Dt 30, Romans 10, Matthew 4
Grace and peace to you, a word of welcome on this always-fun Sunday, as we observe the festival of our patron saint, Andrew the Apostle. A little like a birthday party for us always, or a homecoming weekend, an anniversary, and certainly a time to pause for a moment to think about how the spirit of this great place, St. Andrew’s--176 years old this year—about how the spirit of this great place is and has become a part of who we are.
I’ve seen a number of constructions. St. Andreans is what I prefer, since the name in Greek is “Andreas”-- though there were a few around here for a while who preferred “St. Andrewsians.” For some reason Ruth Cover always preferred that one. And I have occasionally heard from the direction of the Star Trek section of the Choir, “St. Androids.” But in any event, a particular and distinctive and peculiar species, DNA passed down in some mystical invisible way generation by generation, despite all kinds of differences of background, perspective, life experience. “Every breed of cat,” as I like to say every year about the parish by the zoo.
Democrats and Republicans, vegetarians and omnivores, wine-bibbers and tea-totallers, city dwellers and folks from near and far suburbs and towns, people who love baseball and, hard as this is to believe after the wonderful year our Pirates have had, people who don’t. Even at this point in this challenging season I’m sure even a few loyal-to-the-end Steeler fans. (Maybe things will continue to look better this afternoon in Cleveland.) Chamber music and country, Handel and Hendrix. People who will describe their lives and families and communities and interests and their Christian faith in a multitude of vocabularies. A big enough map to locate just about everybody. But in the midst of those differences and diversities, something shared.
An inclination to be here, to be together, prompted by our Better Angels, I think. Holy Spirit, and I absolutely believe that. Whispers of encouragement. Stirrings of the heart that take place in such quiet ways that we don’t even notice them at first. Every one of us meant to be here. Here for a purpose.
Grace and peace then, St. Andreans, St. Andrewsians, St. Androids. And visitors and friends. The old story was that someone once asked how you joined this bunch, and the answer was that all you need to do was to stroll past the front door slowly once or twice out on Hampton Street and you’d be eligible to serve on Vestry.
Obviously things a little different this year on this chilly morning, with all the construction, so that our usually extravagant St. Andrew’s Day Reception becomes more simply a classic Pittsburgh Cookie Table in the bit of Brooks Hall that we have to work with while all the renovations are in process. Nonetheless: as Dickens’s Tiny Tim will solemnly pronounce again as the season rolls along, “God bless us, every one.” And with a special greeting and appreciation again this year to our friends of the Syria Highlanders. Thank you for the gift you bring us in stirring up these ancestral memories on this St. Andrew’s Day, echoing brightly in the new acoustic of our renovations, and thank you for the opportunity you share with us in support of the wonderful work of the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children. A great cause.
Certainly the pioneers of this place back in 1837 were aware of St. Andrew’s role as patron saint of Scotland. Perhaps they were recognizing and honoring in those days the large Scotch-Irish population that had been such a large part of the first European settlement in this region. And so to hear the pipes again across the neighborhood and ringing through the church—it is for us an old and familiar song.
Andrew in addition to Scotland, the patron saint of Barbados, the Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Patras in Greece, Amalfi in Italy, Luqa in Malta, Esgueira in Portugal. Patron of Prussia, and of the Order of the Golden Fleece (I looked that up a couple of years ago in Wikipedia—an order dating from the 15th century comprising members of the royal families and high nobility of old Europe). And the emblematic St. Andrew’s Cross appears on the flags of Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, Tenerife, Galicia, and the state flags of Florida and Alabama, among others. Andrew is also, to note a couple of weeks after our observance of Veterans Day, the patron saint of the U.S. Army Rangers.
In any event, he got around. This St. Andrew of ours. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”—as St. Paul writes for us and for all time in Romans 10—the epistle reading for this day, which you can see in the order for the 9 a.m. Holy Communion this morning. And Psalm 19: “Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.”
The Brotherhood of St. Andrew: a missionary society in the Episcopal Church since the later years of the 19th century—trained and supported lay leaders who would go out into frontier areas to establish the foundation of church growth. The parish I served many years ago, St. Andrew’s in State College, Pennsylvania, founded by two layreaders of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew from St. John’s Church in Bellefonte. A story repeated many times across the Midwest and West across the expanding American frontier.
We've heard one story about the calling of Andrew and Peter here in St. Matthew this morning. Leave your nets and come with me: fish for people . . . . The story in St. John has Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist, who with another John the Baptist follower hears John speak about Jesus and follows after him to see what he’s all about, and who then goes and finds his brother Peter to say, “come and meet the person we've been waiting for all our lives.” Then again in St. John, when Jesus the multitudes have followed Jesus into the countryside to hear his teaching, and when evening has come and the people are beginning to get hungry, and nobody seems quite sure what to do, Andrew brings to Jesus a little boy who has brought his lunch from home, five loaves of bread, and two fish. And later still, at a moment of crisis on the journey toward the cross, some Greeks come, seeking Jesus, and it is Andrew to whom they speak first, and he brings them to him.
All the stories about what happened for Andrew after Pentecost Sunday are pious traditions, but they would certainly follow along the same New Testament pattern. Meeting people where they are, and leading them to Jesus. A ministry of introduction and evangelism. Commending Jesus. Inviting others who haven’t met him yet to come into his presence, to experience for themselves his tender mercy, his forgiveness, and the healing and new life and real and substantial hope that flow from the knowledge of his resurrection. Andrew, always ready to say a good word about Jesus. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!
For 176 years under his banner as this community of Christian people. Pilgrims. Men and women, boys and girls. All sorts and conditions. And somehow here good Andrew keeps doing his work, fishing for people, taking them by the hand and bringing them to meet his friend. We’re building the equipment and infrastructure in our Opening Doors project next door. Capacity for outreach. Capacity for welcome. Let me introduce you to someone you've been waiting all your life to meet. The Hope of the Nations. Inspiring us, at this Font and at this Table, sustaining us, equipping us, as the Word is proclaimed and studied, as we meet Jesus here, and as we continue to meet him and to walk with him then from this great place to all corners of the neighborhood and city and region around. For all of us who would walk under the Banner of St. Andrew the Apostle.
“The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Blessings on this St. Andrew’s Day, friends, for those of us who are here today, and for those whose first Sunday in this great place will be next Sunday, or the Sunday after that. Perhaps the neighbor who slips in by the side door a few weeks from now to watch and listen as our children tell in their pageant the story of the Savior’s birth. Perhaps the friend who accepts our invitation to attend the beautiful offering of Lessons and Carols. Perhaps the one who decides after years of frustration and resistance and sadness and hurt to give the Christian message and that Bethlehem Baby another hearing at midnight on Christmas Eve. Perhaps a neighbor in Lima Peru, introduced to Jesus by her Five Talents Solidarity Circle. Perhaps a neighbor right around the corner, whose hard road to recovery is made a little easier by the friendship and helping hand of one of our Off the Floor Pittsburgh Saturday mornings.
How beautiful indeed are the feet of those who bring good news—and the news that Andrew had to share, the news that we have to share, the best news ever. Come and meet Jesus. He is the one we have been waiting for.
Next Sunday is Advent Sunday and the beginning of a new year on the calendar of the Church. May the next year and may the next 176 years of our life together continue the story and announce the good news in great and new ways, always to bring honor, glory, and praise, through Christ our Lord.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us: an offering and a sacrifice to God.