Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sermon for Advent 1: Mark 13:32-37

Faithful Waiting

Have you noticed how, at this time of the year, businesses really make money out of our impatience? They say, “You want it now but you can’t afford it? No problem! Buy now, pay later! No interest ‘til 2010! This offer is for a short time only, so you’d better buy now and not miss it!” Waiting patiently is something we’re getting less and less practice in.

But waiting patiently was a skill the biblical people had a lot of practice in. In Old Testament times God’s people went through hundreds of years of suffering and persecution and oppression and injustice. What kinds of prayers did they pray during those times? They said things like ‘I wait eagerly for the Lord’s help’ (Psalm 130:5). It’s not that they didn’t get impatient sometimes; every now and again you read prayers like ‘How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?’ But generally speaking, the biblical people seem to have been more practised than we are in the art of patient waiting.

In our family, for many years, we used an Advent book called Celebrate While We Wait. Wait for what? Wait for Christmas? Well, in fact, waiting for Christmas is not the main theme of Advent. Advent is mainly about Jesus’ promised appearance at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, and to establish the Kingdom of God forever. So in Advent we look forward with hope and expectation to that time when God’s purposes for his creation will finally become the only reality.

When we human beings start thinking about a subject like the return of Jesus, we tend to get excited about it and go off into extreme positions. There are two extremes which you see in the Church when we think about Jesus’ return. The first extreme is overexcitement, to the point of setting dates. ‘Jesus is going to come again on January 1st 2000’ – I remember seeing that headline in the National Inquirer some time late in 1999! But the Inquirer is only one in a long line of people who have made these kind of predictions. In New Testament times many people seem to have thought that Jesus’ return would be almost immediate. In the city of Thessalonica many Christians apparently left their jobs and spent their time idly waiting for Jesus to come, and the apostle Paul had to tell them off and send them back to work! Throughout history many human beings have been confidently identified as the antichrist: people like the Roman emperors Nero, Domition and Julian, the Pope, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Henry Kissinger, and Mikhail Gorbachev. In the eighteenth century the famous preacher John Wesley said that the depravity of his time was so bad that he was sure the return of Christ could only be a few years away at the most. So this is not a new thing. People have always looked at the evil things that happen around them and identified them with the evil things that the Bible says will happen before the Son of Man comes.

But some people will ask, “What’s wrong with looking for the signs of the times? Didn’t Jesus tell us about the things that would happen before he returned”? This gets confusing, because in fact a lot of Bible prophecies that people think are about the return of Jesus aren’t about that at all. In the thirteenth chapter of Mark, from which our Gospel reading for today is taken, many of the details are referring to the time when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. You can see this connection right at the beginning of the chapter, which wasn’t part of our reading. In verse 1 Jesus’ disciples point out the beautiful temple buildings to him, and he responds by saying “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (v.2). They were of course shocked by this, just as you would be if someone told you that St. Margaret’s was going to be levelled to the ground, so they came back to him and asked “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (v.4). Jesus goes on to give the teaching in the rest of the chapter, and most of it is related to the specific question they asked: the time when the Romans destroyed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in AD 70.

For instance, in verse 14 Jesus tells them that when they see the ‘desolating sacrilege’ standing where it should not be, they must run away to the hills. And in AD 70, when the Christians saw the Roman general Titus standing in the Holy of Holies in the Temple where he was not allowed to be, they did in fact leave Jerusalem and run to the hills just as Jesus had told them. In that way they escaped with their lives, and the mission of the Church was not ended with the Fall of Jerusalem.

But in the places in the New Testament where Jesus’ return is genuinely predicted, it is always its unexpectedness that is stressed. In Matthew 24:44 Jesus says “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”. And when the apostle Paul was telling those Thessalonians off for wasting their time standing around waiting for the second coming, he said ‘For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them…’ (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). When the New Testament is really talking to us about Jesus’ return, its message is consistent: be prepared, because you never know when it might happen.

