SJF • Epiphany 2a 2005 • Tobias S Haller BSG
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah.”
This second Sunday after Epiphany is also a special Sunday for Saint James Church: this is our first “Hospitality Sunday” — a special dedication of the third Sunday in each month as a time to be intentional about inviting a friend, a co-worker, or a family member to join you in church. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I do note a few unfamiliar faces from my vantage point here in the pulpit: so welcome to Saint James Church, one and all.
There could hardly be a better gospel text for this Hospitality Sunday than the one we heard this morning. For at the end of that scripture passage we hear an example of the very thing we hope to do. One of John the Baptist’s followers, Andrew, upon receiving Christ’s invitation himself, doesn’t keep it to himself, but goes off to find his brother Simon Peter. So it is that Andrew becomes the patron saint of evangelism: spreading the good news and not just keeping it to himself. He finds his brother, and brings him the word of salvation.
How people react to good news will tell you a lot about what kind of people they are. Think of the folks who win the lottery. Some of them will first thing call an accountant, ditch their cell phone, get an unlisted number, and disappear to the Bahamas. The other sort will throw a party, invite all their friends and buy them lavish gifts, like the woman in the Gospel who was so happy to have found her lost coin that she spent it to throw a celebration! And this same difference between the worldly-wise stinginess of the tight and mean, and the open generosity of the caring and sharing, can be found in the faith. There are some folks who want their churches to remain small and select.
No, I’m not kidding! There are some people in some parishes who let it be known right up front that they want things to stay just how they are, and just who they are, and let visitors or newcomers know, in no uncertain terms, that they aren’t welcome. There was a member of my first parish who would actually mutter insults under her breath whenever someone new came to the parish — fortunately she moved away and went to a new parish herself, where I hope the welcome she received was warmer than the one she gave!
Of course, this un-welcome is not always intentional, and not even always obvious. It can take the form of “not noticing” the outstretched hand that wants to shake yours; the turn of the head that avoids eye contact; the subtle “dis-invitation” that speaks louder than words.
Fortunately, Saint James is not such a place, and is doing its best to welcome and reach out — but these are always factors to be aware of, since it is always easier to relate to the familiar than to the new. May we always be open to the new person who will enrich our common life, and strengthen our church.
I want to say one last thing about Andrew before I close, because there is more to this welcome than simple sociability. It is, in fact, at the heart of a much more important gospel truth.
We don’t hear much more of Andrew in the Gospel. He pops up once or twice, but is nowhere near so prominent as the brother he went to find. Simon Peter moves right to the head of the class, so to speak, and becomes the leader of the church, part of the inner circle with James and John, while Andrew fades into the background.
So finding my brother may mean more than simply welcoming him into the fellowship: it may mean giving up my own place and privilege to let him use his gifts and talents to God’s glory — gifts and talents that he might have that I lack, or that overshadow mine in excellence or depth. There is no place for pride of place in this place, the church. Though I may be an agent of God’s call, I am not in charge of that call, nor of its results. If I am to be truly generous with the Gospel message, that means accepting the results of that Gospel message: to let it work in the hearts of those who hear it, that they might bear fruit and bear it abundantly, perhaps producing more than I could ever ask or imagine to the glory of God. It is not for me to say of my brother, “Who does he think he is?” but rather, “Look at how well my brother does!” and glorify God with him.
Andrew, as a disciple of John the Baptist, had a good instructor in this generous work. John, knowing himself not to be the Messiah but only his forerunner, said of Jesus, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me...’” When Jesus came, John stepped aside to let Jesus enter the spotlight of history. Andrew did the same with Peter.
And there is one more person of whom I want to make mention today who did the same. He spent his life working to help his brothers and sisters, reaching out and spreading the word, not only the word of the gospel but the word of liberation, the word of justice and equality. He not only found his brothers and sisters, but he worked tirelessly to raise them up. And while towards the end of his short life he knew that forces were at work that would soon remove him from the scene, yet he persisted in proclaiming the message. He kept calling his brothers and sisters, spreading the word.
For rumor was abroad: they were after him and would make an attempt on his life. Yet on the night before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr gave a great speech, filled with hope. And this is the conclusion of that speech, a speech delivered in the spirit of John the Baptist, a speech delivered in the spirit of Saint Andrew, showing concern not for himself, but for his brothers and sisters, and showing as well his trust in the promise. He said:
I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
May we always, my sisters and brothers in Christ, always be people of welcome and hospitality like Andrew the Apostle, spreading the word to our own sisters and brothers, and bringing them into an ever-growing, ever-changing fellowship of faith. May we be like John the Baptist, stepping aside when the time comes to let the gospel happen in all its surprising glory. And may we be like Martin Luther King Jr in setting nothing in the place of the vision of God’s good kingdom, God’s promised land, in which all people will one day rejoice together in unity and liberty for ever.