Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saint Andrew November 30

The first saint on the calendar of the Church is the one who introduced his brother to Christ. He stands at the beginning of our Church Year as if to introduce us to the Lord; or to remind us of our first introduction to Him.

If I wished to follow in the footsteps of some of today’s alleged New Testament scholars, the kind which C. S. Lewis criticized for their inability to read and understand classic literature, I would point out that this Gospel reading for the Feast of St. Andrew presents a different version of how the Galilean fishermen met Jesus than the accounts presented by St. John and St. Luke. For St. John and St. Luke both go into detailed stories of how Jesus met these four men, Peter and Andrew, James and John, unlike Matthew and Mark who begin by telling us that upon the call of Jesus to follow Him, they immediately left their nets and became His disciples. I could then conclude that the accounts contradict each other.

If, on the other hand, I want to use reason, common sense and logic, I will point out that the Church has always been aware of what is in all four Gospels, and that none of it was recently discovered by "New Testament scholars." I would also point out that the accounts of Matthew and Mark presuppose the fact that these four fishermen already knew Jesus, and had come to trust Him. Furthermore, it is obvious that they had been prepared in their minds and spirits to obey Him. This is obvious because they immediately left their nets, that is their profitable business partnership, to follow Him. So, what St. John and St. Luke provide is the details without which the calling of these four men, as presented by Matthew and Mark, is incomplete, in fact puzzling. Far from a contradiction, it is a perfect complement.

After all, it would not be in accord with Right Reason for men suddenly to commit their lives to following a stranger; the Church does not in its teaching recommend such rashness, but instead has always taught that we must test the spirits and test the prophecies. So wrote St. Paul and St. John in their epistles. In this account by St. Matthew, it is obvious from the immediacy of their obedience that these men already knew Jesus, and were waiting with some anticipation for Him to call them to be His disciples. The details are given in the complementary accounts of Luke and John. We see in Luke’s account that the toughest nut to crack, the one to come around with the most difficulty, was St. Peter. And this was due to his honest recognition of his own sinfulness, and his mistaken assumption that he must have been beyond God’s mercy.

And we learn other details from St. John’s Gospel. Andrew knew from the words of John the Baptist that Jesus was the Lamb of God. He knew somehow that this meant that He was the Messiah. This tells me that Andrew was a theologian of some skill; that he was more advanced in his understanding of scripture than were the leading Rabbis of his day. For, he figured out that the Lamb of God was a term which signified the Messiah. He correctly foresaw the meaning of the Suffering Servant prophecy in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. I cannot see any other way for him to have connected the idea of the Messiah with the idea of the Lamb of God. The word Messiah is used in the Old Testament first of all when speaking of the priests, Aaron and his line, who offered sacrifice and made atonement for sin. Later, it is also used for the kings, the Royal line of David. Andrew seems to have grasped that the priestly ministry of the Messiah, the ministry of offering sacrifice, would be fulfilled before His reign as King could be revealed.

The life of St Andrew reminds us that the main point is what is revealed instead of the presence of mystery. Recently I read an account of contemporary liturgists (a word I loathe) who created their own version of the Mass. In it there is no Creed, and God is spoken of as the unknowable "it". Throughout their service- or perhaps dis-service- they emphasize mystery. Of course, we have mysteries because we are speaking of God. Indeed, our sacraments are mysteries, because we know not how they work. We do not fully understand the Incarnation or the Trinity because we cannot fully understand God. But, the liturgists with their own version of the Mass are completely wrong. Mystery is to be expected; the amazing thing about Christianity is not the presence of mystery, it is the reality of revelation. Christ is God in the flesh, and He is made known to us. By coming into the world He has shown us the Father.

St. Peter becomes very important to us as we remember his brother St. Andrew. The most well known story of Andrew is in the Gospel of John, in the first chapter. He had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and had followed Jesus in obedience to John who identified the Lord as "the Lamb of God." Andrew did not hesitate to bring his own brother to Jesus. Andrew introduced the Lord to Peter with the words "we have found the Messiah." Later it would be Peter’s own words to Jesus that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, based not upon his brother’s words, but upon the Father’s revelation. Andrew’s words probably seemed to him on that earlier day as mere enthusiasm; but because of his brother, Peter met Jesus for himself, and came to have the faith which recognized Him as the Lord.

So it is that Andrew has always been a living symbol of evangelism. He introduced his brother to Jesus Christ, that is to Jesus as the Messiah. The Father revealed to Peter what Andrew had first told him. This is always the way of evangelism. We can only speak the words of the Gospel, having in ourselves no power to convince hearts and minds. We cannot overcome anyone’s hardness of heart, not even our own for that matter. We cannot reveal Jesus. But, we can and we must proclaim Him. It is our duty to do so; and the example of St. Andrew shows us that we rightly perform this duty when it is our joy to do so.

