Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Following a Messiah on the Move

Sermon from Nov. 20, 2016
Feast of St. Andrew, transferred
Matthew 4:18-22

I imagine our patron saint, Andrew, as a guy with tired, sore feet.  That’s true for all disciples and apostles, I suppose, because being a disciple and apostle means being on the move. 
Now, for we disciples and apostles gathered here this morning, that may not sound much like good news.  In fact, a call to be on the move may seem like the last thing we want to hear.  Many of us are emotionally and spiritually exhausted by the recent election and its aftermath.  I’ve heard from faithful people who long for a time after presidential elections when we stopped arguing, and tacked back toward the center, and tried to come together despite difference.  And I’ve heard from faithful people who no longer feel safe in their own nation, or in their own city, or even in their own church, because they fear what the recent shift in our political life will mean for them and for people they love.  We can wish that weren’t true, but we can’t wish it away.  If nothing else, we have to be present to pain, and listen to people’s frustration and grief, and walk alongside them through it.
And as we walk with them, we find ourselves on the move again – just like Jesus.  We always seem to find him walking alongside people.  All through the Gospels, he’s moving from one place to another, proclaiming good news and inviting people into it. 
That’s how I imagine the setting for today’s Gospel reading on this feast of our patron saint, Andrew.  Picture the reading as a movie scene.  It opens with a shot of two guys in their fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, which is really just a lake, smaller than Lake of the Ozarks.  The sun is rising, and they’re beginning their day as they’ve begun a thousand days before.  We don’t know much about Andrew and Peter.  They’re not high-class types, but they’re not paupers either.  Basically, they have a small business.  They get up every day, and do their work, and sell their catch, and mend their nets, and get up the next day and do it all over again.   
Well, up in the corner of the movie scene, a figure comes walking slowly along the lakeshore.  It’s Jesus.  As he comes more fully into the scene, he looks over toward Andrew and Peter, out in their boat.  They’re close in, so they see Jesus coming.  And I’ll bet they know who he is.  Just before this morning’s reading, Matthew tells about Jesus beginning his public ministry in Galilee, preaching and proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17).  He must have attracted attention, this local guy who’d decided he was a prophet, stirring people up and calling them to turn their hearts and their lives in a new direction.  So I’ll bet Andrew and Peter know who’s walking toward them in the morning sun. 
As he comes near, Jesus simply calls out, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4:19).  And then, I imagine, he just keeps on walking.  So Andrew and Peter look at each other, wondering what to do. 
Now, maybe they had a miraculous moment of clarity.  Maybe they knew God was calling them to a life of discipleship and what that was going to mean.  But I doubt it.  Instead, maybe they were simply captivated by what they’d been hearing from this preacher and prophet who described a world of God’s love in contrast to the bitterness and injustice of the world around them.  Maybe their hearts burned with the possibility that such a world might be real.  Maybe they knew, if nothing else, that they had to find out more.  So, as Jesus keeps on walking, Andrew and Peter quickly row in, and get out of the boat, and jog after him down the lakeshore.  They follow him – not because they suddenly understand everything Jesus is about but because the hope of God’s beloved community sets their hearts on fire.  So they follow – which, by definition, makes them disciples. 
From there, they spend the next few years following this messiah on the move.  It couldn’t have been comfortable.  Following Jesus, they didn’t even know where they’d stay from one night to the next.  They ate based on the kindness of strangers.  They put themselves at risk from the Romans, who didn’t take kindly to wandering bands and their leaders who tended to look like revolutionaries. 
But Andrew and Peter also saw signs and wonders.  They heard good news that God particularly blesses those at the bottom of the scale.  They saw people healed.  They learned they could be so much more than they’d ever imagined.  They received Jesus’ power – power to be with people who suffered, and heal them, and speak good news, and cast out the demons that delude us into thinking we’re merely secondary characters in someone else’s story.  As followers of this messiah on the move, they had hope – hope that even the poor in spirit, even those who mourn, even the meek, even a couple of fishermen from Galilee could burn with the brightness of God’s purposes.  They began to see that they were bearers of holy light and that Jesus was sending them out to shine that light among others.
