Vicar's Sermon - 28th October 2018
Ss Simon and Jude
So, if the official from the Home Office wanted to check on whether your application for residence in this country was genuine, that you truly were a convert to Christianity from Islam and that you feared for your life should the British Government decide to send you back to the Middle East how would he know that you were a Christian?
Mark Miller who is vicar of Stockton Parish Church has, as some of you know, a sizeable Iranian population living in his parish and a ministry to folk who worship in Farsi. Alongside helping folk with learning English his work brings him into the orbit of visa applications and the inner workings of the Home Office and its hostile environment. So again, I wonder…could you pass the test? Can you recite from memory the Beatitudes? Can you name the 12 apostles? Let me pause as you mentally try it…no shouting out!
How did you do? Perhaps you managed the fishermen: Peter, Andrew, James and John? Then there are a couple of pairs: Philip and James (there’s a church in Bristol that goes as Pip and J’s – so I remember them), Simon and Jude today of course (their Saint’s Day) – that gets us to 8. Thomas: who doubted. Judas Iscariot (replaced by Matthias)….who’s missing?....Matthew the tax collector and….Bartholomew. You can stay in the country a little longer, well done!
Simon and Jude: do you know anything about them? Me neither. I remember picking up from the Kevin Costner film ‘The Untouchables’ that Jude is the patron Saint of lost causes (and policemen) – Andy Garcia ends up with Sean Connery’s Saint Jude broach after he is killed on Al Capone’s orders. There’s an epistle of Jude - hardly a page in the New Testament: it’s somewhat overwhelmed by the big guns of Paul’s letters, the epistle to the Hebrews and Peter and John’s letters, you’ll find it just before the Book of Revelation. What you’ll also find is that Jude tells us that he is brother to James: which James however is disputed: the apostle…or the leader of the church in Jerusalem.
Simon and Jude go together because there is a tradition that they worked together preaching in modern day Iran. There is an ancient monastery in the very north western corner of Iran dedicated to Thaddaeus (Jude’s other name!) that dates back to earliest times. According to Wikipedia Jude is portrayed in religious art carrying a set square – as an apostle (and an apostle whose writing is in scripture) he is regarded as someone who lays the founding blocks of the faith. Simon is less fortunate: both he and Jude were martyred but Simon carries the means of his martyrdom with him at all times in artistic representations: a saw, supposedly he was sawn in two. …and should that sound barbaric just remember the name in the news these past weeks…Jamal Kasshoggi.
What more is there to say about two such obscure figures? Well, one other thing. Jude, ‘not Iscariot’ as John’s Gospel is very clear to say, asks a key question in those chapters that cover ‘the last supper’ in John’s narrative. ‘Jesus, ‘how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus’ answer is ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’
Another way of putting Jude’s question might be this. ‘Jesus, why isn’t it obvious who you are?’ And another way of phrasing Jesus’ answer might be ‘you’ll only truly understand who I am and how I can help you know God, when you start to do what I say…and that needs you to take a step of faith and put my words to the test.’
One of the key things from today’s Gospel reading is the command to the disciples to testify, to bear witness to Jesus and (within that testimony) to bear witness to the closeness of His relationship to God the Father. Simon and Jude do this but my guess is that both you and I would struggle to relate to their message all those years ago. Language of course would be a problem: they were Jews, they knew their scriptures and could speak koine Greek – our scriptures are translations which gain much and lose much in the translation. Their culture would be different, the things that are so important but we hardly recognize until we are so far out of our comfort zone that we begin to question how and why we do things – how much of our practice as Christians is really important and how much is simply part of being British in the 21st century? The practice of their faith would be different? Ways of praying, ways of ‘being’ – all would strike us as being somewhat alien. This shouldn’t surprise us but it’s worth remembering that wherever the gospel takes root it incarnates itself into a particular time and a particular place: Jesus may well be ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’ but the way He shows Himself differs….so that ‘knowing Jesus’ in Florida looks very different to ‘knowing Jesus’ in Armenia or Northern Iran. Neither Simon or Jude were prayer book Anglicans!
So this ‘apostolic faith’ is quite a difficult thing when push comes to shove. Later in our service we will say together ‘the creed’ but Simon and Jude (whilst recognizing some of its phrases and meaning) would probably struggle with language that only makes sense in the light of 3rd century debates about how Christ relates to God the Father: ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father’ – none of these debates had taken place when they bore witness to Jesus. None of the creeds statements formed part of their gospel though all them were implied.
What I’m getting at is this – what holds us together as Christians is an allegiance to Jesus and an attempt to remember Him and put his teaching into practice. That allegiance connects us to a story - a story of faith and faithfulness that has been expressed in the scriptures, scriptures that reach back many centuries before Jesus himself but which shape how we try to live now. Somewhere in the remembering of Jesus we find that He is alive. More than this, through Jesus, Christian people find an awareness of a Presence or a Being to whom we ascribe the name ‘God’…but, following Jesus’ example call ‘Father’. Our remembering is most perfectly focused as we do what Jesus: we obey His teaching but especially we take bread and wine, break them in recollection of His death and share them as a sign of His outpoured love for us and all things. When we do this ‘Father God’ seems most present.
‘Jesus, ‘how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?’ said Jude. ‘Those who love me will keep my word, (said Jesus) and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ Simon and Jude might find everything else we do in this church totally bewildering but maybe, just maybe, as we break bread and pour out the wine this morning they would know, as we do, that in the power of the Spirit and though Jesus Christ God the Father is known by us and the gospel entrusted to them has taken root in this land far from their home. I end with some of Jude’s words:
Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.