Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Andrew: The Background Apostle

Some have speculated that Andrew could've been a middle child. His high-powered older brother, St. Peter, certainly over-shadowed him. Interestingly, it was Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus, resulting in Peter's following the Master and eventually becoming head honcho among the close followers. Both the young men were fishermen by trade. It seems that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptizer before being called into Jesus' inner circle. Andrew seems to have always been working the background: telling Jesus about the boy with the loaves and fishes which Jesus used in feeding five thousand people; announcing to Jesus the arrival of some Greek visitors who wanted an audience.
Legend has it that Andrew later ministered among the Scythians, ancient inhabitants of what we now know as Russia. Not surprisingly, Andrew has long been a patron of Russia, as well as of Scotland, probably because his relics were brought there in the 8th century. The Scottish flag features an X-shaped cross, called a saltire cross, associated with St. Andrew who is said to have been martyred on such a cross. The Brotherhood of St. Andrew, an informal fellowship of adult and young men, has been a long-standing organization in the Episcopal Church, as well as in parishes of our Diocese.
It’s fitting that St. Andrew’s feast should coincide with the beginning of Advent, for Andrew’s life and the Scriptures for his feast have a message for us about this season of waiting and watching. Advent speaks to us about the end of what we know as “the world”, how it will be brought about by God alone and in God’s time alone. In the meantime you and I wait, watch and are alert to any sign of the coming reign of God, primarily by letting ourselves be steeped in that Word which both the writer of Deuteronomy (30:11-14) and St. Paul (Romans 10:8b-18) mention. “...the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” Paul tells us that this Word is “the word of faith that we proclaim”, but it’s not just a verbal communication. It’s more of a confession or profession of what one holds in the deepest place in one’s heart. St. Peter verbalized it in Matthew’s narrative (16:16): “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” He and the other Apostles, including Andrew, lived and ministered from that conviction.
Waiting for the coming reign of God, as Andrew and the others came to realize, isn’t a business-as-usual festival of things which we now know and possess, or perhaps seek to possess under the 
Christmas tree! Jesus the Chosen One for whom we wait isn’t just a gentle baby who comes to fit into our preconceived world, but rather the mighty Son of Man who breaks into our hurting and hopeful humanity. Writer Larry Parton says: “The one we wait for is the one who will get in our way. He is the one who will disturb us and our peace. He is the one who will stop cooing and begin to talk about things that will trouble us. Our immersion in the Word during Advent reminds us that his in-breaking is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, there’s a shattering of our this-worldly settledness and our comfortable assumptions that we can buy our way to whatever we want. But there’s also a liberation, a setting-free, by shattering the narrowness that restricts us, the selfishness that binds us and others, and the paralysis and apathy which shuts us down.
These may be hard words for us who so readily claim to rely on God, but whose actions so often imply that we’re really in charge. The temptation for all of us is to think of God as a “Sugar Daddy” who presides over a predictable world in order to keep it user-friendly and benign for us. We’d really like to believe that, if we only work at it in clever ways, perhaps we can have the world, and our family, and our job, and our Church on our terms. “Well,” writes theologian Walter Bruggemann, “that is conventional. But it is not biblical, not Christian, not news.” 
The Word which guided Andrew’s life came from the very lips of  Jesus, the One who mirrored what he said by how he lived: by the way he treated others. Andrew learned how difficult it was to do that, because, as Jesus, Andrew came to experience opposition and suffering, and even death, which goes along with it. Yet, he never forgot that the Word, Jesus, was always near him: on his lips and in his heart. He waited for God’s reign in hope.
The following words, from a sermon by Mark Frank, included in the English book Celebrating the Saints (p. 453), touched me deeply when I first read them some years ago, and I share them with you for reflection on this feast day and for the season of Advent:  "...alas, what have we, the best, the richest of us as highly as we think of ourselves and ours, more than Andrew and his brother: a few old broken nets? What are all our honours but old nets to catch the breath of the world! What are our estates but nets to entangle us? What are all our ways and devises of thriving but so many several nets to catch a little yellow sand and mud? What are all those fine catching ways of eloquence, knowledge, good parts of mind and body, but so many nets and snares to catch others with?...And our life itself, what is it but a few rotten threads knit together into veins and sinews, its construction so fragile that the least stick or stone can unloose it or break all to pieces.
O blessed saint of this day, that we could but leave these nets as thou didst thine: that nothing might any longer entangle us or keep us from our Master's service! Follow we St. Andrew as he did Christ, follow him to Christ, cheerfully and without delay, and while it is today, begin our course. Cast off the networks, the catching desires of the flesh and the world, and so you also may be said to have left your nets. And having so weaned your souls from inordinate affection to things below, let Christ be your business, his life your pattern, his commands your law..."  

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