We Anglicans are not advocates of what is called "Enthusiasm" in the capital "E" sense of that word as a theological term. That is, the kind of "Enthusiasm" which creates weird religious movements and cults. But, a small "e" enthusiasm, based upon the true meaning of that word from its Greek root, is a good and healthy thing; for it means to be "in God." Andrew met Jesus Christ, and in his joy went to tell his brother to come and meet Him too. This kind of enthusiasm, with a small "e", is the joy of true faith that motivates us to introduce people to the Lord.

The rest belongs to the Father, revealing His Son by the Holy Ghost. This is why St. Paul says in today’s Epistle "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." This is why the apostle spent so much ink on the subject of preaching. It seems foolish to a dead and sinful world that preaching, proclaiming the Gospel, brings salvation from sin and death. But it does. St. Paul tells us that "the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes." (Rom. 1:16) Hearing the Gospel is powerful; this is because it is the Holy Spirit Who supplies the power.

Our problem is that we forget that the Holy Spirit provides the power. We think that we must come up with gimmicks, and marketing. We suppose that some better way must exist for presenting the good news. Often this is because we forget that the first and most important thing in preaching the Gospel is the salvation of souls; building up our numbers is a result of this, yes. But, simply building our numbers must not be the primary goal. For me as a priest, the temptation is to build our numbers any way we can. But, if we fill up a church without making true converts, we have done nothing of eternal value. If we preach the Gospel, on the other hand, and stick to what the song calls, "the Old Time Religion" we will be what Paul calls God’s co-laborers; we will be, as he wrote, "working together with God." We will proclaim, and He will reveal and convict. We will teach, and He will convert.

Of course, if we create a false gospel, another one which scratches itching ears, which makes everybody feel good, we may be commercially successful beyond the dreams of avarice. We will go to hell in the end; but we will have been successful, and success is, as we know, one of the world’s most influential false gods.

What is the Gospel? It is what we recite in the Creed; it is what we say by the prayers in our Communion Liturgy. It is defined simply by St. Paul in the Fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians. In the first eleven verses we find four simple facts that St. Paul gives us as the Gospel. These four points are in his sermons and in Peter’s sermons which appear throughout the Acts of the Apostles. They are, briefly:

Christ died for our sins (in fulfillment of scripture)

He was buried

He rose from the dead the third day (in fulfillment of scripture)

He was seen by witnesses after His resurrection.

If we continue simply to teach these things, the Holy Spirit, by the will of the Father, does the rest, the work on hearts and minds that we cannot do.

You may have noticed that Andrew, himself, seems almost to have disappeared in what I have been saying, and on this, our celebration of his feast day. I don’t think he would mind. Like his brother Peter, he was willing to be crucified as a martyr for the love of Jesus Christ. His life was lived for the purpose of making Christ known. He was called to be a fisher of men.

And now, unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and forever.



Canon Tallis said...

I was pierced to the heart about your comments on building a church without making true converts. Is this not precisely what the Episcopal Church in the United has done and what the Church of England has allowed to happen? In my travels in both this country and the British Isles, I have only too frequently found places where the folks in actual control of the local parish, if not of the local diocese, were people with out any real faith God.

Worse, I look back at the parishes where my teen years were spent so happily in learning Anglicanism only to find that they are now all but empty buildings from which what was once their glory has vanished as if it had never been, parishes where once the daily offices were always said and a daily eucharist a prominent part of the parish's life which now have only a couple of celebrations on a Sunday and a single midweek service. Would you, could you possibly find among those who yet worship there even one who would die for love of our Lord and for spreading of his faith? I fear not.

Instead we have seen all of their efforts, such as it is, devoted to political issue on the left side of the aisle while any real love of Jesus or obedience to what he taught has become immensely unpopular and almost reviled. Indeed, our old church seems now devoted not to loving the world, but in finding someone to stomp.

I know that Bishops Morse and Mote both believed that they could keep that from happening among us by making all who called themselves Anglicans into the most spikey of Anglo-papalists, but that didn't seem to work either. It simply shoved a fair number of Evangelical and old High Church Anglicans completely out of the Continuum. So what can we do to maintain and spread the faith which was not simply that of the English reformation, but that which was originally brought to the British Isles long before Augustine and little group of Roman monks arrived to preach the faith? And not just preach it, but actually live it?

I have my answers but I, in the fashion of the Caroline divines, would like to hear those of others.''

Veriword: anodysa
Veriword: trolel

RC Cola said...

Very sad post, Canon. It is a shame that the parishes where you learned the faith are now empty.

I wish I had an informed opinion about what we could do to live--not just preach--the ancient faith, but I'm afraid that I am an ignoramus.

Perhaps the only thing we can do is make like the missionaries of old, know that we are in hostile pagan land, and just try to show what it means to "live Christ Jesus" by our example. But, I'm afraid, that the modern pagan mind is so warped, that humility and charity are construed as hypocrisy and hate.

In the end, I suppose that all you can do is, by the grace of God, take care of the flock entrusted to you, come hell or high water. Nothing else matters but their souls.