Celebrating Ordinary Saints

Rev Sue gave this sermon on Wednesday 30 November. Here it is again for you:

A trivia question. Pippa Matthews, Jamie Murray, Alfie Allen. What do they have in common? They are all fairly well-known but have more famous siblings. Pippa’s sister is the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine, Jamie and Andy Murray are both tennis players and Alfie Allen, who played Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones is brother to the singer Lily. I wonder how they feel about it. Does jealousy eat them up, or can they be happy for their brother or sister’s success? Or a mixture of both?

The disciple Andrew was in much the same position. Brother to the more famous Simon Peter. You probably know a few things about Peter, but not so much about Andrew. Andrew was definitely known as Peter’s brother, not the other way round.

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, the first people to be called to follow him were two pairs of brothers, all fishermen. Simon and Andrew, James and John. Towards the end of Jesus’ life Simon, James and John have formed an inner circle. They were the only three there at the transfiguration, when Jairus’ daughter was brought back to life, and in the garden of Gethsemane. I wonder how Andrew felt about that. Was he jealous or did he feel left out? We don’t know. What we do know about Andrew is two specific instances. Firstly, in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. When Jesus asked the disciples how he was going to feed the crowd, it was Andrew who answered that there was a boy with 5 loaves and 2 fish. No one else came up with anything. Secondly, there is a curious little story from the last week of Jesus’ life of some Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. They asked Philip, who asked Andrew, and then they told Jesus together. Andrew seems to have been the one who acted as a gatekeeper. This was after the crowds saw Jesus enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, so there would have been a lot of people eager to talk to him, to ask him to heal them, or just for interest. Perhaps Andrew was the one who filtered out the genuine seekers from the idly curious. It was an important job.

So maybe Andrew should be the patron saint of the people who work in the background. The civil servants who do the work for the MPs who get the glory. The people who crunch the data from scientific experiments to test theories for researchers. The army of volunteers in every church who are rarely thanked by name but do all the little jobs like the cleaning and tidying, the ones who wouldn’t call themselves involved in pastoral care, but who keep an eye on the ill and the frail. You know who you are.

Let me end by telling you about a different sort of brother, Brother Lawrence. He was a soldier in 17th century Alsace but after serving for 18 years he was injured and had to leave the army. He worked as a footman, doing jobs like waiting on tables, until he joined a monastery. He worked in the kitchen, cooking and washing up. He saw everything he did as a way of expressing God’s love. He wrote:

“I was a footman … but I am a very awkward fellow and seemed to break everything”.

“I decided, instead of continuing as a footman, to be received into a monastery… I decided to sacrifice my life with all its pleasures to God. But he greatly disappointed me in this idea, for I have met with nothing but satisfaction in giving my life over to Him”.

He said that he had a natural aversion for the kitchen, where he worked for 15 years, but nevertheless he wrote “And it is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God.”

After his death his writings about finding God in the everyday were published as the book “The practice of the presence of God”, which remains a classic of Christian spirituality.

This St Andrew’s day let us celebrate the people who serve away from the limelight and try to find God in the everyday and mundane aspects of our lives.  I finish with another quote from Br Lawrence “Lord of all pots and pans and things make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!” Amen.

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