Reformation; Sts. Simon and Jude

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Today, October 28, is the day the church historically remembers Saints Simon and Jude.  This minor festival is normally bumped in favor of Reformation Sunday, so we rarely observe it.

In the lists of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6: 14—16); Acts1:13), the tenth and eleventh places are occupied by Simon the Zealot and by Jude (or “Judas,” not Iscariot), who was apparently known also as Thaddaeus. According to early Christian tradition, Simon and Jude journeyed together as missionaries to Persia, where they were martyred. It is likely for this reason, at least in part, that these two apostles are commemorated on same day. Simon is not mentioned in New Testament apart from the lists of twelve apostles.

Jude appears in John’s Gospel (14:22) on Maundy Thursday, asking Jesus how it is that He will manifest Himself to the disciples but not to the world. The answer that Jesus gives to this question is a pertinent emphasis for this festival day: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). Jude, as mentioned above, traditionally is thought to have been the brother of James, the brother of the Lord and therefore the author of the epistle of Jude. Surely both Jude and Simon exemplified, their love for Jesus and their faith in His Word. We are encouraged by the faithfulness of the Lord in keeping His promise to them to bring them home to Himself in heaven. 

As Jesus responded to Jude’s question about how he would be manifest by speaking of Christian love, Martin Luther reminds us in a Galatians lecture in 1535 on this Christian love:

“Serving another person through love seems to reason to mean performing unimportant works such as the following: teaching the erring; comforting the afflicted; encouraging the weak; helping the neighbor in whatever way one can; bearing with his rude manners and impoliteness; putting up with annoyance, labors, and the ingratitude and contempt of men in both church and state; being patient in the home with a cranky wife [or husband for that matter] and an unmanageable family, and the like. But believe me, these works are so outstanding and brilliant that the whole world cannot comprehend their usefulness and worth.”

Indeed, our works cannot save us but the works of Christ ought to be evident in our daily Christian life. The first words of Jude’s epistle tie so much with Reformation Sunday :  “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” As much joy as there is the Reformation, it is a day that highlights division within the church, or more accurately it highlights the errors and corruption that comes amongst the faithful. For Jude in his short epistle had to encourage the saints, because there is always a temptation to turn teaching and beliefs to that which fit our desire and ideas.

Jude claimed that there were some in his day who “perverted the grace of God into sensuality.” Human hands are quite adept at building idols.  Religious idols, forming God to our image. Too many have given in to the spirit of sensuality which dominates our society.  This is the spirit which says: “whatever feels good, do it.”  Or, in another form: “it can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” Secular idols, the image of a savior state capable of solving every problem of every person in every land…if only we elect the right individual.

Martin Luther wrote, “I am convinced that monarchies would have endured much longer if the monarchs had omitted one pronoun, “I,” that is, if they had not been so proud in the confidence placed in their own power and wisdom.”  And the pride of the governing “I” in Luther’s day is very much like the governing pride of the political factions in our day.  “I will flatter no prince,” Luther wrote, “but far less will I put up with riots and disobedience from the common people…”

Yet, the Reformers declared: “Next to the Gospel…no better jewel, no greater treasure, no costlier gift, no finer foundation, no more precious possession exists on earth than a government that administers and upholds justice.”  Whether by many or by the few, unless government is guided by God it cannot be administered well.

So it happened in the Roman empire, and in Luther’s day. So it is happening in ours. The foundations of Church and State are being shaken. And when the foundations are shaken what can the righteous do? In Psalm 46, which is the foundation for the Reformation anthem, A Mighty Fortress, the Lord bids us: “Be still.” “Be still and know that I am God.… and I will be exalted among the nations.” Martin Luther learned.  Have we?

The foundations are being shaken and this will reveal what endures and what does not.  For when the foundations are being shaken the only person who is of any use, who stands fast, who is, in fact, free, is the person whose contends for the faith that is fixed on Christ.

For it is Jesus Christ who was shaken by the world, but triumphed overcoming that shaking.  Jesus Christ tumbled into the depths of sin, death and hell, and He has risen in glory.  He is by our side when the mountains tumble. He is by our side when the waters rage and foam.

When the foundations are being shaken, what can the righteous do?  Contend for the faith, Christ and His Word, “Be still and know that the Lord is God.” And with Martin Luther, shaken like few others in history, we learn to sing with Luther: “Though devils all the world should fill [devils in the Church, devils in the government, even in our families], All threatening to devour us, We tremble not…”  We are not shaken.  For the Lord is God.  He is our mighty fortress.

Simon and Jude did not follow the world but held captive to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Tradition says Simon and Jude finally travelled together to Persia where they contended for the faith and martyred. Simon sawn asunder and Jude battered with battleax. 

They had gone forward with only a message of incredible love: that the Creator of this world was not content to see it ruined, to see death reign, to see his creature destroying themselves in their sin, and so He did something about it. The Son of God took on flesh, dwelt among us and lived among us the way of love – which does not use power coercively. Christ came among us to live a life so full of love that death itself couldn’t hold Him down, to give us a share in His own unending life. “He died for you! He loves you! He forgives you!” proclaimed Simon and Jude and Luther. Even as they suffered and died for Him. Their blood preached the same love!

As Simon and Jude did in their day and as Luther did in his, so are we called to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For our Lord has use of you as He had use of these saints. So He gives into you His crucified, risen, glorified body and blood – so that you who have been baptized into Him, might be witnesses to His forgiveness and the gift of His life, that your lives might be filled with His divine love.

May God bless our work and witness, and may God bring to us to live a life of repentance and faith, as Luther proclaimed in the first of 95 theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” and a life of love as he said in theses 3, “Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.” And as he concluded with numbers 94 and 95, “Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head…  And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations (Acts 14:22).” Amen.

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