Today is a perfect day for me! I love this feast for all sorts of different reasons.
I love it because it is slightly quirky. Nowhere in scripture is anything at all mentioned about the birth of Mary. All we can really say, unless we believe that Jesus arrived on earth via space ship, is that it happened.
I love it, because who could not love something whose source is a second century document entitled the Protoevangelium of James. While the feast itself may not date to the second century, the very human desire to know more about the people we love, and honour is as real desire.
Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30
Almost exactly two years ago, a long period of uncertainty ended in clarity. Clarity that God was calling me here, to this community. And while that clarity was a relief, what I didn’t expect was that that would be the easy part. Leaving my job, packing up my apartment, saying goodbye to my friends—all these practicalities showed that responding to God’s call was definitive, transformative, and risky.
Our Gospel lesson today sits in the middle of what’s called the “Missionary Discourse.” Jesus’s disciples have answered his call, and Jesus has told them that they will share in his ministry of proclaiming the good news, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons. But he also tells them that they will share in his sufferings: betrayed and arrested, hated and beaten. These disciples are risking all when they say yes to Jesus.
What is an acceptable risk? In my own answer to God’s call, I didn’t face betrayals, beatings, or hatred of all. But I did face the unknown—what if this doesn’t work out? What if friends or family don’t understand what I’m doing? Part of me—a lot of me—was afraid of the unknown, afraid of what the answer to these questions might be. Is the risk worth it?
Jesus calls us to risk all, but he also offers us a simple assurance: “have no fear.” “Have no fear.” This is the same assurance God gives to Jacob as he uproots his family and all his possessions to join his son Joseph in Egypt: “Jacob, Jacob . . : do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there” (Gen 46:3).
All this may strike us as strange or difficult to live into. Fear is a natural, human reaction to risk. But I think Jesus’s point is not that we should be fearless, but that that fear shouldn’t dominate our lives and thoughts. “Jacob, Jacob . . . I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again” (Gen 46:4). We can feel fear, but not let it dominate because, if we live into God’s call to us, God has promised to be with us. “Have no fear. . . . I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 10:26, 20:20)
What is God calling you to today? How does saying yes to God unsettle your life, your sense of security? What are you afraid to risk? Hear Jesus’s words—“have no fear”—and know that he will be with you, always.
St. Andrew the Apostle
Today has been a day full of celebrations in Scotland, because today is St. Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of Scotland. From all the flagpoles has been flying the ‘saltire’, the cross of St. Andrew which is shaped like an X, signifying how, at his own request, Andrew was crucified, deeming himself unworthy to be crucified on the same kind of cross as Jesus. Andrew has always been a very popular saint, and is patron of many countries, as well as Scotland, including Russia and Greece. Not surprisingly he is hugely venerated in the Orthodox Church, where he is called the ‘protokletos’, or ‘first called’, for in John’s Gospel he is the first disciple to be called by Jesus. The Orthodox also regard him as being the first Patriarch of Constantinople.
That all seems so distant from that simple and very beautiful story in our Gospel today from Matthew, where Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee and sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew his brother who are casting nets into the sea – ‘for they were fishermen.’ And Jesus says to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people. Immediately they left their nets and followed him.’ I have always loved the story of Jesus calling the fishermen, and when I first visited the Holy Land one of my most moving experiences was of standing quietly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking out over the lake, and imagining Jesus walking up to me and saying to me, ‘Come, follow me.’
But I have also been intrigued by that other story which John tells, about Jesus calling Andrew. In John’s Gospel, in the first chapter, we are told that John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples, as Jesus was walking by. One of these two disciples was Andrew. As Jesus walks by John the Baptist says, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God.’ So, Andrew and the other disciple of John follow Jesus. Jesus turns and sees them following him and says, ‘What are you looking for? They said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ And he said to them, ‘Come and See’.
So, we have this story in John about the calling of Andrew, the ‘first called’, and then we have this other story of Andrew’s call by the Sea of Galilee, which took place sometime later. We know it was later because Matthew tells us that John the Baptist had by now been arrested. So, what do we make of these two apparently different stories about the call of Andrew: the earlier one that took place not far from Jerusalem, where John was baptizing, and then the later one in Galilee? What I think it tells us is that the call of Andrew came in stages. It took time. And this certainly fits my own experience of coming to faith.
