Sunday, November 22, 2009

St. Andrew: Patronal Festival, 2009

Feast of St. Andrew
Matthew 4: 18-22

Grace to you and peace, indeed, friends, and again a warm word of welcome, as we are assembled today to celebrate in St. Andrew’s Church, Pittsburgh, for what I believe is now the 173rd time, the feast day of our Patron Saint.

I’m not sure our friends of the Syria Highlanders were able to join us for that first celebration, back in November of 1837, but certainly for a number of years now it has been a wonderful blessing to have them with us. I would say again to you, thank you, and that it is as always an added way to enjoy this day to know that in sponsoring the bagpipes and drums we are as well sharing in a contribution to the very meaningful charitable work of the Shriners’ Hospitals for children. A double blessing. And so a welcome to all, and it will be fun to enjoy the festive St. Andrew’s Day reception in Brooks Hall after the service.

The word that leaps out from the reading of the gospel lesson from St. Matthew is the word immediately. Immediately.

Jesus comes, Jesus calls, and immediately, seemingly without even a moment of reflection or indecision—immediately they leave their boats, their nets, their homes and families, work, friends, the lives that they have lived day-in, day-out. Immediately they turn, and follow him.

There is of course a lot we don’t know about the background to the story. How much did these four know about Jesus before this moment of invitation and call? Had they seen him and heard him, perhaps with other followers of John the Baptist? Had they spoken with him before? Had there been days and months of inner reflection and prayerful discernment? Or was this more a bolt out of the blue? A moment of sudden, clarifying discovery. Love at first sight.

What we do know of course, and what they don’t know, and couldn’t have known, is what will follow from this day by the seashore, this turning point moment. The high moments and the hard moments. Cheering crowds, miracles, healings; controversy, rejection, isolation. How one day they would be with him at the top of Mount Tabor, have their eyes and minds and hearts filled with the vision of Jesus transfigured, a moment of meeting between heaven and earth. And how another day soon after, from a distance, they would see him climb another hill, alone, stumbling under the weight of the cross, bearing the burden of all the world’s sin.

What they couldn’t have known: the highs and the lows, victories and defeats, laughter and tears. Good Friday, or after, the disorienting news of Easter, and the new life of Pentecost. By the shore that afternoon, all a story yet to be told. A pregnant moment.

But there is no holding back, anyway. No matter what did or did not come before in each of their lives. Whatever conflicts may have needed to be resolved. He speaks—and they drop their nets, step from their boats out onto the road, and join him on the way.

And this morning of course we notice of the four especially our Andrew. Who would be soon the one who in gospel story after gospel story seems to have this special gift and role of making connections. Of bringing others to meet Jesus. A ministry of introduction which moves out from the gospel stories into the vague memories of years long after Easter, and a missionary life that carried him far from home, spreading the good news—and of course a missionary life that led him in the end to the honor of a death like that of our Lord’s own death, the death of the cross.

With what enthusiasm, energy, excitement they set forth, this morning. An urgency. Immediately they leave their nets, their boats, and follow him.

Blessed Andrew, pray with us that our hearts might be filled as your heart was filled with the love of Jesus. Pray with us that we might hear his voice as you heard his voice. That we might be stirred with energy and enthusiasm and excitement. It’s all a wild risk, for us as it was for you. None of us with any idea where this road may take us day after day, in the unfolding adventures and challenges of our lives.

As we carry in our time and the places of our lives the identity and honor and responsibility of the titles that were yours: friends of Jesus, apostles, evangelists, ambassadors of the Kingdom. But to know as you knew that to sit with him at the Banquet Table will be both our beginning and our ending, our setting out and our coming home. The Bread of our Life, the Cup of our Healing. Pray with us that our hearts might be filled, that we might hear his voice, and that we might know day by day the grace and courage to get up and to follow him. Immediately. Amen.

Bruce Robison

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