"He brought Simon to Jesus"
So, St. Andrew’s Feast Day, which is November 30th each year, is a really big deal in the life of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School where my wife, Ashley, is Chaplain. The day has two focuses for the school community, which are typically worship and service. They begin the day with an all school service of Holy Communion, with over a thousand people in attendance, and then the students spend the rest of the day supporting local non-profits in myriad ways. Well a number of years ago the preacher for the St. Andrew’s Day Service was a good friend of mine, the Rev. Jimmy Bartz. And Jimmy told a story in his sermon about one of his parishioners in the church he served at the time in Los Angeles. This particular parishioner is named Blake, and Blake actually grew up in Austin and has actually worshiped with us here at St. Julian’s a couple of years ago when he was home for Christmas.
The story that Jimmy told was about how Blake began his business…perhaps a business many of us have heard of…it is called Toms. Toms makes shoes and sunglasses and other hip accessories. And Toms was one of the first companies to sort of bring social entrepreneurship into the main stream. These are for profit businesses that seek to do good, to create positive social, cultural and environmental change for our world, by creating a business model that has as a part of its core mission supporting those in need or, again, the environment or fair trade or some other social good beyond simply making profits for the business and its share holders. Toms has what they call a One to One program. That is for every pair of shoes sold another pair of shoes is given to a person, usually children, who are in need of shoes…in an underdeveloped or impoverished or underserved part of the world. Similarly with their sunglasses, for each pair they sell, they give a pair of eyeglasses to a person in another part of the world who needs improved vision…the gift of sight, if you will.
And again the story that Jimmy told about Blake in his St. Andrew’s inspired sermon was how his company, how Toms, was birthed and got its particular mission to make positive change in our world. So the story begins with Blake taking some time off. He was between commitments. He was traveling in Latin America, in Argentina, on what sounded to me like a journey to figure out what he was called to do next with his own unique life. Well one day while sitting in a café he met a woman who was in the same area of Argentina working with a non-profit…and after getting to know one another a bit better…after connecting…the woman invited Blake to join her the following day as her group was headed to a particularly impoverished town to pass out, of all things, shoes to children who were in need of good foot wear. Shoes to keep feet warm in the winter and to keep children from getting ring worm, sores and infections that often come from walking and running and playing in dust, mud and dirt with bare feet. And as Blake saw the difference this simple gift of shoes made for these children, the positive health outcomes, the joy and gratitude the children expressed for such a simple gift, and the overwhelming need that existed among so many people living in poverty…an idea was born…Blake had an epiphany, one worth recalling in this season of Epiphany. And that epiphany became Toms One to One program. He returned to his home in the US and began developing the idea to create a company that had an economic model to do good without relying solely on donations…but instead to create a product that people like us wanted and needed, beginning with hip shoes and moving on to sunglasses and other products, and that with each purchase he would provide the very same quality shoe or eyeglass to someone in need in our world. To date, Toms has provided over 60 million pairs of shoes to children in need, and over 400,000 people have been given the gift of sight through professional eyewear…and this is not even the extent of Toms good work for positive social change. I am glad to count Blake among us as an Episcopalian. In only my opinion, Toms good work is a profound expression of God’s loving revelation in our midst…and for our world. Blake’s epiphany and the hard work he put into forming his organization and all the good it has done is applause worthy, in other words, worth being celebrated, and it is a story worth sharing.
But all this good work…all these lives positively changed…even if in small but meaningful ways…was not actually my friend Jimmy’s point in his St. Andrew’s inspired sermon. The sermon was not actually about Blake…not intended to make us all social entrepreneurs…not simply intended to encourage creativity…not even intended to inspire us all to do meaningful and good work that makes a difference in our world…and the sermon was certainly not intended to sell Toms products…even if Blake was pledging to his church. If Blake’s story is indeed inspirational to us in some way…a reminder of the sort of good God wants to accomplish in and through our own lives…that is all to the good…but this was not Jimmy’s point. Instead, the story Jimmy told was focused on what I will call the Andrew moment, or better said Andrew character, in Blake’s story. Which is to say, the hero in the story, the very person Jimmy was calling us to focus on, was that glorious and unnamed women…in that Argentinean café. That blessed and saint like woman who was the catalyst…the person who connected with Blake personally and, then, connected Blake to the very moment that would change his life forever. The woman who invited him to come and see…to come and see what love really looks like…to come and see the people from her community sharing their lives and resources with those children in need. Though Jimmy did not name her…she reminds me, as she did Jimmy, of St. Andrew.