Well, if the one extreme in the church has been excitement to the point of predicting dates, the opposite extreme has been apathy and pessimism: ‘We’re just fooling ourselves! He’s never coming again!’ This is not just a modern thing; in fact, even in the New Testament people had begun to feel this way. After the first excitement and expectation had died away, people started to say things like “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” (2 Peter 3:4). Many people today feel the same way; “We’ve been waiting for two thousand years; surely it’s time to stop deluding ourselves and accept the fact that it’s all been a big mistake!”

And so some biblical scholars have rejected the idea of the return of Jesus and say things like “Well, he does return to us when we welcome him into our lives” or “when the Holy Spirit comes to us”. And many, many more Christians who believe in the return of Christ in theory don’t actually let it affect the way they live their lives very much. They go about building their personal empires with no thought for the fact that the day is going to come when it will all end. They’re like kids building sandcastles on the beach when all the time the tide is coming in.

Now the true Christian way is in between these two extremes of date-setting and apathy. The true Christian way is all about faithful waiting. Yes, we continue to wait for Jesus to return, putting our hope in his promises. But we don’t let that keep us from being busy doing his work. While we’re waiting, we’re faithful as well. And in this context faithfulness means two things:

First, we’re told to watch. In our Gospel Jesus says “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come...And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!” (Mark 13:33, 37). The Greek words used in this passage mean things like ‘Beware! Be alert! Be awake! Keep watch!’

What is it that we’re keeping watch for? For the return of the Lord, yes, but also we’re to keep watch over the condition of our own lives. Peter says ‘Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of the God...Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish’ (2 Peter 3:11-12, 14). In other words, we’re to make sure that we’re living the way Christians ought to be living as we wait for the Lord to return. This is not something that we can wait around for, as if the Lord will make it happen by waving a magic wand over our lives. We have to put some effort into it too! Peter says, ‘strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish’ (2 Peter 3:14).

In today’s gospel, the opposite of watching is sleeping; Jesus says in verse 36 “…he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly”. The metaphor is being used to warn us against getting careless and lethargic about our lives. I remember a few years ago I was having a talk with an older member of a little country church about their cemetery. She was trying to keep track of who was buried where, but she said - and I’ll never forget the phrase she used - she said, “I just think I’ve got it figured out, and then people keep sneaking in!” I laughed and said, “Dead people, you mean?” “Yes!” she replied, and I said, “Sneaky old dead people!”

Well, you know, there are things that sneak into our lives as well. They sneak in when we’re not paying attention. Sins that everyone else around us is committing, and so we think to ourselves “It doesn’t matter; everyone is doing it”. Years ago C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book called The Screwtape Letters. In this book, a senior demon gives advice to a junior demon about tempting people. In one of his letters, Screwtape says this:
“All that matters is to take his soul off at a tangent away from God. You don’t need a big sin. Adultery is pointless if cards will do it. Indeed, a big sin is less effective, because he’ll notice it, whereas a small one can creep in unnoticed and gradually take him out of his orbit around God”.
I’d go further and say that it’s the sins of omission that sneak into my life more persistently than the sins of commission. It’s the things I leave undone – the active caring for the poor and the needy, the watching out for opportunities to be a blessing to others – those are the things that take me out of my orbit around God without me even noticing it. That’s what I need to keep watch for. And this leads to the other thing we’re told to do while we wait for the Lord’s return: work. Look at our Gospel again:
“Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch’ (Mark 13:33-34).
Each one of the servants in the story has been given his work to do by his master, and his job is to do the work until the master returns. It’s the same for us; we each have our job to do for the Lord. Mine is not the same as yours; yours is not the same as mine.

One of my favourite stories is told of a state legislature in Colonial New England. The members were being thrown into a panic by a solar eclipse, because they didn’t know what it was. People were running around here and there, and several members of the legislature moved to adjourn the session because the second coming of the Lord was at hand. But one of the speakers stood up and said this: “Mr. Speaker, if it is not the end of the world and we adjourn, we shall appear to be fools. If it is the end of the world, I should choose to be found doing my duty. I move, sir, that candles be brought in”. This, I believe, is the true Christian way. Whatever it is that Jesus is asking you to do, make sure you’re busy doing it when he comes back.

