Today we have one of those special Sundays when one of our Red-Letter Feast Days falls on an ordinary Sunday. In the Anglican Tradition, the Red-Letter days are the major feasts of the Church commemorating biblical figures and events. The Black-Letter days are the minor feasts and fasts commemorating other figures and events from Church history. Our 1928 Book of Common Prayer only has a Red-Letter Calendar, and a slightly truncated one at that. Today we celebrate the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles.
Most of what we know from Scripture about Saints Simon and Jude comes from the lists of the Apostles in the Gospels. Most likely, Simon and Jude, along with James “the Less” were brothers, all sons of a fellow identified as Alpheus or Clopas. According to the 2nd Century historian Hegesippus and the 19th Century historian Alfred Eddersheim, both converts from Judaism, Clopas was the brother of St. Joseph, our Lord’s adopted father. That is, Saints Simon, Jude, and James were adopted cousins of Jesus. Similarly, St. James the Great and St. John the Beloved were likely cousins of our Lord on his mother’s side, as Salome, the mother of Saints John and James, has been identified by early church historians as the sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is, five of the 12 Apostles were close kin to Jesus.
St. Simon is surnamed “Zelotes” or “Cananaean.” This doesn’t mean that he was ethnically a “Canaanite,” but rather that he was part of the Zealot or “Qannaim” movement, based in Galilee. According to Eddersheim, this was a revival of the original Chasid movement that is described in the Maccabees and in the Hanukkah story. The 1st Century Zealots were opposed to anyone claiming Lordship over the Jews other than God. Later, the terrorist acts of a group of the Zealots known as Sicarii were a significant contributor to the war with Rome that resulted in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. By this time, however, St. Simon’s zeal for the Lord was being used to spread the Gospel, not attack Romans.
St. Jude is called “Lebbaeus” in St. Matthew’s gospel and “Thaddeaus” in St. Mark. Eddersheim tells us that Lebbaeus is from the Hebrew word for heart and Thaddaeus is from the Hebrew word for praise or thanksgiving, giving us some insight into the Apostle’s character. In Greek, Jude is the same name as Judas and as Judah in the Hebrew Old Testament, likely shortened to “Jude” in English to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, our Lord’s betrayer.
The hagiographies, or saint stories, are not in agreement as to the later ministry of Saints Simon and Jude, though they generally agree that they ministered together. According to one traditional version (such as that in my wife’s Saints book from her childhood) they ministered in Persia where they were later executed. This is the more common version of their later ministry. Alternatively, according to John Foxe, the Reformation-era martyrologist, St. Jude was crucified in Edessa (upper Mesopotamia) in 72AD, while St. Simon was crucified in Britain in 74AD after having ministered in North Africa and the British Isles. Regardless of the details, we know that they did died martyrs’ deaths, which is why we vest in red for their feast day, symbolizing both the work of the Holy Spirit in the martyrs’ lives and also the blood that was spilled in their deaths.
Our Gospel reading for the Feast Day speaks of both the work of the Spirit and the expectation of persecution for those who would follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Turn in your bibles to John 15, beginning at verse 17. This can also be found in your Prayer Books on Page 255. Jesus is at the last supper, speaking to the Apostles.
These things I command you, so that you will love one another. If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
You may be familiar with an aphorism commonly mis-attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.” This is usually a statement made to point out how often Christians seem to be un-Christ-like, but it also points out how society in general seems to have a high regard for Jesus. That’s usually because the world doesn’t actually know Jesus. I’m reminded of the opening chapter in Douglas Adams’ classic book, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which Jesus is alluded to as “a man [who] had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.” The world often focuses on the ethical teachings of our Lord, and completely ignores the theological teachings. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” just seems like common sense. But what about “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God”? Now that just sounds exclusive and narrow-minded! And it was this kind of claim that led to the Crucifixion. Without Christ, all are condemned. None are righteous. Our sins bear witness against us because we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves, and we certainly don’t love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. The message of the Gospel is that in of ourselves we stand condemned, but Jesus has paid the penalty, which is why we must follow him as our Lord. The Gospel bids everyone who follows Jesus to die to self, take up their cross, and be raised to new life in Christ. The Gospel bids us to surrender our lives to Jesus and his Lordship. It’s not just “be nice to people.” For those of you who came of age in the 80’s and 90’s, it’s not the Gospel of Bill and Ted: “Be excellent to each other.” And while following Jesus certainly means that Christians are called to love our neighbors, the offensive part of the Gospel is the “why” of that love. The offensive part is that if Jesus is Lord, if Jesus is King, no one else is. Not Caesar. Not me. Not you.
