Saturday, November 20, 2010
St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr
Observance of St. Andrew
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 174th time, the feast day of our Patron.
His day on the calendar is actually November 30, of course, but since the preceding Sunday is in the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, it has been our custom in this parish for many years to break out the champagne in his honor a week early, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
In any event, 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, friends, 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 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. Cookies . . . and more!
Every year I read through these readings appointed for St. Andrew, prayerfully as I am able, asking what word there might be this year for me, for us, to hear in a special way. The appointed lectionary readings don’t change from year to year, but of course we all change. Individually, and as a congregation, and in the context and contexts of our lives. Our personal situations, families, neighborhoods, the wide world all around us.
The unchanging Word always has a word for us that will be fresh and new. As they say on the television, “breaking news.” Up to the minute. Though we may need sometimes to tune the receivers. To see with eyes open, to hear with ears open. With open minds and open hearts. And not just that there’s one secret message here for us, but that we all might hear different things. The many facets of the diamond.
And I would simply say that what has stood out for me this time, reading through the lessons for our St. Andrew’s Day, is a phrase from Deuteronomy 30, this great Farewell Speech by Moses.
He has walked with the people through all these powerful and formative events. The confrontation with Pharaoh, the first Passover, the Crossing of the Sea, the Giving of the Law at Sinai, the hard 40 year time of nomadic wandering in the wilderness, filled with so many gifts and so many challenges. The long story of their life together. And now he knows that they are to move on into their future, into the future God has in mind for them, but that he will not be with them. But before they part ways, he would speak to them one last time, remind them of the message that he has done his best to set before them every day of this journey, which is that who they are, the foundation of their character and identity, the source and spring of all that they would become, is to be found in faithfulness to God.
That they would put down roots in the soil of his holiness, in obedience to his Word, his Torah, to be nourished by the Lord, and to become his garden, his vineyard, as they enter the Land of Promise.
And Moses I think senses the anxiety of the people. Although things have not always been smooth sailing in their relationship, deep down there has been this God-given confidence that the people have had in Moses. They saw how his face shone as he came down from the Holy Mountain with the Tablets of the Law, and they had seen again and again these great miracles. They knew Moses was God’s Man. But what would happen now? To whom would they turn? From whom would they hear the Word that God would have for them? For them now, at this moment of transition and transformation, there would no longer be his presence. They would be walking unmarked paths, sailing in uncharted seas.
And in this farewell moment, Moses says to them: “The word is very near to you.” The word is very near.
Or as we might translate. It’s not rocket science.
Seems that way sometimes, I guess. In all the swirling language of theological dispute—certainly as we experience that in our day. Perhaps true in every generation. If only I had a degree in Biblical Studies from Union in New York. If only I had a Ph.D in Theology from Duke. If only I could find the secret decoder ring. (See Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code.)
Knowing what God’s will for my life might be, knowing how God is calling his Church, knowing God’s purposes for the world and the universe of his creation. That’s all just so hard, so confusing. Overwhelming. Something to leave to the experts.
Not so, Moses says to God’s Chosen People. Not so: “The word is very near to you.” And again, as that might echo down the centuries, from that hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley, to us, and for us.
174 years worth of life at St. Andrew’s. Men and women, boys and girls. Choirs and Sunday School classes and Altar Guilds, Confirmation Classes, baptisms and weddings and burials, committees and card parties, festival services and prayers together in the emergency room, Sunday by Sunday, week in and week out. 174 years, just in our little corner of world. The Word of God not far away, distant, hard to hear. But as we would open our eyes and ears and minds and our hearts: right here with us. The Word of God for us, his mind for us, as it is communicated in the Word of Scripture; the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ. God here for us in the splash of water at the font, at the altar and the communion rail, in the bread of his presence and the new wine of his kingdom, the Word Made Flesh, Body and Blood.
And so Paul in another of our readings today, this great passage from Romans 10: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”
Moses would speak to them one last time, remind them of the message that he has done his best to set before them every day of this journey, which is that who they are, the foundation of their character and identity, the source and spring of all that they would become, is to be found in faithfulness to God. That they would put down roots in the soil of his holiness, in obedience to his Word, his Torah, to be nourished by the Lord, and to become his garden, his vineyard, as they enter the Land of Promise.
As you know, I’m passionate about theological education and scriptural studies. But Andrew had no Ph.D from Duke. Peter hadn’t studied New Testament with N.T. Wright—though I’m certain they would have had many interesting conversations! James and John didn’t have to learn secret codes from Dan Brown. Their eyes and ears were open, their hearts and their minds were prepared, and so they met him right where they were, four fishermen, late in the afternoon, mending their nets.
He is ready, at all times, in all places. The message we will be singing about on Christmas Eve: we find him, because he first finds us. We come to him, because he comes to live where we live. As we would open our eyes, our ears, our minds and hearts, day by day. The word is very near.