Monthly Archives: November 2013

ANDREW, APOSTLE AND MARTYR [November 30]

st andrew

About Andrew we know very little—the four canonical gospels concur in reporting that he was from Bethsaida and that he was Simon Peter’s brother, a son of Jonah (or John). The Synoptics record that they were fishermen and that Jesus, who was passing by on the shore of the Sea of Galilee one day, peremptorily called them away from their father and their nets to follow him.

The fourth gospel’s story is different, as usual. In his account, when we first meet Andrew he’s a disciple of John the Baptist. When Jesus wanders by one day, the Baptizer looks up and sees him. Calling him the ‘lamb of God,’ John points him out to his own followers. Curiously compelled, Andrew and a second disciple leave John and approach Jesus. It is they who ask him the famous question, “Where do you live?” (or “Where are you staying?”), to which Jesus answers, “Come and see.”’

John the Evangelist makes it seem as if John the Baptist wanted his disciples to abandon him, a mere forerunner, for the real deal, the Messiah, Jesus. There is probably more behind the story—some rivalry and perhaps even serious contention between the two groups. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the ‘facts,’ but if we take the scene at face value, it turns out that Andrew is the first of the twelve apostles Jesus called, a claim to fame if there ever was one.

But Andrew’s biggest claim to fame may be that he recruited his brother to follow Jesus. The fourth gospel reports that after meeting Jesus, he ‘first of all” or ‘immediately’ went to Simon and told him that he had found the Messiah. It was at this moment that Jesus, “looking at [Simon] closely,” decided to rename him Cephas, or Peter.

About Peter we know a great deal more than we do about his brother, on account Peter’s subsequent significance for the church, which is inestimable. And so Andrew turns out to have something on common with his former guru—although both men are still honored highly in Christian memory, others eclipsed them in our remembrance; the Baptist and Andrew are holy second fiddles. Role models for most of us, I’d say.

Andrew also recruited for Jesus’ band another man from Bethsaida, Phillip, who in turn ‘found’ Nathanael (he of ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ fame). Later, ‘some Greeks’ approached Philip wanting to see Jesus. Philip referred the request to Andrew, perhaps because he had seniority or greater access, we’ll never know. In any case, it was through Andrew that the Greeks got their introduction to the Teacher and, presumably, found for themselves what Andrew had already found. And thus it was that Jesus’ inner circle began to grow, owing in no small measure to Andrew’s missionary skill.

Andrew appears in some other key scenes in the gospels, such as that day when thousands were hungry after a long day of teaching and healing. Jesus, who wants to feed the crowd, asks his disciples if they have any food. Andrew’s the one who tells him about the boy with five loaves of bread.

Along with Peter, James and John, he asks, ‘Is it now you will restore the kingdom?’, which prompts one of Jesus’ eschatological discourses. You know—the crazy stuff most preachers dread having to wrestle to the ground on the first Sunday of Advent every year. For this prompting question we do not necessarily thank our saint of the day.

Andrew, we suppose, was also present with the others in the upper room for the last supper, but after that, aside from one brief mention of his name in the list of the Twelve in the Acts of the Apostles, we lose documented track of him—unless you count the wild and wonderful miracle stories (well, there’s a few in there that are not so wonderful and actually a little vicious) contained in the mid-2nd c. Acts of Andrew, in which, for example, he rescues Matthias from hungry cannibals in the ‘land of the anthropophagi.’

Thankfully, however, when it comes to saints, their afterlives are often far more exciting than their lives. And so here is the rest of the story, according to tradition.

After Pentecost, a peripatetic Andrew preached the gospel all over the Mediterranean region—in Cappadocia, Galatia, Bithynia, the Scythian deserts, Byzantium, Thrace, Macedonia, and Achaia. No one knows when, where, or how he died, which has not prevented many stories about his death from circulating. Most concur that he was crucified during the reign of Nero (on November 30, in the year 60 CE, they say), probably at Patrae in Achaia.

We also hear that he was strung up on the cross with ropes, not fixed to it with nails. The earliest traditions say he died on a Latin cross, just like Jesus, but by the time his legend got really rolling along in the Middle Ages, it had become a crux decussata, or saltire, now known as St Andrew’s cross. Apparently Andrew, like his more prominent brother, felt unworthy of a crucifixion like the Lord’s. His solution was to die on that X-cross; Peter’s was to be nailed to a Latin cross, but upside down.

