The Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle (transferred)
(The audio of the sermon can be found here.)
By the first century of the Common Era, the Jewish people were tired and angry.
They had lived, by then, several centuries under foreign occupation. They had been taken by the Babylonians and Assyrians—during which time the Temple of God has been destroyed along with the entire city of Jerusalem. In time, they were allowed back into their promised land by the Medo-Persians. Where they built a new Temple and a new city.
In time, the Greeks overpowered the Persians, and attempted to force the Jews to conform to Greek paganism. And many Jews complied. In I Maccabees we are told of Jews who tried to hide the evidence of their circumcisions in order to fit in better with the Greeks. Many Jews gave into extra-religious pressures to be what the political force of the day expected of them. And when other Jews rose up, the Greek Emperor intervened, entering the Temple and sacrificing a pig on the altar of God in order to utterly desecrate the Temple and to completely end the quaint little religion of the Jews.
Then there was a revolution and the Jews managed to gain a degree of independence—at least up until the Romans came along.
The Romans did not conquer the Jews so much as show up and take over. And for a century or more the Romans lived in a land where they either tolerated the Jews or mostly ignored them, creating a society that cared little for them as a people and their convictions—instead only valuing the land on which they lived.
For the Romans, the Jews only had value insofar as their land produced crops enough to sustain life in the cities, especially the Capitol. Who cared, really, about those people and their backward beliefs? Real life happens in the urban centers, not among the strange and clandestine peoples of the countryside.
And so, the Jews grew increasingly resentful and distrusting of anyone from the outside. The people broke into numerous political factions—some who were colluders with Rome, some who were violent seditionists looking for the next opportunity to stick knives in Roman soldiers and citizens.
And over this entire culture hung the threat of death—namely, that of crucifixion. A visual motivator for compliance and obedience. A mechanism meant to bring shame and division.
It is into this very world that a young Jewish boy called by the Greek name “Andreas” was born and raised in a fisherman’s family.
The Jews have always been insistent on literacy—a trait that set them apart from much of the Ancient World. This Andreas would have learned to read and write in the synagogues, likely hearing the rabbis argue about this mysterious figure they longed to see, this “Moshiach,” who was supposed to bring freedom and unity to their people.
We can only speculate, of course, but this boy often sat on the lake shore, or on a boat, mending nets and looking to the horizon. The metropolis of Tiberius was always on the horizon, a reminder of the decadence and presence of Rome. Every religious festival would have been pockmarked with the crimson red of Roman soldiers. He heard about this Moshiach and would dream about what that meant. What it would be like.
He would grow into a young man who would pay attention. The way his father might’ve taught him to watch for swirls on the still surface of the water. Unlike his brother, who was impulsive and ambitious, Andreas was a thinker. A speculator. One who watched and one who listened.
Now, there are a couple ways in which the story is told. In one, the one we hear this morning, Andreas and his brother are casting nets into the lake, fishing, when He comes by. Another has a bit more detail.
In a book attributed to one of Andreas’ professional colleagues, Yochanan (in Greek, Johannes), we hear that Andreas had been a disciple of another Yochanan, this one called HaMatbil—“the Baptizer.” So, Andreas the watcher, the listener, became compelled by the revolutionary message of this eccentric preacher from the desert. And this message wasn’t directed at Rome. Rather, his prophetic message was directed at The Jews, telling them to double-down on their culture and their religion because the long-awaited Moshiach was coming and coming soon.
So that when Yeshua ben Yosef comes walking along, Andreas already knows what he sees. Like identifying the shallows and the deep places where to cast one’s nets, Andreas the watcher, the listener, hears The Baptizer call this man “HaMoshiach” he knows it to be accurate.
And so he follows.
But not before he goes and he grabs his impulsive and overbearing brother first. Because he just has to come and see this, too.
Saint Andrew the Apostle is also known as Protokletos, which means “first called.” As we see in the scriptures, this Jewish fisherman is the first person to respond to Jesus saying “follow.” The question, of course, is: to what is he called?
To put it all more bluntly: what does it mean to be a Christian?
This question, I believe, has more pertinence and resonance in this particular moment in time for us Americans than it has in most of our lifetimes. And the context in which Andrew was called has some very clear similarities to our own, now.
Granted, we are not occupied by a foreign empire. And the specter of crucifixion does not hang over our heads daily. Yet, we are a people deeply divided as a result of our political powers.
Like the Jewish society Saint Andrew grew up in, we are a people of factions, having sharp divisions on matters of importance.
We are a people who, using the name of the same God, seek peace, or desire to remove ourselves, or debate the fine meanings of words and terms, or who advocate for violence and discord, or even enact that violence ourselves.
Like Roman Palestine, we live in a world where rural people are ignored and insulted, valued only for their produce, and seen as peripheral to the “real” world—that happens in the cities, after all.
