Text: John 1: 35-42
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Dec. 3, 2017
I shall never forget my introduction to high school junior American literature class. The first short story we read was by Jesse Stewart. It was the story of a young man whose lot in life was to be the second son. He always lived in the shadow of his older brother, who I’ll call Jim.
Jim was a straight A student. He had a great personality. He had been a four-letter man: excelling in football, basketball, baseball and track. He was popular with the girls. Joe was four years younger. When he arrived in high school his brother had already graduated, but Jim’s presences was still there. Always, Joe was compared to Jim. Joe didn’t excel in anything. He was an average student. He could play sports well, but he was never the star. He was, in Jesse Stewart’s words, a second rater. People would ask: “Why can’t Joe be like his brother Jim?” No matter how much Joe achieved, it was never enough. Joe had come to terms with this shadow and learn to measure his achievements in terms of his own abilities.
I open with this story this morning because Joe reminds me of St. Andrew, who in today’s gospel reading we learned was our Lord’s first disciple. Today, of course, is the first Sunday in Advent so it may have puzzled you not to hear a reading more appropriate for Advent. We are often told that this Sunday is the beginning of the church year. Occasionally it is, if the first Sunday in Advent falls on or before November 30th as it did last year. However, in most years, the first event on the church calendar is the feast of St. Andrew.
I was made keenly aware of this fact when the Bishop of Lexington appointed me Vicar of St. Andrew’s, the only African American congregation in that diocese. They always celebrated this feast on the first Sunday in Advent. Since Andrew was the patron saint of Scotland, we always had bag pipes and one year we brought in Scottish dancers.
It was also great fun seeing a congregation of African-Americans wearing Scottish tartans! Since then, whenever I have gone to a new church for any length of time, I have always chosen one year to focus my sermon on Andrew on the first Sunday in Advent. This is the year that I have chosen this focus for St. Paul’s.
We don’t know a about Andrew from the Bible. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke we are told that he is Simon Peter’s brother and that is about it. He is mentioned second in the list of the Apostles, but that is only because he is part of a set and Peter is number one. Peter was among the inner circle of our Lord’s disciples along with James and John. But not Andrew. He seemed destined for obscurity.
What we do know about Andrew comes from St. John’s Gospel. In this morning’s reading, we discover that Andrew has been involved in the radical revival movement of John the Baptist. He was listening to John at the Jordan River on the day that Jesus appear and asked to be baptized by John. When Jesus left, Andrew followed him.
The first thing that he did was to go find his brother. He said to him, “We have found the Messiah.” He then brought Peter to meet Jesus. Can you imagine? Andrew had just discovered the best person he had ever encountered, and immediately his first thought was to introduce Jesus to his big brother, even though he had always stood in Peter’s shadow and would now do so again. Like Joe, Andrew must have struggled. It could not have been easy to be Peter’s little brother. But with unselfish love he introduces Peter to the best news of his life.
There is another glimpse that St. John gives us of the character of Andrew. When Jesus fed the five thousand, he told the people to sit down and then asked Philip, either testing or teasing him, “Where shall buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip was shocked. “Eight months wages would be enough to buy even one bite for all these people.” (Someone has tartly remarked that Philip, not Andrew should be Scotland’s patron saint!)
Andrew had more insight than Philip about what Jesus might do. He tells Jesus that there is a boy here whose mother packed him a lunch, five barley loaves and two small fish. Then he adds “But what is that among so many?” Andrew is not exactly a hero of faith, but he is alert and observant. Once again, he provides the introduction of someone to our Lord out of which Jesus brings great things. It is like someone trapped over the edge of a cliff in the Scottish-highlands. Andrew comes along with a ball of twine. “I don’t suppose it will help,” he says uncertainly. But it does help. And with Jesus on the job the situation is saved.
Andrew, like Joe, was not destined for greatness. But he was often the man of the hour. Joe’s struggle with the shadow of his older brother came to resolution at a track meet. It was the final event—the discus throw. For his team to win the meet, Joe had to come in second. Already two boys from other teams had thrown the discus further than Joe had ever managed. When his turn came, he stood trembling, discus in hand—he began to turn. Suddenly he felt a surge of confidence. “I can do it!” he cried, and let the discus fly. It wasn’t a world’s record, but it went father than he had ever thrown it before, far enough to place second; far enough for his team to win.
At the outset of Advent, this is what the life of St. Andrew says to us. We may be struggling with self-doubt, overwhelmed by the situations we face, with nothing but the knowledge of an older sibling who outshines and overshadows us, or with but five loaves and two fish to feed the starving masses.
But Andrew stands before us, ready to introduce us to the Master. He stands there ready to remind us that our talents, our skills, our gifts, inadequate though they may be, in the hands of Jesus, who is our older brother, become sufficient to meet the needs of the hour.
So, as we begin the new church year, in this advent season, let us stand tall. With Andrew, let us be ready to introduces others to our older brother, and see what God can do, using the gifts we offer.