Sermon Given at Evensong on the Last Sunday after Trinity 2017
The Reverend David Stanton Canon in Residence
Sunday, 29th October 2017 at 3.00 PM
You may remember a rather charming old film called The Odd Couple. It was made in 1968, almost fifty years ago, and written by Neil Simon. He based it on his own play of the same name and it featured that quintessential comedy duo of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
The Odd Couple remains one of cinema's great classics. A mismatched pair of midlife divorcees try sharing an apartment, but their ideas of housekeeping and lifestyles are as different as chalk and cheese.
We don’t know much about them except that Felix, an extremely tidy and fussy journalist, and Oscar whose messy flat he invaded, brought much happiness and joy to many people’s lives. The film encourages viewers to engage, laugh, and live life to the full; it uses a clever device of repetition to hold the plot together.
Every now and then we all come across mildly obscure couples and yesterday’s duo may just have been a case in point.
Last Saturday the Church quietly celebrated the feast of St Simon and St Jude. Not much is known about either of these saints but they’re believed to have been cousins and also cousins of St Andrew. They were, like him, also fishermen; hence the boats frequently seen in pictures and windows.
St Jude is believed to have been the author of the Epistle of Jude. He’s also known as Thaddeus. Often when his name’s mentioned its followed by ‘not Iscariot’ to differentiate him from Judas.
St Simon was reputed to have been hacked to death with a falchion (which is a short sword in the shape of a sickle) and then sawn in two and Jude was clubbed to death. Some say that Simon died in battle when he was Bishop of Jerusalem and others say that he died at the age of 120.
Usually the Collect for a Saint’s Day names those who are being remembered, and usually the lectionary readings say something about the saint’s life and work. But none of this happened yesterday.
There were references to saintly virtues, but the guests of honour, in a funny sort of way, were absent from their own party. This is because we don’t really know much about either of them.
Matthew and Mark list Simon ‘the Cananean’ and Luke ‘Simon the Zealot’, which tells us something about Simon’s Israelite nationalism. Jude is listed by Luke as the son of James, but Matthew and Mark do not name him as such; both of them call him Thaddaeus, or Lebbaeus, instead. Simon the Zealot, of course, languished in the shadow of Simon the Rock; Judas son of James was overshadowed by Judas Iscariot.
As a result we’ve come to honour two apostles of whom we know little but their names. In fact, because the Church was so nervousness about Judas Iscariot, the other Judas seriously lost out, even shortening his name to Jude for all eternity.
It’s little wonder that the poor man ended up appearing in the columns of the Daily Telegraph as the patron saint of lost causes. So why do we still remember them? What’s the point of remembering such an odd saintly couple?
Perhaps the reason they survived the rigours of the 16th and 17th centuries is that the Reformers saw in them useful role models for instructing the faithful. But even here we can’t really point to any feats of endurance, no wise words, no selfless example that might shape our lives of faith.
Yet if we honour only those who are of use to us; if we respect only those who give to us; if we celebrate only those who add value to our existence, then we do not see humanity as God sees it.
We celebrate Simon and Jude because they are Simon and Jude, our distant and unseen forebears in faith. We don’t really need any other reason.
Perhaps our celebrating them will flavour our view of countless others around us, whose names we know, whose names we do not know, yet with whom we share this planet, this city, and this building, who appear to give us nothing.
Perhaps it will also help transform our perception of what we need to know about one another. We would all want to resist the notion that life in the West in 2017 is cheap, yet I wonder whether our resistance would withstand much examination.
The voracious appetite for scandal is such that popular culture parades the lives of its celebrities in minute detail; the voracious appetite for cheap labour means many Eastern Europeans are still trafficked into this country; the voracious appetite for global power means that suffering and death is fast losing its power to shock us.
We constantly presume to know one another, to possess one another, to exploit one another. Perhaps our remembering two names will help us recall something of the sanctity and the mystery of life; perhaps it will help us recognise the beauty and sanctity of all human beings; perhaps it will also reawaken us to the extraordinary vision of the God that Simon and Jude served; Our God, whose choice knows no limits and whose imagination knows no bounds.
Just as that odd couple played by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are still remembered because they have brought joy to so many people’s lives, and, in a strange way, have become ‘friends’ to so many viewers, so Simon and Jude are remembered, not because of what they did, but because of who their friends were and are. They were part of a small group that changed the world.
Indeed St Simon and St Jude remind us of the amazing fact that although we know little about them, Jesus knew them, and called them in joy to be among the Twelve. To him, they were very important.