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.
By Sheila Heffernon & Bill Hattendorf
We were inspired last week by Kathryn Aubry-McAvoy’s reflection. Through the historic words of Julian of Norwich, she reminded us that “All will be well.” We found solace in her words, which in turn, gave us some hope. It seems fitting to follow her reflection with one about just that, Hope.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times this week, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof titled his essay, “We Interrupt this Gloom to offer . . . (wait for it). . Hope. The subtitle is “Yes, America is suffering needlessly. That may save us.” His opening paragraph is: “Just one in six Americans in a poll last month was “proud” of the state of the country, and about two out of three were actually “fearful” about it. So let me introduce a new thought: “hope.” Yes, our nation is a mess, but overlapping catastrophes have also created conditions that may finally let us extricate ourselves from the mire. The grim awareness of national failures — on the coronavirus, racism, health care and jobs — may be a necessary prelude to fixing our country.”
We are in a critical time in our country, a time that none of us has ever experienced. The collision of COVID19, the worst economic downturn of any of our lifetimes, the disastrous climate change, and the majority of Americans favoring social justice and racial equality, according to recent polls, have created a critical vortex. It seems that most of the country would like to avoid being sucked into the maelstrom and is ready to work together to begin the difficult climb out. Anger and the desire for change is fueling the collaborative work of many to build some bridges and ladders, in order to climb out of the eye of the hurricane to fix our country.
All will be well, as Julian espoused during the Medieval period. It won’t just happen, though, no matter how hard we pray, unless we hang on to our hope and find the inspiration to do the work. Earlier this week Molly shared with us that tomorrow, in the Episcopal Church, is the Feast day of some very important lesser Saints (imagine that as a title!). They are Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Amelia Bloomer and Eizabeth Cady Stanton. It seems fitting to reach back in time to hear their voices. They remind us that these changes have been desired for hundreds of years.
Amelia Bloomer was a women’s rights and Temperance Advocate, and was the first woman to own and operate a newspaper for women called “The Lily.” Even though she did not create the pantaloons known as bloomers, she was a strong advocate for women to be able to wear them, so they were named after her.
Amelia wrote, “It will not do to say that it is out of a woman’s sphere to assist in making laws, for if that were so, then it should be also out of her sphere to submit to them.” She also wrote, “When you find a burden in belief or apparel, cast it off.” Isabella Baumfree was born into slavery, but she escaped with her infant daughter in 1826.
In 1828 she went to court to recover her son; she became the first black woman to win a case like this against a white man. In 1843 she was convinced that God had called her to go to the country to testify that “hope was in her,” and she renamed herself Sojourner Truth. She was a powerful voice for abolition and women’s rights.
She once said “Let others say what they will of the efficacy of prayer, I believe in it, and I shall pray. Thank God! Yes, I shall always pray.”
Regarding hope, Sojourner said, “We have all been thrown down so that nobody thought we’d ever get up again; but we have been long enough trodden now; we will come up again.
And now I am here.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a suffragist, social activist and an abolitionist. She wrote “The Declaration of Sentiments,” which was presented at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, the first women’s rights convention. Her document and the convention itself helped launch the Women’s Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements in the US.
She said, “We hold these truths: that all men and women are created equal.” About political equality she wrote, “To throw obstacles in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property is like cutting off the hands. To refuse political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self respect, of credit in the marketplace, of recompense in the world of work, of a voice in choosing those who make and administer the law, a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment.”
Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and then rescued about 70 enslaved people through
the Underground Railroad, went on to serve in the Union Army and became an avid worker
for women’s suffrage. She said, “Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom,
keep going. I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to,
liberty or death; if I could not have one, I could have the other; for no man should take me
Harriet Tubman also said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember,
you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars and to
change the world.”
Harriet reminds us that we are all able to change the world. History has taught us that approaching change with hope will lead us to a stronger and more unified place. Noel Paul Stookey reminded us, in his song, “Our Lives are Connected,” that the past is the present through which the future looks. This is the moment that history will look back on and either praise our ability to formulate the change needed to create a just and equitable future for all humans, or judge us harshly for once again, failing at the task.
