Synod Eucharist Sermon

Friday 28 October 2016 St George’s Cathedral

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I've long been an admirer of Sts Simon and Jude whose feast is always celebrated jointly and on this day, 28 October.

These are biblical saints, companions of Jesus, numbered among the 12. They are marked out in the order of disciples by being other - the other Simon [not Peter] the other Judas [not Iscariot] middle order players distinguished from the very top and the very bottom - but still, names in the team with an active part to play.

The legend about them says that after Pentecost Simon preached in Egypt and then joined forces with Jude [who had come from Mesopotamia] they both took the Gospel to Persia where they were martyred for their faith.

It is absolutely appropriate that their feast day kicks off our Synod.

In 1994, when I first attended Synod a young rep from a country parish the thing that captured my attention was the long list of names, members of Synod, rank on rank of the people of God.

I studied that list for so long that some of the names became embedded and one of the joys over the intervening years is that little by little and as recently as this year, the names, which I've never forgotten have blossomed into live people, with faces and gifts and personalities and histories.

And I'm reminded that one of the joys of being a part of God's Church is discovering again and again the diversity and beauty of God's people.

When speaking of Saints, I'm never much persuaded by the legends about them, preferring to stick with the New Testament record. In the Gospel accounts, Simon and Jude are a lot like us, names in a list, followers of Christ as we are, neither first nor last among the faithful but steadfast in their dedication to the cause of Christ and to his Gospel.

There's a working, practical quality about these disciples - they lived in times of upheaval and great change, they experienced the terrible aching disorientation of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, the unexpected joy of his resurrection, the bewilderment and questioning that must surely have  followed upon his ascension and yet they remained true to their message - so that nothing, not even the threat of death itself could distract them from the mission.

I know and you know, that we too are living in unusual times that may bring bewilderment or anger or disorientation or grief.

I don't know all of the burdens that you bring into this Session of Synod but I can surely guess at some of them.

So I wanted us to hear these words that are unique to the Gospel of Matthew, the call of Jesus that all people gather to him.

Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give your rest.

 

 

I'd be prepared to argue anywhere that we are of one mind about the dreadful nature of the harm inflicted on children and vulnerable people when they're abused by clergy and church workers.

All of us react in horror to such events, all of us would be prepared to work and pray and listen in order that such terrible things did not take place again and so that in some way, those who carry the heavy burdens laid on by church abuse may experience some lifting, some removal and healing of that awful weight.

These things are not in dispute among us.

So when we hear the words of Jesus saying "Come to me, all of you" we understand that he really does mean all of us - whatever our thoughts and reactions to the events of these last few months.

Come those who are angry, those who are outraged, those who are shaken, those who are disappointed, those who are fearful, those who are ashamed, those who are doubting.

Come everyone, from different geographical places and from every stance and position and debate. Bring all together because this is what the word "Synod" means - a meeting of the ways.

Bring yourself to a place where we can meet and talk in Christ.

Come acknowledging that although we don't agree on everything, we actually belong to each other.

The alternative to this is horrible to imagine. If one Greek word, sunodos means a meeting of the ways there's another one that means "that which throws apart" actually you know it - diabolos.

This is a real question for all of us. Will any of us allow criminal acts of real evil inflicted on the other side of the country be the first link in a chain that ultimately severs and maims our relationships with each other in this Diocese?

Are you or am I going to stand back and let diabolos take over? Are we going to allow after the dreadful harm of church abuse, collateral damage of the most grievous kind, the wrecking and mangling of relationships among people who are not implicated in any way?

I have to say to you - that I will not.

If someone were to ask me "but what should we do in times like these" I would reply that we should do what we promised to do. What we all agreed to do as a consequence of our baptism.

Jesus says "Come to me" and suddenly we remember the answers we've given to that invitation. Do you turn to Christ? I turn to Christ.

Do you repent of your sins? I repent of my sins.

Do you reject selfish living and all that is false and unjust? I reject them all. Do you renounce Satan and all evil? I renounce all that is evil.

Our identity is the same as it always was. We are called to what we were always called to, to deep reflection and the consistent turning away from what is wrong. To a growing awareness of the needs of others, to a response which seeks to mirror the compassion and justice of Christ.

 

 

Poor St Jude. Church tradition figures him as the patron saint of lost and hopeless causes though he was neither lost or hopeless in himself. But it was reckoned that his name was so similar to the reviled Judas Iscariot, that only the truly desperate would seek his aid.

One disciple out of a dozen turns out to be truly bad, to be a betrayal of the very name of disciple.    St Jude cops some of the flack intended for Iscariot but he doesn't let it stop him. He forges on, doing the Gospel work - so convinced of the Good News of God in Christ that even the threat of death  won't turn him away from his purpose.

Does this mean that he and Simon were always polished, always accomplished, always the right kind of people to be called disciples? I'm sure they weren't.

Jesus tells his followers: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light".

The word "disciple" is closely linked to the Greek word for learning. So those early followers of Jesus, Simon, Jude and the others were people in the process of change, not complete, not permanently righteous but day by day growing in Christ and in the Holy Spirit and in power.

Change was always going on in them. All the time, they were being transformed from what they had been to what they were, from what they were to what they would become.

So they didn't arrive, fully formed and correct in every detail and neither do we.

I'm prepared to go as far saying that if you and I walk in with all the answers, with everything fully worked out then perhaps we're not learners and if we're not learners then by definition, we can't be disciples.

The example of Simon and Jude and their unusual times gives us hope for these times of our own.

As the Church of God, our aim is always to do better and better. We're on the way if we engage in  the struggle, when we reflect deeply on the way forward, when we are attentive to the pains and the joys of others, when we truly desire change for the better in the world and when we turn to Christ whose humble and gentle character is a model for us.

In turning to him, we find our hope. By his power and purpose we trust that there will always be  ways to lift the burdens of the world.

The Lord be with you.