Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Simon and Jude, Apostles
October 29, 2012, 10:12 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday 28th October, 2012

Simon and Jude: what do we know about them? Not a lot. Their names are given in the lists of the Twelve. Mark and Matthew call Simon a Cananaean, which may mean someone from Cana in Galilee; Luke in his Gospel and in Acts calls him a “zealot”, which may refer to some political group within Judaism. Luke refers to Jude (that is, Judah) as “of James” (Jacob), which in normal usage would mean “son of James”; whereas in Mark’s and Matthew’s lists we find the name of Thaddaeus, immediately following “James son of Alphaeus”, so that we have “James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus”, which may mean that they were brothers. The Epistle of Jude (attributed to the Apostle) distinctly says “brother of James.”

Of course, Jacob and Judah and Simeon were very common Jewish names, after the great Patriarch and two of his sons. It is perfectly possible that by the time the Gospels were written, thirty or forty years after the events, it was distinctly remembered that Christ had chosen Twelve, symbolic of the Twelve tribes of Israel, while one or two of the names had got slightly confused. From our point of view, so long afterwards, it is not the precise names or relationships of the Twelve that matter, but their office and significance. The Collect of the Day in the Book of Common Prayer is unique among the collects for the saints’ days in not mentioning their names at all:

O Almighty God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner-stone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is in the Book of Revelation that we read of the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, whose walls have twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles; while in the Letter to the Ephesians St Paul also speaks of Christians being built up into a holy temple in the Lord, on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ being the corner-stone, as in the Collect.

Those who say that Jesus never meant to found a Church have to contend with the fact, taken for granted in the New Testament, that he chose a select few, with a symbolic number, and that on them he built a “Temple”, a dwelling-place for God, composed of living men and women. If that is not what we mean by “the Church”, I don’t know what is!

On Friday night I attended a very interesting lecture at Tyndale Baptist Church in the “Christians in Science” series. The speaker made a number of very telling points in response to what is called “the new atheism”, but one line in her argument gave me pause. Speaking from an Evangelical standpoint, she understandably made much of the Bible as the Word of God which speaks to us today. But the model she used seemed to me to imply each individual believer sitting down with the Bible, in isolation, and asking, “What does this say to me.” Quite probably I am caricaturing her position. But the Protestant principle of “Scripture alone” does lend itself to that interpretation, whereas the Catholic approach is to see the Bible in the context of the living community, within which it was first created and now is read and interpreted. Reading the Bible is a collective enterprise, not just an individual one. It requires the Church, it requires the teaching of the Apostles, if it is to be correctly understood.

Let us then, collectively, look briefly at the Scriptures presented to us this evening as part of our worship. The lesson from Maccabees (1 Maccabees 2.42-66) has obviously been chosen, rather unimaginatively, because of the final verses, where the aged Mattathias tells his sons, “Simeon your brother is wise in counsel; always listen to him; he shall be your father.  Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army.” Simeon and Judas, Simon and Jude, a coincidence of names. And yet there is a little more, since Mattathias exhorts his sons to show zeal for the Law, and the Apostle Simon is called a zealot, and the Zealot party was so named precisely because of its Maccabean zeal for the Law. It is part of the office of an Apostle, and of the bishops after them, to be zealous for the truth of the Faith, and to expose error. The Collect tells us that we are joined in unity precisely through our loyalty to the doctrine of the Apostles.

Finally, the Epistle of Jude (Jude 1-4,17-end), one of the shortest books of the New Testament, bar the second and third letters of John. We are not sure who this letter was addressed to, but it seems to be connected with the second letter of Peter, which it quotes in the section we did not hear tonight. Jude, the brother of James, appeals to his readers to “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Like the Maccabees, but more spiritually and metaphorically, he uses the language of warfare. He says that the Church, the community of the faithful, has been infiltrated by ungodly people who pervert the grace of God into licentiousness. They set up divisions, against which we must be on our guard. If this was true in the first century, how much more is it true after twenty centuries!

Jude speaks of “a faith once for all delivered” to the Church, a precious gift to be treasured and preserved, not something to be re-invented in each generation. “But you, beloved,” he says, “build yourselves up on your most holy faith.” Again, the image of the Church as built upon on foundations that come to us from the Apostles.

O Almighty God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner-stone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


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