How will we define ourselves in this moment? What will we do? Can we live in the hope that Marian Wright Edelman feels? As the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, she has been battling for a more just society for six decades. She recently said, “I’m very optimistic. I think we have a chance of getting something done.”
Can we find hope in the words of John Lewis, a giant in the Civil Rights movement, who worked for equity until his death on Friday? He said: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Yes, All will be well, but only if we make it so, through our prayers and our work to a better future, sustaining our perseverance by hope. Amen.
Today’s lesson is part of Jesus’ Farewell discourse, preparing his disciples for his departure and for their reception of the Holy Spirit. These sorts of formal farewell speeches seemed to be traditional in Bible times (in and out of the Bible), offering flowery rhetoric and words of comfort and instructions to survivors of a departing leader or teacher. It’s still a rather long goodbye, filling five chapters of John, but not as long Moses ́ good-bye to the Hebrews, that took the whole book of Deuteronomy.
In his farewell, Jesus both reassures and directs his disciples about how to carry on after his death, not that talk of his departure is anything they want to hear. He also promises the Holy Spirit, and he emphasizes the intimate unity of Jesus, God, the Spirit, and the Believer. basically throwing in another layer to the Trinity.
It’s interesting that the longer he talks, the more confused and anxious his friends seem to be. But then when were the disciples ever portrayed otherwise? But maybe in this case, why not?
They’d left their old lives behind to follow Jesus, and now he was going to leave them? They’d taken all kinds of risks, breaking Jewish law and offending religious officials. He had taught them, walked with them, blessed and broken bread with them, and they’d come to rely pretty heavily upon him. They’d even recognized him as the Messiah ... And now he was going away, and they weren’t invited, and he was leaving them in charge. What sense would any of this made to them?
Talk about separation anxiety! But it turns out that they were not being left alone to fend for themselves exactly, and, John suggests, nor are we! No, part of the good news of Jesus’ departure was that it would make way for the arrival of another advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them always, not only when Jesus was physically present ... which means that even for us, who were born far too late to encounter the earthly historical Jesus, this Holy Spirit was and is present, active, and available, even to us now.
I think for most of us, the Spirit is the hardest part of the Trinity. I remember growing up with images of Jesus hanging on the Sunday School walls (even if he was rather blond-haired and blue-eyed for a middle-easterner). And the image of God wasn’t too hard – we saw images of him from up there on the Sistene Chapel ceiling with Adam. But the Holy Spirit is tougher, less tangible. Some people equate the Holy Spirit with a particular kind of experience, like talking in tongues or something. But most of us are probably content with a sense of something “out there” that we cannot name.
In our Gospel today, Jesus declares that if his disciples love him, they will keep his commandments. “What commandments?" they might ask. Because unlike, say, Matthew, nowhere in John does Jesus command us to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Famously, John’s Jesus gives only a single commandment and it occurs in the chapter just before ours:
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
From our Gospel writer John, at the end of each day, and during each moment of each day, there's only one question to ask yourself: “In what ways did I or did I not love today?”
This idea reminds me of an aspect of Benjamin Franklin (one of our nation’s founders and self-proclaimed sage). Franklin famously kept a journal on a form that he had printed. (Perhaps you’ve used something similar from the Franklin Planner company or an equivalent.) At the top of every page of Franklin’s original was the question, “What good shall I do today?” (sort of like “In what way can I love someone today?” At the bottom of page was a final check-in question for end of the day that said, “What good have I done today?”
Remember according to John, Jesus’ one commandment is to love. So we could ask, “In what ways should I – or did I or did I not love today?”
Jesus constantly asks the Bible characters questions that help them understand their own lives and motives more clearly. He asks questions not because he doesn't know the answers, of course (and John assures us that Jesus already knew everything); rather, he asks so that we might know, and therefore move forward with clear vision into the truth, and light, and glory, and love, – all abundant for which God has created us. It's all of a piece.