So these are the things we need to give special attention to during Advent as we think about the Lord’s return. We’re to keep watch over our lives and do our best to be holy for the Lord. And we’re to be busy doing the work he’s given us to do. So I invite you to make a special effort this Advent to take your mind off the tinsel and the Christmas preparations, and instead, to think about the deeper, more important preparation that we all have to do, while we wait patiently, watchfully, prayerfully, hopefully, for the Kingdom of God to come in all its fulness.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sermon for November 16th: Feast of St. Margaret of Scotland

In the church year, today is the feast day of St. Margaret of Scotland, the patron saint of this church; she died on November 16th 1093, nine hundred and fifteen years ago today. As I think about the story of her life I’m reminded of these words of Jesus:
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).

These words could be a description of the life of our patron saint; she was a member of the aristocracy and came into a position of great influence as Queen of Scotland, but she did not think she had been given that position in order to lord it over others. Instead, she is remembered as a person who spent her life serving others. Let me tell you her story.

Margaret was the granddaughter of the English king Edmund Ironside, but because of dynastic disputes she was born in Hungary, in the year 1047. She had one brother, Edgar, and a sister, Christian; her brother was regarded by some people as the rightful heir to the throne of England. In 1054 the Witan, the parliament of Anglo-Saxon England, decided to bring the family back from Hungary so that they could inherit the throne when King Edward the Confessor died, as Edward had no children. So Edgar, Christian and Margaret were brought up at the Anglo-Saxon court, under the supervision of Benedictine monks and nuns who trained the young people according to the Benedictine ideal of a balanced life of work and prayer. In the case of the girls, the training paid off: Christian became a nun, and Margaret became probably the most devout queen Scotland had ever seen. We know that Margaret learned to read the scriptures in Latin, and she also knew the teachings of church fathers like Cassian and Augustine.

Margaret might have met her future husband, Malcolm of Scotland, at this time; his father was the king Duncan who was murdered by Macbeth, and for some years he was sent to live at the court of the English king for his own safety.

Edward the Confessor died, and soon afterwards William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. Edgar and his sisters were advised to go back to Hungary for their own safety, but on the way their ship was blown far off course by a fierce gale. They spent some time in northern England and then sailed up the coast to the Firth of Forth in Scotland, where King Malcolm and his royal train gave them a warm welcome to his kingdom. His court at Dunfermline was undoubtedly rather primitive compared to the English court that the family had known, but I’m sure they were glad of his welcome and the hospitality and safety he offered them.

Margaret was now about twenty years old; King Malcolm was forty, and unmarried, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that ‘he soon began to yearn for Edgar’s sister as his wife’. However, Margaret took a lot of persuading; she was more inclined to become a nun, and Malcolm had a stormy temperament, despite his other virtues. It was only after long consideration that Margaret agreed to marry him, and their wedding took place in the year 1070, when Margaret was twenty-three. In the end, although she was so much younger than him, she was the one who changed him; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that ‘her customs pleased (Malcolm) and he thanked God who had by his power given him such a consort; and wisely bethought him since he was very prudent and turned himself to God’.

Although Margaret was now in a great position, and very wealthy according to the standard of the day, she saw herself merely as the steward of riches. She lived in the spirit of inward poverty, looking on nothing as her own but recognising that everything she possessed was to be used for the purposes of God. As Queen, she continued to live the ordered life of prayer and work that she had learned from the Benedictine monks. Her friend Lanfranc, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury, was busy at this time reforming the Church in England, and under his guidance Margaret carried out similar reforms in the Church in Scotland. She was only the wife of the king, but she came to have the leading voice in the changes which affected both the social and the spiritual life of Scotland. She had this influence because of the depth of her husband’s love for her. Malcolm didn’t share his wife’s contemplative temperament, but he was strongly influenced by her godly character, and so he tended to follow her advice in ordering his life and that of the church and people in Scotland.

It’s actually quite remarkable that the Scots accepted the reforms that this foreign queen proposed, but she herself lived such a simple and attractive life that they seemed to feel instinctively that her way must be a good way. Let’s think about the sort of life she lived as Queen of Scotland.

