Canon Precentor - Revd Canon Gilly Myers
If I had not got up this morning only in the nick of time to get here for my first service at 8.30 am, I would have completely rewritten my sermon in the light of the news from yesterday of the attack in Pittsburgh on a Jewish Synagogue in Squirrel Hill which left 11 people dead, numerous people injured and a community in utter shock and, I would imagine, immense fear.
Also on the radio this morning was a report of a disturbing level of Islamophobia in our own country.
Our Gospel reading from John this morning, with all of Jesus’ sayings about hatred on account of faith, including the phrase: ‘They hated me without a cause’ (John 15.25) echoes these disturbing features of our global life; features that are rightly described as ‘hate crimes’.
I am sorry that I have not been able to write a completely new sermon, but I would urge us to continue to hold the community of Pittsburgh in our prayers, along with Jewish communities around the world, and all people who live in fear, or have been victims of hate crime.
And may we do all that we can to build relationships locally with people who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, hatred or attack. I long for the day when the world can rejoice in diversity and difference, and celebrate that diversity. May God’s kingdom of love and peace come very soon.
The festival of Simon and Jude, doesn’t fall on a Sunday very often – and perhaps you have not heard many sermons on their feast day. I certainly hadn’t, so I wanted to refresh my memory on a couple of points:
Which disciples were they?
What do we know about them?
So let’s start with Simon, a familiar name. But we should begin by being clear that he is not the same person as the apostle known as Simon Peter. He is still one of the ‘twelve’, the closest disciples of Jesus, but he is a different Simon, which can be confusing.
In Luke’s gospel this Simon is called ‘Simon the Zealot’, probably because he belonged to a nationalist resistance movement called the Zealot party, who were actively opposed the Roman occupation of Israel. It is not clear, however, whether Simon was a Zealot before he followed Jesus, or became one after Jesus’ resurrection, seeing it as an expression of his proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
The Jude whom we commemorate today, also has a namesake amongst the apostles, for ‘Jude’ is short for Judas and, indeed, Judas is the name that we find for both of them in the lists of apostles in the version of the Bible that we use here at the Cathedral (the New Revised Standard Version). Luke describes him as ‘Judas the son of James’, to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot.
If you read the lists of the apostles in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), you will find that they don’t quite contain all the same names. They each have twelve names, but some of them are different. So just like the Radio Four puzzle of the day, this has been a little conundrum for biblical puzzlers that leads us to conclude that Judas the son of James, who we are now calling Jude, is also called Thaddaeus, in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Perhaps it was his second name.
So the Jude whose feast day we are celebrating today, is also called Judas, and is also called Thaddeaus.
John’s gospel doesn’t give us a list of the apostles. And we have to wait until the account of the Last Supper to find mention of the disciple he describes as ‘Judas, not Iscariot’ to distinguish him from the one who betrayed Jesus later that night. ‘Judas, not Iscariot’ is our Jude.
And, in case you are wondering – there is a letter attributed to Jude in our New Testament, but scholars are mainly of the view that this is unlikely to be the same person.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles went back to Jerusalem and waiting together in an upstairs room, where they were staying. Both Simon and Jude are mentioned among them, but there’s no further mention of them in the Bible after Pentecost. We simply don’t know anything more about them, other than legends and tradition.
So what do we have on which to hang our thoughts, when considering apostles such as Simon and Jude, about whom we know so little? The collect and readings for today give us a pointer for our reflections.
First of all, the collect, the prophecy from Isaiah and the letter to the Ephesians all refer to the image of a building. A building which is a parable of the Church, neatly expanded in Ephesians 2, in this passage that introduces so many different images that we can barely keep up with them.
The building in this image is made of stone, and stands on a firm foundation. The cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself; the foundations are the apostles and the prophets; and the materials of the main structure of the building include people like us and those who have gone before us in our faith – who are referred to as ‘the saints’.
And in the next sentence, it becomes evident that this building is a holy temple, a dwelling place for God.
Today, we give thanks for those whose faith laid down the foundations of this holy dwelling place for God of which we are now part, by the wonderful grace of God. We give thanks for the prophets, for Simon and Jude, and for all the apostles and saints.
The beauty of this passage is that it then develops from that first hard image of a stone building, into a picture of a living structure, full of relationships and life. It’s a living structure because it is essentially made up of people - people of faith, who are described as members of the household of God and as citizens with the saints.
It is a living, growing structure, because it is indwelt by the living God. Take a moment to stop and think again about the fact that we are part of this holy temple. I am not talking about this marvellous and historic building – I am talking about you and me and those around us – who together are part of a living temple.
It never ceases to amaze me. What a wonderful gift and privilege; and what a remarkable responsibility!
A temple is where God dwells – God not only dwells in each one of us, but in us together as the Church, and is also the spiritual relationship between us.
What is the nature of this ‘being joined together’?
The one time that we come across Jude in John’s gospel, he asks Jesus a question in the middle of his long discourse, set at the end of the Last Supper. Jesus is saying his final words to the disciples before his arrest and death.
In response to Jude’s interjection, Jesus says ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home in them.’ (John 14.23) Here, again, is the talk of the indwelling of God; and here in the midst of a passage that also predicts the hatred of the world towards Jesus and his followers, is teaching, nevertheless, about living in love.
Later in the same discourse, Jesus gives this very well-known commandment to the disciples to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. (John 15.12)
I draw out these two sayings, for they reflect the age-long two-fold summary of the Hebrew law:
- Love the Lord your God with your whole being; with all that you are .
- Love your neighbour as yourself.
They speak poignantly into the state of the world today.
However much we aspire to love, it proves to be so difficult to attain, and we need to pray constantly for the love of God to fill us and all people, and overflow into everything that we say and do.
And we can pray earnestly: God of love; teach us to love. Amen.