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You are my witnesses – Br. James Koester

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Br. James KoesterDeuteronomy 32:1 – 4
Psalm 119: 89 – 96
Ephesians 2: 13 – 22
John 15: 17 – 27

One of the challenges for the preacher is to be able to say something intelligent on a feast day when there is very little from which to draw. Today is one such day. We can turn to Scripture, but except for a few references in the gospels and Acts, we won’t find much on either Simon or Jude. So that leaves the Tradition. What does the Tradition say about these two? Again we can’t say much about them, and certainly not much with certainty. If I were to preach a sermon based simply on what we know about both Simon and Jude, the sermon would be over by now, which may not be a bad thing, but none the less I will press on and see what we can make of them.

So what we know about Simon and Jude is not a lot. As one commentator says, the two of them vanish into thin air after Pentecost.

What we do know is that Simon’s name appears in the list of the Twelve in each of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as the Acts of the Apostles. In Matthew and Mark he is called ‘the Cananaean’ and in Luke and Acts he is called ‘the Zealot’. For Simon, that’s it. Not a whole heck of a lot to go on. But this is where the puzzle gets interesting because being called the Cananaean may be a reference to his place of origin, at least St. Jerome thought so. Perhaps, and I say this advisedly, perhaps he came from Cana which, for those who have been there will know, is just on the other side of the hill on which Nazareth sits. Did Jesus and Simon know each other as boys? We’ll never know, at least not in this life.

But, lest we get caught up in that theory, scholars tell us that being a Cananaean had nothing to do with his hometown. So just when we think we have a clue, we realize it’s a red herring. Scholars tell us that it is simply the same thing as being a zealot. And that, we know, is what Luke calls him, “Simon the Zealot”. But what’s that? Was Simon simply the hot headed one, full of zeal, or did he belong to that party of observant Jews who faithfully and rigorously upheld the Law? Again, we can’t say for certain.

And then there is Jude. Like Simon, his name also appears in the lists of the Twelve, sort of. In Luke and Acts he is called Jude, ‘son of James’ and in John he is called Judas, ‘not Iscariot’. However in Matthew and Mark his name does not appear in the list of the Twelve at all and instead we read about someone named Thaddeus. So who’s this Thaddeus? Are Jude and Thaddeus the same person? Perhaps, but perhaps not, because Thaddeus is not only a given name, it’s also a nickname. It means ‘buddy’. So to whom are Matthew and Mark referring, to our buddy Jude or our companion Thaddeus? At this point we can’t be certain, except to say that the church has traditionally said that Jude and Thaddeus are the same person, and that this person, is probably the one who wrote the Epistle of Jude.

And that’s what we know about Jude. Indeed that’s all we know from Scripture, about either Simon or Jude. It’s not much, but at least it’s a start.

From there we move to the Tradition. But here again the Tradition is rather vague. We’re told that after Pentecost both Simon and Jude proclaimed the good news of God in Christ in Egypt, and Persia and Mesopotamia, in Armenia and Lebanon. Some traditions tell us that Jude was martyred in what is now Beirut and others that he died peacefully in a town in eastern Turkey.

We are told much the same about Simon, except that yet another Tradition, and this is my favourite, suggests that Simon made it to England, visited Glastonbury and was martyred in Lincolnshire. Or perhaps he with other zealots was party to the Jewish Revolt against the Romans and died in one of those uprisings.

So who knows? From the gospels we don’t know much about either Simon or Jude and from the stories passed on to us we just get tantalizing hints of what may, or may not, have happened after Pentecost. But what we know for certain about Simon and Jude leads us to believe that what the Tradition tells us may have within it a grain of truth.

Because what we know for certain is that Simon and Jude, or is it Thaddeus, were members of the Twelve, that inner circle of the followers of Jesus “who went in and out among the other disciples, beginning with the baptism of John until the day when Jesus was taken up” into heaven. Like the other nine, they were present at the baptism and at the wedding in Cana, they heard firsthand the parables and saw the healings, they were there at the Last Supper, and in the Garden as Jesus was arrested. They were in the Upper Room on that first Easter morning when they heard that the Tomb was empty and later that same day when the Risen Lord appeared to them. They were there when a week later the Risen Lord appeared again and Thomas made his profession of faith, “my Lord and my God”. They were there on the Mount of Olives at the Ascension and with the company of the faithful when the Spirit descended on them like fire. They were there when Jesus sent them out to be witnesses to these things. They were there when Jesus told them that “you also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”

We actually don’t know much about Simon and Jude, and the Tradition, isn’t clear or certain. What we have are hints of possibilities but few hard details.

But for Simon and Jude, certainty, at least certainty about what happened after Pentecost doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is that like the others, their lives were completely turned upside down by their relationship with Jesus and that their lives were dramatically changed by what happened on that first Easter Day. After that, like the others, they too were sent out as witnesses to the truth of Jesus. They too were sent out by Jesus to tell what they had seen, and heard, and touched and handled concerning the word of life. And that’s what we celebrate today, their “sentness”. That’s what matters. Not if they were sent to Egypt or Turkey or Armenia, Lebanon or Persia or even to Lincolnshire, but that they were sent.

We may not know much about Simon and Jude from Scripture. The stories handed down by the Tradition may not be provable nor plausible. But the witness of both Scripture and the Tradition are none the less true in so far as point to a deeper truth. Simon’s and Jude’s lives were changed by their encounter with Jesus and because of that encounter, they changed the lives of others.

In a little while all of us will be sent from this place. We will be sent with those familiar words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. We will be sent, perhaps not to Egypt or Turkey or Armenia, Lebanon or Persia or even to Lincolnshire but instead to Cambridge and Boston and Waltham, to Somerville and West Newbury. In a little while we will be sent, like Simon and Jude and the others to testify that our lives have been changed by the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and to tell others what we have seen, and heard, and touched and handled concerning the word of life.

We celebrate today that Simon and Jude lives were changed and because of that, they were sent to proclaim God’s love so many years ago. We celebrate today that because they and others were sent to make know the love of God, we now believe.

One day, may others say of us, that they believe, because those people at a monastery in Cambridge were sent, sent to proclaim God’s healing and redeeming love in Jesus to Cambridge and Boston and Waltham, to Somerville and West Newbury and to the ends of the earth.

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1 Comment

  1. christopher rivers on November 2, 2014 at 06:17

    That day has already arrived: others, many others, already say that they believe because of the people at a monastery in Cambridge who were sent to them to proclaim love and healing.

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