Margaret would begin each day with a prolonged time of prayer and the saying of the psalms. We’re told that after this, nine little orphans would be brought to her, and she would prepare their food herself and serve it to them with her own spoon, doing this for the sake of Christ, as one of his servants. It also became the custom at Dunfermline that any destitute poor people would come every morning to the royal hall; when they were seated around it, then the King and Queen entered, and we’re told that they then ‘served Christ in the person of his poor’. Before they did this, they sent out of the room all other spectators except for the chaplains and a few attendants; they didn’t want to turn it into what modern politicians would refer to as ‘a photo opportunity’.

The church in Scotland at that time looked more to the old Celtic way of Christianity than to the way of Rome. Margaret had been raised in the way of Rome, and was keen to bring Scotland into unity with the rest of the world, but she didn’t do it in an overbearing and proselytizing way. We’re told that she would visit the Celtic hermits in their lonely cells, offered them gifts, and cared for their churches. But she also held many conferences with the leaders of the Church, putting forward the Roman point of view about things like the date of Lent and the proper customs for celebrating the liturgy and so on. She convinced them, not because of the strength of her argument so much as by the power of her holy life.

In those days many people in Scotland used to go on pilgrimages to see the relics of St. Andrew at the place which is now called ‘St. Andrew’s’. Margaret’s chaplain, Turgot, who wrote her biography, says,
Since the Church at St. Andrews was much frequented by the devout who flocked to it from all quarters, she erected dwellings on either shore of the sea which divides Lothian from Scotland, so that the poor people and pilgrims might shelter there and rest after the fatigues of their journey . . . Moreover she provided ships for the transport of these pilgrims both coming and going, nor was it lawful to demand any fee for the passage from those who were crossing.
The cluster of houses on either side of the Forth Bridge still bear her name, North and South Queensferry.

Most people who were made saints by the Catholic church were monks and nuns who lived lives of celibacy, far away from the demands of the world and the pressures of family life. Margaret, however, is remembered as having a happy family life. She had eight children, six sons and two daughters; interestingly, she seems to have given them all good Anglo-Saxon names! Her oldest son Edward was killed in battle, Ethelred died young, and we’re told that Edmund didn’t turn out too well. But the three youngest, Edgar, Alexander, and David, are remembered among the best kings Scotland ever had. David I, the youngest son, had a peaceful reign of twenty-nine years in which he developed and extended the work his mother had begun. The two daughters, Matilda and Mary, were both brought up under the guidance of Margaret’s sister Christian in the Abbey of Romsey, and both went on to marry into the English royal family. All of them we’re told, were also taught to follow Christ first – although I find it a little reassuring that even a saintly parent like Margaret didn’t have a 100% success rate with her kids!

Margaret was not yet fifty when she died; some people say that she had worn her body out with excessive fasting and long hours of prayer in cold churches. As she lay dying, her son Edgar brought her the sad news that her husband and her oldest son had been killed in battle. Despite this grief, we’re told that her last words were of praise and thanksgiving to God, and her death was calm and tranquil.

As I reflect on the life of Margaret, I think that in many ways she embodies the ideals that we’re striving to follow in this church. Margaret found herself in a position of great power and wealth, but she didn’t consider it as having been given to her for her own selfish pleasures. She was a true Benedictine, living in the spirit of inward poverty. She saw her wealth and power as having been entrusted to her to do good, and she gave her life to serving others in the spirit of Christ. What might we learn from her today?

I think the first thing we need to learn from is her balance of work and prayer. The Benedictine ideal was an ordered life, with certain times of day set apart for prayer, and others spent in active work for the good of others. Many of us at St. Margaret’s are quite busy with this active work for the good of others. We work hard at our jobs, and we also work together to do good in the world. But how good are we at keeping the balance between prayer and work? We’re told in the gospels that Jesus kept that balance well. In Mark chapter one we read that he was healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, and teaching the people all day long, but then Mark goes on to tell us that ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed’ (Mark 1:35). Luke tells us that this was Jesus’ habit: ‘But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray’ (Luke 5:16).