John’s Gospel is different from the other three in so many ways, of course. In Luke, for example, the Holy Spirit is heavily active in the lives of the characters from the beginning of his Gospel through the end of Acts. But John insists that the Holy Spirit will come only after Jesus departs.
I’ve kind of wrestled with why this is? I think a clue lies in John’s Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit as Another Advocate. Not as The Advocate but as Another Advocate. Which can only imply then that Jesus himself was the first Advocate.
Advocate is the word used in this translation. The original Greek is “Paraclete,” ( perə - klēt ) which is a combination of “beside” and “to call.” The word Paraclete has a range of meanings in Greek that includes Comforter, Advocate, Counselor, Helper, and more. The word occurs only five times in the Bible, four in John 14-16 and once in 1 John.
So, Jesus was the first Paraclete; For the Spirit to be active among them while Jesus was there (like the Luke version) would have seemed sort of redundant since they each serve the same kind of revelatory function. What appeared to be bad news to the disciples in one sense – that is, Jesus' departure from them – turned out to be the best of news in another sense.
While Jesus walked the earth, his ministry was limited to one locale and one person, himself. But on his departure, his disciples are given the Spirit and moved from the status of apprentices to full, mature revealers of God's love. And this happens not just to the first disciples, but to all those who would come later, those who never saw the
The evangelist insists that present believers are at no disadvantage in comparison to the first believers. John suggests that everything they were taught and everything they experienced is available to the same degree and with equally rich texture, even to us.
We Christians are reminded at least every Sunday in our worship about the Trinity, so I think maybe the most stunning or surprising feature about this Gospel is the concept of the Quattrinity according to a professor at Southern Methodist University, or, probably more properly, from my hierarchical dictionary, a Quaternity.
In John’s particular version of the Good News, Jesus insists that the intimate relationship that exists between him, and God, and the Spirit also includes believers. The believer does not stand there just admiring the the majestry of the Trinity; rather, the believer is an equal part of it. I think I like that. Maybe one of the most intriging parts of John’s Gospel
John’s believers don't “imitate” Jesus; they participate in him wholly. If we read the next couple of verses, Jesus was asked, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” And Jesus answers, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
The word “home” is used only one other time in John, in verse 2, “In my Father’s house are many rooms [which is the same word as “home” in verse 23]. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Which means: If you love me and keep my word, my Father and I will come to you and – in all your suffering and trials – give you heaven on earth.
So if God and Christ have made their home with us, how can we imagine there to be any distance between us and God? It seems that John is saying that ultimate intimacy with God and Christ and with the Holy Spirit, is available now. What might one hope for beyond that? God is not currently holding out on us in any way – Love God and Jesus, and life, abundant life, is available for living – Now and to eternity.
The Common Lectionary has brought together for us an interesting group of readings for us today, starting with our Old Testament lesson from Genesis that takes us back to “the fall,” the Bible’s first temptation story, starring Adam and Eve and the Serpent.
God didn’t create a “perfect” world in the Garden of Eden, but rather a “good” one. Six times in Genesis we hear, “It was good.” But Eden is no Caribbean vacation in paradise. God places Adam in the garden “to till it and keep it.” From the beginning, humans are made for a regular rhythm of doing work with periods of Sabbath rest. God says they may eat from any tree, but he places the tree of knowledge off limits.
Enter the serpent: He’s a clever and talkative animal who provides what we’d call today some “alternative facts.” The serpent is not alone with Eve, as often pictured; Adam is quietly standing right there, probably hearing every word. After the serpent and Eve talk, she takes and eats the fruit, and she gives the fruit to “her husband, who was with her.” Adam and Eve both yielded to temptation, and God kicked them both out of the Garden. And the serpent? He was condemned to crawl on his belly and eat dust all the days of its life.
