Sermon for Ss. Simon and Jude

See also Proper 11b

On the feast of St Simon and St Jude Mr Ramesh put make-up on his eyes and bells on his ankles and danced naked with a tambourine in the back room of his shop behind Leeds General Infirmary. Alan Bennett’s Bed Among the Lentils tells the story of Susan, a Yorkshire vicar’s wife, caught between her husband’s glib piety and his parishioners’ fervent self-righteousness. She turns quietly to drink, disgraces herself over lunch with the Bishop, collapses while arranging flowers in the chancel, and only finds sobriety in the arms of the young Asian shopkeeper, Mr Ramesh

Why did Alan Bennett choose today’s feast? May be Simon and Jude are simply names he recalls from some far-off Sunday evening spent flicking through the Prayer Book during a dull sermon. Bur Bennett has a gift for taking the ordinary and making of it something extraordinary: the trams of his boyhood, his father’s butcher’s shop, the genteel pretensions of his aunties. Maybe he couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate feast than today’s. Because he wrote, ‘That’s the thing nobody ever says about God…he has no taste at all.’ In God’s tastelessness is our salvation.

God’s tastelessness. We don’t really know who Simon and Jude were. They are best known for who they were not: not the better known Simon Peter or Judas Iscariot. John’s gospel describes Jude as “Judas, not Iscariot” to avoid confusion with the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Luke names Jude twice Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13 as Judas son of James, but Matthew and Mark avoid any confusion by calling him Thaddaeus.

Do we know anything? Matthew 13 describes Jesus preaching in the synagogue of his home town and the congregation’s reaction. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?’

So they were simple Galileans, brothers of Jesus. Mark says that Simon was born in Cana, the place of Jesus’ first miracle. Some traditions identify Simon as the bridegroom at that wedding and suggest that he became a disciple as a direct response to witnessing that miracle. Tradition has it that Simon preached in Mauretania (present day north-west Africa and southern Spain), in Egypt and in Libya. He later rejoined Jude in Persia (modern day Iran) where they were martyred. The king respected them, for they had manifested power over two ferocious tigers that had terrorised the land. With their king, sixty thousand Persians became Christians, and churches rose over the ruins of the idolatrous temples. However, when they visited other parts of the Persian kingdom, unconverted, pagan hordes commanded them to offer sacrifices to the Sun god. They prayed for mercy and offered their lives to the living God but the idolaters fell on them and massacred them, while they blessed God and prayed for their murders. The most gruesome account has Simon being sawn in half.

Jude does have one moment in the limelight. In John’s account of the Last Supper Jesus has been a bit obscure so Jude asks for clarification, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?”

If you were to go down in history as asking one important question, what would it be?

There is an Epistle of Jude at the end of the New Testament, yearning for the day of Judgement, when God would right all wrongs. His religious zeal was strong, perhaps verging on the fanatical, so he probably found a kindred spirit in the zealot Simon. Though to associate Simon with freedom fighters – the zealots, is an anachronism. They didn’t really get going until thirty-five years after Jesus’s death.

Simon, patron saint of tanners, leather workers, Jude became known as the patron saint of desperate or lost causes, maybe because people wanted to avoid any possible mix up with invoking the aid of Judas Iscariot, to avoid invoking the aid of anyone called Judas until they were totally desperate, or because his New Testament letter stresses that Christians should persevere in difficult circumstances. People with lost or desperate causes can be violent but the example that Jude holds up to persecuted Christians is not one of violence but of fidelity to God. So what did these zealous disciples of Jesus do with their passion? Judas Iscariot, another zealous disciple betrayed Jesus, maybe attempting to force Jesus into triumphal action against the Romans. But history suggests that Simon and Jude were faithful if inconspicuous disciples during Jesus’ lifetime. How do we direct our zeal and passion?

People use violence to pursue their ends: terrorists, murderers people-traffickers. The violence of words used in politics, in domestic disputes and in the church where we use words intemperately to attack the beliefs and integrity of people with whom we disagree. That Simon and Jude became passionate disciples rather than violent religious fanatics shows the power of the gospel to transform their passion. They model zeal that is directed to godly ends. And towards loving people they’d not naturally choose to get on with: like Matthew who’d previously sold out to the Romans and been one of their despised tax collectors. Simon and Jude are remembered, not because of what they did, but because of who their friends were. They were part of a small group that changed the world. Being a Christian isn’t a matter of just me and God, what Greek philosophy called ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’. Being a Christian is a corporate act: You can’t be “saved” as an individual. You have to belong to God’s people, be part of the body of Christ, in order to be saved. We don’t get to know God alone: we come to know God together.

In today’s collect and in our first two readings, we are told that ‘God builds the Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone…… the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple

Grows: we are a work in progress.We are part of God’s building, of which this church is an image; Simon and Jude are two of the foundations out of sight and we’re a bit of coping stone up there somewhere and our lives are joined to theirs.

Foundations out of sight. In his Epistle, Jude doesn’t boast of his family connections. He doesn’t produce a family tree and claim a position of superiority because of the blood connec­tion with Jesus. Instead he describes himself, as any Christian can describe himself, ‘the servant of Jesus Christ.’ Our class-society delights in snobbery, family crests, old school ties. Toffs and plebs. It’s all personal insecurity. The only impression that is worth anything at all is the impression of character, not a person’s family, nor possessions. The Christian stands before God not because of any credentials of our own but because God has adopted us as his sons and daughters. The only boast we can make is that we are members of Christ, chil­dren of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. And that depends not upon our accents or our brains, but upon the stark fact that while we were yet sinners, `God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son….

Family connections count for nothing, though they have an influence. Jude must have instilled this conviction into his own children. When his grandsons were brought before the Emperor Domitian, fearing that they were related to Christ, they did not boast of their parentage but said they had thirty-nine acres of land from which they supported themselves. `They showed him their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies, and the callousness produced upon their hands by continuous toil as evidence of their own labour. Upon which Domitian, despising them, made no reply; but treating them with contempt, as simpletons, commanded them to be dismissed’ and by a decree put a stop to the persecution of the Church Hegesippus

Like their grandfather they were content to be servants of Jesus Christ. How Shall They Hear? – R. Macarthy (Four Courts Press 2002) pp. 81ff

 So here we are, celebrating the largely unknown lives of a couple of D list disciples, disciples numbers 10 and 11, with only Judas Iscariot in a lower position. With their feast day at the end of the Church’s year. Who don’t really feature as individuals in the bible, And who led apostolic lives that we don’t know much about. THE CHURCH does not celebrate celebrities. It celebrates saints. Perhaps our celebrating these saints will affect our view of countless others around us, whose names we know, whose names we don’t know, yet with whom we share this planet, this city, and this building, who appear to give us nothing. if we celebrate only those who add value to our existence, then we do not see humanity as God sees it. the extraordinary vision of the God served by Simon and Jude, the alchemical God whose touch turns the basest material into the purest gold. From corner shop to cornerstone, this seemingly tasteless God, whose choice knows no limits and whose imagination knows no bounds. .

In the words of Jude’s epistle: beloved… yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God ……..To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen”

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