You see Andrew doesn’t show up in many stories in the four Gospel’s. He is named as one of Jesus’ 12 disciples…one of his closest followers and friends. Nonetheless, he doesn’t often get a staring role in the stories that make up Jesus’ life…not like a Peter, who is in fact Andrew’s brother, or a James or a John or even a Judas, the one who betrays Jesus. But we do get this important and revelatory story about Andrew in our Gospel lesson today from the first chapter of John’s gospel. And in this story, which closely follows Jesus’ baptism, so we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we find that it is Andrew who is the first named disciple to recognize something special about Jesus. The Gospel tells us that Andrew along with one other unnamed person follows Jesus…literally follows him wherever it is he is going…and eventually Jesus turns and invites Andrew and the other person to join him…and they do so. They join Jesus along the way and they go with him to the place he was living and spend the day with him. And after this intimate time of connection spent with Jesus, Andrew himself becomes, like the woman in Blake’ story, a glorious catalyst…a human connecter. Specifically he runs to his brother Simon and he brings him to Jesus…Andrew connects his brother to Jesus. Andrew takes his brother to show him what love really looks like…a revelation that begins in that moment…but just begins…for over the following three years or so…they will all get to see what love really looks like…healing and wholeness…life in abundance poured out in our world and in the lives of all those suffering who Jesus would bless and heal and for whom Jesus would ultimately give his life. Andrew…the saint of catalysts and connecters…people who spend their lives in the pursuit of showing others what love really looks like…connecting people to Jesus…connecting people to possibilities that can change their whole lives, and thusly the lives of many others, for good and for God.
And I think then that Andrew becomes for us a glorious example of the power and potential we each have to be ourselves catalysts and connecters. To build relationships of substance with other people and then to invite them to come and see…to come and see the transforming love we have experienced in this place, which is nothing more or less than the world altering, transformative love of God. Like Andrew we can be, and indeed are called to be, catalysts and connecters in myriad ways…that grant people a vision of the life to which they are called…a life that looks a lot like love.
So what might this Andrew like life of being a catalyst and connecter look like for us? Well it looks like so many, many things…from listening to someone who is feeling isolated or anxious…reminding them that they are not, in fact, alone…but that they matter, are loved and belong. It looks like inviting someone to church or a retreat or a bible study or a book study or to participate with us in one of our many ministries. It looks like inviting someone to serve alongside us in a service project offered by our church or other non-profit that we give our time to. It looks like traveling to Navajoland and connecting with our brothers and sisters living a very different life than our own. It looks like suggesting a great spiritual resource, a book or blog or sermon or song, to someone who could really use some wisdom or encouragement. It looks like making suggestions to each other of places we can shop and recreate that are socially responsible and do some good. It looks like creating time in our busy lives to connect intentionally with our friends and family members simply to fall more in love with each other and go deeper with each other. It looks like partnering and mentoring, being vulnerable enough to share our stories and needs with each other. And of course I could go on…but said I simply as I can it is all about connection…which is really always all about relationship building. For when we bravely and vulnerably connect with others…and when we do so faithfully and authentically…I believe miracles can happen and lives can be changed forever…for these moments of connection are a catalyst for heaven to break into earth…and those involved, in this blessed moment of connection, see nothing less than what love really looks like.
The one thing I am sure of is that the Christian life is not a solitary life…instead it is about connection…connecting one to another…sharing our stories, wisdom and experiences with each other. For by the grace of God, and often in wholly unexpected ways, our connections, our willingness to live an Andrew sort of life, become a catalyst for becoming the people and places that live now only in God’s dreams…but have the power and potential to be entirely real…entirely wonderful, breathtakingly beautiful…even miraculous. Amen.