Is that your habit? Do you find a deserted place to pray regularly? For some people, the deserted place might be a room in their house; for other people it might a quiet office early in the morning; for others, it might be a quiet walk at some point during the day. And let’s also not forget that some of Margaret’s prayer would have been corporate prayer, together with other Christians; she would have taken part in daily prayer services led by her chaplain, Turgot, much like our daily Morning Prayer at this church. Do you meet regularly with other Christians to pray? Often when we’re going through tough times and find it difficult to pray by ourselves, our times of praying together can carry us through. I’m sure that Margaret found that to be true sometimes.

So we can learn from her balance of work and prayer. We can also learn from the way she was successful in her reforms because of the influence of her godly life. Even people who disagreed with her were impressed with the way she lived out her faith, despite the fact that she didn’t make a big song and dance about it. We’ve just lived through the nastiness of an American election, coming as it did not long after a federal election of our own. In modern elections, it seems as if people gleefully seek out all sorts of dirt about the politicians they disagree with, and they then spread it around as a way of discrediting the policies their opponents are advocating. But every now and again you find someone who we refer to as a ‘Teflon person’ – the dirt won’t stick to them! Margaret was that sort of person; people respected her because they saw Christ in her way of life.

What if Anglicans who disagree with each other on the issue of homosexuality were known in the world for the gracious and Christlike way they spoke to each other about their disagreements? What if conservative Christians who campaign against abortion were also known for their willingness to take unwanted children into their own homes? What if liberal Christians who campaign for government programs to help the poor were also known for their own extravagant generosity to the poor? What if even people who disagreed with us could see the face of Christ in our way of life?

The third thing we can learn from Margaret is the way she lived out what is sometimes called ‘the ministry of the basin and the towel’. This phrase refers to the story of the last supper, where Jesus ‘got up from the table, took of his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel that was tied around him’ (John 13:4-5). After he finished this job, he pointed out to his disciples that he, their teacher and master, saw no contradiction between being their lord and being their servant. ‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet’ (John 13:14).

This is the sort of life Margaret lived. Although she was the Queen of Scotland, she saw no contradiction between being the Queen and serving at tables for the poorest of the poor. She understood herself first of all as a servant of Christ; everything else followed from that.

So we remember with thanksgiving today our patron saint, Margaret, a woman of prayer, a woman who lived a holy life, a woman who served the poor, a woman who used her influence in a Christlike way to do good for all people. As a congregation, let us pray that God will give us the strength by his Holy Spirit to live up to the name we bear. Amen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sermon for Nov. 2nd: 'Bible People You May Not Remember' #9: Andrew: Introducing People to Jesus

Today in the church year we celebrate the feast of All Saints, and I want to begin, as I do every year at this time, by reminding you that the way we use the word ‘saint’ in common speech today is very different from the way it was used in Bible times. Today a ‘saint’ is seen as someone who is particularly good or holy or deserving. But in the Bible the word ‘saint’ has a different meaning; it simply refers to someone who belongs to God, one of God’s people. The Bible teaches us that God is calling a community of people who will be his instruments and do his work in the world. The term it uses for that people is ‘the saints of God’. When Paul wrote letters to churches in New Testament times and addressed them, for instance, to ‘the saints of God in Corinth’, he didn’t mean ‘the few in the church in Corinth who are especially holy’ – he meant every last one of them. In Bible terms, if you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a saint. Today, as we baptize Lecia, we’re going to bring her into that company; she also is going to become one of the saints of God.

So not all saints are well known – most saints are ordinary people who live their daily lives trying to follow Jesus and doing God’s work in the world. We’ve met a few of these people over the last couple of months as we’ve been remembering stories of ‘Bible people you may not remember’. Today, as we finish this series, I want to talk with you about one of my all-time favourite biblical ‘saints’ – Andrew. Now, granted, Andrew isn’t quite in the ‘unknown’ category: he’s recognised as a ‘saint’ in the modern sense of the word, and we even have a feast day for him in the church year – November 30th. Nevertheless, Andrew isn’t remembered in the church as a great preacher or as a missionary who pioneered whole new areas for the gospel. I get the impression from reading the stories of Andrew that he was the sort of guy who was quite happy to play second fiddle and fade into the background without drawing attention to himself. But Andrew has this great characteristic: he loves to introduce people to Jesus.

