Saturday, December 6, 2008

The 24th Sunday of Pentecost

We are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens of the household of God.

Glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory forever!

___Spoke about how our lord is ___ and calls not only those who are near, but those who are far off. He has, as St. Paul said, broken down the middle wall dividing. We understand that in the Jewish temple there were many walls, many barriers. There was the court that separated the priests from the laity, and a court that separated the women of Israel from the men, and a court that separated the gentiles from the Jewish people. The only death penalty that the Romans allowed the Jews to inflict legally was if any gentile, any non-Jew, dared to enter the portion of the temple restricted for Jews, that person could be stoned to death.

Yet St. Paul says that in Christ, this middle wall dividing was broken down, that we became one. He called men and women from many nations and made them, not only all stand together, but to be one family, one race, one chosen generation, one royal priesthood.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Andrew who was the first called of the disciples. Every year I remark - although since his feast day doesn’t come on Sunday every year, only a few people hear – I remark at how St. Andrew impresses me. He was the first disciple who Jesus called. He immediately, rather than dwelling on his chosenness or the privilege of being close to the Messiah as he had been the closest disciple of St. John the Baptist, instead he runs immediately to bring his brother to Jesus. And there was with him at that time, also following John the Baptist, John the son of Zebedee. And when Jesus chose the three who would be his inner circle, the three who would go with him up on to Mount Tabor and behold him transfigured, the three who would go with him into the room of Jairus daughter to see her raised from the dead, the three who would go with him into the inner garden when he prayed and shed blood with his sweat – it was Peter, and James, and John. And yet when we hear about the contention that arose among the disciples, it is not a contention of Andrew being jealous of Peter, or of James, or of John. It was, in fact, James and John being jealous of Peter. They believed that since they were Jesus’ cousins, they ought to be able stand on His right hand and on His left hand, and they understood that for reasons known only to God, that our Lord had chosen Peter to be the foremost of the Apostles.

And here’s Andrew, who brought them all. Andrew who was the first called. And he was relegated, it appeared, to a secondary place, but we find nothing of jealousy, nothing of rancor, no record of his jockeying for a better position, no sign of his enthusiasm waning. Rather, he accepted the place that was given him. Andrew’s name, Andreas, means “one who is manly,” who behaves like a man; and he was a man – more than a man. Not just anqropoj, but androj, male. He was a man who had his power under control. He was one of those meek whom the Lord said would inherit the earth. The word meek in English doesn’t mean “little” like it does in Romanian. It means having your strength under control; it means thinking little of yourself even though you may mean a great deal.

Andrew could have boasted, as far as we know, that St. Paul was wrong when he said that he had reaped more abundantly than all of the disciples. In Paul’s time, it was probably true in terms of sheer numbers of souls, for we know he had a great impact upon the jews of Palestine, and he had a great impact upon Asia Minor. And he came over to Macedonia and began the mission in Greece. St. Paul’s mission field, although he traveled ____ times, was circumscribed in the world map of the Roman days. It was not so great. Equally as great was that of Thomas who went east to evangelize Afghanistan and India, and went all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But probably the man who is credited with the greatest missionary work is Andrew. Andrew, the first called. For Andrew set off after visiting cities in Asia minor, he set off to go up the Bosporus. He went up to the Black Sea, and around all of its shores and touched all of the kingdoms that surrounded it and preached in all of those places. And he came around a full circle to the city of Byzantium of the Dardanelles, and he founded a church there. The place later became the royal capital Constantinople. And then, travelling again north, he went up the Dnieper River, and he came to the place where today stands the city of Kiev, and he said to his disciples, “On these hills God will raise great glory to his name,” and he blessed that place. Many other places recount, in the archives of their founding, that St. Andrew visited them. This cannot all be documented, but I have on my desk - or rather on a table in the living room of my house – a PhD paper by a scholarly Greek historian who claims that Andrew – there’s ample evidence – that Andrew went up into Scandinavia. That he preached to the Nordic peoples, then came down to Fridja, and then into Gaul, and across into Britain and even into Scotland. So the fact that the Scots claimed him as the patron saint of their church was not simply some kind of Medieval imagination.

And then, returning and retracing his steps, going back through northern Europe, down the Dnieper and into the Black Sea, there he set up his headquarters and ran into conflict with the governor of that time. He was condemned to death, and he was not nailed but tied to a cross – for the Romans, when they wanted to be really sadistic, tied you to a cross and left you hanging there until you suffocated or died of starvation, and it could take days. The fact that Jesus was scourged and then nailed through his hands and his feet was a way of hastening his death. And as Andrew hung on the cross – and later tradition would ascribe to that cross the form of the letter Chi, the X shape – as he hung tied to that cross, what did he do but for two days he preached to the people who came to see this curiosity – this man who was being executed but who nevertheless was talking about life. It is said that after two days the governor was so moved by the people’s attention and so frightened at what the result might be that he sent soldiers to take Andrew down, to release him. But, exhausted by his long and rigorous life and by his two days suspension, having to pull himself up to breath and then falling back onto his bound wrists, it is said that the soldiers were not allowed to loosen his bonds. But rather, he uttered the words, “To Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit,” and he went as a martyr to Christ, dying alone on the shores of the Black Sea.

Now, brothers and sisters, many, many people can tell lies, or make up stories, or invent tales, or create allegories or fables because they think their teaching is very valuable. In fact C.S. Lewis says there are two kinds of stories that people tell: there is that which is gospel, that is that comes from the truth – the good spiel, and there’s the other spiel – the devil’s story, the story about perversion, lust and vice, wickedness and selfishness and cunning prevailing over good, selflessness. But, to tell a story like that, a person has to be a fabulous creator of yarns. And it is unlikely that C.S. Lewis would have died on a cross arguing that there really was a lion named Aslan. It is not likely that Dr. Tolkien would have allowed himself to be beheaded in order to support the fact that he believed that there was once a place called Middle Earth. No, these were mere stories. And the philosophers among the Greeks and among the peoples of the world would spin their yarns, and perhaps if they were accompanied by others and they believed it to be of some higher value, they might allow themselves courageously, as did Socrates, to be executed for their teaching. But one man, not a professor, not a rabbi, not a scholar, not an intellectual, a fisherman, and the one who although called first was not preferred among even the first three – one man alone, without the support of a community of witnesses, without anybody to perform for, not a _____ whose picture was going to be put up in some town square, but a man who’s death to all that he knew would be obscure and not even remembered, stretched out his hands and his feet and accepted the ropes, the bonds, and suffered and died a terrible death to declare truth to the people of the Russe, of the Romanians, of the Greeks. The one who binds together the Ukranians and the people of Romania, the Greeks and the people of Russe, the man who holds them all together in one family having been their spiritual father and their teacher – that man died a lonely death because he knew that what he was saying was true and that the greater treason would be to deny it, to lie about it, to declare that he had been speaking fables. It is rare to imagine such a heroic person. And certainly to Andrew, the manly, goes the boast, together with St. Paul, that if he did not harvest more abundantly than all the other apostles in his lifetime, that the historic result of his mission has been a harvest exceeding that of Paul’s enormously. For all of the Slavic kingdoms, the Romanian nation and the Byzantine empire and all of it’s children, all their evangelization, this holy apostle Andrew through Christ broke down the middle wall that divided, and who made us all, not any longer strangers and foreigners to one another, but fellow citizens and members of the family of God.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory forever.

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