Sermon for the Feast of St. Andrews
Welcome to our celebration of Saint Andrew the Apostle, one of the patron saints of our community. I would like, first, to share some of what I learned about Andrew. As many of you know, he is the patron saint of Scotland. He is also patron saint of Barbados, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Sicily, Greece, and Cyprus and many more. Additionally he is the patron saint of fisher persons, fishmongers, and rope makers, as befits his early life as a fisherman; yet he is also the patron saint of singers, miners, farm workers, and pregnant women. Until I began researching Saint Andrew, I was unaware of how many groups of people might claim a saint.
In today’s Gospel, we learn that Andrew and his brother Simon, called Peter, were the first disciples called to follow Jesus. That they quickly left their fishing and followed Jesus may seem a bit crazy. But there is a different memory of how Andrew became Jesus’ follower found in John 1:35-42, where we learn that Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist. Andrew and another of John’s followers were standing next to him when he watched Jesus walk by. John said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Andrew and the other disciple immediately turned and began to follow Jesus. Ultimately they went with Jesus to the place he was staying. They ended up staying the night and listening to Jesus, after which Andrew immediately went and found his brother, Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah,’ and brought Simon to Jesus. I think that likely makes Andrew the first missionary, as he brought the first new follower to Jesus.
We don’t often hear of Andrew in a prominent leadership position. He is not part of the “inner circle” (Peter, James and John). Much of the time that we hear of Andrew in scripture, we hear him referred to as the brother of Simon Peter, almost as though he has no identity apart from that. Still, Andrew was a leader, if a quieter and more unassuming one. For example, it was he who brought the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus. Later, when some Greeks ask Philip if they could be introduced to Jesus, Philip appeals to Andrew for help. Andrew is a quiet leader. He seems to simply do what the occasion calls for.
The more I read about Andrew, the more I liked him. He seemed to me to be unassuming, yet willing to do whatever was needed. His leadership style might be less dramatic than Peter, James and John, but I don’t think he lacked the ability to lead. I think I became a bit of a fangirl for Andrew, due in large part to my impression of him as a man deeply rooted in faith and love. I think that he went to find Simon Peter and bring him to Jesus because Andrew was convinced that Jesus was truly the messiah, and his love for his brother made him want to share this amazing discovery.
Third century church historian Eusebius wrote that Andrew traveled north to Scythia after the resurrection, but little is known of his life beyond that. Tradition holds that Andrew was crucified in about the year 60CE, on a diagonal cross as he believed he was not worthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus was.
Still, my impression of Andrew reminds me of the importance of saints on our faith. My impression of Andrew’s faith rooted in love, inspired me to think about the need to spread Jesus’ love to everyone we meet - not through words, but through acting in love as Jesus did, and as I believe Andrew did. We need our saints to set an example for us, to show us how to be our best selves.
As I noted earlier, today’s Gospel was pretty straightforward. The second lesson was puzzling to me. How do we become more like Andrew? How do we step out in faith and love to serve others as Andrew did? Clearly, if we are following Andrew’s example, we do not need to make a big production of what we do. We just need to remember that our loving and generous God expects us to follow the example of Jesus and of Andrew.
One of the people I spoke with about Andrew and about remembering how lucky we are to have such a loving and generous God, told me that she had simplified this down to three sentences during Covid. She was determined not to be about fear and sadness throughout the pandemic. Instead she repeated three simple phrases to herself, “I am grateful. I am blessed. And it will be okay.” As I thought about it, I realized it was a very reasonable mantra for anyone who has a bit of apprehension in the face of trying to step out in love to serve God’s people. Thank you Cheri Ann.
It seems to me that the reading from Romans speaks to God’s love for God’s people, and God’s desire for us to spread that love generously as we were taught by the way Jesus lived his life on earth. The reading from Romans says, “‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” This is the way of Jesus; this is the way Andrew learned from him. This is the way of leading with love.
I believe that we are the children of a generous God. A God who so loves us that he sent his son to teach us how to live. Jesus lived a life of love and service, and that is the life we are called to as well. In the second half of the reading from Romans, we hear that there are all kinds of obstacles to people calling on God’s help when needed. How can they call on a God they do not know, and how can they come to know God unless someone tells them of God’s existence? Romans again, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” It is up to those who have heard the word of Christ to share it with others. This does not mean we have to stand on street corners and preach. It means we have to walk out in love to serve our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are.
When we began Emmaus Companions, we knew that preaching on street corners was not a good way to let people on the margins know that they are loved. By accepting our brothers and sisters on the margins with love, not judgment; remembering to listen, not preach; accept that we do not understand all that they are going through, but trying to learn how to walk with them, made us companions on their journey; trustworthy and caring. Sometimes we have seen people fall off the wagon or get involved in a fight with someone who used to be a close friend or die from an overdose or freeze to death because they had no shelter. It seems to me that we need more people walking out in love to help folks find food or shelter or an agency that deals with whatever problem they have. I know Emmaus Companions could use the help, and so could the Sunday Sandwich ministry or Second Helpings. These are just a few ways that we can spend our love.
