Saturday, December 01, 2018

Sermon for the feast of Ss Simon & Jude, Coventry Cathedral 2018

Today we remember the apostles Simon and Jude.
Actually this may be one of those times when remembering is overstating things a bit, and if you find yourself wondering what you actually know about either of these saints, don’t despair. You’re almost certainly in good company (though I’m not going to invite you to turn to your neighbour and compare notes).
Simon – and Jude. By no means the most famous of the twelve followers of Jesus. Both of them suffer from working alongside more famous characters who share their name. Simon is NOT Peter...This is Simon the Zealot, the jealous one, who was probably linked with the Jewish nationalist movement (no, not the Judean People’s Front, NOR the People’s Front of Judea!) , bent on ousting the Romans from occupied Israel. Today he would probably be viewed as a potential terrorist and given a wide berth.
Jude, also called Thaddaeus (but often referred to as Judas NOT Iscariot) is indeed Jude the obscure, the patron saint of lost causes and last resorts. Because of the confusion with his better known but universally unpopular namesake, a belief arose that practically NOBODY would ask for his help as an intercessor...and thus that he worked extremely hard for the few who did...hence his patronage of lost causes. To my knowledge, there is only one shrine dedicated to St Jude in England in Faversham,Kent. A friend of a friend, ordained, once visited and was asked by one of the welcomers at the shrine whether there was any special reason for the visit. His answer “I'm a parish priest" (which he’d intended to follow with “interested in places of pilgrimage”) produced the speedy and sympathetic response" Oh, I see. We get alot of those."
St Jude, it seems, is up for a challenge and will always go the extra mileif his help is invited.Though a letter at the end of the New Testament is ascribed to him, it tells us nothing about the man at all, and may well have been written by someone quite different…
Simon – NOT Peter. Judas – NOT Isacariot. Ordinary and undistinguished. Reminding me just a little of those conversations I had in my first months here, when again and again someone would say apologetically “Well, of course, we’re NOT Birmingham” - as if all the energy and purpose of life was to be found elsewhere.
Reminding me too, of the dreadful habit that the Church of England fell into for some years of defining those clergy who give of their time and talents without any payment by what they were not “NON stipendiary priests”.
It’s never a good idea to define any one or anything by what it is not, really.
Still Simon and Jude are not really in the first rank of famous Christians..not dwellers in the limelight at all, but they are faithful followers who managed to stick with Jesus throughout his public ministry...and of course that's where their value lies.
Simon and Jude, remembered, not because of what they did, but because of who their friends were, who their friends
are. Part of a small group that changed the world. They didn’t choose their own individual way: they devoted their lives to following Jesus, and so their lives will always be remembered. Their story reminds us that being a Christian isn’t a matter of just “me and my God”. It's about all of us travelling together... Being a Christian is a corporate act: you can’t make it on your own. Christianity is the least individualistic of all the world's religions...we share corporate responsbility for one another and for the world that God loves só much. We need each other, we need to be part of the body of Christ, in order to be saved. More, we don’t get to know God alone: we come to know God together – and we need the different insights, gifts and understanding that the whole faith community, young and old, can bring.

In our gospel reading from John, Jesus speaks to the twelve apostles including Simon and Jude after his Last Supper. He’s already told his disciples that they must love one another as he loves them; as they gave themselves to Jesus so they must give themselves to one another; and they must stick together, because the world outside will hate them as it hated Jesus himself.

That’s what we’re called to do as disciples of Jesus. To love one another and stick together: to be together with all other Christian people; to be friends of the friends of Jesus.
‘Any friend of yours is a friend of mine’.
Sometimes that seems surprisingly hard. We look at our fellow Christians and, really, they aren't the people we would choose to share our lives with. Our tastes and our habits don't match. Indeed, we struggle to spend time together at all...Judging by the gospels, the 12 apostles thought each other really rather strange and didn’t get on too well either: but they learned to become a community of love in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the persecution that they suffered strengthened the bond. It's noticeable today that where the church is allowed to exist in peace and prosperity, precious energy is wasted in factions and disagreements. Instead of working together for the Kingdom, we work against one another...whether our divisions are over human sexuality, our preferred translation of the Bible, or the relative merits of robed choirs or music groups When we don't need to stand together, against the world, we are shockingly prone to indulging in in-fighting that does nothing to mark us out from the crowd. We don't seem to be strangers and aliens in our broken world, but very much at home in it, as broken as our neighbours...
But we are called to something different. To unity on the foundation that is Christ...
There’s a very good visual image of all this which Paul gives us in today’s epistle reading from Ephesians ch.2. It’s the picture of us as God’s building. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, the first key stone which is laid and which is the point of reference for the rest of the building. There’s a lovely phrase about the cornerstone in Isaiah 28.16, from which this image comes:

I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation:
‘One who trusts will not panic.’

Or as our collect for the day says, ‘God builds the Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone.’ We are part of God’s building. Next time you have the opportunity go and look at a drystone wall: there are lots to be found just down the road in the North Cotswlds. Look at the many different shapes, irregular, unpolished, not matching one another but all having a place, necessary to give structure and strength. That's how the Church works. As individuals we fail....but together....well then, when we feel alone or isolated or meaningless or weightless – as Isaiah tells us, Don’t panic! We belong in Jesus.

Sometimes that call not to panic feels like a really tall order. We hear the call to be holy, the reminder that we are citizens with the saints above...we look at our own lives, with all their failures and unfinished business.....and.....well, most certainly I for one DO panic. There's só much I long to change...
But you know,all of us are broken people in one way or another, and it's those broken people that Jesus calls to him. A church of broken people finding strenth together, through our unity in Christ.
We may not have chosen each other, but each of us is here because, wonderfully, God has chosen US. And God asks us, not to judge and exclude each other, but to love and serve and find Christ in one another, even in those with whom we profoundly disagree. That can be very costly, of course. In a place like this, with a specific vocation to reconciliation, it can seem to mean that we are called to sacrifice our own views, however passionately we might hold them, for the sake of offering hospitality to the views of others. That is really really hard – and there will be times when holding our ground or speaking out in dissent is a prophetic act – but we can’t assume this. There will be other times when we are só intent on our own point of view that we never really hear the other viewpoint at all – and that’s not something to be proud of. Excluding difference is never part of our calling as Christians, though we may find ourselves making a journey to a new understanding together.
The world may hate us, but we are called to love...and to love inclusively.
We do not stand against one another but FOR all God’s people, of every kind and condition;
We belong together in love, whatever decisions are made elsewhere.

As Isaiah says: One who trusts will not panic. Don’t panic – for all of us who follow Jesus, whether conservative or liberal, gay or straight, black or white, famous or forgotten, men or women have a place in God’s household, the community of Jesus, who is the cornerstone of God’s Temple which will last for ever.

Do not panic. Love one another.

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