When Andrew first sees Jesus and hears his teacher John the Baptist describe him as the Lamb of God, he longs to know more and starts to follow this intriguing figure. Jesus turns and looks at him. But he doesn’t say, ‘Follow me.’ At this stage he simply says, ‘Come and See’. Come and spend some time with me. Let’s talk! Andrew stayed with him all day. We can imagine him sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, asking questions. Perhaps by the time Andrew left, he had already decided he wanted to follow Jesus, because he immediately went off to tell his brother Simon what had happened. ‘We’ve found the Messiah! Come and see for yourself.’ Perhaps they both came to faith that day. But it was only later, as they worked their trade on the lakeside in Galilee that they made the decisive step of leaving all and actually following Jesus. For now, Jesus was starting his ministry, and he needed them now. Now, ‘Come, follow me.’ Now was the moment once and for all, to throw in their lot with Jesus. So, they left their nets behind and followed him.
I wonder if this is familiar to you in your experience of coming to faith? Perhaps you too came to faith in stages, perhaps sometimes reluctantly. Perhaps you are, even now, facing the challenge once and for all, to throw in your lot with Jesus. And what would that mean, for you? For Andrew and Simon, it meant leaving their nets, their homes, their families, leavingall behind. For you, for me, we may not be called to leave our families and homes and work behind in the same way. But to follow Jesus we must leave our ‘world’ behind, and enter a new world. To enter this new world, which is the Kingdom, we have to radically change direction. To be a follower of Jesus is to turn around and in the words of Colossians, to ‘set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.’ If we choose to follow Jesus each of us will be challenged to completely change direction and to ‘leave our nets behind’. That will mean something different for each one of us. And what I have discovered, after more than twenty years in the monastic life, is that Jesus never stops calling us to follow him. Every morning, at the beginning of every new day, there is this gracious invitation to say ‘yes’, to leave all and ‘Come follow me.’
Today we give thanks to God for St Andrew. We pray that like him we may have grace to say ‘Yes’ every day to the call to follow Jesus. We pray that each day we may lift our eyes ‘to things that are above’, to see the glory which awaits us, and which calls us ever on.
So when’s the last time you were in a crowd of seventy people? It’s probably been a while, maybe eight months or so. Jesus was speaking to a crowd of seventy disciples in today’s Gospel. Seventy people is not a huge crowd, it’s about half the capacity of our chapel, but it’s no small get together either. These disciples were early Christians ready to go out on mission ahead of Christ to prepare his way. These disciples were not a casual crew, they were ready to die for the cause, and some of them would. Starting a speech to such a crowd demands a solid opening line.
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” In other words, roll up your sleeves and get ready to work. Jesus knew he was short staffed and the work was going to pile up. There was no time for self-pity. There was no room for laziness. This was going to be tough work.
The story is told that Winston Churchill stuttered as a young child. This is the Winston Churchill whose later eloquence was probably the single-most important factor in saving western Europe from tyranny in the 1940s. Churchill stuttered as a self-conscious, frightened little boy. Now there’s a developmental theory that would say his oratorical brilliance as an adult developed as a compensation for his childhood sense of inferiority.[i] This “compensation theory” says that, for example, in our childhood or youth the challenges, say, of birth defects, of illness, of discrimination, of poverty, of family craziness, or of other unfortunate circumstances provide the very stimulus for all later higher achievements. In other words, this compensation theory would say that small, sickly, self-conscious, or sad children are driven by this principle of compensation to develop into towering leaders of activity and strength. Churchill would seem an example of it, and some of us here may identify with that very notion.
But there’s another “take” on why it is we grow into who we are, which is called the “acorn theory.”[ii] Growing up is not about compensation; it’s about recovery. Each of us enters the world, something like an acorn, with the seed of calling, with a sense of identity, with a vision of destiny. And so, of course Churchill stuttered as a child! Given this nascent, daunting sense as a child that his voice, his voice would be the instrument to save the western world, of course he stuttered as a child. Wouldn’t you? We may well have glimpsed our destiny or life’s calling when we were yet a child, but we might have avoided it, or denied it, or run from it. In Jesus’ words, we may have put the light of our calling under a bushel basket.