St Simon and St Jude
A sermon preached by Revd Maggie Guillebaud.
Friday 28 October.
Are you a fan of Twitter? Do you tweet? Or follow your favourite politicians/ commentators/film stars/newspaper columnists – the list is endless- on social media? Never before in human history have we been so connected to other peoples’ opinions or lives as we are today. Make one tiny slip as a famous person, and it will be all over social media in a flash. In China your every move as an ordinary citizen is monitored. There is, literally, nowhere to hide.
Now I think that poses all kinds of really interesting questions about privacy and intrusion, and what is legitimate and not legitimate in following other peoples’ lives. And it also poses the much bigger problem of fake news and conspiracy theorists. But that is not what I want to explore with you this evening. Sorry if I had got your hopes up.
Imagine you were living in the year AD 32 or thereabouts. No printed books, no phones, tablets, computers, radio, television. In fact no way of finding out what is going on except by word of mouth.
An extraordinary man has just been crucified in Jerusalem and risen from the dead, as attested by many of his followers who have seen him. 11 particular friends of his have begun to leave Jerusalem to proclaim what they call the Good News, as instructed by their leader, to the rest of the known world.
Some of these men will become the super stars of this early movement of what will later be called Christianity. Peter, Andrew, James, Philip, John, Thomas, James the Less, Luke, Matthew, Bartholomew, we know them. Well, perhaps not James the Less so much whose feast day is attached to St Philip. Their persistence in preaching and spreading the faith will resonate down the ages. Thousands of churches will be built in their honour, some will have their names attached to gospels. Some will suffer martyrdom for their faith. Some will become patron saints of various countries. We feel we almost know them, like Peter with his hot temper and stinging remorse, or Thomas and his doubts. Each will have his own Feast Day in the liturgical calendar.
But then we come to St Simon and St Jude, lumped together today, virtually forgotten, because nobody really knows who they are or what they did, apart from being apostles.
Well, we do know, or think we know, a very tiny bit.
Simon is a real puzzle. To define him as not Simon Peter he is often given the name Simon the Zealot, and there is speculation he may have been a cousin of Jesus.
Born in Cana sometime in the C1st BC he is said to have died in around 65 AD. He is said to have preached in Egypt , after which he is said to have joined Jude in Persia and Armenia, OR in Beirut and Lebanon, where both were martyred.
Other legends place him in Africa and Sumaria, where we are told that he died peacefully in Edessa. We shall probably never know the truth.
Similarly Jude Thaddaeus, deliberately given a second name by the some of the gospel writers so as not to confuse him with Judas Iscariot, is relatively unknown. Mark and Matthew identify him as a brother of Jesus. The writer of the Epistle of Jude identifies him as ‘the brother of James.’ Other writers as ‘son of James’. Again we shall never know for certain.
Why then remember them at all?
All the Apostles, the eleven faithful friends who lived with and followed Jesus – Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus being the 12th – are remembered, I would suggest, for 2 reasons: first, that as his closest companions they saw and experienced at first hand who Jesus truly was. And second, so overwhelmed were with they with what they experienced that they were prepared to risk their lives to go and preach the Gospel to anyone who would listen. They were the first missionaries.
In Paul’s second letter to the Ephesians he reminded us that the apostles, with Jesus himself as the cornerstone, were the foundations upon which the Church would be built. And in our reading from the Gospel of John the apostles, at table with Jesus for their final meal together, are told that when the Holy Spirit comes he, the Spirit, will testify on Jesus’ behalf. And they, the apostles, are also to testify ‘because you have been with me from the beginning.’ For Jesus this is of the utmost importance: as eyewitnesses to his life and work they must reveal the glory of God in his Son Jesus Christ to the world, and relay his teachings far and wide. As Jesus said earlier on in this final meal with his friends, because the they have seen Jesus, they have seen the Father. Seeing is believing in this context.
It is sometimes a good idea to revisit some of the foundational truths of our faith, and I think this feast day of two obscure apostles is a very good place to start.
In all their obscurity they were just as important as the more well-known apostles in beginning to spread the Good News. And in these days of shouty celebrity, instant news and catastrophising, much of it on social media, we need to remember the quiet persistence of these men who simply got on with the job they were told to do. And the fruits of their labours speak for themselves.
On Sunday Bishop Stephen will be presenting at Evensong Aldhelm crosses to those in the diocese who over the years have gone above and beyond in the service of the Church and diocese. Three of those recipients will be from the Cathedral family. I shan’t embarrass them by naming them now. But their tireless and cheerful service to the Cathedral marks them out as exemplary builders of the Church in our own day.
And we all need to be builders of the Church. The very act of turning up to worship this evening puts us a long line of those who quietly, unobtrusively, got on with witnessing to the astonishing fact that God lived among us in the form of Jesus Christ his Son, and because of that the world has never been the same again. We, not buildings, are the Church.
So let’s hear it for quiet persistence and lack of celebrity. Let’s hear it for the countless of millions of Christians who have gone before us, and who will come after us, in building up the Church. And let us give thanks for two obscure but dedicated saints, Simon the Zealot and Jude Thaddeus, who give us hope in our journey towards him who loves us above all else, he who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.