Just an aside here that’s always bothered me: First, possibly because they shed their skin, serpents and snakes have historically been symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing. Somewhat like the phoenix from the ashes, yet the serpent here seems to be the bad guy; he gets a bum rap. Also, the serpent is cursed to crawl on its belly and eat dust all the days of ts life – yet nowhere in the Bible does it mention exactly how the serpent moved around before the curse – Did it walk upright on its tale or what? But neither phoenix nor snake is our focus for today.
So our first heroes in the Bible (Adam and Eve) failed, if you will, in the original temptation story. This Genesis tale is what we might call a theological metaphor describing what it means to belong to a humanity in a broken relationship with God and with the rest of the world. When we get to today’s Gospel of Christ, it doesn’t really depend on a literal “first couple” and original sin, or on the claim that there was no death in the world before humans and their “original sin.” The billions of years of life’s evolution would pretty well argue against this.
Our second lesson today, Psalm 32, is a Psalm of penitence, but it is also the song of a ransomed soulrejoicing in the wonders of the grace of God. We don’t know exactly what occasion in David’s life prompted this song, although we do know it was after David’s giving in to temptation after seeing Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop. In the psalm, sin is dealt with; sorrow is comforted; ignorance is instructed.
In the Psalm, David gives a word of caution to sinners that the way of sin will certainly end in sorrow. At the same time, it’s a word of comfort to saints. Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; Shout for joy, all who are true of heart!
Our reading from Romans takes Paul back to Eden. He holds onto the paradox that we cannot escape sin since we are connected to Adam and Eve, stuck under sin’s tyranny, with the reign of sin’s ally, death, over us. But even if one agrees with that idea (and I personally agree with Paul on not a lot), Adam’s act of disobedience has been overcome by the more powerful obedience of Jesus with his faithful death on the cross.
Finally, for the Gospel lesson here in Matthew, it’s no accident that Jesus winds up in the wilderness after his baptism. As the saying goes, “Not all who wander are lost.” Jesus is not lost, and he is not being punished for something he has done. He’s been led by the Holy Spirit for a purpose: to be tempted or tested by the devil (the original Greek here means either tempted or tested). His scriptural debate with the Devil functions as an assessment (or a proof) of his readiness as God’s beloved Son for the mission that’s being entrusted to him. As shown in Matthew’s Gospel by the genealogy and birth narratives, Jesus has both the credentials and the authority for this mission. Now, through this wilderness test, Jesus stands squarely in the long history of the people of God even as his encounter with the devil points him ahead to a future still unfolding.
Throughout scripture, the wilderness represents a place of preparation, a place of waiting for God’s next move, a place of learning to trust in God’s mercy. For 40 days and nights Jesus remains in the wilderness, without food, getting ready for what comes next.
The Bible seems full of the number 40, as well as both physical and metaphoric wildernesses:
What happens here in the wilderness doesn’t stay in the wilderness (No Las Vegas mentality here of thngs staying) – rather, it plays again in Jesus’ life and ministry. The answers are different on different occasions, but the choices are very much the same:
The wilderness temptations are not a one-time ordeal to get through, but they’re tests of preparation for the choices Jesus makes in his earthly ministry. Here in Matthew, we have an opportunity to see how the wilderness experience is replayed in Jesus’ encounters
Our story suggests that if Christ had followed any one of these temptations, he’d have been a sinner another fallen human like us, unable to redeem anyone, and the mission would have been ruined by the devil. But he was sent into the world to redeem us, and to do that, he had to conquer Satan.
I look at this Wilderness tale as a sort of vision quest, where the temptations are strong. Jesus is tempted with riches and power, and the only requirement is that he make these temporal purposes his God – that is worship “the tempter” instead of God.
Shortly after his Wilderness experience, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains that we ought to focus our worship on God: He says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”
Rather than take advantage of his unique awareness, Jesus sets about a ministry devoted to awakening that same awareness in all people.
“And it was good.” Amen.
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