Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Romans 108b-18; Matthew 4:18-22
Given that we’re celebrating the feast of St. Andrew this morning, that Gospel reading we heard doesn’t seem to tell much of a story about our patron saint. Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee, where he sees Peter and his brother, Andrew – playing second fiddle from the very start, at least in Matthew’s telling. They’re busy trying to make a living, doing what commercial fishermen do, casting nets into the sea. And Jesus yells out to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (4:19). And that’s it, at least as this story goes. They leave their nets and their boat and follow him. The reading goes on to say the same thing about James and John. They’re working hard; Jesus calls them; and they take off. End of story.
Well, maybe there was a little more backstory than that. The section before today’s reading describes Jesus beginning his public ministry in Galilee. “From that time, Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). My hunch is that Andrew and Peter and James and John had heard Jesus teach and preach. They must have had some idea what he was proclaiming before they signed on. But still, I do think there’s something important in the way Matthew tells the story of their call. Andrew and Peter and James and John are hard at work. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do. And Jesus just interrupts them – probably pretty rudely, from the perspective of James and John’s father, who’s left holding the fishing nets. Jesus’ call is anything but convenient.
If we look at Andrew’s experience in the rest of Scripture, this story of interruption continues. The way John’s Gospel describes Andrew’s call, he’s a disciple of John the Baptist first – but when Jesus comes on the scene, his presence pulls Andrew away. Later on, in the story of the feeding of the 5,000, Andrew sees a huge crowd about to descend on Jesus, so he stops to try to solve the problem. Andrew finds a boy with five loaves and two fish – at least a start for the banquet Jesus eventually sets. (John 6:8-9) And later still, on Palm Sunday, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem in triumph, Andrew hears from some Greeks, outsiders in the crowd. They, too, want to see Jesus – and Andrew makes it happen. (John 12:22) Interestingly, we never hear about a normal day for Andrew, or the other disciples. The stories come when life gets in the way.
Well, after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered Andrew and the rest to be apostles sent in mission beyond Jerusalem, we don’t know exactly what became of Andrew. Some traditions tell of him going to Ethiopia. Others have him traveling to what’s now Ukraine and Russia – and Andrew is the patron saint of Russia for that reason. Most traditions say he ministered in what’s now Greece and was martyred there, crucified on an X-shaped cross. (No, he never went to Scotland, but his remains did, centuries later.) Wherever Andrew was, I imagine he kept looking for interruption, because that’s how it works, being an apostle: Ministry comes when life gets in the way.
In fact, I’d even take it one step further. God comes when life gets in the way. I believe we find Christ, the Word made flesh, most vividly in the interruptions that come into our productive, predictable, well-ordered lives – both the interruptions we create and the interruptions we allow.
One of the great hymns about St. Andrew says, “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea.” I suppose that’s true, but I think, even more often, Jesus calls us in the tumult – not shouting over the demands of our work and our lives to get our attention, but talking to us directly through the demands of our work and our lives. Andrew didn’t have to set off on a special spiritual quest to find an encounter with God. God came to work to find him.
Our day-to-day, crazy, boring, draining lives are the dwelling place of the Most High God. So what you, and I, and all of us need to do is to listen for the interrupting, inconvenient voice of Jesus in the midst of the plans we make and the work we do. I’m not necessarily very good at that. Too often, I’m looking for the finish line – or at least the rest stop at the end of the day – rather than looking to see who’s calling out from the sideline. I have to be intentional to let myself be interrupted. Maybe you do, too.
Let me tell you about some people who are doing a good job of that, in the category of interruptions we create. Joe Kessinger and I were having a drink a few weeks ago, and the conversation went to a place we both knew well: being a middle-aged guy. One of the challenges for lots of middle-aged guys is that we’ve gotten pretty good over the years at mapping out our days and weeks. There’s a lot to be done – not all of it work, but most of it scheduled. So Joe said something to the effect of, “We need an opportunity for middle-aged guys to stop and let God get a word in edgewise.” I agreed wholeheartedly. So, long story short: Joe contacted several guys he knows, and I looked for some study resources, and voilà – we have a group of guys choosing to interrupt their schedules every couple of weeks to reflect on what God’s up to in their lives. It’s MAGIC – Middle-Aged Guys Inspired by Christ. If you want to find out more, talk to Joe or me.
Here’s what’s magical about conversations like this, conversations that happen in the interruptions: Jesus comes to take part. I believe that with everything I’ve got. Jesus is there in the interruptions – those we create, like this men’s group, and in those we allow. Here’s an example of one of those.
I was talking with a parishioner on the phone the other day; and at the end of the conversation, he said, “Have you got a minute for something else?” I was driving somewhere, but I did have a few minutes to get there, so on we went. He said, “Help me know what to think about the Syrian refugees.” As you know, following the attack on Paris, there had been news stories about proposals to exclude Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., or to allow in only Christian Syrians (as if no self-professed Christian ever shot down defenseless people). So, my conversation partner said, “Help me know what to think about the Syrian refugees. How do we love people but keep ourselves safe? What would Jesus do? I don’t think Jesus wants us to get ourselves killed. But that’s basically what he did, the way he loved people…..” That conversation was probably the best 10 minutes of my week.
So in those holy interruptions we create or interruptions we allow – what the heck are we supposed to say? I can hear people thinking, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to be in a discussion group. What am I supposed to say?” And, I can hear people thinking, “I don’t know the right answer about the Syrian refugees, and I’d probably get in trouble for saying what’s on my mind. What am I supposed to say?”
Well, we heard it twice in our readings this morning: “The word is very near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 30:14; Romans 10:8b). And that Word boils down to this, what we remind ourselves every week in the 8:00 Rite I service: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all they soul and with all they mind … and … thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (BCP 324; Matthew 22:37-40). Love God and love neighbor – even if that neighbor is thousands of miles away. Love God and love neighbor – even if you don’t know the right answers to the hardest questions. Love God and love neighbor. If that’s your paradigm, Jesus is right there in the conversation with you, on your lips and in your heart.
Those conversations matter, and here’s at least one reason why: In this chaotic, uncertain, isolating world of real life in 2015, people need Good News like never before. And maybe the good news they need most is the good news of relationship – the good news that someone takes them seriously. Because when we take people seriously – when we have a real conversation, when we can speak a word of hope, when we can just show up and listen – when we take people seriously, Jesus dwells in that relationship. The Word becomes very near you, in your heart and on your lips and sitting right beside you over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. When we take each other seriously, we come to see that we are not alone. We come to see that God shows up when we show up. It’s in relationships that we get to see the face of God.
So my challenge to you today is very simple. Look for a way, each day, to interrupt the tyranny of what you have to do by loving God and the person in front of you. Look for a chance to listen to someone. Look for a chance to reflect out loud on what Jesus would do or say about the morning’s headlines. Look for a chance to speak hope and blessing. And look for a chance to name the presence of God in that process. As simple, maybe even simplistic, as it sounds, naming faith brings faith alive. When I believe out loud, it gives someone else permission to try on the notion that this God stuff is more than kids’ bedtime stories. And when I believe out loud, it makes me believe all the more.
So let Jesus interrupt your day. Offer to pray for someone. Mention something life-giving the church has to offer. Relate a story of God opening some door for you in the midst of tough times. Share a word that’s helped you move from fear to hope. Remember that the Word is very near you – at your office or at Starbucks, at your book club or your gym, in a phone call or a Facebook post. For the Word takes flesh and dwells among us every time we take each other seriously enough to stop, and listen, and love.