So, that’s why I think Andrew must have had tired, sore feet.  He started walking that morning by the lake, and I don’t think he stopped until his own martyrdom.  Different traditions say Andrew brought the good news to Ethiopia, or to Ukraine, or to Russia, or to Greece, where he was executed on an X-shaped cross.  Even in death, Andrew was on the move as his remains were reportedly taken to Scotland, for whom he became the patron saint – which explains why a bunch of people in Kansas City are wearing tartans and listening to bagpipes as they celebrate this saint’s day. 
As we march to the bagpipes this morning, we are Andrew’s spiritual descendants, ourselves following a messiah on the move for more than 100 years.  In 1913, the bishop sent people way out here to Brookside, on the outskirts of a growing city, because, as the bishop said, “our own city – right here – is our greatest and most crying mission field.”1  They started meeting in a back room of Wolferman’s grocery store at 59th and Brookside.  They bought property at the corner of Meyer and Wornall and settled there in 1922.  But even having found a home, the people of St. Andrew’s kept following the messiah on the move.  We followed Jesus to the neighborhoods around us, sharing the word about Dr. Jewell’s powerful preaching.  We followed Jesus as the city kept moving south, planting a church in Red Bridge in 1958, appropriately named for Andrew’s brother, Peter.  We followed Jesus to Haiti, building relationships there that have grown for more than 25 years.  We followed Jesus downtown to the Kansas City Community Kitchen, and down the street to Southwest High School, and east to the Grooming Project, bringing good news of dignity and hope in contrast to the world’s news that only the strongest matter. 
But we’ve only just begun following our messiah on the move.  A couple of years ago, you blessed me with the opportunity to take a sabbatical, one of the best journeys I’ve ever known.  I visited nine congregations in the Episcopal Church and the Church of England.  Each one, in its own way, was figuring out how to keep going on its journey to proclaim the Good News without tossing its tradition off to the side of the road.  From Seattle to Denver to rural Maryland to London, each congregation was learning how to reach the people around them in new ways while still honoring the tradition they had known and loved for decades (or centuries).  I was blessed to tell their stories and take away some lessons for other congregations hearing the call to stay on the move.  And today, we get to celebrate the fact that someone actually wanted to publish it.  The book is called Beating the Boundaries because I believe that’s what God is asking us to do – to go to the boundaries of church as we know it, and cross over into relationships with the people we find on the other side.
But we’d been hearing that call well before I went on sabbatical.  That’s what our Gather & Grow initiative is all about – following Jesus as he leads us among people in our community.  The worldly concerns of building designs and construction estimates sometimes distract us from the point of Gather & Grow.  The point is to take the next steps in a 100-year journey of connecting with people. You don’t have to be a statistician to see that fewer people go to church now than in years past.  OK, says our messiah on the move and his sore-footed apostle, Andrew.  OK.  That means we need to find ways to go to them and show them God’s love.  And that means finding new ways to “be church” for the people around us.  It means following Jesus across the street, enabling the Word to take flesh and dwell among us by engaging with people whom God brings our way.
Gather & Grow feels like a long journey, and we still have miles to go.  But that perseverance is part of our story, too.  I’ll bet guiding this church through two world wars and a Depression felt like a long journey.  I’ll bet building this worship space in 1952 felt like a long journey – one that took six years and three fundraising campaigns and still didn’t give them the building they wanted.  I’ll bet founding St. Peter’s in Red Bridge felt like a long journey.  And still, today, Jesus calls us to get out of our boats to follow him and fish for people.  Like our patron St. Andrew, we follow Jesus because that’s where our hope rests.  We may not understand every word that comes out of his mouth.  We may not know exactly where the journey is leading or how it’s supposed to look.  Sometimes, we may not be able to see much more than the world’s divisions and anxieties lying ahead of us.  We’ve been on this path for years already, and our feet may be sore.  But as Jesus passes by and says, “Follow me,” we say, “Yes, I will, with God’s help.”  So we follow him out of this nave, our congregation’s glorious boat.  And we follow him out the door, always trying to keep up with our messiah on the move.

1. The Silver Jubilee of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Missouri. Commemorative booklet from the parish’s 25th anniversary, Oct. 9 and 10, 1938, held in St. Andrew’s archives.  Page 10.

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