St Andrew’s Day and first Sunday of Advent
I recently had reason to watch again the film ‘The Miracle maker’ – a clay animation version of the life of Jesus which was made about 15 years ago.
In the film Andrew is voiced with a Scottish accent – perhaps a nod at his position as patron saint of Scotland, as well as his role as a ‘simple’ fisherman.
Whilst Simon’s first reaction to Jesus is shown as rather scowling and uncertain, Andrew’s expression is one of open acceptance, even slight amusement, as Jesus begins to talk to them.
Depending on which film you watch or which version of the gospel you read, you build up a picture of Andrew as someone who is very ready to follow Jesus even before he really knows what this might mean, and who encourages others to come and join the adventure too. In John’s gospel he is a disciple of John the Baptist, and when John tells him to follow Jesus, Andrew asks Jesus ‘Where are you staying’ ‘Come and See!’, says Jesus – and after spending the rest of the day with Jesus, Andrew immediately fetches Simon to come and see, too.
Andrew the simple fisherman becomes Andrew the simple disciple and Andrew the simple evangelist. I love Andrew for his openness to new ideas, for his enthusiasm and for his concern for others. These are the characteristics of an evangelist – of someone who wants to draw others to follow Jesus.
When not watching films, I’ve been reading a book written about 3 years ago by two US researchers into church life, Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger called ‘Simple Church’. Their theory is that those churches which are growing healthily and affecting the world around them most are those which have a simple focus for their work.
Simple churches concentrate on helping people to love God, connect with others, and serve the world around them. When these simple churches are thinking about their programme of events, they ask which of those 3 things they are aiming to do with that activity – help people to love God, connect with other, or serve the world. Simple churches try top make sure that they have a balance of all three things in the life of the church, and encourage their members to have balance in their lives too. They ask people to do three things as part of their Christian lives each week, but to make sure that they do something to help them to love God (which might be Sunday worship), something to connect with other Christians (like a fellowship group or Bible study), and something to serve the world (which might be shopping for a neighbour or helping run a church meal).
It’s simple. It might have appealed to Andrew. But one of the questions people ask about this book is whether the concept of Simple Church is ‘Biblical’ or whether it is just a marketing ploy.
Our Bible readings today were the lectionary readings for St Andrew’s day, so I didn’t choose them with the Simple Church ideas in mind. But they seem to help us to reflect in the Simple Church concepts – love God, connect with others, serve the world.
The passage from Deuteronomy might seem a bit of a puzzle at first ‘the word of God is not far away…it is very near, in your heart & in your mouth’. So what is it? What is the crux of a life of faith, for the writer of this part of Deuteronomy? The answer come in the previous verses ‘love God with all your heart and with all your soul’. That is the summary of the law, so that it is not too hard. This is the Shema – the centrepiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer ‘hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one and you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’. These are the words spoken by the lips and written on the heart.
Love God. Simple.
In our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus calls Simon & Andrew & James & John to be his followers, his disciples, his ‘gang’. They are to follow him and learn by living with him and each other how to love and serve God in their actions and in their words.
Love God - Connect with others. Simple.
In the letter to the Romans Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, and reinforces the importance of knowing and following the word of God, and learning to love God. But he is also concerned that the Christians of Rome understand the Good news that ‘Jesus is lord’ & hold into the faith that Jesus was raised from death. But this good news is not only for the salvation of those who know it for themselves - this is to be shared with those who have not heard. Paul wants the Roman Christians to learn to live with the needs of others in mind.
Love God – Connect with other – serve the world. Simple.
Today is the first Sunday of the new lectionary year – Year C, if you’re counting! The first Sunday of Advent, of course and the beginning of the United Reformed Church’s Vision for Life Prayer Year.
Maybe as we start to think about what we might do for the Prayer year, or as we feel oppressed by all the things we still have to do before we’re ready for Christmas, we need to think about a simple Advent, a simple Christmas and a simple new year.
Perhaps we need to learn from Andrew and concentrate on following Jesus and so learn about Loving God, connecting with others & serving the world. In the name of Jesus.