St. Andrew's Church, Prineville, OR
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Somebody once said that saints are people that the light of Christ shines through. Our tour of the windows this summer has showed us the great many ways the light shines through. These windows ask us to consider, What does your window look like? How does the light shine through you?
Luke is our first window this week. He wrote both the gospel and the Book of Acts. The two were intended as Volume One and Volume Two of one work.
If you read them one after the other, you notice, this is more than the story of Jesus. Luke tells the story of the Holy Spirit, from the Spirit’s first manifestation in Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to person after person in the Book of Acts. Each outpouring is greater than the last. In fact, everything that Jesus did in the Gospel gets repeated and more so in the Book of Acts.
I saw what you might call a theological reflection on Facebook the other day that carries Luke’s theme one step further. It said, Fueled by the Spirit, look what Paul accomplished for the reign of God. Imagine what we could do. We have the same Spirit – and we have coffee, too! Maybe there’ll be a coffee cup in my window. How about yours?
Luke was Paul’s traveling companion in the last years of his ministry. In the letter to the Colossians, Paul calls Luke the beloved physician. That’s the inspiration for our window. He holds a staff entwined with snakes. Does it look familiar? In the US, it’s used as a symbol for the medical profession. Evidently, the person who chose it got his Greek gods mixed up. This is a caduceus, the symbol for Hermes, the messenger.
Asclepios, the god of healing has only one snake. His staff represents medicine internationally. Anyway, the snake, one or two, represents both medicine and poison, which some of us wish we didn’t understand so well. Never mind. Either way, it works for Luke, physician and messenger.
The snake returns in John’s window, for poison this time. There is a legend that says John was once given a poisoned chalice to drink. He blessed it first, and the poison crawled out in the form of a snake. He then drank unharmed. Me, I like all these legends. We don’t have to take these saints and ourselves so seriously, even if preserved in stained glass.
John’s gospel is different. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell a relatively straight forward sequence of events, punctuated by memorable sayings and stories, easy to repeat and pass on, until the evangelists collect them. But John’s gospel has these full-fledged speeches. They call them discourses on who the Christ is, and what he means in a cosmic sense.
John talks about the Spirit on the night before Jesus died. Jesus said, I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. Luke’s narrative writings give examples of how that worked. Time and again, the disciples thought they knew what the Bible says. But then they had some experience of the Spirit that led them into a deeper truth. So they came to a deeper understanding about what the Bible says.
I think John’s discourses express a different version of the same phenomenon. John was the Beloved Disciple. His relationship with Jesus was intimate, personal. Decades after Jesus’ death, John still writes about him in the present tense, as though Jesus is right beside him, the Spirit of Jesus, while John leans against him still, like at the Last Supper.
Do you have somebody in your life like that? Your mother, your spouse, who’s been gone for years. But you still hear him or her speaking to you, not a memory of something once said, but what that person would be saying right now. That’s what John’s Gospel is, Jesus present to John right when he’s writing, and when we draw that close, right now, leaning on the everlasting arms. We read John at funerals. In our deepest grief, that’s when we hear Jesus speaking to us, I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.
Really, you couldn’t find anyone more different from John than Peter. No better argument against cookie cutter Christians than these two, side by side, the beloved disciple and the ya-never-know-what-he’s-gonna-say-next leader of the pack, going with John’s brother James up that mountain to share that vision in today’s gospel.
Peter’s window portrays his struggle, same struggle as many of us, as followers of Jesus, in two symbols, one of his faith and one of his fear.
Peter said, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And Jesus answered, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Peter’s faith is that rock on which the Church is founded. And his faith is the key that opens the kingdom of heaven.
What could prevail against the Church, built on the rock of faith? Not doubt – doubt does not destroy faith. Doubting Thomas is an example of a disciple who used his God-given brain to ask reasonable questions. The faith of Thomas is strong because it is not gullible.
But the opposite of faith is fear. And there’s that rooster, the one that crowed after Peter denied Jesus, because Peter – was afraid. Fear is what brings down the Church, fear to be different, fear to stand up and say, Well, that’s wrong. Or to say instead, This is what I believe. Fear is what denies the Christ.
The Church is weaker today, because for so many centuries, we had nothing to fear. We got flabby. Peter’s faith muscles were like rock, because he faced his fear. He was afraid. But he pulled it together. He came back, stood up to it.
And we can, too.
We come to Andrew. No, Helen, he’s not holding skis. Not golf clubs, either. That’s his cross. He was crucified in Greece on a cross in that shape. He is the patron of Scotland, and that is why the Scottish flag is a white X on a blue field.
Andrew was the first apostle, the very first. How did this whole thing ever get going? Jesus called Andrew, and Andrew brought Peter to Jesus. That’s what Andrew did. When they had 4000 people to feed, Andrew brought the boy with the food to Jesus. When some Gentiles wanted in, Andrew brought them to Jesus. That is what Andrew did.
There is a group called the Brotherhood of St. Andrew. Their sole purpose is to bring people to the deepest possible relationship with Jesus.
You see, there are very few sprung-from-nothing Christians. We all got here because somebody made the introduction. I’m not talking about the person who hauled you off to Sunday School – though without that person, you might not have met the next one. I mean the one who made Jesus real to you, the person that the light of Christ shone through, by their words, by their example, by their relationship with you.
That is the heritage of Andrew. And if names do anything to form character, then that is the heritage of the people of St. Andrew’s, by your words, by your example, by your relationship, to introduce others into a deeper relationship with Jesus. The heritage of the people of St. Andrew’s is to be the windows that the light of Christ shines through.
There are other saints in these windows that I have yet to name. Maybe some of them were Andrew kind of people, that the light of Christ shone through, so that others came to their own relationship with this Jesus, and built this church. Let’s name them now.
James P. Gillis is here, right under St. James. Jan, who’s in the Matthew window? ….
I have asked this question throughout the summer. What does your window look like? Think about that. The artist who created our windows picked an item or two to represent each saint, their occupation, their gift, their weakness, their witness, the way the light of Christ shone through them. What does your window look like? Let’s talk about that later, while we hold our coffee cups.
And then, we will put our coffee cups down and go out that door, with the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of of God.
Rod of Asclepius, in public domain
Engraving of The Last Supper by Albrecht Dürer, in public domain
Photos of windows from St. Andrew's Church, Prineville, Oregon, by author