29 October 2011

Sermon for Simon and Jude, Westcott Chapel, 28-10-11

A few people have asked to have a copy of this and I figured the easiest way to get it around was to put it
up here. It's written for the voice, hence the short lines and odd punctuation. I make no apologies for this.

May I speak in the name of the Father, 
The Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I don’t know about you,
But I find names fascinating. 
I find it extraordinary that a name can carry so much meaning And yet so little meaning...
Both at the same time.

Let me explain...

When names stand alone for us,
When they so clearly refer to a particular person, 
They seem to embody the person they represent.

For example,
If someone mentions the name ‘Eleanor’,
There’s only one person who springs to mind for me. 
And there will be names for each of you,
which do the same thing.

People we know well
seem to inhabit their name,
It would seem wrong to call them anything else.
But sometimes the world gets a bit complicated...

Last weekend,
Late on Sunday,
After working my way through a stack of Luther reading, 
I diligently sent some questions raised by the reading,
as requested by the lecturer...
...Beth Phillips.

Now I said it was late in the day,
I think it was actually early in the next day,
And I did send my considerations and questions to Beth.
But a month or so ago,
The world of Westcott names changed,
And my brain, along with my email client,
Has not managed to adjust to the new world order... 
Beth Phillips (student) and Beth Phillips (Staff member).
Needless to say, confusion ensued.
And I feel I should offer apologies to Beth and to Beth, 
From the entire community.
It’s going to take a while for us to work this one out!

As we reflect on our Gospel reading today
We might imagine that having recruited his band of 12, 
Jesus might be having a bit of name confusion.
We are given a list of the names of Jesus’ chosen 12. 
His disciples.
But life must have been as confusing for Jesus and the disciples 
As it is for the Westcott community today.

We have Simon (who he named Peter)
And Simon (the zealot or the Cananaen)
Then at the end of the list, we have two Judases.
One connected to James,
Who we end up calling Jude...
so he doesn’t get confused with his notorious namesake. 
And the infamous Judas Iscariot.
I wonder if Jesus ever thought about swapping some of the disciples for more originally named replacements...
It would have made life easier.

Instead, Jesus and the writers of the Gospels... 
...add on distinguishing nicknames
or names of relatives.
To help us to know who is who.
Simon and Jude,
Who we celebrate today,
Are most definitely lesser-known amongst the disciples.
If their roll-call in Luke’s gospel is in order of favour or importance, 
We can definitely say that Simon and Jude are not ‘A list’ disciples.

In all of the gospel accounts,
Jude gets only one line of dialogue
Which we find in John’s Last Supper account.
His one moment in the limelight
comes and goes in the blink of an eye,
as he asks for Jesus to clarify an obscure pronouncement he’s just made about what’s going to happen next.

As you’d expect from disciples numbers 10 and 11,
With only Judas Iscariot in a lower position,
We don’t actually know very much about either Simon or Jude.
According to tradition,
Simon and Jude travelled widely in the days of the early church.
They are reported to have joined forces in Persia and Armenia,
and they were both martyred,
and you can pick your location depending on the tradition you prefer. 
The most gruesome account has Simon martyred by being sawn in half.

So here we are,
Celebrating the largely unknown lives of a couple of D list disciples, 
Who don’t really feature as individuals in the bible,
And who led apostolic lives that we don’t know much about.

It seems odd doesn’t it?!

But the thing that struck me as I prepared for today, 
Was that I identify with these two,
And I wonder if you do too.
Despite coming well down the list,
Jesus knows who Simon and Jude are.
Even if we don’t.

Jesus has chosen them to do his work.
He could have chosen others instead. 
He did choose others who had higher profiles, 
But he also chose Simon and Jude, 
And even though the Gospel writers record them at the bottom of the list, 
They’re still on the list.

So as we push through the remainder of this busy term at Westcott House,
Maybe we ought to be cheered by our celebration of these two inconspicuous Saints.
They didn’t seek the limelight.
They didn’t say much of great importance,
or we might expect it to have been reported in the gospels 
They got on with spreading the news of Jesus
It was enough for them that they were known by Jesus,
That they had been chosen by Jesus.

So when we start to obsess...
about the quality of the supervision essay we turned out in the wee small hours of the night,
Or we start to worry...
that we aren’t getting to grips with whichever theologian is causing us grief this week,
We ought to remember Simon and Jude.
We ought to remember that we are called just as they were. 
Whether we like it or not,
Whether we revel in the limelight, or run from it,

Names are a wonderful, 
if sometimes confusing thing, 
But Jesus knows each of our names,
He knows us as we are,
No crossed lines.
No misdirected mail.
He has deliberately chosen each of us
to make him known in our lives and in our vocations.
So as we consider our vocation and our formation for ministry, 
we thank God for all those who have gone before us,
for the many examples of faithful discipleship in our tradition, 
And particularly, today, for Simon and Jude.

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