Sunday, November 23, 2014

St. Andrew, 2014

It is the custom here in recent decades to observe the Patronal Festival of the Parish of St. Andrew the Apostle, Highland Park, Pittsburgh, on the Sunday before the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

 Matthew 4

Good morning and grace and peace fellow St. Androids, friends, neighbors, extended family, visitors.  Always a fun day in the life of the congregation—and the wider neighborhood, as folks up the block and around the corner put down the Sunday paper and come out on the porch to see what all the fuss is.  Bagpipes and drums and smiles and greetings.  

A special welcome and word of thanks again as for so many years our friends of the Syria Highlanders have blessed us by joining in the celebration.  And as we are reminded by your presence to include in our thoughts and prayers the important work of the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children, which you all continue to serve as your fundraising mission.  It’s an honor for us to have the opportunity to share in that work with you.

Our St. Andrew’s ancestors were sent out on a missionary endeavor in the winter and spring of 1837, to lay the foundations of a second Episcopal Church to serve Pittsburgh’s growing population.  Must have been an exciting time for them.  Energized with a vision for Christian witness, the proclamation of the gospel in a new place and in new ways.  For them in a fresh and new way the echoing invitation and commission of our Lord to our St. Andrew and his brother Peter, from St. Matthew’s Gospel this morning: Come follow me, and fish for people!   The Parish of St. Andrew the Apostle.  St. Andrew: Called by Jesus.  Sent by Jesus.

As most of you will have noticed in multiple mailings, our stewardship campaign for 2015 has the title “A Year of Renaissance.”  Partly this refers to the fact that after over two years of dedicated work and commitment though the Opening Doors Capital Campaign we are now just beginning to explore the new opportunities for life and ministry, discipleship, stewardship, proclamation, and outreach that our renewed and expanded church facilities make possible.  Figuring out how to operate the elevator, how to program the thermostats, how to make available all this new and renovated space to do the good work God calls us to do in the congregation and the neighborhood.

We’re just at the beginning of that “renaissance,” and I think as we continue over the next months and years we will find that we have a lot in common with our ancestors.  One chapter beginning 1837.  Then another, 1906, with the move of St.  Andrew’s from the original location out here to this new neighborhood.   And then why not 2015?  A fresh start.  A new page.

But the idea of “renaissance” runs deeper.  We would notice in that sentence, the word Jesus has for Andrew and Peter—that it has two parts.  The first, “come, follow me,” and then, “and I will make you fish for people.”  Discipleship first.  Following him.  Opening eyes and ears, minds and hearts.  Delving deep into the Word is how we might apply that first of all.  Not simply as academic study, though some of that is always important.  But with a prayer that God will use his Word to bring us into relationship with the Word made flesh, to give new shape to our lives.  To refresh us in thought and word and deed.  To reorder our priorities.  To give us new minds, new hearts. 

At our diocesan convention a few weeks ago Bishop McConnell issued a deep and I thought actually very moving invitation to all of us in our diocese to a season, perhaps a year, perhaps more, of reflection and discernment.  Inviting us to consider centering our Christian lives individually and as congregations not on projects and proposals and the busyness of one activity after another, no matter how wonderful and well-intended each of those projects and activities might seem in themselves--but instead to center our lives in a renewed commitment to a Christian fellowship of Scripture and prayer.  To let God’s Word fill our hearts and then flow in an outward direction to heal and refresh and to perfect our relationship with God and with one another.   Bishops are in my experience so often interested in promoting projects and programs and activities.  But this reminded me of the saying which I think sometimes can be so important: “don’t just do something.  Stand there.”  Turning the expected phrase upside-down.  Don’t just do something.  Stand there.  We might add: stand there, close to Jesus.

And then, Jesus says:  “I will make you fish for people.”  Noticing how these verbs work.  Not something of our initiative.   “I’m going to make that happen,” Jesus says.  Not something that will come out of us.  Not according to our timetable.  Not the result of our best thinking, our endless committee meetings, our exhausting busyness.  Not something we can do for ourselves or by ourselves, but something that he promises to make happen, in us and through us.  Again, as we have been immersed in him, our prayers are what he is praying through us.  Our actions will what he is working through us.  When he is ready. 

In the older pre-1979  calendar for us Episcopalians and Anglicans the Sunday before Advent had the informal title, “Stir up Sunday.”  The name came from the first words of the traditional collect: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  And with a smile “Stir up Sunday” marked the time to begin preparation in the kitchen of holiday fruit cakes!  But again a reminder of what is called “prevenient grace.”  That it is God that comes to us.  He does the stirring!

Andrew is only mentioned a few times in the New Testament, and it is often remarked that when he does appear in the story he seems to have had a particular role or ministry of bringing people to Jesus.  And I think it’s important to see just how this happens.  When the little boy with the five loaves and two fishes comes forward at the time of the Feeding of the Multitudes, he comes to Andrew, and then Andrew brings him to Jesus.  When the Greeks come out searching to find the famous rabbi they’ve heard so much about, they come to Andrew, and then he brings them to Jesus.  Andrew doesn’t go scrambling around the countryside looking for them.  They come to him.  When people come looking for Jesus, they are led by God to Andrew, and because Andrew knows where Jesus is, he can take them by the hand and say, “of course, let me bring you to him now.”

Perhaps a way to frame that for us this Sunday morning, to say, “that when people come looking for Jesus, they sometimes show up at  St. Andrew’s.”   And you never can tell who is going to come through those doors next.  Happens all the time, and not always the people we expected.  Not always the people we thought we needed.   We like to plan ahead, to strategize, but the reality is that this really isn’t something that we can control.  Somebody else is figuring this out, no matter how much we sometimes like to think we are in charge of things.  How often it is that we get up in the morning with one agenda, one “to-do” list.  And it turns out that God has another idea.  The question always  just whether we’re paying attention enough to get with his program . . . .

For us, on St. Andrew’s Day at St. Andrew’s Highland Park--on the Sunday before Advent, the Sunday before the beginning of the new year on the Christian calendar.  As we come forward for communion, following in the footsteps of men and women and boys and girls of this place over the last 177 years.  And then going out as they did too into the wide world.  Home, work, school, neighborhood.  And perhaps on this St. Andrew’s Day we would think about forming in our hearts and minds as individuals and as a congregation, an intention of discernment in this New Year, which is really the critical word: discernment.  That through our fellowship with one another,  through a renewed dedication to the scriptures, through a commitment to an ever-deepening practice of prayer, we will know Jesus ourselves.  Who he is.  Where he is.  And that the ministry that Jesus called his friend Andrew to on the Galilean shore all those centuries ago, might be our ministry as well.  To meet those he sends our way, and to make the introduction.

As the song from All Saints, for St. Andreans on St. Andrew’s Day:  They lived not only in ages past: there are hundreds of thousands still.  The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus will.  You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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