I See You St. Bart’s

Sermon Preached on Sunday, August 26, 2018, Pentecost XIV,
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

I See You St. Bart’s

Today we celebrate St. Bartholomew, our patron saint. It’s less about the trappings of a high holy patronal feast day, and more about taking a moment to acknowledge our namesake.  St. Bartholomew and the lowlier saints like him. The “also saints,” people who lived lives of dedication and service to the Gospel in their own time and context – but may not be the big names, the headliners. People who lived with such dedication to God, that those around them experienced the good news of the Gospel.

Bartholomew is named in three of the Gospels as one of the disciples, in John’s Gospel he might be Nathanael. Either way, he is an apostle, one who walked with Jesus in his life, and after Jesus’s death and resurrection – 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.

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. Thankfully we don’t have to be saints to be part of this kind of holy exchange – it’s all about being willing to see one another and be in relationship. Seeing and serving God in each other, and we can do that.

This summer I had the opportunity to serve once again as one of the deputies from the diocese of Maine. I can bore you to tears about that in great detail later, promise! But for the purposes of our sermon today – I want to share a few moments that most impressed me. Beginning with something that our House of Deputies Chaplain, the Rev. Lester Mackenzie taught us. Lester’s a tremendous priest, with a gorgeous accent from his upbringing in South Africa that I sincerely wish I could do justice. In song, in prayer, in community, Lester is passionate about our seeing one another. He taught the House this Zulu greeting: “Sawubona!” (I see you.) The response is “Yebo,” (Yes, I am here). Or the more complete response: “Yebo, sawubona. (Yes, I see you, too!)” One side of the House would begin, and the other side would respond: “Sawubona!” “Yebo!” I see you, I am here.

Which we said to one another: a chant, a greeting, a welcome, a prayer. Praying shapes our experience and our becoming. I see you. I am here.

How I choose to see you shapes both of us and our becoming the people of God.

I see you, and in your face, I see something of the face of Christ. I see, and I am changed.

Days before leaving for Austin to go to General Convention, we found out there would be an opportunity to join in a prayer service at the Hutto Detention Center, if we signed up for a bus. The entire Maine deputation jumped at the chance to pray and to witness to what is happening to families at our borders.

Just before we left, I saw a Facebook post from artist Janet McKenzie, whose work I have admired for years. She had created a piece in response to the family separations and I mentioned how great it would be to have a poster/print to take to the prayer service. She responded almost immediately – and we worked it out so that I bought these posters instead, which were ready to go, and she mailed them directly to the hotel in Austin. The morning of the event we were asked not to bring posters so now they are ours. Perhaps what the Spirit intended all along, I can’t be sure. But I love these Icons, faces in which we might glimpse the holy, and in turn see the holy in the faces around us.


On the day of the prayer service, we were bused from Austin to the Hutto Detention Center. When we arrived, we were surprised by the number of buses in the line, there had to be at least 10 to 12 huge white chartered buses, packed, every seat taken. And of course, private cars as well. We were close to 1000 strong. The mayor of the town met the buses and shook Presiding Bishop Curry’s hand, welcoming us. We piled out and held our prayer service, praying for those who were at the center: those who worked there, those who were detained. For the women waiting for their immigration status hearings. We prayed, we sang, eventually all chanting: “We see you.” In Spanish, “Te vemos.” The women in the center were waving white washcloths and pieces of paper in the windows in response.

How I choose to see you shapes both of us and our becoming the people of God.

When the Bishops Against Gun Violence group gathered in the park, all the bishops in their regalia and orange stoles, and so many of us there joining them, we were there in witness to say to victims’ families – we see you. We won’t shy away from this because it’s painful or difficult. We see you and stand in this hard place with you.

When we voted unanimously in the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops to readmit the Diocese of Cuba into the Episcopal Church; and cheered as their bishop and her two deputies were escorted into the House, we were saying, we see you, and we believe you belong here, with us.

When they held the reconciliation and healing service acknowledging the ways the Church has mistreated women – it was a first step, a way of saying – We see you. And own our complicity in what has happened to you.

Every vote, every conversation that happened with respect for differing opinions, every worship service together – “I see you, as a fellow member of the Body of Christ.”

“Sawubona!” “Yebo!” “I see you and you matter to me.” That’s the Gospel of love in action. Loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and changing the world by doing so.

Here at home, some of our New Mainer families were here with us for the Lobster Bake a few weekends ago. It was such a joyful celebration of the Yarmouth Compassionate Housing Initiative program, and those relationships forged, new ones being created all the time. I was talking with Cesarie and her family, who have been our friends for 4 years, and she convinced me that I need to learn French this fall. And she’s promised to tutor me when I need help! Which made us both laugh; because that’s how we met her – she was being tutored by Peter Sillin at Portland Adult Ed. She and her family needed the support of this community, and we needed to understand more fully the experience of New Mainers, so we could consider how we might fill the gaps. We began by being in relationship with this family from Burundi, and the following year we were in position to respond with the program that became the Yarmouth Compassionate Housing Initiative. What makes it all work are the relationships formed. What we have been able to do for these families is SEE them. Not as numbers or policies, but as people. “I see you, and you matter to me.” There is tremendous power in seeing one another, being willing to be in relationship with each other. And everyone gains.

How I choose to see you shapes both of us and our becoming the people of God.

“Sawubona!” “Yebo!” I see you. You matter to me and you matter to God. I may not look like much help, but I’ve got friends. A whole community of friends. You are not alone. We see you. You are beloved of us and of God.

My friends, you don’t need me to tell you that this world isn’t getting any easier to navigate. And people, all people, need the hope and love of the Gospel’s good news – to be seen and known and loved. And you and I, followers of Jesus, gather in this place, named for that also an apostle, Bartholomew, a relatively unsung hero. Who was hardworking and faithful, sharing the good news one relationship at a time, doing the work he was given to do.

Today, the work of seeing people and being in relationship with them is up to us. And in my opinion, we are particularly gifted as a community to do it. Here’s to another year of being willing to see and love well as we live into being the people of St. Bart’s.

“Sawubona!” “Yebo!”