Sunday 29 November 2020, Advent & Feast of St Andrew, Indooroopilly
Sermon offered by Rev’d Dr Jo Inkpin
It is one of those lovely quiz questions, isn’t it – what do Barbados, Romania, the Ukraine and Scotland have in common? The answer is St Andrew of course, as their shared patron saint. In this COVID-19 year, that is something for which it is particularly important to wonder and give thanks. For in recent months we have, as a world together, been both divided by border closures, and united in suffering. On this Advent Sunday therefore, it is good to be reminded of our even greater connections in the immense hope to which St Andrew responded and shared with others. For Andrew’s witness is not least to the central importance of relationships, with God in Jesus Christ, with one another, and with the wider world. Today, as we celebrate the feast of St Andrew, and Advent hope, it is into such mission into which we too are called, and the joy which lies in such relational hope, beyond all the divisions and sufferings of our lives and world. Thus St Andrew should empower us to trust, and find new life, across our human borders and in the borderlands of suffering and joy, despair and hope…
Borders and borderlands – what do such things mean to you? We have been particularly aware of some of them within Australia this year, haven’t we? Not least it has been personally painful for many of us to be cut off from loved ones, and to experience others suffering, and dying alone. What a lovely signal of Advent it is therefore that our own State borders will be fully open on Tuesday, the day after St Andrew’s Day. Yet so many across the world are struggling with ever greater COVID-19 issues, including in many places where St. Andrew is the patron saint. Among ourselves, many of us are also waiting in borderlands for fresh hope, particularly where we experience walls of suffering, resistance and anxieties of various kinds. Part of the good news of both Advent and St Andrew is that border lands and border times are places where God is present and comes alive again. It may begin slowly, and surprisingly – as with Andrew’s encounter with Jesus on the shores of Lake Galilee long ago. Yet such love and hope will grow – just as the love and hope Andrew experienced grew throughout the world – even as far as Indooroopilly! For Andrew is very much a saint of the border lands and border times.
Names are very important in the Bible. Andrew’s name certainly is, pointing us clearly to the hope which God provides for border lands and border times. For Andrew is a Greek, not a Hebrew name, related to the Greek word ἀνδρεία, which means manhood and valour. This is highly significant. For, in the two brothers, Andrew and Simon, in our Gospel story this morning, we therefore have both Greek and Jew names, in the one sibling family relationship. Simon, Andrew’s brother, is later of course renamed by Jesus as Peter, which means ‘rock’ in Greek. Yet, at the very start of Matthew’s account of the calling of the new community which will become the Church, it is Jew and Greek we find together. Our Gospel is thus telling us that the Church, the living sign and expression of Christ, is always to be for Jew and Greek, as there are no destructive borders in the love of God. This, as we heard in our reading from the Epistle to the Romans, is precisely the message St Paul understood as central to the Gospel, and which, like Andrew and Simon Peter, he encourages us to share and live out.
Physically too, today’s Gospel reading reminds us that the mission and Advent hope of Christ begins, literally and symbolically, in border country. For Galilee as a region was at the very heart of human differences in Jesus’ day. It was a tremendous mixing-pot of races, and social, economic, cultural and religious diversity. That is also why Andrew had a Greek name, as Galilee was so far from a monochrome Hebrew culture. Rather it was a ferment of change, which is also reflected in Andrew moving from his birthplace in Bethsaida to the outskirts of Capernaum, the dynamically growing multicultural local powerhouse. Almost certainly this was also related to environmental change, as silting in the lake at Bethsaida drew fisherfolk like Andrew to other places to ply their trade. To make such a living however was increasingly difficult, as Roman overlords and their local puppets exacted heavy taxes to pay for their new buildings and developments. In this, the rich were getting very rich and the poor poorer, with increasingly numbers of people feeling insecure and anxious for their lives and families. Scholars today therefore suggest that such pressures may have been a key reason why men like Andrew and his brother were drawn to the teaching and person of Jesus. They needed hope, not just for eternity, but for their people, environment and future world.
Can you see the powerful links to our own times? Andrew’s story is not simply a story of long ago, to help give this and other churches a reason for a patronal festival. Andrew’s story is our story. It is based on similar insecurities and pressures which we face, in our own border lands and border times. It seeks the same hope for which we, and others, right across our world, seek. For it is God’s continuing, ever present story – the invitation to living, and sharing, another way of being together (with God, with one another, and with the world and environment around us) – calling us into deeper relationship.
One of the great things about St Andrew, I think, is the way in which he helps to call us into a more balanced relationship with God. For Christian Tradition has often become so obsessed with other disciples – chiefly Peter and Paul – that the Church as a community sometimes becomes distorted. Yes, Peter and Paul are vital figures in the Christian story, but they are only two of God’s disciples. Jesus called, and continues to call, many, many more, of all kinds. For we are all needed to discover, and share, fresh hope with one another and our world. As a child of ancient Northumbria – which stretched from modern day Hull to Edinburgh, across today’s Scottish-English borders – I therefore particularly like the way in which Andrew was adopted by the northern Celts as their patron saint. For at the seventh century Synod of Whitby, the indigenous British Celtic Christian traditions were largely superseded by the victory of Roman Christian traditions. Peter, the great saint of Rome, thus supplanted Columba, the great missionary saint of Celtic Christianity. In taking Andrew as their patron saint, the Scots, at least, insisted that the Church of Peter would not have the whole say. For the hope and mission of God requires all of Jesus’ disciples to be involved. It calls for Greek and Jew – and, as St Paul went on to say, female and male, slave and free. All types of person, from all sides of every border, are needed for God’s hope and mission. For we are all intimately related, like the siblings Andrew and Peter. God loves us all equally and calls us all.
Indeed, Andrew is of course what the Orthodox tradition in Christianity refers to as Protokletos – the First-Called. As John’s Gospel indicates, Andrew is the first Andrew to go to Jesus to find new hope. It is he who then brings his brother Simon to Jesus. Like the Celts, the Orthodox thus emphasise Andrew as First-Called to highlight that God’s mission is about us all, not select special figures. The point is not to work out who is more important in God’s work of salvation. It is to encourage us all to make our own response, and to share in close relationship with one another. Three things then flow from this calling we share with Andrew, highlighted by St Paul in our reading today from Romans. Firstly, we too are called to hear God in Jesus. Christ is with us today just as he was with Andrew, and his brother and companions. Do we see Christ among us, for us? Wherever we are, whatever border lands we negotiate, God is with us. Secondly, how will we then respond? Andrew and his companions must also have struggled to leave their comfort and trust the new hope Jesus was offering. Yet they took that step, and encourage us to follow Jesus ourselves. What might God therefore be asking us to be and do? For, thirdly, our calling and our response, are not for ourselves alone. They are for others too. We, unlike Andrew, may not travel far to share the Gospel in far off lands. Yet we too are called to share, just as we are. For this feast of St Andrew reminds us that Advent hope is for us all, and needs us all. In the name of Christ, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek. Amen.