a good day to pray, to listen; to follow where God calls. August 26th is the birthday of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Born in Albania in 1910, she took her religions vows at the age of 21, and was sent to Calcutta to teach at St. Mary’s school for girls. After serving them for 20 years, she experienced what she described as a divine summons: “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”²

She traded in her traditional habit for a simple white cotton sari with a blue border, and after two years of ministering to the poor, sick, and hungry on the streets of Calcutta, she received permission from the Vatican to start what became the Missionaries of Charity. By the time of her death in 1997, Missionaries of Charity had grown to more than 4,000 workers in 133 countries, opening orphanages, homes for people with tuberculosis and leprosy, soup kitchens, hospitals, mobile health clinics, and schools.³

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Asked by the Nobel committee what advice she had for people who want to promote world peace, she said, “Go home and love your family.” Another interviewer once asked her about her practice of prayer, and she said, “Mostly, I just listen.” “And what does God say?” said the interviewer. She replied, “Mostly, God just listens.”⁴

One of my favorite quotations by Mother Teresa:

Love has a hem to her garment
that reaches the very dust.
It sweeps the stains from the streets and lanes,
and because it can, it must.⁵

St. Bart’s Day is a good day to respond to those in need- because we can.

Which brings us to our last example today, responding because we can and should. This week marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the American colonies, but the profoundly tragic repercussions of that landing are much too significant and complex to consider in a summer sermon. Rather, our third example is a single event in the aftermath, in the on-going struggle against systemic racism and injustice.

Third example
St. Bart’s Day is a good day to: encourage and believe in one another, and to dream of something better for all of God’s children. August 28th is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, to draw attention to the continuing challenges, injustice and discrimination faced by African Americans a century after emancipation. Organizers had worked for nearly two years, in order to convince the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to join together for the march. Fearing the event would become violent, the Pentagon stationed 19,000 troops in the suburbs.⁶ When the day came, some 250,000 people marched and gathered peacefully at the Lincoln Memorial, where the organizers had arranged speakers and singers to address the crowd. The 16th speaker slated that day was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.⁷ It seems all the other presenters wanted to speak earlier, figuring news crews wouldn’t stick around much past mid-afternoon. King agreed to speak last.⁸ (Sounds like an echo of our Gospel text today, doesn’t it? Don’t worry about who is the greatest, but about serving God.)

King spoke for 16 minutes, giving one of the most famous speeches of the civil rights movement, what has become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Though those remarks weren’t planned for his speech that day.⁹ Gospel star Mahalia Jackson had sung just before King’s speech, and she was standing behind him on the podium. Earlier that summer, Jackson had heard King deliver a speech in Detroit that featured the “I have a dream!” refrain. And so that day in August, when he was nearing the end of his remarks, Jackson called out to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” and King responded10, extemporaneously launching into what many now think of as the core of his message. Some excerpts as we celebrate St. Bart’s Day:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today! …

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day. …

When we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!¹¹

St. Bart’s day is just another day in August really, but it’s our day. May we use this day, and all our days, to live into God’s dream of the kingdom, for all of God’s people, right here and now.

As Mother Teresa has said: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”¹²

Friends, today is what we have, it’s all we need, let’s get started. Happy St. Bart’s Day.

1 Theologian’s Almanac, Week of August 25, 2019, Salt.org.
2 Theologian’s Almanac, Week of August 25, 2019, Salt.org.
3 Theologian’s Almanac, Week of August 25, 2019, Salt.org.
4 Theologian’s Almanac, Week of August 25, 2019, Salt.org.
5 Mother Teresa (2016). “No Greater Love, Commemorative Edition”, p.162, New World Library.
6 Theologian’s Almanac, Week of August 25, 2019, Salt.org.
7 Theologian’s Almanac, Week of August 25, 2019, Salt.org.
8 March on Washington, History.com, A&E Television Networks, Original Published October 29, 2009, Last Update September 19, 2018.
9 March on Washington, History.com, A&E Television Networks, Original Published October 29, 2009, Last Update September 19, 2018.
10 March on Washington, History.com, A&E Television Networks, Original Published October 29, 2009, Last Update September 19, 2018.
11 Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have A Dream: Writings and Speeches that Changed the World (San Francisco: Harper, 1986) via Teaching America History. www.naacp.org.
12 Mother Teresa of Calcutta (2010). “In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories & Prayers”, p.17, New World Library.