But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. (St. Jude 20)
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. Both are of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Of each, we know scarce little. Saint Simon is mentioned four times in the New Testament and then only in a list of the other Apostles. Saint Jude is mentioned six times –one of the twelve three times, as the half-brother of Jesus twice, and as the author of his own Epistle once. So, for my purpose of preaching, I have very little history upon which to establish a foundation for a theme. Our 1928 Book of Common Prayer revisers make it even more difficult since they replace the Epistle Lesson from St. Jude with that of Ephesians ii.
Of course, the reason that the revisers changed the Epistle in 1928 was that St. Jude’s Epistle is full of Hell Fire and Brimstone! So perhaps this might be today’s theme! As many of you know, this letter that St. Jude has written writes of the wrath to come for those who are willfully living in notorious sin. St. Jude writes in earnest to a community of Christians who are surrounded and perhaps infected by sinners that threaten to carry it away from the faith once delivered to the saints. (St. Jude 3) He exhorts them to contend earnestly for [this] faith so that they might be established in and grow up out of the common salvation. (Idem) The common salvation is the work of Christ, once offered and once completed to overcome, vanquish, and destroy the sins of the whole world. Again, perhaps we might join St. Jude today in studying the wrath to come for wicked sinners and the lukewarm saints who enable them!
What is worrisome to St. Jude that the flock of Christians he addresses is very much in danger of being swept up into the surrounding sins of a culture that is bent on its own idolatry. He even suggests that his brood has been negligent, distracted, unfocused, and not centered on the all-sufficient work of the dying Saviour! Why else would he say that there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ? (Ibid, 4) His congregation has been asleep at the spiritual wheel. Its members have not thought sufficiently on the nature of Christ’s sacrifice and the victory that His death has won for all men in all time. His members have not taken seriously the kinds of sins that lead to perdition and everlasting fire. They may not be committing the sins themselves but they are enabling or acquiescing in them by not calling their brothers and sisters to account at the Judgment seat of Christ. Who am I to judge? they might just as well have said. And in so doing, they miss the point of Gospel Truth. We are Christians is the answer. And we are to judge and detect and recognize sin for what it is. Furthermore, we are to love our fellow brothers and sisters enough to pray for them and then to find a way to share our spiritual concern with them. It is not only Christian duty to call out sin for what it is but also to love and care for others enough that we earnestly attempt to help them out of it! If we do nothing for those about us who are living in notorious sin, we shall be called to account on the Great Day of Judgment for not having told the truth to our brethren.
Belief or faith for St. Jude calls Christians into the spiritual character of living that must never rest comfortably close to excessive and perverse sin. By way of contrast, St. Jude warns his flock about flirting with might very well be eternally contagious.
I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. (Ibid, 5-9)
Those who do not believe in deliverance from slavery to sin and sinners will be destroyed. Those who take their eyes off of God their Saviour, who are distracted and detained by sinners and their sin have in all truth left their own habitation (Idem) or their true spiritual home and the source of their nurture. They will be rewarded with the chains of slavery that will find no final liberation from darkness. If they dally and flirt with fornicators and those who go after strange flesh (Idem) in a strange way, and join those who mock, deride, ridicule, and despise virtue and the hope for its operation in human life, they will be rewarded with the vengeance of eternal fire. (Idem) And thus, to effectively disarm the enemy, St. Jude exhorts us to follow the example of St. Michael in rebuking Satan. The implication is that we must have the courage and determination to follow St. Paul’s advice in relation to all sin:
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth…above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit….(Ephesians vi. 13-18)
St. Jude tells us that the sinners we should avoid speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. (Ibid, 10) He says that they have no fear of God before their eyes, are full of hot air that can neither fertilize, grow, nor nourish virtue. Their sexual sin can bear no fruit and cannot fulfil the purposes that God intends for their bodies. Their sin is at root sterile, lifeless, and barren. As their bodies have forsaken the natural law so their souls retreat to the law of despair that forever mocks and derides God’s good love and the power of its healing. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage. (Ibid, 16) They are full of gossip, tale-spinning and tale-spreading, belly-aching and bewailing their lot in life, lying, cheating, stealing, and flattering as they desperately attempt to secure a safe-space from what they forever suffer in spiritual oppression. We should be wholly disturbed by such sinners and their sins. My zeal hath even consumed me; because mine enemies have forgotten thy words. (Ps. cxix. 18, 139)
St. Jude exhorts us, in these last days, to separate ourselves from these mockers of Jesus Christ who walk after their own ungodly lusts. (Ibid, 18) He insists that we must do so since they have not the Spirit of God. (Ibid, 19) In rejecting the hope for conversion and transformation, they have quenched the Holy Spirit and sinned against the Holy Ghost. We can do nothing for them but pray that in some great and terrible way God might slay them in the Spirit and, if it be his will, in His time, to offer some tangible help.
St. Jude says this:
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. (Ibid, 20-23)
In the end, St. Jude exhorts us to have courage and zeal. The zeal brings us back to St. Simon. Simon was called The Zealot. Some Bible scholars have said that Jesus chose him to countervail the influence of St. Matthew the Tax-collector. The Zealots stood wholly against Jews who worked for the Romans. Yet, Simon was called to love them still and desire their conversion. St. Jude gives him the principles of courage and charity on which to proceed.
Today we praise God for the loving courage of St. Jude and the zeal of St. Simon. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that zeal is a derivative of ‘delos’ –to boil or ‘to throb with heat’. He tells us also that it is ‘a necessary effect of love’ and ‘the vehement movement of one who loves to secure the object of his love’. (S.T.A.: Summa Theoligica, i. ii, 28. Iv) Zeal arises from an intensity of love. (Idem) So, St. Jude doesn’t hate God’s enemies. He desires their salvation. But he wants us to tread carefully in association with them. Over-familiarity with sinners threatens our commitment to Christ’s moral goodness. Such is of the devil and must be rejected. But still we must pray for those who seem hell-bent on the possession of Satan. St. Thomas says also that it is evident that the more intensely a power tends to anything, the more vigorously it withstands opposition or resistance. Since therefore love is “a movement towards the object loved,” as St. Augustine says (QQ. 83, qu. 35), an intense love seeks to remove everything that opposes it. (Idem) We must vigorously withstand the opposition that comes from sinners and their sins. Our intense love for their salvation will be more likely to remove their opposition to God’s Desire in us if they see that we love them truly and not superficially. St. Jude and St. Simon spent their lives trying to conquer the world courageously with the zeal of God’s love. In the end, both were martyred for the faith. Let us close with St. Jude’s final prayer:
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen. (St. Jude 24-25)