And in both worlds we see a very real hunger for hope, for something to believe in. And, just like that world, that sign of hope did not come from the political factions or the individuals in power. Rather, that sign of hope came from, literally, outside our world. And that sign of hope, that Son of Man, told us all “I will show you a better way.”
That better way is a completely revisioned society, what we know as The Kingdom of God.
A lot of our churches will preach that “the Kingdom of God” is a synonym for Heaven. And they are wrong. The Kingdom of God is the world that God made, lived as God created it to be lived.
As Jesus Himself told us, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst.” In other words, it’s right here, right now. It’s within us. We can have it now, if we want it.
If only we join Andrew and follow.
The famous Japanese theologian Kazo Kitamori articulates what he calls the theology of the pain of God. In this he refers to the ways in which God demonstrates His love to us through the pain He feels and expresses—most notably and clearly through His precious death on the cross. He says that anyone who experiences pain is connected to the One who dwells on the cross, the One who suffered pain in order to liberate us from our sins.
This means that a Christian is someone who feels pain.
Kitamori defines this pain using the word tsutsumu, which is a term that refers to the embracing of everything, the good and the bad. Because of this, as Kitamori says, we see a God who embraces something that is in opposition to Him. God experiences a kind of pain through God’s love of us rebellious sinners. And when we become Christians and start following Jesus, we too experience this pain—recognizing a world, to use the words of an old Jars of Clay song, “embracing every heartache.”
We’ve all seen, I’m sure, the aftermath of the election.
We’ve seen images of racist individuals capitalizing on the results of this election to embolden their hatred. We’ve heard stories of people of color, queer persons, women being threatened and harassed.
We’ve seen black men beating up white men for voting for our President-elect. We've seen flag and effigy burnings.
I want to take a moment here to make something very, very clear: this—all of this—is ugly. It is wrong. It is wicked.
It is, to use an unpopular word but a word that we’re going to start hearing a lot more because we need to: it. is. sin.
We live in a country right now where, no matter how this turned out, we’d be in the same situation. That’s a fact.
But when we look at Jesus’ apostles, what do we see?
Among those twelve men were included Matthew the Tax Collector and Simon the Zealot. Tax collectors extorted money from their fellow Jews in order to pay the Romans—they were seen as traitorous collaborators with Rome. And the zealots were a political faction that actively sought to rid Israel of the Romans—by death, if possible.
A close parallel to our day would be A Black Lives Matter activist and a white police officer. And these men lived in close proximity to each other. On the road together, in a context that would try the patience and resolve of most of us.
And yet, Jesus brought them together.
Jesus seldom got angry. But when He did, who did He get angry at? It wasn’t Pilate. It wasn’t Herod. It wasn’t a political leader. Instead, when Jesus got angry He got angry at the people who ought to know better, people who call themselves followers of God’s laws.
He didn’t turn over tables in the Governor’s mansion. He did that in the temple.
He didn’t yell at Roman citizens and soldiers. He did that to religious leaders.
No, when Jesus encountered Roman soldiers what did He do? He forgave their sins.
When Jesus stood before Herod the Hypocrite, what did He do? He kept silent. Defiant silence, sure. But silent all the same, knowing that His presence was enough.
When Jesus stood before Pilate the Occupier, the Oppressor, what did He do? He plainly declared the sovereignty of God.
When Jesus stood before the evil powers of His day He chose to be nailed to their cross, the sign of their oppression, because He knew that His death on that cross would transform it—from “the emblem of suffering and shame” to a thing of “wondrous beauty I see.”
And in reflection of that, Saint Andrew followed. He joined in the pain of Jesus. He himself was nailed to a cross. Because, Andrew the listener, heard those hallowed words “take up your cross and follow.”
To be a Christian is to follow. But that means more than just “come along.” In the Christian sense, following is a totality. Following demands everything. Following is a transformation.
To be a Christian is also to bring.
Andrew, the First Called, in his first act as the first Christian, brought his brother to Jesus. Later, in a moment of cynicism, he would join his friend Philip and bring a kid’s lunch to Jesus as a way to underscore the desperate need of the 5,000 hungry followers.
As Christians, we follow, we feel pain, and we bring to Jesus what we have in order to address that pain and motivate people to follow with us.
This is where I talk to you about stewardship.
Yes, this is a sermon where I touch on both politics and money. If you’ve not walked out on me yet, I am very surprised.
The world out there is ugly. It was ugly before Wednesday, yes. But, right now, that ugliness is completely apparent.
I am sure that all of us want the ugliness to stop. That we are pained by what we see. If we’re not, I ask you to pray that God blesses you with that pain.
That pain isn’t going to stop by which ever side “wins.” It’s not going to stop if Democrats gain control of the Congress in two years. It’s not going to stop of we vote the President-elect out in 2020.