Not only did the well-traveled Andrew evangelize in the Mediterranean region; he is claimed as the founder of the faith by Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania (in those places he is sometimes remembered as a fisherman who plied his trade on the Black Sea—go figure); and, of course, he is also claimed by Scotland.

Until the early 14th c., the Scots had been content with having received and enshrined many relics of Andrew (legend has them arriving in installments, starting in the 4th and ending in the 9th c.), using them to build up a popular pilgrimage site, St Andrew’s church. The possession of relics gave them a peculiar sense of proximity to Andrew, and pride of ‘ownership.’ (The story of the dispersal of Andrews’ relics is a saga in itself—but must be saved for another day.) But with political independence on their minds (see the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320 CE) , the Scots also began to claim Andrew as the one who brought them the faith, and made him the country’s patron saint (bumping St Columba, since an apostle outranks a monk any day of the week) and giving the church in Scotland the prestige of apostolic origins.

No one believed a word of it then, of course; and no one does today either, but it doesn’t matter. Andrew is now more Scottish than Galilean. This should not surprise or scandalize. We’re always naturalizing the holy ones, granting them citizenship, dressing them up in the local costume, asking them to fly our flags, and preoccupying them with our preoccupations, turning them into homeys, into folk like you and me. I think we’ll always manipulate them in this way. Sometimes I think God makes saints just so that we can project our stuff onto them. And I suspect they don’t mind being made into mirrors in which we can try ourselves on.

Long live Andrew! Now let us pray:

Collect for the Feast of St Andrew

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your son, Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us also into his gracious presence. Amen.

Patronage

Andrew is, along with his brother Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, which makes eminent sense. Don’t ask me why, but he’s also the patron saint of unmarried women who want to get married, textile workers, water carriers, and people with throat illnesses, convulsions, and gout.

Simply Loves Us

snowflake1-271x300Matthew 3:11  But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.

Reflection

John says he isn’t worthy of the one who is coming, but it’s not because the One who is coming is a powerful big shot. It’s because the power of the One who is coming is love, and he is coming to love us.

If John feels unworthy, it’s because he is unworthy. When it comes to the heart of the matter—love indiscriminate and unaccountable—no one is worthy. Thus the question of worthiness is forever the wrong question. Love does not require worth; love bestows it.

Sometimes we work hard for the kingdom as if it were all up to us. Being driven by holy duty is not bad, but the One who comes offers something better—life and work that spring from the unending well of worth bestowed. God wants us to be loved, and to know it.

Loved like that, we can rest as well as toil, keep still as well as speak, let go as well as commit. Loved like that, we can welcome without anxiety, wait without control, love as we are loved.

Love is first, love remains, love is all in all.

There comes Another. “Amidst ten thousand losses and swirling joys” we wait. For the one who truly loves us, simply loves us, only loves us, loves us, loves us.

Prayer

Advent, by Patricia Van Ness

 

Amidst ten thousand losses and swirling joys

At this very instant

On this sacred Earth

I wait.

Come to us,

Beauty, Wisdom, Goodness, Peace,

Solace, Grace, Counsel, Love.

 

Through the open archway this cold night

Air, rich as gold, flows.

 

Fine snow glistens on our faces.

Each flake,

Every exquisite crystal blossom

Is a covenant of your love

Told a thousand thousand times.

Amen.

 

 

Say It Again

advent4-277x300Malachi 3:3-4  For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit and refine them until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

Reflection

Every Advent, the prophets remind us that God is disgusted by piety divorced from justice. But because we keep divorcing them, God has to sit down (because it’s going to take a lot of time and patience), fire up the furnace, and burn away our dross. And God has to scrub us with harsh soap until we carry out, without separation, right worship in church and right action in the world.

Year after year, it’s the same message—if you’re indifferent to your neighbor, you sing, sacrifice, and pray at your peril. We know that. We’ve heard it before. And we’re trying, Lord, we’re trying.

So why does the church keep saying it year after year?

For the same reason you tell family stories over and over—so that you’ll memorize what matters most, so that you’ll remember who you are, so that your children will know who they are.

And because if the church doesn’t say it, fewer and fewer people will say it, until there’s only silence. Ask someone struggling for justice about the terror of that silence, the awful things that happen when no one utters a word.

And because there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing. One kind fills your head with interesting ideas. The other penetrates, aims for your fault lines, and leaves you so shattered you require divine rearrangement.

