"Thus says the Lord God, See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation"
Isaiah tells us of God’ plan to lay a foundation for his church and Paul continues this model
"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God."
Today we remember Simon and Jude two of Jesus first disciples. To continue that image of the church, two of the first building blocks of the church. These are two characters we all feel we should know but perhaps we don’t know as much about them as we should.
In fact it’s hard to know much about them as very little is known about either of them.
Simon we know as Simon the Zealot so we know his past was one which might have involved some very radical political activity in objecting to the Roman occupation, Josephus tells us that the most violent zealots were in action much later but, the title zealot definitely tells us that Simon believed in the rights of the Jewish people to be free within their own kingdom. The New Testament, however, tells us no more about Simon other than listing him among the disciples.
Jude, sometimes called the obscure, is actually LESS obscure than Simon. Jude, also known as Judas and Thaddeus is, not surprisingly, described in greater detail in an endeavour to distinguish him from the other Judas. Jude is known much more in some ways because of the confusion with Judas. He has the dubious honour of being the patron saint of lost causes because he is, unsurprisingly, the last name of any of the apostles that someone praying would call upon for intercession.
He is called Judas of James, meaning he was either the son of James or perhaps the brother of James (perhaps the James who was one of the other disciples). Certainly the new testament epistle of Jude is by Jude brother of James. So this Obscure saint may not be so obscure after all but the author of one of the books of the New Testament. Some have even suggested that as brothers Judas and James may well have been the Judas and James mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel in chapter 13 when the people of Nazareth question Jesus’ authority to preach
"Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?" Mt 13:55 ff
So, unlike Simon, Jude is described outside of the lists of the disciples. In fact a question he asked Jesus at the last supper is recorded in John’s Gospel:
Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" 23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. John 14:22 - 24
Why doesn’t Jesus reveal himself to everyone?
Jude’s question is a very good one. It goes to the heart of our calling as Christians. Why doesn’t God reveal himself to everyone? Why just us?
In the film Evan Almighty this summer, a journalist asked:
Reporter: What makes you think God chose you?
Evan Baxter: He chose all of us.
Evan replies calmly to this question and that calm assurance is what makes the response powerful and not arrogant.
So, just as Jesus called Simon and Jude, he does choose all of us. Not just here but everyone. Trouble is, not everyone hears it when he calls and that’s where we come in.
Our job – the job of the church
Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gospel make it clear that life as a Christian is not always easy. We do not belong to the world. Does that mean we belong instead to the church and the church is our defence against the world – on that firm foundation do we build a fortress against the world?
God built his church with strong foundation. In the building that is the church are we a Brick in the wall or, as someone preached a few years ago, are we, like the saints, some stained glass that the light can shine through?
We have been trying in All Saints to build a Centre for Anglican Spirituality – opening our church up to people of all ages, people who have never experienced God in their lives and those who want to explore further. You may have noticed we’ve been making a few changes in the way the church is laid out. Pat’s place for the little ones with the toys always out, the plants ready for our quiet garden in the north chapel, the library for those who want something a little deeper and the corner that the young people have made their own. In setting up these spaces we’ve explored various names for some aspects. One such name was SANCTUARY. A great name – a Latin name so I rather liked it – a traditional name; the church has been a place of sanctuary for hundreds of years. In the rather more blood-thirsty periods of history men and women have been chased by their pursuers until they could get that hand grasped on to the sanctuary ring on the outside of the church and claim the church’s protection from the outside world.
What model of church do we want?
(A VOLUNTEER BRINGS ON A BEAN BAG)
It’s appealing to think of the church as a place of comfort where we can escape from all the pressures of life. A place to escape and be looked after. We can rest in God’s love and get away from all that opposition that Jesus said we would face in the world because we don’t belong there. In the Renaissance English sense of “comfort.” In Renaissance English “comfort” is formed from two Latin words, con and fortis: “with strength.”
Yet the church must be much more than that. The church should be the foretaste of God’s kingdom that we’re building.
(A VOLUNTEER BRINGS ON A BEAN BAG)
We shouldn’t just be a place where people can escape from the world. The church should be a place that empowers people to going back into the world; a place where people are encourage to get into the world and engage with it. To equip them to build the kingdom.
Of course there are times when we all need some comfort - times of difficulty or distress but when we have been comforted through those times, the church should still be the place that empowers us to go out into the world.
What do you seek of your church?
A place of comfort or a place to be sent out?
What should the church be?