It’s not going to stop if President Trump remains in office for a second-term. If he appoints all the “right people” to the Supreme Court. If he repeals The Affordable Care Act or radically revisions our immigration policy.
As we’ve seen in recent days, the pain we feel in America is something far deeper than our political persuasions. It’s not likely to be named in secular society, but what we are experiencing is a spiritual pain.
And that pain can only be addressed by following after Jesus. By bringing ourselves and others to Jesus. Or bringing Jesus to them.
Before Andrew was called, before Esther worked to preserve the Jewish people, before Samuel anointed King David, before Joshua brought the Jews to the promised land, before Moses demanded that his people be let go, before Abraham wrestled with God beneath that velvet blanket of stars, God gave us a simple task: be stewards.
God gave us this earth with the intent that we’d manage the place on God’s behalf. That’s what He created us for. That’s why He blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. Everything that we are, the pinnacle of the Animal Kingdom, exists because God made us to be stewards of this place. Representatives of His will to this world. But, we got mixed up along the way.
If we follow. If we feel the pain of God. We will be compelled to give to God what we have. To give abundantly and challengingly. God gives to us so we can give back to God. This is the cycle embodied by the Trinity—a constant dance of giving and receiving and giving back again.
Here’s something that I realized recently: I’ve never met a sacrificial giver who wasn’t joyful.
There seems to be something inherent in giving above what we have that makes us joyful.
And we need joy.
This church needs your money. I need your money. God wants your money. We need a tenth, a fifteenth, a twentieth… we need your extra car, your vacation home. We need your time and your talents.
We need you to remember us in your wills. We need you to helpless build and contribute to an endowment so we can maintain ongoing ministry in this place we love and call home.
We need it because the world needs it. And the world needs the joy that comes from you when you give, when you sacrifice, for the work of the church.
This parish is only one of two parishes west of Jog road in Palm Beach County. We are on the line between the city and the country.
If we look at the electoral maps of this recent election, we straddle the line between the two main divisions of the American people. That means that we are uniquely positioned to be a place of healing for this divided people. And we cannot do that work of healing without our stewardship, without our abundant giving.
Give, give, give.
To give is to follow Jesus, to share in His work of healing the pain experienced in this world. To bring is to follow the example of Saint Andrew, our patron. He brought and he watched what he brought get transformed by God for the sake of transforming the world into the very Kingdom of God.
In our pain, we give. And in so doing, we follow.
But there's another piece here that is a key part of our stewardship that we Episcopalians are wont to overlook. We need to bring our money. And we need to bring our time. But we also need to bring people. In other words, we need to be evangelists.
Jesus gives us His very life to share. That's what the work of the altar is for. Stewarding our lives as Christians means to carry Jesus to the places where He's needed.
In other words, when we look at the world and say "y'all need Jesus!" that's true! And we're the ones who get to bring Him there.
Being a Christian means following, sharing each others' pain, it involves bringing to Jesus that which we've been given to bring, and, ultimately, it involves proclaiming.
At our Diocesan convention yesterday, we were asked: "despite the challenges, what keeps you in ministry?" My answer is Sunday. For me, Sunday is the culmination of a week, while for most of you, Sunday is the beginning of a week. That means that I have the task of distilling all of what is happening and channeling it here, giving you something to get through the week ahead.
And one of the greatest joys of my life is gathering us at this altar and proclaiming to each and every one of you that Jesus loves you.
Jesus loves you. And because I'm His follower, I love you.
The power in that truth is the thing that brings us together in all our complexity and diversity. It is the thing this world is desperate to hear—even if they don't know it. And it's not exclusively my job to proclaim this truth. It is ours.
So, to the Hillary supporter who is experiencing very real pain, the immigrants feeling uncertainty, the many many people of color in fear over the rhetoric and actions they're seeing right now: tell them they are loved.
To the Trump supporter dismayed at the hypocrisy of the left and images of disregard for our democratic process currently on display: tell them they are loved.
Flag burners and patriots. Pacifists and veterans. The fearful and the gloating. All are loved by Jesus and all are to be loved by the Church. To be loved by you and me.
Andrew knew this. It's why he was willing to follow Jesus even to his own cross. The powers of this world want to deny the love Jesus brings, because that love upends the world and allows us to see through the propaganda and the B.S. and to name what needs to be named. And to value even the most undesirable, indeed the most deplorable of us.
The better way of the Kingdom is one where love is proclaimed in the face of the ugliness of the world.
Following Jesus means embodying that better way and that better way is moving past hate toward each other. Ours is a journey toward mutual love for each other, no exceptions.
And to follow this particular journey is to be a Christian, to be a Citizen of God’s Kingdom, where suffering and pain are no more. Where blooms the Tree of Life, with its leaves for the healing of the nations.
Our brother Andrew has found the Messiah. He asks us to follow. He wants to bring us to Jesus.