Genus, Phylum and Species – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Homily for the Feast of Sts. Simon & Jude

John 15:17-27

“Whatever the facts, accounts conflict and reliable data are lacking.”[i]  This one sentence summarizes the scholarly consensus regarding the lives of Saints Simon and Jude, whom we remember today. We know that Simon the Zealot is listed among the disciples and that Jude appears at the Last Supper. Western Church tradition has linked them as partners in both their ministry and their martyrdom, possibly in Persia. Every preacher on October 28 must face these few facts and ask God to make meaning and tell good news through them.

To a certain extent, the saints we remember by name on specific days in the calendar have been grouped into genres of sanctity. Following this tradition, we remember the Prophet, the Virgin, the King or Queen, the Abbott or Abbess, the Monk or Nun, the Hermit, the Bishop, the Priest, the Deacon, the Theologian, the Missionary, the social Reformer. Increasingly, and thankfully, we remember the Scientist, the Artist, and the Educator. This is something like the attempt of a zoologist to classify creatures into genus, phylum and species; there are so many that some organizational schema is necessary, however imperfect. God is still inventing types of creature and types of Christian. Our baptismal vocation is to pay attention to how God is calling us as unique, unrepeatable individuals but also to notice what genre, genus, phylum or species of sanctity we might belong to. We are saints here and now, practicing for our sainthood in heaven. Though we may be moving slowly and seem to make little progress, we are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another.”[ii] That is hard work, and we need companions who understand our particular path. Simon and Jude seem to have had that companionship in one another.

In St. Simon and Jude we remember the Apostle and the Martyr, and the particular hardship and sanctity of that path. In their case, because so little is known of their lives in a definite and particular sense, the genre or archetype of their sanctity becomes all the more pronounced.

As Apostles, they were sent to bring the Gospel to those who had not heard, seen, touched, or experienced its life-changing truth. As Martyrs, they encountered conflict, resistance, and death for the sake of that truth.  As God continues to lovingly invent types of creature and types of Christian, the world continues to seem intent on their hateful eradication. In John’s gospel, we hear Jesus say, “because you do not belong to the world, because my choice of you has drawn you out of the world, that is why the world hates you.”[iii] The world in this Johannine sense refers to the sum total of forces within us and around us that stand in opposition to Jesus’ Way of self-spending love. In that sense, we Christians “do not belong to the world.

In the mystery of Christ’s Body, Christ’s organism, Christ’s web of interdependence, every genre or species of saint contains some glimmer or facet of the other. Woven into our particular vocations as monk or deacon or veterinarian or husband or advocate for racial reconciliation is a glimmer of the Apostle, a streak of the Martyr. How and to whom are you sent with the Gospel as you practice for your own sainthood? For what facet of God’s truth would you be willing to resist the world, and to give your life?


[i] Holy Women, Holy Men.

[ii] 2 Corinthians 3:18.

[iii] John 15:19.

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  1. Donald Buxton on October 29, 2022 at 07:29

    In many ways these inspired words are like song 🎶 or poetry ✍🏼; Thank you🙏

  2. rev. carol carlson on October 28, 2021 at 12:29

    How wonderful it is to hear God’s word cloaked in the language of the science so despised by so many contemporary ‘Christians’. The evolution they so fear happens (thank God!) in the spiritual as well as the physical realm, and it’s good to take note of that every now and then. I do love that the patronage of ‘hopeless cases’ is ascribed to St. Jude – being one myself, that cheers me up every day. Thanks, Br. Keith.

  3. Elizabeth Hardy on October 28, 2021 at 11:31

    What a life-giving thought – that God is lovingly continuing to invent new types of creatures and new types of Christians – hopefully we can greet them all with wonder and awe and respect. Thank you for such a lovely sermon. Elizabeth Hardy+

  4. Marta Engdahl on October 28, 2021 at 07:31

    Thank you for this deep, broad, and expansive “lesson”. Much to be learned from contemplating these words.

  5. Robert D Scott on November 12, 2015 at 19:07

    For what facet of God’s truth would you be willing to resist the world, and to give your life? my earthly marriage.

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