Homily for November 30th, 2012

Homily for the Festival of Saint Andrew the Apostle

We celebrate Andrew – disciple, apostle, brother of St Peter, former fisherman, Galilean outsider, patron saint of Scotland, and of lacemakers (!) — witness and martyr for Christ and the Christian faith.

As the book For All the Saints says: “Andrew was a Galilean fisherman minding his own business, mending his own nets, when along came Jesus. The Lord called him, and Andrew got up and walked — he walked into the story of Jesus. From that moment on, his life was no longer his own; Andrew had no other story but the story of Jesus, the story that is told about Jesus, the story that Jesus himself tells.  And that is how we honour the memory of the apostle named Andrew: by remembering his name as we tell the story of Jesus, the One who called both Andrew and us into the story of salvation.

“a Galilean fisherman minding his own business”  — I like that term because it suggests Andrew was being mindful, truly present, where he was.  He was thoroughly committed to what he was doing.   Jesus could use exactly those talents but in a different milieu.   Hopefully, Andrew would bring exactly those talents into his vocation as an apostle.

As a  centurion (Matthew 8: 5—10)  could understand what Jesus was about because by virtue of his military training he understood authority and duty and consequences, so a fisherman could understand Jesus’ call to become a fisher of people by virtue of his experience of the laws of nature and the sea, and the personal qualities to rise to its challenges and disappointments.

“Henceforth you’ll be catching men!”  Jesus seemed to like fishermen – according to Matthew, he chose four of them virtually the same day.  Good news for me, because I always enjoyed fishing  – after winning a fishing derby a number of years ago, I said that I seem to be a better fisher of fish than a fisher of men!

God calls all of us – and it is a mistake to think that to fulfill a calling you need to end up with a clergy collar!  We often mistake spiritual gifts and interest in religion – that if it is a spiritual gift it has to end up in church somehow – that if it is not being recognized and used in a church setting it’s not really a valid ministry.

I believe each of us has a God-given purpose and I have already met too many misfits wearing clergy collars who thought they were being faithful by trying to be a clone of Mother Teresa or Francis of Assisi or some other image of holiness in their heads.  Sorry, it’s already been done.   Their lives end up being caricatures, really incongruent with who they truly are, and their ministry  becomes a public act – role playing for the cameras, and then either starving or hiding their true self, and over time expending more and more energy on living from a false self.  Often, what happens is a breakdown, and complete loss of faith.  Who we really are has to emerge sometime.    We have to assume that Jesus chose people whom he believed would be true to who they were.

In the church we often tend more toward stereotypes rather than living into the unique fullness of being God gave us.  We have preconceived ideas about what a Christian must look like so we try to fit ourselves into what we already know or have experienced or read in a book somewhere.  True discipleship is not about fitting into molds but about responding in faith to the living God, and doing our best to “walk by the Spirit.”

Andrew reminds us that all you can bring to the service of God is yourself. For instance, Andrew, being a Galilean, would have already known what it means to be an outsider, so when some people of Greek background wanted to approach Jesus, it was natural that Philip should ask Andrew to be the intermediary.  Someone used to being an insider would likely never notice or sympathize with the needs of a stranger.

So often, though, we think it’s necessary to stifle our true gifts and constrain ourselves within some image of niceness or acceptability.  If someone is a bit of a rebel or renegade, we urge them to become docile and to be obedient, rather than realizing those were the very gifts that made John the Baptist so great.  We turn potential John the Baptists into Perry Como.    So maybe it’s no wonder our church isn’t turning out very many John the Baptists —  or Mother Teresa’s – but we are quite good at being nice, polite,

From the Episcopal Diocese of New York:  “How many of us actually think of ourselves as ministers in the church? Isn’t ministry just for those who are ordained? On the contrary, God has given each of us unique personalities, abilities and talents. As baptized Christians, we all are called by God to use these gifts in ministry in our daily lives. We can serve God and others at home, at church, at work, and in our communities. In addition, some of us have a secondary call– to ordained ministry in the church.”

AsFrederick Buechner said: The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I remember a doctor asking at a church seminar: “You mean what I do would be considered a calling?”  Of course!  Why not?   How sad that for years he felt that being a doctor was somehow not living up to the concept he had of what God desired – or, worse, represented a betrayal of God somehow.  I hope he was much better aligned personally, and closer to God, having integrated his faith and his work.

Like Andrew, we all bring our own gifts into our Christian journey, and we can often find our calling in the very things that have drawn our interest and attention.  But it requires discernment because often that is not the case, if we have been living a not very authentic life.

I owe a huge debt to certain teachers, canoe trip leaders, sports coaches, etc., who encouraged and mentored me and let my gifts develop.  When I finally realized a call to ordained ministry, it was as if the preparation for that had been going on for years, even though I was absent from the church through those years.

For instance, it dawned on me years later that my own interest in fishing was much more than that.  As a young boy fishing, I developed a deep appreciation for nature, for the beauty and mystery of life as symbolized by the water, a gift of patience, a sense of the sacramental nature of creation, and a real tendency toward contemplation in my willingness and ability to sit still and be quiet for hours.  Fishing also helped me learn that there are both active and passive dimensions to ministry.

As with Andrew, fishing pointed to what I would do later in life, had anyone the insight to notice and name it.  But most of us do not have spiritual mentors and elders in our lives, soul friends or spiritual directors who might help us make connections – and so like that doctor, we end up not making connections that would make life much more meaningful and spiritual.

We all have certain skills and interests that may already be or could become a central aspect of our personal discipleship and our way of fulfilling the unique calling that God has for us.  Many men (and women) have never discovered their Christian spirituality because no one has ever explored those kinds of connections with them

For most of us, Jesus doesn’t walk up and say, “Let’s go!”  It usually isn’t that clear.  We have to discern and wrestle and pray over a period of time.  But we should believe that the Spirit is constantly there, subtly urging us toward our greater destiny.

The Episcopal Diocese of New York’s guidelines on discernment suggest:

Listen for God’s guidance by praying, meditating, and reading Holy Scripture.

  • Look for clues in your lives.
  • Pay attention when others point out your gifts.
  • Notice which activities, accomplishments, and interactions bring you joy. “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Complete a written inventory of gifts (spiritual gifts questionnaires and workshops abound – check online)
  • Be open to discovering potential gifts by trying something new.

One of the great themes of Advent is “Wake up!”  In other words, become attentive, expectant, alert, vigilant, for God’s coming and God’s presence.

Believe that Jesus truly is present within you, and around you, calling and guiding you to your own  unique destiny, and trust that what you are drawn to may be something that connects with how you are meant to serve God as an apostle of Christ in this age.   Be aware that in each moment we are experiencing and relating to life in a way that will give richness and meaning to the way we serve God in future.

The Rev. Grant Rodgers+

“Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.”
― Meister Eckhart