Thursday, November 30, 2006

St. Andrew, Apostle—The “Peter Before Peter”

John 1:35-42
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

On his hagiography page, James Kiefer notes that the bishopric of Byzantium claimed Andrew as their first bishop. Andrew was claimed to be the first disciple to follow Jesus and even brought his brother Peter to Jesus (as above). Hence, they claimed he was the “Peter before Peter.”

Why bother with remembering apostles? Are these apostles remembered simply for being among the first people to follow Jesus? Remembering apostles, though is more than just that. The apostles are remembered because apostolicity is at the heart of the character of the Church. Being a member of the Church entails being an apostle. We are those who are sent (the meaning of the Greek root of apostle—to send).

We are sent into the world with various gifts and skills to proclaim God’s good news. But what does this mean? Luther responded to a cobbler, that being a Christian and a shoemaker meant that he was to make good shoes and sell them for a fair price. Maybe this also cuts back on us consumers that we are to seek out quality goods and pay a fair price, rather than run to the Targets and Wal-Marts buy the questionable quality merchandise that while inexpensive has been constructed most likely by underpaid and exploited third-world workers. Or to go out buy the hottest item (like the PS3) and turn it over on ebay for triple or quadruple the price just so someone can have the coolest gift this Christmas.

But what are we sent to do? Proclaim the good news, right… but does that mean accosting folks on the street in guerilla-style evangelism asking if they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? I don’t think so. Being sent touches upon our notion of vocation, what we are called to do. The very jobs that allow us to earn our daily bread should not be disconnected from our sense of our identity as Christians. If those occupations are, then we are in trouble. Whether we work in the world as a busboy or a high-tech CEO, or we stay at home as a parent, our vocations better reflect the discipleship we claim.

So some applications:

Busboys, cooks, and other restaurant workers: You are sent into a ministry of hospitality. You are means to people’s daily bread. When your customers (for those who are Christian) pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” they have just prayed for you, as you have become part of what God uses to provide for people’s daily needs.

Nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals: You are sent into a ministry of healing. You are signposts to the wholeness that God promises in the Kingdom. You stand against the forces of darkness and brokenness as bodies rebel against themselves. You participate in the healing miracles of Jesus.

Machinists, Carpenters, and others who build and create: You are sent into a ministry of creation. You build and manufacture seemingly out of nothing, echoing the creation of the world when God creates out of nothing.

All of us bear the title, apostle, on our brow as we have been baptized and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We remember apostles to remember that all of us are sent into the world. At the end of each Communion liturgy, we sing:

Thank the Lord and sing his praise; tell ev'ryone what he has done.

Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and proudly bear his name.

He recalls his promises and leads his people forth in joy

with shouts of thanksgiving. Alleluia. Alleluia.

We are sent to proclaim what God has done, in all that we do. We remember those who have showed us how.



Andy said...

You know, I struggle with this idea of vocation. It works very well for the examples you cited, but there are other jobs where it seems you have to bend it a bit further.

For instance, I'm a software engineer but the software I write doesn't do anything particularly essential. In a way it's part of the marketing machinery of the company I work for. For simplicity let's suppose I were literally in marketing and my job were solely to get people to buy my company's product instead of our competitor's. Where is the vocation in that?

Now granted, I would still have the calling to honesty and integrity. I'd also have the basic calling of a husband and father to provide for my family. But could I actually connect my job to the kingdom of God?

Brian said...

I think you have a really good point there. But I think the problem with talking about vocation is that we sometimes are afraid to say that some vocations are really vocations after all. Sometimes a job is just a job. When I managed a camera store before I went to seminary, it was just a job. I was diligent, honest, and helped people be good stewards of the money they earned. But in the end I was not doing anything that was necessary.

At heart, I think the problem with our discussion of vocation is that we still try to determine our worth through our vocation/job. That was not my intent in my posting. I want folks to understand the call of discipleship extends even to where they are working. And for some cases, I think a fresh perspective is helpful. I am not trying to show how some vocations are better than others. I will admit I can't stretch my notion of vocation to fit your job... but you are still sent to be a disciple even there.


Andy said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for the response. You're obviously right about the call to discipleship wherever I am. I suppose I could use Paul's tentmaking as an example. I just can't help but wonder if there's something else I could be doing. So vocation tends to be a bit of a pebble in my shoe.

It's appropriate that this comes up in the context of your discussion of St. Andrew. One of the things that fascinates me about Andrew is just how invisible he is in the gospels, especially the synoptics. We first meet him fishing with Peter, John and James, and then for the rest of the gospel we hear lots about Peter, John and James but, with one exception, not about Andrew. Given some of the things we read about Peter, James and John perhaps Andrew was doing well to be unmentioned, but in any event, I identify with him in his translucence.

Brian said...

Well I am sorry to hear about that pebble... those can be d@mn uncomfortable! Andrew... the Mr. Cellophane of the synoptics. :)

Grace and peace to you in this blessed Advent season.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Thanks for the good post for several reasons. First, my son is named Andrew, and I sometimes forget about what the Biblical Andrew did. My son is more like Peter. Andrew must be like the older brother who is diligent, toes the line, is industrious, but is overlooked because the younger brother is "shiney." And all the glitters is not gold.

Vocation: I have long felt that many jobs in our society are extremely necessary but not rewarded as such, by money or prestiege. Best example I can think of: cleaning people in the hospital.

And no way are the CEOs of corporations worth 250% more than the worker bees. But they think they are, so they don't care when they outsource the factory to another country where the workers earn $.50/hour. They could cut their costs by cutting salaries at the top. But I digress....

To me vocation, in the sense of God's calling, is in both the paid and unpaid work: taking care of my family and cleaning the toilets, volunteering with the children at church, as well as with the gifts, such as an artistic need to create something based on my God given talents.

I think that our vocations can change over the course of our lives, just as the seasons of our lives change. If there doesn't seem to be some sense of purpose or happieness or fulfilment, at least sometimes in our paid work, well, that is a clue to reevaluate. God may be saying that there is a better place to use your time, whether in paid or unpaid work.

It is all too easy to get dependent on the pay check because we paid too much with plastic. Then we feel stuck. That isn't vocation.

Brian said...

The only thing I might say is that our vocation don't change throughout our lives, but how that vocation is made manifest through our actions.