Sunday, November 20, 2011

St. Andrew the Apostle

Patronal Festival: St. Andrew the Apostle (tr. from 11/30)
Deuteronomy 30: 11-14; Psalm 19: 1-6;
Romans 10: 8b-18; Matthew 4: 18-22

Good morning all, and grace and peace on this day. Especially a warm word of welcome to visitors and friends, and of course to our good friends once again this year of the Syria Highlanders Pipe and Drum Band. It is always just so enjoyable to have you with us, and we are very glad indeed that as you share in our ministry today we are able to share with you in your support of the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children. A great cause, and thank you for your creative and meaningful service on its behalf.

By custom going back at least a few decades the people of this parish have set aside the Sunday before the Thanksgiving holiday to observe our patonal festival, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, moving or “translating” the observance from its official date on the calendar, November 30, to this Sunday. This our “name day,” then, and if on Whitsunday in the spring we observe the birthday of the Church, this day is one we can lift up for our own local celebration: bagpipes and cookies and a time of celebration that stands for me anyway as something of the gateway to the season ahead, with Thanksgiving and then Advent Sunday and all the way to Christmas and the New Year ahead . . . .

I guess I would say that we don’t have any record that I know of, any that our historian Marilyn Evert has shared with me, anyway, about the process of deliberation that our parochial ancestors may have engaged in, in the winter and spring of 1836 and 1837, as they prepared to leave their spiritual home and the warm embrace of Trinity Church and to venture out to the planting of a new congregation. There are obviously lots of candidates that might have been considered.

Why Andrew? Or so we might wonder. Back in the early part of the 19th century the descendants of the hard-scrabble Scotch-Irish farmers who had settled much of this region a generation or two earlier were still one of the dominant ethnic and cultural groups, of course—though by the 1830’s the population was beginning to have a much stronger Germanic bias. And in any event, those Scotch-Irish were mostly Presbyterians, not Episcopalians. But perhaps the selection of Scotland’s patron saint was a nod in that direction.

My own preference, though, is to think about Andrew more thematically than in terms of nationality or ethnicity. Who he was as a follower of Jesus, as we meet him in the New Testament. And there of course we get just a few stories. But stories that are quite compelling. This morning’s reading from St. Matthew gives us this glimpse of the beginning of Andrew’s life as a disciple, as he and his brother Simon Peter are called from their boats by Jesus with this great vocational promise, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

In the first chapter of St. John’s gospel there is another story in which it is Andrew who meets Jesus first, and who invites his brother to come to meet Jesus, saying “We have found the Messiah.” In John also a little further on in the sixth chapter there is the story of the time when Jesus was teaching and a great crowd had gathered in a deserted place, and we read there that it was Andrew who brought to Jesus the little boy who had in his knapsack the five loaves and two fish. From which, the great miracle of the Feeding of the Multitudes. Later too in the twelfth chapter it is Andrew to whom the inquiring Greeks first come, saying first to Philip that wonderful line, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” And then Philip goes to Andrew, and it is Andrew who then brings them all to Jesus.

And stepping away from scripture, there are these ancient traditions of Andrew, in the life of the Pentecost Church, traveling out as apostle and evangelist to Scythia, which is modern Kazakhstan and Russia. And then. Martyr, as we see by the traditional X-shaped cross on which he was crucified. Witness. So as our old friend St. Francis said, “Preach always. When necessary, use words.” Clearly Andrew was proficient as an evangelist both in word and deed.

I like to think myself that all this is what was somehow rumbling around in our ancestors’ minds as the question of a patron for a new parish in the rapidly growing and expanding city of Pittsburgh was being discussed. Vibrance and vitality, stretching to reach more with the Good News, to be witnesses, in words and in action, living signs of his presence in this expanding community.

In the 1880’s there was the foundation of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, which is the oldest mission and evangelism society in the Episcopal Church. And I know just in the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a good deal about the time I spent in ministry at St. Andrew’s Church in State College Pennsylvania. A parish that was founded by a chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew at that time at St. John’s Church in Bellefont. And I wonder how many of the “St. Andrew’s” Churches you would find across the Episcopal Church founded in the 20th Century had a beginning in that way. Probably quite a few. St. Andrew got around, and he is in this way still moving around. In the days of the Pentecost Church, and back at the beginning of the 19th century, and here with us this morning.

The Psalm appointed for the Feast of St. Andrew, Caeli enarrant, it’s Latin title, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” A great line and theme for this day, as the pipers fill this place with song.

Andrew was always meeting people, connecting with people—family, friends, co-workers, fellow-travellers, complete strangers—and day by day what his gift seemed to be was that through him and his words and his life and service, there was for them good news. It wasn’t about Andrew. He’s never the star attraction, the one at center stage or in the spotlight. But in all these stories, to meet Andrew is to find your way to Jesus. To stand in his presence and to come to know him as Lord and Savior.

We’re our own quirky expression of that I think. We would aspire to be, in this time and place. Where Christ in his gracious presence blesses us with compassion and forgiveness, healing, grace and peace, and a vision of a future hope. In the end it wasn’t ever about St. Andrew, and of course in the end it isn’t about “St. Andrew’s,” either, but about the one we meet, who calls us into relationship and discipleship and to the beginning of a new life of faith.

A hundred and seventy-four years ago or so a brave and bold group of Christian missionary people set out to begin a new work here in this our City of Pittsburgh. Not to hide the light under the bushel basket, but to shine in a new way. To declare the glory of God and to fill the heavens with new voices, as our choir and we all of us continue to sing all these years later. And to extend that word of St. Andrean invitation that has rolled on down through the years and centuries. To say, “I have someone I want you to meet. He’s the one we’ve been waiting for.”

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