You could hope for nothing more than to find yourself in shards like that; for Scripture also says that God will not pass by a broken heart.

Prayer

Say them over and over to me,
wonderful words of life. Let this be the year they break my heart.

Dying of Thirst

 

 

Psalm 42:1-4

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and see the face of God? My tears have been my food
 day and night,
 while people say to me,
“Where is your God?” These things I remember,
 as I pour out my soul:
 how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, 
a multitude keeping festival.

Reflection

The psalmist’s thirst for God is an animal need, urgent and physical. He will go mad and die unless he gets a drink of God. He has been subsisting on tears, which are plentiful (there is so much to be sad about), but drinking brine will eventually kill him. He needs water, fresh and clean.

The only thing keeping him from despair is the vivid memory of what it was like to worship with the people of God, to sing and dance in jubilant procession, to behold God’s face in the elation of the assembly. What’s keeping him going is his hope to be swept up in those billows again.

Worship that rarely lifts you outside yourself or brings you to your knees, praise that stays inside the lines, timid trickles of prayer, joy cut fussily into small white cubes—is this what we offer, in writer Peter Hawkins’ words, to all the deer who come crashing through the underbrush, hunting for water to keep them alive?

If a congregation has a financial deficit, it’s worrisome. If it has an ecstasy deficit, it might well be fatal.

Where is your God?

Prayer

Refuse our tepid songs, our threadbare words, our ungenerous rituals, great God. Intrude upon our safe remove, and plunge us into the depths to drink you in. Revive your crazed and panting deer, dying of thirst without your face. We want to live.

 

Minefield in the Manger: Supersessionism and Anti-Judaism in Advent and Christmas

Advent and Christmas are the seasons many Christians love best, yet they are shot through with almost intractable challenges—and no, I’m not talking about the pressures of consumerism and secularism during the run-up to Christmas. In a way, that’s the least of the church’s problems in these seasons. I’m talking about our age-old reliance on a simplistic, often erroneous, and sometimes contemptuous view of Jesus’ people, ‘the Jews,’ to make the seasons bright.

The problem is acute during Lent and Holy Week too. It always has been (it was the season of pogroms in the Middle Ages); but these days we are somehow more aware of and sensitive to the issue of anti-Judaism in that solemn season, most of us having rejected by now the old libel that ‘the Jews’ killed Jesus and many of us having started to speak more precisely about of the meaning of Jesus’ death so that we don’t wittingly or unwittingly claim the triumph of church over synagogue and the replacing of the ‘old covenant’ with ‘the new.

But Advent, being a gentler and more subtle season, is also a sneakier one when it comes to this stuff. Our Christian sentimentality is loathe to police our biblical texts, prayers, and hymns, and more reluctant to rework our assumptions about what is happening theologically in Advent and Christmas in order to redress the ancient wrongs of Christian triumphalism and supercessionism.

We may be aware of the issue in Advent and Christmas, but only in general terms, and we might therefore miss the telling details that add up to the ‘contempt’ we say we want, in principle anyway, to avoid for the sake of not adding anything more, however small, to the historically violent mess we’ve already made of Christian relations with and understandings of Jews.

And so we still rely on culled verses from the prophets, mostly Isaiah, to support the case for Jesus as the foretold messiah. To be sure, for Christian purposes there is nothing wrong with this kind of fulfillment theology (fulfilling is not the same as superceding). It’s really okay for us to read the other Testament christologically, as long as it’s not the only lens we ever bring to it, and as long as we understand and fully appreciate that it remains the Testament of an ongoing tradition not our own, and that therefore the texts are not ours alone to interpret–i. e., we can’t monopolize them or their meanings. But there is plenty wrong when we then proceed subtly (and not so subtly) to blame ‘the Jews’ for not agreeing with us that such prophetic texts point clearly to ‘the’ Messiah, while ignoring a zillion other texts that do not seem to point at all to Jesus as the One God chooses to redeem Israel, but to someone or something else.

We sing without a second thought about this (Christian) Messiah who comes to ransom ‘captive Israel,’ leaving the impression that without him, ‘Israel’ will be left to its captivity and perhaps be lost—as if God were not faithful forever, as if God has changed allegiances, switching to Christians and forgetting ‘the Jews.’

