Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Benjamin Franklin, colonist inventor, statesman and publisher, offered the following advice in his 1738 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.” Surprisingly, Jesus’ 12 disciples didn’t heed that counsel. As Martin Luther noted, “Even Christ Himself wrote not down His teaching, as Moses did his, but did it orally and gave no command to write it. The apostles, too, wrote little, and not all of them. Even those who did, wrote no more than to point us to the ancient Scripture.”
In their lifetime, Jesus’ apostles did do worthy things. They traveled to the ends of the Roman Empire, and there they preached, gathered believers and established congregations. Regrettably, their words and deeds were seldom recorded in holy scripture leaving us with little more than the stuff of legends- almost as if they had never lived. Still, for nearly 2000 years, their heroic tales have inspired believers within the churches they established, and that is what I would like to share with you this summer- The Lessons and Legends of the Apostles. This morning we begin with Jesus’ first disciple. St. Andrew.
It is ironic, how little we know about the apostles. The term “apostle” is generally the title we give to the 12 disciples who were empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Interestingly, the word “apostle” which means sent, was a originally a military term. It could just as easily be translated as emissary. It was, however, a coveted title in the early church which St. Paul declared he deserved as well. In the New Testament, there are actually 12 other men who are referred to as apostles, in addition to the 12 disciples, including Barnabas, James the Lord’s Brother, Apollos, Mark, Timothy and Luke. Regardless of the number, Andrew was the first.
According to scripture, Andrew was the brother of Simon bar-Jonah, whom Jesus would call Peter. Since Andrew is regularly mentioned after Simon Peter, scholars assume that he was Peter’s younger brother. Perhaps, the most striking characteristic of Andrew is his name. It is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but his name Andrew or Andreas is a Greek name. The fact that his father Jonah gave his elder son the Aramaic name Simon and his younger son the Greek name Andrew may reflect the mixed Jewish-Gentile environment of his family and their home along the Sea of Galilee. The name “Andrew” itself means “manly” or “valor.”
Andrew, like his brother Simon-Peter, was a fisherman. He was used to working outdoors and was comfortable with labor that was physically demanding. In scripture, the twelve disciples are always listed in three groups of four individuals beginning with the two sets of brothers, the sons of Jonah, Simon Peter and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. They were all fishermen. In spite of being called first, Andrew, seems to be the most distant of the four. Several times in scripture, we read that Jesus went off with Peter, James and John. They were with Jesus when he was transfigured on the mountaintop, and they were with him in the Garden of Gethsemane the night he was betrayed. They had the privileged access to Jesus, but that never hindered Andrew from doing the work of an apostle.
According to Orthodox Church tradition, Andrew made four missionary journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. He travelled into modern day Greece and Ethiopia. He sailed to the Black Sea and established the church in Byzantine, later known as Constantinople. He journeyed up the Dnieper River into Ukraine, and on a high hill overlooking the river banks that would one day become the city of Kiev, he placed a cross and prophesied that a great city would be founded there. In the 18th century, the Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, famous for the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, was commissioned by the Russia Czarina Elizabeth to design a church dedicated to St. Andrew to be erected atop the hill. In the Golden Legend, a description of the lives of the martyrs, we read that in 60AD, during the reign of Emperor Nero, Andrew was preaching in Patras, Greece, where he baptized the wife and brother of the Governor Aegeus. The Governor was so angered at his wife’s conversion that he ordered the death of the Apostle. Andrew was crucified on a cross on November 30th. Like his brother Simon Peter, who would refuse to be crucified in the same way as Jesus, Andrew was crucified on a cross patterned in the shape of an “X.” Today that cross, known as the St. Andrew’s cross, or the saltire is found on the flag of Scotland and the Russia navy. Andrew hung for three days on the cross, fixed not by nails but by rope round his hands and feet. He preached to the followers to the end. After Andrew’s death, Governor Aegeus’ baptized wife had his body removed from the cross and he was embalmed and buried in Patras.
Oddly and somewhat strangely, the bones of St. Andrew traveled almost as much as the apostle. In 330, when Constantine the Great declared Constantinople the new capital of the Roman Empire, he decided to erect a great church honoring the apostles. Unfortunately, only the relics of one of the original 12 apostles was available and that was Andrew. In a colorful legend, St. Regulus, a Greek monk and keeper of the saint’s relics at Patras, was told in a vision to hide some of the relics. A few days later, the emperor Constantine transferred the remaining bones to Constantinople. An angel then appeared again and told St. Regulus to take the bones he had hidden and go west by ship, and wherever he was shipwrecked, that was where he should lay the foundations of a church. They landed in Scotland where a great monastery and cathedral would be built. In 1206, during the Fourth Crusade, the relics of Andrew were taken and brought to Amalfi, Italy. The skull of Andrew, however, had already been returned to Greek Patras years earlier. Still, when the Ottomans invaded Greece, the skull was once again transferred for safe keeping and this time taken to Rome. Finally, in 1964, as a good will gesture to the Orthodox Church in Greece, Pope Paul VI, returned the skull of the apostle to the Cathedral in Patras.
