01 December 2008

Saint Andrew the Apostle

Patrick Comerford

Saint Andrew the Apostle (transferred from Sunday).

Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.

Happy New Year!

Yesterday was the beginning of the New Church Year. We marked it here in the chapel with the NSM (Non-Stipendiary Ministry) students at a special Eucharist for the First Sunday of Advent, changing the liturgical colours from Green to Violet, lighting the first candle on the Advent Wreath, and turning to the Year B readings in the Lectionary.

Of course, no-one here is planning to mark New Year’s Day for another month. But in the normal course of events, 30 November would have been marked as Saint Andrew’s Day. Advent is so important, that, like some football player, Saint Andrew and his commemoration have been transferred to today.

But, while few people will think about this Apostle today, I think it is very important that we maintain the link between Saint Andrew and Advent, the beginning of the Church Year, because Andrew is the first-called of the Apostles, the patron saint of mission work. And without mission, there is no church, without discipleship how can people live in the Advent hope, be prepared for the coming of Christ.

All through Friday last, the Year III students made an exciting array of presentations on proposals for final year major projects. And at least three of the students in those presentations referred again and again to mission, referring to the Anglican five points of mission, and asking searching questions about mission and the Church.

In my work with mission agencies, I have constantly been engaged in that question about the link between mission and the Church. Which came first, the chicken or the egg, church or mission?

Andrew may not have realised that he was preparing for the coming of Christ. He was a fisherman, working the Lake of Galilee with his brother Simon Peter. But he was a disciple of John the Baptist, and as we are going to be reminded once again in next Sunday’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist was the forerunner, the one who prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

In hearing the call of Christ to follow him in the Fourth Gospel, Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about his call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. Recognising his duty to bring others to Christ, he went to Peter and told him: “We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus” (John 1:41, 42).

In answering our call to ministry and mission, we must not forget those who are closest to us, those in our families and those who have worked with us.

But, at the same time, like Andrew, we must be happy about leaving behind the nets of yesterday and not getting caught up in them.

Getting caught up in the minutiae of commercial life and shopping the other day, I noticed they are selling cinnamon-flavoured hot cross buns in Marks and Spencer in Dundrum. Hot cross buns! At this time of the year? Hot cross buns with a sell-by and best-before date of Saturday last, 29 November.

And yet there is a direct connection. In the end, this first Apostle’s life reached its climax when he met his death through crucifixion. He may have left behind no Gospel or Epistles, but Andrew the first-called of the Apostles literally took up his cross and followed Jesus. And he called others to do the same.

Christmas is meaningless without looking forward to the Cross and the Resurrection. Mission and Church must always go together. And this morning Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, reminds us of the meaning of our call to ministry and mission.

And now, may all praise, honour and glory be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached in the chapel at the Eucharist on Monday 1 December 2008.

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