November 25, 2018
St. Andrew’s Sunday 2018
Missionary Zeal, 2018 Style
Sermon for the Feast of St. Andrew, transferred
Matthew 4:18-22; John 1:35-42; John 12:20-22
Nov. 25, 2018
A year ago, as we gathered to celebrate our patron saint, when we pulled into the parking lot, we saw a construction site across the street. Over the next few months, we watched as a new structure rose out of the dirt and snow, the outward and visible sign of what we’d been talking about since our centennial in 2013 – Gather & Grow, an initiative to reach the people around us in new ways. You generous people gave $3.6 million to help make that vision real, creating what our treasurer likes to call our “bright, shiny new toy” across the street.
In April, the building was done, and Greg Bentz and I ate our last Burger King breakfast sandwiches with the contractors and architect, after months of biweekly meetings in a cold trailer. Then, on Sunday, April 15, we all gathered in the snow on the front porch of the new HJ’s to bless the building and open its doors for ministry.
April, May, and June were busy months. We hired a new staff member, Zach Beall, to be our coordinator of HJ’s and community connection. We promoted another staff member, Colleen Simon, to be our engagement coordinator. We promoted Jean Long to build ministry with children, youth, families, and younger adults. And we called Fr. Jeff Stevenson to help us build pastoral care and one-on-one connection.
But here’s what we didn’t know: How would you respond to all this? How would people in the community respond to all this? We’d been talking for years about being “church” in new ways, being more intentional about reaching out and inviting folks in. But we didn’t really know what would happen once the shiny new toy and the shiny new staff members were there.
I’ll come back to that in a minute. First, I want us to remember the model we’ve been following as we’ve walked down this road of gathering and growing.
No surprise – it starts with Jesus. In the reading this morning from Matthew, we heard Jesus cast his vision as he sees Andrew and Peter casting their nets. They were fisherman, small-business men out there earning a living. But Jesus holds up their daily life before them and helps them see it in a new light. Don’t just look for fish, he says. Instead, fish for people. You have it within you to reach people in ways you haven’t even thought about yet.
In John’s Gospel, we get a different version of Andrew’s call to follow Jesus. In that story, the call is much more subtle. Andrew is a follower of John the Baptist initially, and he hears John say, “Look, there’s the Lamb of God,” the one who comes to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). So, Andrew goes off after Jesus, and they spend the day talking. That’s all it took. Andrew’s heart tells him to share his excitement with someone he loves – his brother, Peter – and he says to Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” (John 1:41). Come, and see. Andrew’s invitation to Peter wasn’t complicated or scripted or awkward. Andrew didn’t have all the answers to the questions Peter no doubt asked. Andrew simply wanted to share the fact that he’d found the presence of God through a conversation with this amazing new friend – and he wanted Peter to find it, too.
Later in John’s Gospel, we get a couple more Andrew stories. I think it’s significant what these stories don’t illustrate. Andrew doesn’t pronounce deep theological insights. He doesn’t heal anybody. He doesn’t preach to large crowds. Instead, Andrew takes individuals seriously, even if he doesn’t know exactly how his actions will play out.
For example, just after Palm Sunday, as Jesus is riding high, some outsiders come and want to meet him. Now, these are people who don’t belong – described as “Greeks” in the story (John 12:20-22), they aren’t the folks people think Jesus has come to save. He’s the King of the Jews, right? He’s there to gather God’speople, the people of Israel – not the foreigners, not the outsiders, not the folks who don’t belong in church. So, one of the other disciples brings the curious outsiders up the chain of command, to Andrew, and asks him what to do with them.
Remember, Jesus is at the pinnacle of his popularity. He’s just raised Lazarus from the dead and ridden into Jerusalem backed by a big crowd. Andrew could have been polite and said to the outsiders, “It’s so nice to see you. Please come back during office hours, and we’ll see if someone can help you then.” But without hesitating, Andrew simply brings the outsiders to see Jesus. Why? Because he’s been there. Twelve chapters earlier, Andrew was the one who was searching, lost and looking for direction. He knows that what these outsiders need is for someone to take them seriously enough to open a door to a relationship. So, he takes them to Jesus and changes their lives.
As we celebrate St. Andrew’s Sunday this year, we’ve got a bright, shiny new toy across the street. We’ve got a bright, shiny set of improvements on this side of the street, too, after last year’s water damage – new floors, new lights, a renovated children’s chapel, a renovated undercroft, new drainage on the roof, all kinds of improvements. It would be possible to pat ourselves on the back, and give thanks for the money that you generous souls have offered, and enjoy great parties in our new building, and carry on with church the way we’ve always known it.