What do we know about Andrew? Well, he was the brother of Simon Peter who became the leader of the apostles, and the two of them were fishermen. We also know that Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist before he met Jesus; presumably he had heard John’s message about the kingdom of God and had been baptized by him. The first time we meet him he is standing with another disciple of John, a man called Philip. It’s the day after Jesus was baptized, and, as the crowd is milling around at the Jordan River, Jesus walks by. John the Baptist points him out, and he says to Andrew and Philip, ‘“Look, here is the lamb of God”. The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see”. They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day’ (John 1:36-39).

So John the Baptist points Andrew and Philip to Jesus, and they spend the rest of the day with him. What happens next? Well, John the gospel writer tells us that Andrew ‘first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter)’ (vv.41-42).

It’s interesting to me that John the gospel writer tells us that this was the first thing that Andrew did after he left Jesus’ company. Obviously what he had seen and heard in that day he spent with Jesus had really excited him: he had found a faith worth sharing! And he also had someone he loved who he thought was worth sharing that faith with – his dear brother Simon. Two of the most important questions we can ask ourselves as Christians are ‘Do I have a faith worth sharing?’ and ‘Do I have a friend worth sharing it with?’ For Andrew, the answer was obviously a resounding ‘Yes!’

Well, Andrew goes on to become one of the inner circle around Jesus – the twelve who he chose to be his ‘apostles’ – the word means ‘ones who are sent’. They would spend the next three years with Jesus, watching and learning from him, and then he would send them out as his missionaries to spread the Gospel all over the world. But before that happens, there are a couple of other stories of Andrew bringing people to Jesus.

In John chapter six, Jesus is teaching a large crowd of people and they have nothing to eat. Jesus decides to test the disciples, so he says to Philip, Andrew’s friend, “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?” Philip replies, “Six months’ wages would not be enough to buy food for each of them to get a little”. But then Andrew chimes in: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” You know the rest of the story: Andrew brings the boy to Jesus, and Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish and uses them to feed a crowd of five thousand people.

Do you see how Andrew brings Jesus’ ‘raw material’ to him? Andrew’s brother Simon Peter went on to become the great leader of the early church, but it would never have happened if his brother –whose name is not so well-known – had not first brought him to Jesus. And Jesus did a great miracle when he used the five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand people, but Andrew was the one who gave him the materials to make that miracle happen, by introducing the boy to him.

I get the idea that Andrew was the sort of guy who would know who was in a crowd. I get the sense that he enjoyed being with people and was an approachable sort of guy. I remember a few years ago, when I used to lead services once a month at the Edmonton Young Offender Centre, that we had a girl on our team like Andrew. We would wait in the room we were using for services while the staff brought the kids down from the various units, but this girl would always be moving among the kids as they came down, asking them questions and chatting with them. She was really approachable, and afterwards, when the team went out for coffee on our way home, she would always be the one who would tell us that we needed to be praying for so and so, because they were getting out of jail this week, and so on.

I get the idea that Andrew was like that. It would be natural for him to be aware of the boy with the loaves and fishes, because he’d been moving through the crowd chatting with people. He loved people, and he loved Jesus, and most of all he loved bringing them together.

There’s one more story about Andrew in John’s Gospel. In John chapter twelve, Jesus and his disciples are going up to Jerusalem for a Jewish religious festival. We read that ‘among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks’ (v.20): we assume that they were what were known as ‘God-fearers’ – Greeks who had accepted the God of Israel and his laws, although they had not gone the whole way and been circumcised.

Anyway, these Greeks have heard of Jesus and they want to meet him, but they are a bit nervous about it so they approach Andrew’s friend Philip first – perhaps because he has a Greek name? They say to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (v.21). So Philip tells Andrew, and then Andrew and Philip together introduce the Greeks to Jesus.

