Tuesday, November 30, 2021

In the Shadows, Pointing to the Light


St. Andrew, Apostle
November 30, 2021
John 1:35–42

Poor Andrew. Always in the shadow of his younger brother, Peter. You know, Peter. The rock. The one who is always at the center of attention. The one who was the leader of the twelve apostles and then the entire Church in Jerusalem. The one who wrote two books of the Bible. Everybody knows Peter. Everybody loves Peter.

But what about Andrew? Many may not even be able to say that they know Andrew is one of the original twelve apostles. Poor Andrew, standing over there in the shadows. It is John who tells us that Andrew is Simon Peter’s brother. Notice that the older is the brother of the younger.

But we’re also told that if it weren’t for Andrew Peter would not have known Jesus. Andrew is the one who introduced Peter to the Lord. And while Peter was usually the one to be speaking it was Andrew who also brought some Gentiles to the awareness of Jesus.

Andrew also gets the distinction of being the one whose day in the Church Year actually determines when the Church Year begins. The First Sunday in Advent is always the Sunday that is closest to St. Andrew’s day.

So we know a lot about Peter. We don’t know much about Andrew. As with many of the other apostles we’re given to know a little about this man Jesus called to be an apostle. The Holy Spirit has inspired the writers of Scripture to give us what we need to know.

Andrew may have been in the shadows. But he was always pointing people to the light. It may seem that we don’t have much to offer. We’re ordinary Christians. We’re not pillars of the faith, we’re not apostles. We certainly are not like Peter.

But Andrew may have thought of himself more in the way we think of ourselves. Yes, he was an apostle, and there were only twelve of those. But he was in the shadows. All that he did he did not do in the limelight. And so it’s kind of like you and me. Most people don’t know us. And history probably won’t immortalize us. But though we’re in the shadows, we point people to the light. Just like Andrew did.

Andrew was called by the Lord Christ not to fame but to a life of following Him. Where Jesus led him to was death. No, Andrew was not crucified on the cross by Pontius Pilate. That was reserved for Christ alone. He alone suffered on behalf of the world. But Andrew did live a life that was not his own. He pointed people to Jesus even though it meant that he was martyred for the faith.

Now you and I may or may not be martyred. But you and I live a life that is a lot like the way Andrew lived his life. You may be in the shadows, but it is exactly where God has called you to be. Amen.


Rev. Paul L. Willweber
Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Lord Goes Before You

The First Sunday in Advent
November 28, 2021
Matthew 21:1–9

Do you know what we were doing on December 1 of 2019? It was a Sunday and we were right here where we are now. It was the First Sunday in Advent just as it is today and we were beginning a new Church Year just as we are now. Advent being a season of preparation we were preparing for our celebration of Christmas at the end of the month. Our focus was on worship.

But we had no idea what was coming. Many of us didn’t even know what had already happened in October or November of that year, that there was a virus that was spreading. In the new year more was heard about it and then halfway through our observance of Lent there were lockdowns all over the world. The pandemic brought with it fear, confusion, and division. When we began a new Church Year two years ago none of us knew what would be coming our way.

Those who lived on the island of Oahu woke up on December 7, 1941 unaware that Japanese planes would soon be raining bombs on them. Many of us woke up on September 11 of 2001 getting ready for another Tuesday, having no idea that the World Trade Center would soon come crashing down and bringing thousands of people to their death. Or what about when your own personal world came crashing down? You may still remember what you were doing the day you were given the news that you were stricken with cancer, or that your loved one was killed in an accident, or that you were fired from your job, or that your spouse told you they wanted a divorce.

Some things we can prepare for. Others come out of nowhere and you are shocked and perhaps afraid or despondent. We don’t always know what will happen. We’re not always prepared. At times in life we are left flailing. We’re stricken with grief or fear. We may feel life is hopeless.

Today we are beginning a new Church Year. We are excited about going through the seasons of the Church Year. But we do not need to ignore the real tragedies in life. We do not need to check our fears or doubts at the door of the sanctuary. We are here, right where we need to be, and that includes being who we are. We not only are in constant struggle with our sinful nature but we are battered by outside forces of temptation and trials.

We’re about two years removed from that strange time when Covid first came upon us. We’re still wondering how it will all shake out. Many of us have long since given up on predicting how things will go or even determining how to move forward. But there is a reason we are here today. It is the same reason we were here two years ago. We don’t know the specific things that will come upon us but we do know that living in a fallen world we will continue to suffer trials. How they come about and how they play out, we will leave that to God.

Two years ago we couldn’t know what would happen with the pandemic. But being here in the House of God we were without realizing it being prepared for it. Today we are preparing for our continued life in this Covid world and for any other adversities we will endure. The Church Year is designed just for this. It follows the pattern God set forth for His people in the Old Testament with the various observances and festivals which highlighted God’s saving acts for His people. Now in the New Testament the pattern follows the saving acts of God in Christ. The Church Year takes us through Christ’s life and ministry and His work in bringing about salvation. In this way we are prepared for anything and everything.

The way the Church Year begins is with preparation. On one level it is preparation for our celebration of Christmas. Advent is from the Latin arrival. As the people of old looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah so we look forward each year to celebrating that arrival of Him being born in Bethlehem. So Advent is reminding us to look back to what God did when He sent the Savior.

On another level Advent is turning our gaze to what is to come. As He promised to come the first time our Lord has promised to return. If His first arrival was in humility then when He returns it will be in glory. We don’t know when it will be. But we know He will come again. So we are already prepared. We will not be surprised. We don’t need to wonder if He is coming again. We know He is.

In this way we face the future and live each day of our lives: we do not go alone. Our Lord goes before us. The Church Year has a striking if not strange way of showing us this when it takes the event that begins Holy Week and brings it right to the front. On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem, as seen so clearly in Lent and at the head of Holy Week, in order to suffer on account of the sin of the world.

But how does Christ coming into Jerusalem on a donkey fit in with the beginning of the Church Year and beginning our Advent preparation? It shows us that our Lord goes before us. Did you feel things were out of your control two years ago when the alarm was raised and lockdowns were enforced? Do you feel like you are not in control when your personal world is upended and you face trials that come out of nowhere? You are not always in control and this is why Jesus did what He did on that Palm Sunday. The Gospel reading speaks of many people doing various things on that day but Jesus was the one who was in control.

Jesus sent His disciples to get the donkey. He directed them to the village where they would find it. He is the one who determined that He would ride in on a donkey. He is the one who made it possible for them to retrieve the donkey that was tied up, even if someone should ask about what they were doing. He told the two disciples, If they say anything, tell them that the Lord has need of it.

Jesus was aware of everything that needed to happen. Matthew tells us that it was in order to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: Tell Daughter Zion, “See, your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

See how Jesus is in control. He is the King, the Lord, the God of all creation. And He sets about going into Jerusalem to accomplish salvation by riding in on a donkey. He humbles Himself to go in on a donkey. When things are spinning out of control Jesus has everything under control. He has come and He came in humility. He will come again and He will come not in humility but in glory.

For now, He goes before you. You do not know what will happen, and yet, you do. You know that no matter what happens you are prepared. You go forward in faith; sometimes in agitation, perhaps fear, maybe even doubt. But isn’t that what faith is, believing even in uncertainty? And so you go forward in faith, and Sunday after Sunday the Church Year will take you back, again and again, to your Lord who went to the cross and who goes before you. Amen.


Lutheran Service Book Lectionary: One-Year, Gospel
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, San Diego, California