May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As many of you know, over the last few months we have been lucky enough to have the cadets with us helping out and at their invitation I have spoken to the cadets at one of their sessions, and that has been a real trip down memory lane, because as a surely teenager I too was in the cadets. At my school, a boarding school everyone had to join the cadets and for a couple hours on a Monday afternoon we would have to march around doing cadet things. I was in the air cadets, which given I was absolutely terrified of heights may have been a little daft and at the time it was definitely something to be endured rather than enjoyed. One of the funny things was at the end of term a tradition developed of escaping from the boarding houses and causing mayhem in the school grounds, pranks like putting all the chairs on the roof of a classroom, breaking in to the home economics class and cooking bacon sandwiches and causing general mayhem. I will neither confirm nor deny whether I had any part in those activities, however we were never caught, largely due to being in cadets, being issued with camo paint, and being taught fieldcraft, or how to avoid detection on a battlefield. The school never really woke up to the fact that training a bunch of idiotic teenagers with these kinds of skills was perhaps a bad idea.
But cadets also taught me some valuable lessons. I will never forget my first lesson in leadership. I was asked to lead a group of fellow cadets in an activity. And I utterly failed. Because my idea of leadership at the time was I give the orders, they obey the orders like mindless drones and all will be well. Well that didn’t happen. The young officer taking the session from the local barracks took me to one side and said ‘that’s not how you lead, you have to take people with you and do such radical thinks like listen to them as well’. I’m sure he has no idea but that conversation was rather important to me because I really remember as a daft 15 year old being determined from that point on to learn how to lead well. And that is a lesson and determination I am still learning about all these years later. But what I didn’t appreciate as a 15 year old was that when we wish to do something, there is a process of first following, then learning, then doing, that frankly continues all our life.
Today we are celebrating our life as a community as we celebrate our patronal festival. I have tried looking up why our church was called St Andrews, why that name was chosen but as far as I have been able to find out so far, that choice may be lost to the mists of time. But I hope and rather think it may have been prophetic and that our patron saint St Andrew can say something about us today.
Each of our readings set aside for St Andrew say something about the disciple. In the gospel we hear about his calling, alongside his brother Peter, by Jesus. Jesus simply said ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ and they went.
In the first reading we hear from Isaiah a prophesy not only of Jesus but of His followers who will bring the good news of salvation, bringing comfort and songs of joy. Rather interestingly, almost immediately after this passage, we hear the prophesy of the suffering servant, famous because it predicts, many centuries before the new testament the life of Jesus.
Our second reading today from Romans has that beautiful message salvation, which at the time by the way was radical as it includes everyone Paul writes ‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ Seen in the readings at the core of the mission of Andrew, and I hope at the core of the mission of St Andrews, is a deep call to follow, to learn and to be sent all in the pursuit of sharing the gospel. So perhaps the question is, as we celebrate our church and our identity, is how far on that path we have travelled.
It seems clear to me, over the last few years when I have been so lucky to be in this community, that much learning, listening, and sharing has occurred. We are a church where people are growing in confidence as disciples. I only have to look at the wonderful way people continue to sustain Saturday mornings, or how warm welcome has brought in new people, how more people are leading worship, or reading, or praying. How we are growing as a community as new people are being welcomed in and how many people will mention to me, how welcomed they feel from you, when they first come in. I love the fact that more people are feeling able to read, lead prayers or whatever. I also love that people feel confident in challenging me, if they feel I have something wrong, which I know isn’t always easy with vicars. Laughter and joy never seem very far away from these walls. The Lord, it seems to me is blessing us, and I am confident, despite various window-based challenges, that that will continue in the power of the Lord. There are many people here who have listened to that call of ‘follow me’ and are growing in faith, hope and love, and that needs to be celebrated. We are continuing to learn what it is to follow Jesus and we are learning to listen to Him.
What therefore, is the next step? Well we are becoming confident in our Lord and in our faith. We are learning to follow, we are learning to listen. For the disciples, as it was for Andrew, we also need to reach the point of learning to be sent. You see, Andrew started as a disciple, a student, but when, filled with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, although still learning, Andrew became an apostle, which means one who was sent. In coming year, I want to explore with everyone here what it means to be sent. To take seriously what Paul writes when he says ‘how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?’
As we continue to follow Jesus and listen to Jesus we need to learn also how to be sent by Jesus. This is a call everyone of us has. Now don’t worry, I am not ordering 80 soap boxes so you can all stand out on Victoria Road West and irritate shoppers. But I am asking us to begin to pray seriously about being sent. To begin a process of listening to the Lord as to how we are to be sent. To begin a process of asking the Lord for the bravery to proclaim. Not because we need more people here, although that would be lovely, not because we need more money, although that would be lovely too. But because knowing Jesus Christ, and His salvation is just the most precious thing in all the world, and that isn’t something that we can keep to ourselves. All the joy and love and fellowship we experience here, needs to be shared. So, as we go on this journey together over the next 12 months would you pray? Would you be brave enough to pray about how each of us can be sent? How each of us could be brave enough to invite a friend to church? How each of us could share the good news gently? How each of us could be put in a situation where we have the chance to let someone know how precious they are? Because dare I say, as we go on this journey this coming year, I wonder how our joy may have increased as we learn to follow, listen and go out for our Lord in the same way our namesake St Andrew did all those years ago for the Glory of God. Amen