Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Unlikely People of Missionary Zeal

[Sermon from Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011]

The room’s awash in red and plaid; the sound of bagpipes echoes through the church and out into the neighborhood. It can only mean one thing: It’s St. Andrew’s Sunday. It’s a feast we’ve been keeping here for as long as anyone remembers, one of our parish family’s very best traditions.

So why do we do it? What does St. Andrew have to do with Scotland and bagpipes? I’m no biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure St. Andrew never wore a plaid kilt. How did we get to this celebration from the life of a first-century Jewish fisherman?

Well, let’s look at what we know about Andrew from Scripture. The short answer is, not much. Andrew is mentioned a grand total of 12 times in the Bible, and four of those are just listings of the disciples’ names. As we heard in the Gospel reading, he and his brother, Peter, were among the very first who turned from the lives they knew to follow this teacher and “fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). In John’s Gospel, Andrew plays a slightly larger role. There, he’s the first disciple to follow Jesus, and he immediately takes on the role of evangelist simply by telling his brother that he’s found the messiah. Andrew has a small role in the feeding of the 5,000, telling Jesus there’s this little boy with some bread and a few fish, but so what? And Andrew helps bring outsiders to know Jesus by introducing some Greeks to him. But that’s about it – not exactly a starring role. And no kilts or bagpipes, either.

After these mentions in the Bible, Andrew’s biography gets pretty sketchy. The most reliable tradition says he journeyed to Greece after the Resurrection, telling people about Jesus and paying the ultimate price, being crucified by the sea. Later tradition puts Andrew in Constantinople, in the sense that some of his relics were brought there from Greece centuries after he died so Constantinople could claim an important patron saint. Andrew is also a patron saint of Russia based on a tradition that he visited tribes by the Black Sea and supposedly preached as far north as Kiev.1

And then there’s Scotland. Now, there’s not a snowball’s chance that Andrew ever went to Scotland. But the tradition there is that a Celtic saint in the 300s named Regulus took Andrew’s arm from its resting place in Greece to Scotland, to the site we now know as St. Andrews. St. Andrews became a center for teaching about the faith and sharing the Good News in Scotland … and I hear they play some golf there now, too. Anyway, the tradition about St. Regulus taking that holy arm to Scotland has made Andrew the patron saint of that land.2,3

And so, since Andrew is our patron saint, too, this parish has adopted a link with Scotland much as Scotland adopted a link with Andrew. Now, if you’re a cynic, you can see this as nothing more than creative history. Or you can see it as a holy thing, and here’s why: As Christians, we’re linked with the saints across time and space, bound together into the spiritual body of Christ, not limited by temporal boundaries like century or nationality.

But even the creative traditions about Andrew’s life tell us nothing about what kind of a person he was. We know he was Peter’s brother, and we know a fair amount about Peter from Scripture: that he was a man of action, bold to the point of being offensive, often speaking before he thought and putting his foot in his mouth more often than not. He was the kind of guy who would earn the nickname Jesus gave him: Peter, which means “Rocky.”

And Andrew? As I said, Scripture gives him a minor role. We don’t hear about him preaching to huge crowds or healing people, like Peter and John do in the Book of Acts. In fact, Andrew is a person of small acts. He tells one guy about Jesus. Faced with a hungry crowd of thousands, all he can find is a kid with five loaves and two fish. Now, the rest of this is complete conjecture on my part, but I imagine Andrew as sort of the anti-Peter, like siblings sometimes are. Peter is big and out-there; Andrew is quiet and more reserved. When he speaks, it’s analysis, not bold proclamation. When he acts, it’s through personal relationships, using connections he already has to share the great truth he’s witnessed. He’s a supporting character, literally: He’s there to support Jesus’ mission.

The other thing about Andrew that we never really hear about, but must have been true, is the effect that his second family had on him. Of course, Andrew had his first family, with Peter and their parents and siblings. But Andrew quickly left all that behind to follow Jesus. And the band of disciples Andrew joined became his second family – traveling across Israel for three years proclaiming the kingdom of God, learning from their master, and learning how to live together.

With those spiritual brothers and sisters, Andrew was formed into the person God needed him to be. Think about it: How could this reserved, quiet, analytical young man take that show on the road after the Resurrection and have any success? If the Andrew who first met Jesus had been the same Andrew who went to Greece as a missionary, we’d have never heard another word about him. But the stories that come down to us tell of an apostle who rescued another apostle, Matthias, from cannibals. They tell of an apostle who cast out demons, and converted pagans, and healed the sick, and raised the dead.4 Something happened to Andrew in his three years as part of that family of disciples. His faith community shaped him into an unlikely apostle – and remember, “apostle” means one who is sent. This quiet, reserved, hard-working, regular guy became a man with a mission.

We are the spiritual descendants of that missionary and the faith community that formed him. St. Andrew’s Church has been here for nearly 100 years. In some people’s eyes, we’ve been simply a very nice place made up of very nice people being very nice to each other – as I heard once, “the country club at prayer.” We are good at being nice, I have to say. But we are more than that. We’re a church that grew a community garden behind the youth center long before community gardens became trendy. We’re a church that, when we put in a parking lot, literally moved houses across town to provide homes for people in poverty. We’re a church that’s fed thousands and thousands of hungry people downtown over the years. We’re a church that’s invested more than 20 years’ work to create a school on a mountain in Haiti with the highest graduation rate in town. We’re a church that welcomes the stranger and really means it.

And we’ve done those things because of the formation we receive from being members of this family. As Brad Honnold said at the vestry meeting this past Tuesday, “We are constantly being chiseled and shaped in our faith.” It happens as we worship, when we’re stirred by a lector’s inspiring reading or served the blood of Christ by a friend. It happens when a minister of the Order of St. Luke prays for us in the chapel after Communion. It happens when we learn from each other in a class or a group or a Bible study. It happens when parishioners go through Cursillo and learn to live their faith “out loud.” It happens when you get to know people by being in choir, or the Altar Guild, or the quilting group, or at Men’s Breakfast, or at Holy Happy Hour – and you find yourself inspired or challenged by what you learn from them. Like Andrew with the other followers of Jesus, you are made into a disciple when the good and holy people sitting around you this morning help you become more than you could ever be on your own.

All that formation is a part of mission. All that we do together, as God’s family in this place, is forming and shaping us to become the people God longs for us to be – people who change the world one interaction and one relationship at a time. All that we do together as the family of St. Andrew’s is preparing us to be sent out beyond ourselves.

What I’m talking about is nothing new for this parish. It’s amazing what you can pick up by walking around this place and reading things on the walls. On the wall in the columbarium, just on the other side of the pulpit, there’s a plaque I’d encourage you to stop by and read sometime. Here’s what it says: “The grateful people of St. Peter’s Church [in Red Bridge], upon the occasion of becoming a parish church on January 1, 1969, give thanks to Almighty God for the missionary zeal of our mother church, St. Andrew’s, who established [St. Peter’s] chapel, Eastertide, 1958.” Missionary zeal, huh? In the country club at prayer? Who’d have thought it?

Well, you would. I would. We would, when we remember who we are. We are the adopted descendants of St. Andrew, an unassuming man who found his mission. This word, this commandment of being sent beyond ourselves – it is not too hard for you or too far away, that someone else should go and do it for you. No, this word is very near you, on your lips and in your heart for you to follow. It’s who we’ve been. It’s who we are. And it’s who this family will be: God’s unlikely people of missionary zeal.

1. MacDonald, Dennis R. “Andrew.” In: The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 243.

2. MacDonald, 243.

3. Farmer, David Hugh. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978. 17.

4. MacDonald, 243.

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