But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: “They hated me without a cause.”
That last verse, when Jesus is paraphrasing Psalm 69, tells us that Jesus was originally speaking about the Jewish people who rejected him. But this applies to all who have the Scriptures and yet do not follow Jesus. In our Western context, the Bible is part of our cultural heritage. We’re surrounded by Scripture. And this makes us responsible for it. The Scriptures, Jesus’ teaching, and Jesus’ miracles all testify on his behalf. He’s not merely a teacher who said we should love each other; he’s the One sent from God the Father. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, this tells us that we can expect to be looked down on for following him. We can expect to be considered foolish or even wicked by the world. But we still have a responsibility to be Christ’s ambassadors, to be Christ’s witnesses in whatever way the Lord enables us. One of the reasons we celebrate the Saints Days is to remember and celebrate their example in answering that call, even when it cost them their lives.
In our Collect we prayed “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.” What is their doctrine? It is the words of Scripture, taught and embodied by Jesus, proclaimed by the Apostles and Prophets. In our Collect and Epistle, we speak of “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.” Whenever you see “apostles and prophets” think “new and old testaments.” Just like in the Gospels, when you see “Law and Prophets” you think of the Old Testament. These are code phrases used in Scripture and in Church teaching for God’s Word. Notice that Jesus is the chief corner-stone. That reminds us that the Scriptures are always about him.
So, when we answer the Lord’s call to follow him and to be his witnesses, following the examples of saints like Simon and Jude, don’t feel that you have to do a sales pitch or find the right script. Don’t feel that you have to go to school and get an advanced degree in apologetics or missiology. Advanced degrees can be good. Learning some tools to help you overcome your fear of talking to folks about Christ can be helpful. But ultimately, you have everything you need in your bible. Plus, the Church has given us the Creeds as summaries of the main highlights of Scripture’s story. That’s why Catechesis has traditionally consisted of the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the 10 Commandments. These three elements give us the summary of our beliefs, of how to pray, and of how to live as Christians.
But never think that it’s all on your shoulders. Let’s look at verse 26 in our Gospel:
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
The Greek word translated in the ESV as “Helper” and in the King James as “Comforter” literally means “one who comes along side.” It was widely used in the 1st Century to refer to legal counsel, though we certainly don’t need to limit our understanding to that use. The idea is that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to empower us in our Christian vocation. When we say in the Catechism that our “bounden duty” is to “follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work, pray, and give for spread of his kingdom,” we’re not expecting that you have a “try harder” sort of moralism. No, the Holy Spirit working in you makes these things possible. Yes, you must fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Yes, life on this side of eternity includes struggle. But we’re not left alone. When you were baptized, the Holy Spirit regenerated you and empowered you. When you hear the Scriptures proclaimed and preached, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you. When you come to the Lord’s Table, the Holy Spirit is feeding you with the Body and Blood of Christ, nourishing your spirit in the same way that earthly food nourishes your body.
And when we do talk about Christ, when we do as Saints Simon and Jude did, the Holy Spirit is going before us, bearing witness about Jesus. Since we can’t change our own hearts, we certainly can’t expect to change the hearts of our lost friends, family, and neighbors. But God the Holy Ghost can. Just as he gave you new life in Christ, so can he do the same for those to whom you witness.
And this is certainly good news because it means it’s not up to you! The pressure is off! The Lord does the work in your Christian witness and vocation just as he did for your justification and salvation at Calvary. Just as he did for Simon and Jude. And for that we rejoice and bless His Holy Name.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.