Sermon for Evensong, St Paul’s Cathedral Friday 30 November 2018
ST. ANDREW’S DAY, 2018
Sermon preached by the Vicar at St. Paul’s Cathedral
Readings: Romans 10.12-18; Matthew 4.18-22
Matthew’s account of the calling of Andrew is brief and immediate. Jesus comes into the life of sees Andrew and his brother while they are going about their work as fishermen. Without introduction or discussion he issues the call: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Just as immediately, they drop everything and follow him. Matthew does not tell us what their family thought about two of its breadwinners leaving everything to go off after this wandering preacher.
Jesus’ entrance into their lives transforms them. They can never be the same again. In Christian history ever since there have been such direct, immediate and irresistible calls like theirs; life-changing encounters with Jesus.
But for most of us our journey to faith takes a more gradual and indirect course. So it helps to turn to John’s account of the call of Andrew which is echoed in the Collect, the opening prayer of this feast.
There we hear that Andrew and a nameless figure are disciples of John the Baptist. When the Baptist says of Jesus: “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” they set off after this new character in the drama.
Their decision to go after Jesus is based on the testimony of John. Because they know John, they accept his word. Many of us are Christians because of the testimony, the witness, the influence of others in our lives; people whom we have known and trusted, whose words and deeds have pointed us to Jesus.
When Jesus sees them following, he speaks his first words in John’s Gospel: ‘“What are you looking for?”, “Whom do you seek?” This is a question posed to all who would follow him.
They said to him, “Rabbi… where are you staying?” We might think this is a pretty mundane request for his address. You would think they could have asked him a proper religious question: “What’s the meaning of life? or “Why there was so much evil in the world?”, “Why do the innocent suffer?”
As usual with John, there is more here than meets the eye. The disciples of John are not asking abstract questions or engaging theoretical speculations. Rather, they are seeking Jesus, to be with him, to know him, to follow him. So they must know where he is staying; where he is to be found.
Jesus’s response is an example of John’s multi-layered meanings. On the surface, Jesus’ reply, “Come and see,” might simply be an invitation to come and see the house he is lodging in. But at a deeper level, these words are a call to discipleship; John’s equivalent of the “Follow me,” of Matthew’s account.
“Come and see.” The order of the words in this invitation is no accident. When we think of following Jesus, becoming his disciple, we often think that we only do this when we must have considered all the angles, discovered all there is to know about him, before we can make our own choice. We think we have to “see” Jesus – that is know all about him – before we can “come” to him. But that is not how it works. First, we follow Jesus along the path of discipleship, and then along the way we come more fully to “see”; that is to believe and understand who he is. If we think about, this makes sense: if Jesus is God, the Divine Word made flesh, sharing our human life, as John says at the very beginning of the Gospel, then there is no way we can fully comprehend him. For John, seeing is about being led to understand who Jesus is, and that is not the work of a moment or a day but of a lifetime, and more than a lifetime, of eternal life.
At this point all the disciples have to go on is titles and images given them by John, drawn from the tradition of their own people. As the story, the drama of the Gospel unfolds, Jesus himself will flesh out and refine and add to the meaning of these names and pictures.
Only along the path of discipleship can followers of Jesus come fully to believe in him and understand who he is. The same thing is true in the other gospels. There Jesus first calls the disciples to follow him. They can come to know Jesus and believe in him only along the path of holiness. In both, the initiative lies with God not us.
Having seen where Jesus is “staying,” the two disciples “stay” with him that day, but again the word “stay” is about more than a place and a time. It is the same word which John uses to speak of Christ’s entering into our life, and the ongoing relationship of the disciples to Jesus; their “abiding” or “dwelling” in him and he in them, that they might be one, that they might bear fruit as his disciples.
Jesus says to all of us: “Come and See.” And what we do in this cathedral tonight show us the pattern of that. In answer to his invitation, we have come be with Jesus where he stays: to listen to him speaking to us in the words of scripture; we have come to eat and drink with him in the sacramental meal in which we dwell with him, abide in him.
That truth is echoed by a further appearance of Andrew in John’s Gospel. At the Feeding of the Five Thousand, when Jesus asks the disciples how this great crowd can be fed, it is Andrew who brings to Jesus the lad with his five loaves and two fishes. “But, what are they among so many?” We come with bread and wine, the symbols of our life and work, our joys and sorrows, and with ourselves. But what are our feeble prayers and wandering minds, our good intentions which so often come to nothing, in the face of the world’s need and hunger? And yet, just as Jesus takes those pathetic scraps of food and feeds the multitude, so too he takes what little we bring, what little we have made of God’s gifts to us, and transforms it into the sacrament by which we abide in him and he in us; the means of grace by which we share in his life.
Andrew comes to Jesus because of the witness of John. His experience of being with Jesus results in him becoming a witness in his turn; telling his brother, “We have found the Messiah,” God’s “anointed one.” Our being with Jesus, where he stays, should issue in our witness to our brothers and sisters’ our sharing of what we have found.
In the final mention of Andrew, Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem for Passover. Some Gentile visitors or pilgrims want to meet Jesus. They approach Philip, who like Andrew has a Greek name, saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Philip in turn asks Andrew, who brings them to Jesus, acting again as the go-between.
Those pilgrims come to Philip and Andrew with their request because they have a common language. If we are to be witnesses to Jesus, then our abiding in him must issue not in separation from our brothers and sisters into a private religious world, but in a deeper sharing in his identification with all humankind. Our being with Jesus, our relationship with him, is not only to deepen our knowledge of him and his divinity, but also through our knowledge of his humanity to see more clearly the humanity we share with him and with all our sisters and brothers.
Andrew’s staying with Jesus led him to bring his brother Simon to him too. The challenge to us, who have been with Jesus, is “Who will we bring?”