Monday, November 26, 2007

Advent 1A

We started Advent a little early at Saint Andrew's Upper and Middle Schools this year... The acolytes and readers helped with the sermon by blowing on noise makers when the sermon began...

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 24:37-44

Happy New Year!!

That reading from Romans did say Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep – so I’m just checking on you!!

Happy New Year!!

It’s actually a little hard to know how to mark a year in the life of our school. August to May, of course, is the way we do it for grades and grade levels and graduation. But then there is January, when the calendar announces that a new year has arrived and we’ll spend the next month trying to remember to put ’08 instead of ’07 on everything. And here at Saint Andrew’s, because we are by name an Episcopal school, we have yet another new year’s day to mark – today. Happy New Year!!

Today we are marking the beginning of the season of Advent, the four weeks during which Christians prepare for the coming of Emmanuel, which means God-with-us. Advent is the start of a new year for us, because we go back to the beginning of the story of our faith, long before there were shepherds abiding in the field, long before a stable was filled with light, long before an angel announced that Mary would have a baby boy. We go back to a time when the world was for very many people a dark place, and God’s people prayed that God would come and with great power make things right again. We recall the words of the prophets, like Isaiah, who spoke of a new day when there would be peace between nations and justice for all people. Finally, near the end of the season, we will tell the familiar story of angels and dreams and announcements and songs, such as the one Mary sang about the child she would bear, about the new thing God was doing: God has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty. God has come to the help of the faithful, for God has always promised to show mercy.

The start of a new school year, the start of a new calendar year, and the season of Advent, the start of a new church year, are all filled with hope and expectation and preparation – we want it to be a good year, right? We want to be ready for what the new year will bring.

I spent several New Year’s Eves (the December 31st ones) at an Episcopal youth retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. We always started the night in the chapel, warm from the glow of candles and the excitement of the evening. We filled that place to the rafters with our worship and especially our music, singing and clapping and dancing, and then we danced our way through the icy cold air to the hall where the big party was waiting, and we danced some more and counted down the hours then the minutes then the seconds to the new year. The night was full of noise and celebration. Some time after midnight, we walked back toward our cabins, and I remember noticing how silent and dark and still it was underneath the trees. Through the bare branches, I could see the stars like silver lights in the blackest sky, making that darkness dazzle with joy and hope as the new year was just beginning.

Many years later, when I was in seminary, I spent several New Year’s Eves in New York City, surrounded by mountains not of trees but of concrete and steel. There, the stillness was inside our warm little apartment and the noise and celebration were outside in the cold, where just a few blocks away thousands of people were dancing and clapping in Times Square. But then, most nights were something like that in New York City. It didn’t have to be New Year’s Eve. There was always noise – the hum of traffic, the rumbling of the subway, the whine of car alarms, the wail of fire engines, the roar of airplanes flying low over the Hudson, the voices of people talking, arguing, laughing, singing, or yelling in the streets…

Advent, like any new year, like any day of our lives throughout the year, is full of contrasts – there is hope and fear, stillness and noise, light and dark, expectation and anxiety, preparation and feeling unprepared. And even as Christians are preparing especially for that silent night, that midnight clear, when Emmanuel, God-with-us, must have been anything but silent as he tested out his newborn lungs, we can all prepare for the unique ways in which God comes into our lives each and every day. Because this, too, is what Advent marks – God with us now, God with us here. How can we make ourselves ready for God to be God-with-us, on mountaintops and on city streets, in stables and on stage, in congregations and in classrooms and in community, in joy and in grief, in rare silences and constant sound?

In this place, at this school, through our studies and our teamwork, through our friendships and our service to others and through all that we do here, we are preparing ourselves to live as light in dark places, as peacefulness in noisy places, as hope in fearful places. God is with us. Happy new year!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Posting Pictures...

...of purling (well, knitting), not preaching! I've never added a picture to a post, and just wanted to know if I could do it!

So, while I'm at it, this is a prayer shawl I'm knitting for the St. Peter's-by-the-Lake prayer shawl ministry. At one end, which you can't see in the picture, I tried my first knitted ruffle. Took a long time, but MUCH more fun than fringe!

Now off to see what a posted picture looks like in the blog!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Saint Andrew

Sermon delivered at our Saint Andrew's Day chapel services at Saint Andrew's Episcopal School. We celebrated a few weeks early of the actual feast day. There were bagpipes and cake - heaven for Episcopalians!

Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Psalm 19:1-6; Matthew 4:18-22

I am Saint Andrew’s, many of you claim in the remarkable video that promotes this school on our website. I am Saint Andrew’s, where it is "cool to be smart," where what we learn in the classroom is never bound by four walls, where spiritual growth and moral responsibility and academic excellence are taught in observatories, art studios, science labs, courtyards and classrooms, on playing fields, at performances, in chapel, and among friends. I am Saint Andrew’s, you say.