That’s the end of the story – we don’t know how the conversation went – but I’d suggest to you that those words of the Greeks could well be the text of Andrew’s life: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”. All that we know of Andrew suggests that he dedicated his life to helping others see – and meet – Jesus. Andrew has not gone down in history as a strong leader or a powerful preacher. Rather, we remember him for his personal witness; he is the one who speaks to people one at a time, the one who introduces a friend to Jesus. And so, as we think about what it means to be one of God’s saints – God’s people, the ones he is using to spread his love in the world – I want to suggest to you that Andrew is a good model for us.

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus”. How is that prayer going to be answered today? How are people who have not met Jesus, and perhaps don’t know anything about him, going to have the opportunity to see him and meet him? I think the answer to that question has two parts to it.

First, people are going to see Jesus when the Christian church, and the individuals like you and me who are its members, looks more like Jesus. In other words, when we get really serious about putting the teaching and example of Jesus into practice in our everyday life, then people will see Jesus for themselves. When they see us loving our enemies and praying for those who hate us, caring for the poor and not dedicating our lives to getting richer and richer, seeking first God’s Kingdom and not worrying so much about material things or titles or fame or recognition in the sight of the world – when they see all this, then they’ll be able to see the face of Christ in his people. A tall order? Yes – but it’s always been part of our Christian calling, hasn’t it?

Many of us at St. Margaret’s are conscientiously trying to respond to this call to be like Jesus. In our financial support for World Vision and WIN House and other projects, or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or the Inner City Pastoral Ministry at the Bissell Centre, or the many other things that we do, we are consciously trying to put the teaching and example of Jesus into practice. We aren’t doing it perfectly, of course, but we’re on the journey.

However, for many of us, the second part of the answer isn’t so easy. The question, remember, is ‘How is the prayer “Sir, we wish to see Jesus?” going to be answered? We’ve said that the first part of the answer is that people will see Jesus in us, as a church and as individuals, as we put his teaching and example into practice in our daily lives – in other words, as we look more like Jesus. But the second part is that, like Andrew, we need to be able to actually introduce people to Jesus, so that they can come to know him for themselves.

I am a Christian today because of someone who did that – my Dad. My family went to church every week, of course, but my Dad was the one who lent me Christian books and who, at the crucial point in my life, challenged me to give my life to Jesus. I first met Jesus for myself because of that challenge.

At our diocesan synod a couple of weekends ago Bishop Jane Alexander, who is of course well-known and loved in this church, ended her charge to the synod with this challenge: that before our diocesan centenary in 2013, every Anglican in our diocese would lead one other person to Christ. Doubtless Jane knew that this would be a daunting prospect to many people in the church, and so she continued, ‘And if you don’t know how to do that, will you agree to work together with other people to learn how to do it?”

I’ve had the joy, throughout my life, of helping people who were not Christians come to know Christ for themselves, and I have to tell you that there’s no joy like it. So as we think about Andrew today I want to remind you saints of God that we are all called to be witnesses, as he was. We’re not all great preachers or healers or miracle workers or church leaders, but I hope that we all have a faith worth sharing, and that we all have a friend worth sharing it with.

In the 1920s an Anglican priest called Sam Shoemaker wrote a poem about this ministry of introducing people to Jesus. It’s called, “I Stand by the Door”, and I want to close with it today:

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world-
It is the door through which people walk when they find God.
There's no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind people,
With outstretched, groping hands.
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it ...
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for people to find that door - the door to God.
The most important thing any person can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch - the latch that only clicks
And opens to the person's own touch.
People die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter—
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live on the other side of it - live because they have not found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him ...
So I stand by the door.

Go in, great saints, go all the way in--
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics--
It is a vast roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms.
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in,
Sometimes venture in a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening ...
So I stand by the door.

There is another reason why I stand there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them
For God is so very great, and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia,
And want to get out. "Let me out!" they cry,
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled
For the old life, they have seen too much:
Once taste God, and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving - preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So for them, too,
I stand by the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God,
You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from people as not to hear them,
And remember they are there, too.
Where? Outside the door--
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But - more important for me -
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
"I had rather be a door-keeper ..."
So I stand by the door.