The name Andrew is a strong name, you might say full of testosterone, as it literally means manly, and takes on courageous and warrior characteristics. Andrew is considered the first disciple of Jesus, and so he’s also given the name Pró-to-clé-tus – “Proto” in Greek meaning “first” and “cletus” meaning “called.”
Our reading today about Andrew is from Matthew, where Jesus is walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and he sees two fishermen casting their net into the sea, and he calls to them saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” We really don’t know why Jesus chose them first or, for that matter, even why he chose them at all.
Of course, if we consider the versions in the other Gospels as well, we might say that Jesus’s early disciples were not really his at all, but were John the Baptist’s, as we see in John 1:35-37. After John’s testimony about Jesus’s baptism, it says: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’ When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.”
Andrew doesn’t enter into a discussion with Jesus about the meaning of life; they do not debate future plans; he just wants to be with Jesus, be where Jesus is. And Jesus invites him to do just that: “Come and you will see!” And he doesn’t have to be asked twice. And being with Jesus, in his presence, likely having fellowship with him at his table, was enough for Andrew to joyfully tell his brother: “We have found the Messiah!”
Traditionally, on St. Andrew’s Day, there are two major themes that churches generally talk about:
#1 is Discipleship. Andrew was the first to follow Jesus. We, too, then should follow Jesus. And
#2 is Evangelism. Andrew was instrumental in spreading the Gospel to far-off lands after the death and resurrection of Jesus. We, too, then should spread the Gospel.
Not all of the story of Andrew comes strictly from the four different versions in the Bible. Some of what we know, or what we think we know, comes from church tradition in the centuries after Andrew’s death.
Andrew was born in Bethsaida, which is on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. He and his brother, Simon Peter, both lived in Capernaum and worked as fishermen. Because they were fishermen, they were at the very bottom of the socio-economic scale in the society. In the Roman Empire, all fish were considered to belong to the Emperor. So if one wanted to make a living by fishing, one had to pay for a special license, and then pay a special “tax” of a portion from every haul. It was a grueling, difficult life. A fisherman in the first century would have had all of his worldly possessions invested in the boats, nets, and license to fish. He would have lived a rather humble life. And Andrew lived this life.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, according to tradition, Andrew rescued the apostle Matthias from cannibals, and then went on to spread the gospel throughout Greece and Asia Minor, where he performed miracles in the name of Jesus. The early church said he carried the gospel as far as the lands that became Russia and even Poland. He was martyred in Pátras [Páhtras], Greece, being crucified on a cross shaped like an “X.” This cross, of course, would take on the name “St. Andrew’s Cross.”
St. Andrew is considered the Patron saint of Greece and Russia to this day, as he spread the gospel in both of those places before he was martyred. But he is also the patron saint of Scotland, and nobody has ever suggested that Andrew made it to the far northern reaches of Scotland.
That’s where a guy named Regulus fits into the story. Regulus, whose name means “Rule” in Latin, was a Christian monk who lived in Patras, Greece, in the fourth century. According to legend, he was visited by an angel who told him that the Emperor Constantine wanted to move St. Andrew’s bones from Patras to his new capital, Constantinople. Regulus did not trust Constantine’s motives, so he gathered up as many of the saint’s bones as he could and headed north to hide them “at the ends of the earth” for safekeeping. Well, to add to the story, of course, Regulus was shipwrecked off the coast of Fife, Scotland. He took the bones ashore, and the place became known as St. Andrew’s, Scotland – a place of pilgrimage (not just for golfers) and a place of healing. Scotland eventually incorporated the St. Andrew’s cross into their National flag, and they officially named Andrew their patron saint in 1320.
So here we are, members of the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew, on St. Andrew’s Day. What are we supposed to get out of this story? I’ve already mentioned the themes of Discipleship and Evangelism. Does hearing Andrew’s story make you want to go out and follow his example? Probably not. I think it’s a little hard for us to connect to it, frankly. But I am fascinated by the image of someone who literally dropped everything he owned in an instant at the words, “Follow me.”
So today, let’s focus on another of Andrew’s remarkable qualities: his readiness to respond to Jesus Christ’s call to follow him. In Matthew today, at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls to Andrew & Peter to, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people!”
This call certainly would have caught the brothers’ attention if only because of how preposterous it sounds – what can it mean to fish for people? However odd the call sounds to us today, we know that Andrew responded wholeheartedly to Jesus. Andrew followed Jesus – without reservation or hesitation – with lots of curiosity & devotion – immediately leaving his nets, perhaps letting them sink in the seashore’s shallow water.
Andrew’s heart seemed to be prepared to hear & to heed Jesus’ call, with all that he had & all that he was. Because Andrew’s heart was prepared for Jesus, he did not have to be in a particularly holy place or going about particularly holy work to understand Jesus’ call to him. Andrew heard Jesus call to him in the middle of his ordinary life, his routine day, at a moment when he is casting a fishing net out into open water.
Andrew’s heart was prepared because he lived the truth of which Moses speaks in our lesson today from Deuteronomy: It says, “The word is very near to you. It is in your mouth & in your heart for you to observe.” This word that was very near to Andrew was the word of the Lord – all the law & commandments God gave to God’s people through Moses.
In calling, Jesus doesn’t give a big speech; no arguments about his cause or about what’s right and wrong with the world. He doesn’t promise eternal life or even a better life. He simply says: “Follow me, and I will make you fisher of people.”
Imagine giving up everything to go with him.
How can they do this? What do they see in this man that prompts such a bold action? It’s as if they’ve been waiting their entire lives for THIS moment to come, but they don’t know it. Now they’re seeing, in this moment, that for which they had been created.
When they saw Jesus, they didn’t just see some random teacher with potential. In the first century, the countryside was astonishingly full of itinerant doomsday preachers and healers, normally charging a substantial fee for their services.
But in Jesus, they saw something that tapped into the core of their being. They did not drop their nets for just anyone. Andrew hadn’t given up fishing for John the Baptist. But when they heard “Follow me,” I think they heard the voice of God.
Andrew did not have any special talent. But within his capacity, he did his duty for the work of God. He worked silently and led people to Christ. He, with a humble, calm and modest spirit, being loyal to his call became an obedient and courageous witness for Christ.
There are many voices out there calling us. There are many pulls on our time and our attention every day. How do we know when we are called to a particular ministry or a specific path in life? How do we know if we are supposed to drop our nets for this purpose, but not that one?
God created us. God loves us. God calls each of us. But, if we listen, in the middle of all the competing voices we hear, God is calling us to be Loving, Life-giving, and Liberating.
Christ came into our world to teach us the ways of love, the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. He mandated us to love our enemies, to show compassion, and that true meaning and purpose is to be found in laying down our lives for others. The God of compassion and peace calls us to himself. He calls us to reach across our divisions, and to listen to his voice calling us to live a better way. That same voice which called St Andrew into a life of service and out-poured love.
That’s the voice we must follow.
Like Andrew, that’s the path we must blaze. Amen.
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