We have a wonderful church community, with so many amazing ministries. We are a people with big hearts. We follow the examples of our patron saints and step out in love. There is great reward in doing the work of Jesus. In fact, it can change our lives. I have never regretted a moment spent in the prayer corner or at table on Monday night’s Second Helpings meal; or walking on the street to listen to the many people we have been privileged to meet through Emmaus Companions. Those are the ministries I know most about, but there are many more at James and Andrew. Just look around a bit and I suspect you will be able to find a ministry suited to your talents.
Once again I think of our reading from Romans, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” My prayer for you and for me is that we find a way to bring good news to all who long to know that they are loved - regardless of who they are.
A Sermon for 7 Easter
I struggled with the overwhelming pain brought on by these horrible incidents, as I am sure many of you have done as well. I was brought back to today’s gospel. I read the passage again, and this time I found not just meaning – I found hope.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, Gun Violence Archive1 defines a mass shooting as an incident with at least four injuries, not including the shooter, regardless of the number of fatalities. 1 Using this definition, there have been 215 mass shootings through the 21st week of 2022, including 51 so far in the month of May. This means we are averaging about 10 mass shootings per week so far in 2022. The Uvalde shooting has had the highest number of fatalities with 21. This data - along with the unprovoked war in Ukraine, the unwillingness of political and corporate leaders to make concerted efforts to curb climate change, and the sad unwillingness of our own political leaders to work together to achieve anything truly meaningful for their people – point to the brokenness of our world.
So how does this take me back to the gospel reading? And how can the reading possibly give me hope? I went back to the gospel reading and decided to ask myself the three questions we use for our Bible Study. The first question is: What word or phrase stands out for you in this reading? That did not take much thought for me. The word is “one”. This word is repeated four times in this relatively brief gospel. Jesus says the goal for the disciples is to “be one heart and mind” in Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. 2 Again, the word ‘one’. I do not think that in using this word, Jesus is asking us to be a single being, all the same, or even all agreeing on everything. If that were the case, I sincerely doubt that God would have created us in all our beautiful diversity. So many colors of hair, eyes, skin. So many body types, cultures, languages, skills and ideas of beauty. I think that what Jesus is asking of us is unity – a proactive and purposeful unity, meant to move us into full acceptance of one another as children of God. The Trinity in the persons of creator, redeemer and sustainer, invites all of us, each and every one, into the amazing love of God.
We have a choice, likely one we make many times over in our lives, about whether or not to accept this invitation. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to make good choices, we fall short. We are, after all, human. We are not required to love God as creator, redeemer or sustainer. Does this mean that sometimes, in practicing our God-given free will, we will ultimately make truly terrible choices? Sadly, yes it does.
The second Bible Study question is “What do you notice about God in this reading?” This, too, came to me quite quickly. I see God in Jesus as the great inviter. We are all invited to live in the love of God. All we are required to do is invite God into our hearts. Make room for God to be a part of who we are. Once God resides within us, we become a vessel for the love of God. In this reading, I see Jesus as
the one who longs for us to rest in him. To bring our broken hearts to him for healing and love. In this reading, I notice a God who will not give up on us. Throughout the gospels, there are so many places that I can almost imagine Jesus dropping his face into his hands and wondering how these disciples were missing the point so often. His frustration must have been overwhelming at times. But he never gave up on them. This ragged group of followers who seemed so lost sometimes, were the great hope for the future. And more than 2000 years later, here we are – still speaking of Jesus, still receiving the sacraments he instituted, still believing that following his footsteps is the best way to live. God in Jesus did not give up on his disciples, and God does not give up on us. Ours is a merciful and forgiving God, one whose love is never-ending.
The third question is typically the one with which I have the most difficulty. It requires an “I” statement. The question is, “What does the God you see in this reading make you want to do and/or be?” My answer to this question requires some action of me – some real commitment. If I answer the question honestly, it is a call. Our group typically challenges me to answer as honestly as possible. Offering up a vague, “God wants me to be a better person” is not an adequate response. As I read this gospel over and over, I realized that the answer to question one informed my answer to question three. God wants me to become part of the oneness of God’s people. Not a carbon copy of someone I admire, but authentically myself. My best self. The self who looks at all God’s other people, with whom I can experience this oneness, this unity, this strength in God’s abiding love, and this wonder and awe at the great diversity of God’s own people, and feel hope for the future of humankind.
This is the seventh and final Sunday of Easter. This is a season of hope renewed following a time of sadness and pain. Right now, I feel deep sadness in our world. An unprovoked and horrific war in Ukraine; record numbers of children suffering from depression as a result of the isolation of the pandemic; over a million deaths – some surely preventable – from Covid; the terrifying predictions about climate change; and over 200 mass shootings so far in 2022. So where is the hope? Throughout the Scriptures, we are told of the many mistakes made by the God’s children, of whom we are a part. Going as far back as Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, human beings have been messing up with stunning frequency. Yet every time we have messed up, our God has given us another chance. God has loved us through all kinds of terrible behaviors and has not turned God’s back on us. So, my hope lies in the fact that just as I am willing to take my place among the people of “one heart and mind” and bring with me an acceptance of all of God’s people, regardless of who they are, I believe others are willing to do the same. My hope lies in looking out at you and realizing that I love who you are and what you do in God’s name. You and I are, in fact, my hope for the future. I hope as you leave here today, you will bring with you renewed hope in all of us to bring change to a world in pain.
1 Pittsburgh Herald Tribune, 4/24/2022, Paula Reed Ward
2 The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene Peterson, pg. 1961
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