The Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude (tr.)
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
When I was in elementary school, my mom worked each year as an election official. She didn’t normally work outside the home, so it was an unusual few days a year that instead of walking home to her friendly greeting, I would wander into the band room of my school, where the polls were set up. There was always an interesting quiet to that room, different people sitting at tables and others coming and going, all engaged in something grownup and important that I didn’t quite understand but immensely respected. I always felt terribly important as the daughter of someone doing this important job, and I would sit and wait for Mom to take her break so she could walk home with me. To this day, I still love voting in person. It’s a sweet memory of what felt to me at the time like good people doing something good together.
But polling places in this country haven’t always been that peaceful and welcoming to all. There’s a long history in this country of denying people, usually people of color, their right to vote, and intimidating them if they try. And this year, there are long anxious lines outside polling places, people filming voters dropping their ballots into collection boxes, and people standing outside voting places with guns, threatening even worse for election day. Instead of an expectant hush, there is fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about what ‘they’ will try to do. There’s not a lot of ‘together’ to it, after all.
Add this to so much else going on right now: the increasing common awareness of our racist history, the wars over mask-wearing and COVID, the widening gap between Americans made richer from the stock market and Americans in line for food banks, and you name it, there is something that divides us. Divisions of partisan rancor, of unequal access to opportunity and justice, of public health, of resources. The divisions are not just a difference in opinions – after all, there is good evidence to say that most of us don’t differ all that much on opinions, in fact. But we are living out divisions in our everyday reality, divisions that have been stubborn throughout our history. There is much that separates us.
Into this fraught time of division comes our celebration of the Feast of Simon & Jude, one of our patronal feasts because of the church called St Jude’s on W. 99th St. that St Michael’s sponsored for Black Episcopalians, segregated from the white Episcopalians here in this church. St Jude’s was torn down in 1957 to make way for Park West Village and was partially absorbed back into St Michael’s – including the altar there at the back of the church. This feast day’s readings include the powerful words of the letter to the Ephesians: “God has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Those words were hard to believe back in 1957, and they are still hard to live out today. But the promise that God has taken those divisions away – well, there’s some good news that we are still hungry for.
We know precious little about Simon and Jude, these two of Jesus’ twelve disciples – so little, in fact, that they share a feast day, unlike other more prominent apostles like Peter or Matthew. Jude is the saint of record for us, the patron namesake of the old chapel. He is known as the patron saint of desperate causes – perhaps because he shared the name Judas with the other Judas, Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. If you were praying for a saint’s intercession on your behalf, you certainly didn’t want to get Judas in the mix. (I wonder just who chose that name for St Jude’s ‘colored chapel,’ and why.) Jude is also known as the author of a short, strange epistle, one that warns of some corrupting influences in the early church. Of Simon, all we know is that he is called the Zealot – which might mean he was a member of an extreme nationalist group that opposed Roman rule and killed Jews who collaborated with Rome. This brings to mind again something that has only occurred to me in the last few years: among Jesus’ inner circle of twelve, besides the happy, simple fishermen, were a tax collector collaborating with the Roman regime, and a Zealot terrorist who had pledged to fight those who so collaborated. I wonder at the conversations they had over the dinner table. Yet somehow, they gathered at that table a lot, it seems.
But legend has it that after Jesus’ ascension Simon and Jude were missionaries to Persia, and helped bring Christianity to Armenia. Which is right now engaged in a bloody, desperate war over territory with its neighbor Azerbaijan.
Dividing walls. As fast as God pulls one down, we build another.
As we started our worship today we prayed this prayer, remembering Simon and Jude: we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The dividing walls around us need to go. We need to proclaim some peace to those who far off and those who are near, knowing ourselves as strangers and aliens no more, but instead fellow citizens, fellow children of God. In order to do that, friends, we need to come around the table ourselves, together with all the other motley crew that God gathers in. Fed and united here, can we be faithful and zealous in God’s mission too? Can we show and witness to the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? ‘Cause that’s what we should all be about.
We begin today our stewardship pledge drive, our annual campaign asking for your pledge of money to support the work of St Michael’s in the coming year. It feels in some ways like a fraught time to ask for money this year, everyone being so anxious about the economy and their own resources. But in other ways it’s absolutely in line with one of the better outcomes of the pandemic, which is people going more out of their way to support and care for one another. From the early days of those who volunteered to bring groceries to their neighbors to the more recent months of people offering their business and donations to local shops and restaurants, we’ve been readier to share of our resources with each other. Our family has given more to places we love, because they need it more. We know, the best of us knows, that we all need to do more to show up for each other these days. Some of you made that step over the last several months by giving extra to St Michael’s and our ministries. So perhaps it isn’t a hard thing now to ask your commitment for the coming year. We have work to do as a congregation and only by your help can we do it. Our ability to minister depends on your gift. It’s that simple.
But your giving is not just a response to our personal appeal. Giving is what we do together as followers of Jesus Christ. We give because God gives; we are generous because God is; living the way of Jesus means offering who we are and what we have. Here, God is breaking down those dividing walls. God is at work on us and all our hang-ups and history. We don’t witness to the breaking down of divisions by holding ourselves back, tight-fisted. We show the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior by sharing with all the members of the household – which is, everyone. Instead of my power, my money, my territory, it’s us, ours, given freely and shared. No one is a stranger or an alien; all are members of the family.
Disciples like Simon and Jude, originally called by Jesus to gather around the table and break bread together, then became apostles sent by Jesus out into the world on mission. Whatever their differences when they first assembled, they found at that table a common Spirit – a Spirit that worked in them and on them enough that they could join together and travel off into new and unknown lands to share God’s good news of love and mercy. That’s news that bears repeating, and news that is always coming true, as each one of us in turn begins to truly follow Jesus. Each one of us can tear down walls. Each one of us can show that in God’s world, those walls don’t exist anyway.
Love one another, Jesus tells us. Love your enemies, love your brothers and sisters. Welcome all as members of God’s household. And go be my witnesses of that love in this world.