Now, as amazing as these events in the apostle’s life may be, it is not for this reason that that we honor Andrew. Instead, its because of the quality of his character that we first glimpse when the young Andrew was a disciple of Joh the Baptist. In the beginning of the fourth gospel, we read that John the Baptist was living in the wilderness near the Jordan River, some fifty miles from the capital city of Jerusalem. He was an ascetic who dedicated himself to spiritual renewal through prayer and abstinence from all things and preparing for the coming Messiah. John lived there together with his own disciples, and Andrew was one of these disciples. Throughout scripture, we read that the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all of Judea, went out to hear the words of John and to be baptized him. And Jesus too went out into the wilderness to be baptized by John. The following day, with Andrew in his hearing, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, and said, “There is the one. The one whom I baptized and is walking before you, he is the one. He is the Lamb of God who will change the whole world.” John said these odd words in such a way that Andrew knew he had been given permission to abandon his teacher, and to follow this new rabbi Jesus. Andrew curiously followed Jesus steadily building the courage to ask Jesus, what John’s words, “Behold, the Lamb of God” could mean. But before he could ask his question, Jesus turned to him and said, “What are you looking for?” I imagine St. Andrew would remember that moment the rest of his life and would carry that question with him everywhere he travelled.
Andrew awkwardly responded to Jesus’ question, with his own question. “Where are you staying?” It wasn’t really a question about where he was living or staying. Andrew was wondering what truth or cause was motivating his life. And Jesus answered him, “Come and see. Come and experience my life, and you will know. “Come and see what you are really looking for.” Andrew spent the whole day with Jesus and since it was about four o’clock in the afternoon, the story suggests that Jesus, his friends, and Andrew spent the whole night together as well. Andrew had twenty-four hours with Jesus. What did they talk about? We don’t know, but something happened in that span of a day being in the presence of God, being in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and being in the presence of Jesus, that changed him.
The following morning Andrew ran to his brother Simon, and announced, “We have found the Messiah,” and brought him to Jesus. Andrew did not try to convert or persuade his brother. Andrew did not try to change him or convince him. But Andrew knew that if he brought his brother into the presence of Jesus, that his brother could be transformed just the way that he was.
It is a pattern of living that we see over and over again in Andrew’s life. He is always leading another friend or stranger to Jesus. During the Passover in Jerusalem, we read that two visiting Greek pilgrims heard Jesus preach. They came up after the sermon and approached Phillip and said, “We would like to meet Jesus.” What did Phillip do? He took the two over to Andrew who brought them to Jesus and they too became disciples of Christ. And then there is the Miracle of the Feeding of 5,000 on the sea of Galilee. It was late in the afternoon, and the people needed to be fed. There was a little boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus took the bread, broke it, distributed it to the five thousand and there were twelve baskets left over. But there is one part of the story that is almost always left out. Who brought the little boy to Jesus? It was Andrew.
Now you may be wondering: So why is this quality of welcoming and leading curious souls to Jesus so important? Personally, I think that it teaches us something about the character of that first generation of apostles. First of all, for the apostles, Jesus was always first. Andrew learned something from his time with John the Baptist. Just as John had said that Jesus must become greater as he became lesser, so an apostle must never let his own needs and desires get in the way of the master, Jesus- even if it is to your older brother. Second, the church always grows one person at a time. There are historians who portray the growth of the early church as explosive, mass conversion experiences. Certainly, we can read of that on Pentecost morning, when St. Peter preached and the fledgling church added 3,000 members in a single day. But most of the time the work of sharing the gospel was carried out one person at a time. Sociologist Rodney Stark in “The Rise of Christianity’ wrote that the church began its mission with just a few dozen followers and by the end of the first century numbered only 7500 members. The vast majority of those new believers were baptized one at a time at the hands of the faithful apostles.
My friends, the world still needs faithful and tireless Andrews who will welcome the stranger and usher them into the presence of Jesus one at a time. That is our work as modern day apostles. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.” Sharing the gospel with another is something worth writing about. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.