Feast of St Andrew
28 November 2021
We cannot wait ©Suzanne Grimmett
Do you ever find yourself waiting to begin, and then finding that there are lots of reason to wait and plenty of jobs to do in the meantime, until you realise you have never quite got around to taking that first step?
Perhaps today could be a reminder that every day is a beginning, and today is the day to take the next step.
We are beginning Advent, the start of the new Church year, and we are celebrating our patronal festival, the Feast of St Andrew, the first called.
Andrew is the first to follow Jesus because he sees in him an embodiment of the hope for which he yearns- some intimation of an eternal vision for something better. Something better that was expressed in the words of our candle lighting liturgy as “longing for peace, for healing, and the well-being of all creation.”
We do not have to strain to the heavens for this vision. The word is near, and God is to be found in the ordinariness of our lives; hidden in plain sight. I think that is part of the message of this feast day. Andrew, after all, is not Peter, James, John nor Paul who are the superstar disciples. He is Andrew, just one of the others! We actually know very little about him aside from his name, his more famous brother and the apparent alacrity of his response to Jesus.
Peter, Andrew’s brother is, of course, Simon, which is a Hebrew name that Jesus changes to Peter ‘the rock’. Although both of these men are Jewish, unlike ‘Peter’, ‘Andrew’ is a Greek name- an intimation from the very first that Jesus comes to unite that which has been separated and to remake and reconcile the world. This beginning starts with the generosity and hospitality of the God who, it will be later revealed, makes no distinction between Jew and Greek.
In John’s Gospel it is Andrew who introduces Peter to Jesus. I wonder if any of those present that day had a sense of the gravitas of that moment- of the weight of all those future years of history, the Church, and its popes in that momentous introduction. We can see in Andrew not only the first called, then, but the first missionary. He did not feel any need to wait until Jesus had a movement going, or a mission action plan or theology of mission in the first century Galilean context. He did not wait but went with urgency and joy to his brother Simon saying “We have found the Christ.”
Where did that urgency come from? Why was Andrew not afflicted with the same, “Let’s just see how this works out” kind of pragmatism, nor the “I have so many fish to catch and not enough time to even mend my nets” kind of priority bind. I don’t think we should fall into any kind of comfortable assumptions that things were somehow easier for these disciples to align themselves- physically, emotionally, spiritually…and practically…with Jesus. I think we have to recognise, though, that Andrew’s need and longings must have been great- great enough to leave his nets and his livelihood, great enough to run and proclaim Jesus’ disruptive presence to others.
In Jesus’ day the rich were getting richer, the poor, poorer, and life under their Roman overlords was becoming increasingly oppressive. Andrew knew that he could not wait to begin. I wonder in this day where there is the same injustice and so many crying today for liberation, if we have become too comfortable with waiting.
While patience is a virtue and waiting is celebrated as the charism of Advent, what if in our waiting we miss the invitation of the Spirit? Jesus is always calling us out and inviting us into the eternal, partnering with the Spirit to find hope not just for a life after death, but for peace and justice-now- for all people and for the earth. Isn’t that our longing too?
For centuries the Church has set out on this work for a compassionate and just world by creating hospitals for the sick and dying, providing food for the hungry, welcoming the outcasts and providing shelter for refugees. Since the mid-nineteenth century public institutions have increasingly taken on responsibility for social care. This has meant an expansion of that care, but I think it has also slowly created a Church with an increasing reticence to engage in what has come to be seen as the work of the public domain. In the face of injustice, there is a tendency for the church to say our prayers, worship on Sunday and concentrate on our own private faith while we wait upon social change to occur in the public square, joining in sometimes when the better impulses of society have led to reform.
But the Church was never called to such passivity nor to the kind of deference that would assume that if something is legal it is right and good, and if something should be done for the good of the world, then someone would have done it by now. We are called, as Andrew was called, to respond with urgency to a lived hope for a transformed future- a hope that takes steps towards its realisation. We are called to be the first dreamers of the new kingdom. Like Andrew we are the first called to commit ourselves, body, mind and soul to a transformed future where the hungry are fed, the poor are lifted up, the captives set free and there is peace. Ours is not to sit and wait for justice to be arranged by those in power before we agree and align ourselves with reform. We, as followers of Jesus’ way, should be the first to be calling for kingdom ways of being, seeking with urgency how it can be done and finding practical ways we can begin in our ordinary lives here and now, with the resources we have. Where in Australia do we see the need for God’s kingdom to come, bringing healing and peace to our people and the earth?
During the week I attended with others from this parish, the launch of the Diocesan Reconciliation Action Plan. Amongst the speeches there was a confronting moment when Professor Boni Robertson told us all, “The church is not ready for reconciliation.” I think we need to hear that. Words are not enough. Plans are not enough. Commitments are not enough. There is a time when we need to begin in action and the church should be the leaders in such work. In our colonising history great harm has been done in the name of Christ and needs to be healed in the name of Christ. The good news should be breaking through first in the communities of faith which bear the name of Christ and seek to bear witness to this hope we embody.
There is a poem called “First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engle. I think it speaks to the hope of Advent, the God who acts ‘first’ and the urgency of the calling on our own lives to live with faith and courage.
He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
I think there is great hope to be found in God NOT waiting. The Church may not be ready for reconciliation, our country may not be ready for justice and the world may not be ready for peace. But Jesus, the Christ, is ready and is acting. The light is coming into the world and we are called to bear witness to its burning hope.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
Jesus comes to us even when we have failed to live with faith and courage. The Word dwells intimately in our hearts even when we have been more interested in constructing our own kingdoms than building up the kingdom of God.
Before us and despite us, God comes to us, and invites us to begin. How might we prepare our hearts for the one who would offer grace, filling us with love and inspiring the kind of courageous action for which the world waits?
How might our Advent pilgrimage be touched by the joy that invites us not to wait until the world is better, but to lift our voices and offer our lives now so that the church may reveal the hope for a transformed future. God did not wait but came to us in our messiness, our shame and our need. Neither can we wait.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!