But this is Andrew’s church, a place where his heart is honored. This is a place where you find something maybe unexpected in a church that folks used to call “the country club at prayer.” Sometime, walk by the plaque on the wall just to my left, off to the side of the pulpit, and you’ll see it.
From 1956 to 1958, St. Andrew’s planted a new congregation in Red Bridge, a growing neighborhood in south Kansas City. If you’ve been there, you can’t miss the connection; the building looks like a shrunken version of this one. In that day, under the leadership of Dr. Earle Jewell, St. Andrew’s was thriving, the third largest Episcopal congregation in the country; and in that day, what thriving churches did was to plant new versions of themselves in new locations. So that’s what this congregation did, planting what came to be called St. Peter’s church – because Andrew brought his brother with him to let Jesus change his life. In thankful remembrance of that, the people of St. Peter’s put up a plaque here on our wall, honoring the people of St. Andrew’s for giving them a church home. But the plaque recognizes more than that. The plaque names the spiritual gift they saw in the people here – “missionary zeal.”
Today, missionary zeal doesn’t have to look like building a smaller version of us in some new neighborhood. For us, the spiritual descendants of St. Andrew in a new day – when people don’t trust the institutional church very much, and when church buildings are being turned into restaurants, and when our sister congregations in our diocese are struggling to afford part-time clergy – for us, in a new day, missionary zeal happens in our own backyard.
Last Friday and Saturday, in our shiny new toy across the street, one of the most venerable of our parish groups, the Trinity Guild, put on the Trinity Antique Treasures Sale, a two-day event featuring antique dealers from five states, a pop-up Simply Divine Gift Shop, and wonderful sandwiches. The event was a risk, honestly. Trinity Guild hadn’t done that sort of thing before. But – led by Joey Straube, Jinny Alexander, Cindy Roth, Joanna Martin, and Donna Adam – the members filled the building with antiques, and showed up to provide a warm welcome, and opened the doors … and waited to see what would happen.
Here’s what happened. More than 400 people came through those doors last Friday and Saturday. Trinity Guild members had a great time seeing friends and welcoming guests. But here’s the thing: They didn’t stop with simply being polite. They found the outsiders, and they brought them to see Jesus.
I want to share an email I received from a St. Andrew’s member who was there and who has a keen eye for noticing the kingdom of God: “I was helping at the welcoming table,” she wrote, “and several people came in who had no idea what was happening. It gave us an opportunity to share the St. Andrew’s story. One particular woman came in and asked questions. She said, ‘I’m Catholic, but may I still take Communion at your church? And can I bring my 24-year-old granddaughters? And what would they find here?’ It didn’t take long for us to tell her about everything going on, including the young adults’ group.” This interaction, and the Trinity Guild sale as a whole, was a master class in being the open-hearted community we are – creating the environment for connection, inviting people in, and bringing them to meet Jesus. St. Andrew would be proud.
Now, it’s important to note that, on the quantitative side, God is doing wonderful things here. Sunday attendance is up 9 percent so far in 2018. Forty-five new households have joined the church so far this year. Last month at HJ’s, in what wasn’t its busiest month, we had 21 meetings or events from outside groups, 14 meetings of St. Andrew’s groups, and 14 worship opportunities, including Morning Prayer three days a week and two community-oriented events combining worship and fellowship. Thus far in 2018, bookings and other revenue from HJ’s has totaled $37,000, and we conservatively project it at $50,000 for next year. So, the quantitative side is good, and that matters.
But to me, and I think to St. Andrew, and I think to Jesus – the relational side matters even more. At the end of the day, our success will be measured one heart at a time. Whether it’s the ladies from Trinity Guild welcoming an outsider, or Fr. Jeff talking with someone after Morning Prayer, or an inactive member coming back to coordinate projects at HJ’s, or a person who can’t afford wi-fi coming in for coffee and the chance to fill out job applications, or neighbors coming for worship that’s as much about brats and beer as it is about Scripture and prayer, or people coming for twice as many recovery groups as we used to host – all this is part of what church looks like now.
This new reality is not replacing our beautiful experience here each Sunday morning; it’s coming into being alongside it. All this, together, is church; because on both sides of the street, through all kinds of ministry, it boils down to the old saying: that church is one beggar showing another beggar where to go to find bread. That’s missionary zeal, St. Andrew’s style – taking each individual seriously enough to say, “Hey, come with me, and let’s go find Jesus, together.”