We proclaim the One sent by God who ‘came to his own, but they knew him not,’ and congratulate ourselves on having the perspicacity to see what they could or would not, being a stubborn people, or because they are always looking for the wrong kind of Messiah in all the wrong places, being also an obtuse people.

We unthinkingly and erroneously contrast Christ’s coming as a shivering child, hidden and poor, with the supposedly militaristic and monarchical messianic aspirations of ‘the Jews of Jesus’ time.’ We preach that they expected someone powerful in worldly terms, but God had a surprise up the divine sleeve. They got it wrong, but we got it right.

We say and sing and pray these things without once pausing to ask whether this contrast is actually true, or whether perhaps it is a libel against Jesus’ first century co-religionists, whose views of the Messiah and the messianic age were in fact rich and varied and often mutually contradictory and cannot be reduced to a few verses from prophets we find sympathetic to our cause.

We preach about the Gentiles coming into God’s embrace in the symbolic personages of the wise men from the East; and we give thanks that, in the person of our Messiah, God has overcome the supposed particularism and clannishness of ‘the Jews’ to open the gift of salvation to all. We particularly relish this idea in the progressive church, for we are exceedingly partial to inclusion and ‘extravagant welcome,’ and thus also much inclined to read Christian history as God’s rebuke of Israel’s supposed narrowness and exclusivity in favor of  Christianity’s ‘universality’ and openness—another libel we must somehow bring ourselves to face, even though it ruins our neat paradigms.

We also speak of the wondrous entrance of God into history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as if this were the first time God had ever made God’s person and presence known in human affairs, effectively reducing Israel’s long history of down and dirty dealings with God to insignificance, at most a pale preamble to Jesus’ appearance in the womb of Mary.

We sing of the birth of Love among us, as if that love were a new thing, unheard of before the manger and stable, replacing ‘the God of the Old Testament’ who is so angry and mean.

And I could go on, having only scratched the surface. I won’t, because the question already rises—so if what I’m saying is in any way valid, what are we supposed to do, junk all our Advent songs and Christmas carols, our  songs, liturgies, and texts?

Well, I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t, although I am indeed hoping that some day Christian artists and liturgists and singers and poets and theologians will take this problem seriously enough to reconstruct Advent and Christmas along different and more fruitful lines, maybe working with Jews to do it—wouldn’t that be something? But none of that will happen unless Christians get real about the problem, confess it as a sin, and firmly resolve to do better.

This means taking our Jewish critics seriously, setting ourselves a program of serious study, and working patiently, day by day, year by year, to revise our assumptions, approaches, and liturgical ways and means to more fully reflect the particularity of the Christian hope without falling into contempt, triumphalism, or bearing false witness against our Jewish neighbors.

ADVENT: Prayers and Other Resources

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION

(Before the reading of Scripture)

L: Let us pray.

Your Word is a fire

refining us for you, O God.

Speak to us now,

and fan the embers in our hearts.

Increase our faith to hear you

and our desire to obey what we hear.

We ask in the name of Jesus,

who listened to you always

with an open heart. Amen.

ADVENT RESPONSE OF FAITH

(Statement of Faith)

L: Let us declare our faith together.

We believe that the day is coming

when God’s grace will change the human heart,

and we shall live as one with every living thing.

We believe that the day is coming

when Christ’s compassion will fill the earth,

and no one shall do harm, be hurt, or feel alone.

We believe that the day is coming

when the Spirit’s freedom will unbind our souls,

and we shall live generous lives for each other

with a joy no circumstance can alter.

We believe this day is coming,

and we wait and work for it with steadfast hope,

for God has promised it, and God is faithful.

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

 ADVENT PRAYER

You give us Advent, Lord,

And we are grateful and glad

To abide in your time,

Which is urgent, yet unhurried,

And pregnant with life.

You give us Advent, Lord,

And we are grateful and glad

To watch by your light,

Which is candid, yet hidden,

Our lamp for the way.

You give us Advent, Lord,

And we are grateful and glad

To rest in your love,

Which is pleasure, yet mystery.

And gift without price.

You give us Advent, Lord,

And we are grateful and glad

To receive your new hope,

Which is wholesome, yet fearsome,

And child-shaped on straw.

You give us Advent, Lord,

And with your grace

Let us keep it,

Abiding, watching, resting, receiving.

Let us keep it, with your help,

for our souls’ sake,

which you love,

and the sake of the world,

heart of your heart.

Amen.