I am Saint Andrew, a voice echoes back to us from a roadside in Galilee, somewhere near the shore where a boat was anchored and fishing nets drawn up to dry in the sun. I am Saint Andrew.

Today we celebrate the man whose life and ministry were so compelling that we would name our school after him and choose his symbols for our crest. Today we celebrate Saint Andrew’s Day, and how his story is part of ours, how our six decades of stars rising are part of a far more ancient constellation in which our own Andrew was the first to shine.

There are two different stories in scripture describing how Andrew met Jesus. Andrew and his brother made their living as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. When he wasn’t fishing for fish, though, Andrew busied himself with fishing for the meaning of life, and he believed he had found it in the preaching of his teacher, John – John the Baptist.

John was one of those nutty professor types – you knew what he taught was true, but his methods seemed slightly mad. He wore camel-hair clothing, kept to a diet of locusts and honey, and imposed on anyone who came near him an unfettered extroversion. He went about in the wilderness preaching and prophesying about One who would soon come in God’s name and turn the whole world upside down and inside out with love.

One day, John and his disciples (his students), including Andrew, were sitting near the road when Jesus happened to walk by. John pointed to Jesus and said, “That’s him! He’s the One, God’s chosen One, the One I’ve been telling you about!” Andrew was immediately hooked and ran after Jesus, who played Andrew for the fisherman he was by dropping the bait, What are you looking for? Jesus reeled Andrew back to his house for the afternoon, where we can only imagine what the conversation must have been like before Andrew finally made his way back to where he had left his brother cleaning the fish and untangling the nets. "You’ve got to meet this guy!" Andrew told his brother, whose name was Simon Peter. In many traditions, then, Andrew is remembered as the very first disciple of Jesus.

They had the chance the next morning, when out at sea with his hands full of fish Andrew was still talking about his afternoon with God’s chosen One. Jesus was again walking by, and when he saw Andrew and Simon Peter he called to them, Follow me, and you will not need your fishing nets any longer. I will make you fish for people! Follow me! And immediately, the gospel tells us, immediately they dropped their nets and followed him.

Andrew appears only twice more in our scriptures. When Jesus finds himself in the midst of a crowd of more than five thousand hungry people with nothing to eat, it is Andrew who brings forward a young boy with five loaves and two fish that became more than enough to feed the multitude. When two Greek men come forward hoping to meet Jesus, it is Andrew who welcomes them and takes them to Jesus, thus teaching us that God’s good news is for all people and not just a chosen few.

Not much else is known about Andrew’s life. He preached the gospel far and wide, perhaps traveling as far as Greece, where he was eventually crucified on a cross resembling an “X” (called a “saltire”), which appears along with a fish hook in our school crest. Legend places him also in what would become Russia, preaching along the coast of the Black Sea.

Andrew is the patron saint of Russia, Romania, and Scotland. Most celebrations of Saint Andrew’s Day within the Episcopal Church owe much to the Scottish tradition, so that bagpipers are in high demand during November. Again according to legend, the Roman emperor Constantine, in the 4th century, moved Andrew’s bones to Constantinople. A monk was warned in a dream, however, that the bones would not be safe there, and that he should take the bones to “the ends of the earth”, which at the time seemed to be the coast of Scotland. The town, the cathedral, and eventually the university of St. Andrew’s were founded in the place where the bones were said to rest. In the 8th century King Ungus of Scotland saw a cloud shaped like a saltire, and declared that Andrew was watching over them in battle. The saltire later became a part of the Scottish flag, the Union flag, the flag of the Confederate states, and of course our own state flag.

We are, indeed, Saint Andrew’s, in more ways than one. Andrew’s first witness to the good news of God’s love, and his lifelong commitment to that witness, brought an extraordinary and, to be honest, unlikely mix of people together to help in the work of turning the world upside down and inside out. His brother, Simon Peter, stumbled over his own two feet time and again, and yet he would become a giant of the faith and the foundation of the church. A little child, invisible in the eyes of the ancient world, in the eyes of Andrew had more than enough in his lunchbox to offer to God.

Andrew brought people together, and he continues to bring people together today. We are brought together here in his name, and I believe he would rejoice to see a community as diverse as ours, as unlikely as ours in that we represent such a rich variety of backgrounds and traditions and stories and gifts and faiths. We are, indeed, Saint Andrew’s, sharing with him an eagerness to learn, an openness to that which is new, and a readiness to change the world for the better. In this hungry world, people are biting. Come on, y'all, let’s go fishing… Amen.