PRAYER AT THE END OF ADVENT

Most gracious God,

Desire of every living thing

You have lighted our way in Advent

Candle by candle

Dispelling our gloom

And now four candles shine

The night is almost over

The Day is almost here

But not yet

Promise by promise

You have cleared our sight

with words from afar

Dreams, signs and wonders

And now the Word made flesh

Is almost appearing

But not yet

Grace by grace

You have kept us awake

Brightening our eyes of faith

And now we watch only a little more

Now on tiptoe

The one we waited for

Is almost here

But not yet

At the end of Advent

In the harder days of not quite yet

Look with compassion

On the pain of the joyless

the grief of the childless

the sorrow of the bereaved

for not all people enjoy the season

not every family embraces

not every womb conceives and carries

not every day dawns with the presence of those we love

not every story is full of angels

not every song is Glory!

As we tell over and over the story

Of your coming among us

Bind our hearts to the anguish of the poor

the suffering of the sick

the misery of the imprisoned

and keep us alive to the terrors of war

too easily forgotten, too easily accepted

Increase the joy of earth,

And help us relish with thankful hearts

every good thing that will be ours at Christmas

every pleasure and taste,

every sound and sight,

every touch and every memory.

so that in the delight of our bodies

and the thoughts of our minds

we will know and love you,

who visit us through every sense and pore.

More than anything, O God,

we ask again for Christ –

to meet his love, to know his goodness,

to experience his power, to be attracted to his way.

We ask for Christ—

to make the difference, to anchor our hearts,

to lead the way, to bring us home.

We ask for Christ – for cradle and cross,

for lullaby and lament, for life and death

and life made new in him.

In hope we pray,

the spirit of Christmas leaping within us

heartened by his almost visitation,

the words he taught us on our lips: Our Father….

Advent Communion Liturgy

 

Advent Communion

 

*Invitation  

L: Come, people of God, come to the table of hope!

All: Our hope is in God, who made heaven and earth!

L: Come, people of God, come to the table of peace.

All: Christ is our peace, and healing for the nations!

L: Come, people of God, come to the table of life!

All: The Spirit will feed us and make us new!

 

L: You are our life, O God,

our hope from the beginning of time to the end of the age.

In your presence, water springs from dry ground,

grapes hang heavy on the vine,

and grain abounds in valleys of peace.

Your word brings joy to the desolate,

and your steadfast love awakens

even those who are sleeping in death.

Therefore, we who cling to your promise

and wait for a Child to lead us,

raise our hearts to you, and with everything that lives,

we proclaim your endless glory, as we sing:

 

*Sanctus

 

Remembering and Giving Thanks 

L: And now, O God, with grateful joy, we remember Jesus.

 

Silence

 

L: We remember that he came to us humbly.

All:  He put aside the glory that was his.

L: We remember that he announced your favor.

All: He taught us to welcome your mercy.

L: We remember that he resisted evil,

loved well, and turned no one away.

All: He did your will, and trusted your love.

 

L: And we remember that on the night before he died,

eating supper with his friends,

he took bread, gave you thanks, and broke it.

He gave it to them and said:

Take this, all of you, and eat it.

This is my body, broken for you.

Whenever you do this, remember me.

 

And when they were finished eating,

he took a cup filled with wine.

He thanked you for it,

and passed it to them, saying:

This is the cup of a new covenant

poured out for you and for all,

so that sins might be forgiven.

Whenever you do this, remember me.

 

Prayer to the Holy Spirit  

L: Come, Holy Spirit, satisfy our hungry hearts.

Bless this grain from the field,

these grapes from the vine—

gifts you have given, and work of human hands.

As we share their goodness, 

give us love for each other

and make us servants of your peace,

until the new age of justice comes,

and every creature beholds it.

We pray in the name of Jesus, who taught us to say:  

 

THE LORD’S PRAYER

 

Agnus Dei and BREAKING OF THE BREAD

 

Sharing Bread and Cup 

 

Thanksgiving

L: Let us give thanks for all the goodness we have received!

All: Thank you, holy God,

for life in the Spirit of Jesus,

for gladness in this bread and cup,

for love that cannot die,

for peace the world cannot give,

for joy in the company of friends,

for the splendors of creation,

and for the mission of justice

you have made our own.

Give us the fruits of this holy communion:

oneness of heart, love for neighbors,

forgiveness of enemies,

the will to serve you every day,

and life that never ends.

In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.