On pew cushions and apostles…

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Sermon for Simon and Jude, Apostles – St Mary’s Whitkirk

If you’re sitting comfortably…then I’ll begin. And you should be wonderfully comfortable…cushioned pews…new heating regime…

So I’d just like to remind you of the characteristically thoughtful blessing Matthew wrote for those cushions…”we pray that these cushions might bring comfort – but not too much.”

Actually this is one of the many occasions when I’m convinced God has a sense of humour. This morning – in a wonderfully Anglican way – we bless new pew cushions and celebrate Simon and Jude, apostles.

‘Lord give us comfort – but not too much’…it might almost have been the strap line for the 12 apostles. May be not what they hoped for – but certainly what they got.

Simon and Jude – fairly obscure apostles. Their names come at the end of the list. They’re remembered mainly for who they are not. Simon is not the more famous Simon Peter…Jude is not Judas Iscariot…the one who betrayed Jesus.

We know very little else about them. Simon is sometimes called the Zealot – suggesting he had sympathy with the idea of a violent Jewish revolution against the Romans. Jude is recorded once, in John 14 asking why Jesus didn’t just reveal himself to the whole world so everyone would have to believe.

So they hoped, in a way, for comfort. For the comfort of a powerful movement from a powerful God showing that they’d backed the right horse…that Jesus was the one to follow.

What they got was Jesus; whose only weapon and whose only message is love. What they got was a promise that the world would hate them and persecute them for following Jesus. What they got was a command to testify to Jesus – in other words to go out and make the case for him to those they met; to explain who he is and why they follow him. To speak his words into the situations they come across.

As far as we know – Simon and Jude did just that. Legend says they travelled together for around 30 years, apparently on missionary journeys to Persia and Armenia…and – you guessed it – that they were killed for their faith.

‘Lord, give us comfort but not too much’…so where was the comfort for Simon and Jude?

Well when Jude asked his question…”why don’t you just reveal yourself to everyone?”…Jesus replied, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

So God won’t force himself on us – but if we invite him he’ll make our lives his home.

And with the command to testify comes the promise of the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit…who gives courage, hope and the words to speak about Jesus.

In the gift of the Holy Spirit; in Christ’s words, perhaps remembered after his death and resurrection; Simon and Jude found enough comfort to disturb them from their comfort zones and send them out to testify to Christ.

So what of us? There’s nothing wrong with comfort in church. We want to worship properly – not distracted by cold or a sore backside. We want this building to be welcoming. But if we get too comfortable we might not want to leave. We might forget that Sunday is the first day of the week, not the last; that church is the starting point not the home of our faith. That worship should send us out into the rest of the week to testify to Christ.

‘Lord, give us comfort but not too much’.

I was very moved this week when, on the way back from a meeting, 2 of our young people said that church is where they can be truly themselves. But I hope it also challenges them to be truly themselves in the rest of their week.

At that meeting we were reminded of the crisis of despair facing many young people, and that 95% of young people today have no connection with church…no one telling them the good news that Jesus loves them.

The previous week at Deanery Synod we heard of the terrible food poverty on our doorsteps. We heard of children in Leeds sitting down to an evening meal of porridge made with water, with a tin of chick peas stirred in. We heard that in Seacroft, where our food bank donations go, members of the small congregation run the food bank and café every Tuesday, and provide a hot meal every Saturday for those who otherwise might not eat.

Yesterday I read that the life expectancy of a homeless man in London is 47, for a homeless woman – 43. This is lower than average life expectancy in any nation of the world.

These facts alone should make us uncomfortable as we worship the God of love, and gather round his table. So let’s hope these new cushions give us just enough comfort to be able to focus on Christ, to really hear the words, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Perhaps we can know, with Simon and Jude, the comfort of letting God make our lives his home. And perhaps with them we can also learn the discomfort this brings as it forces us out of our church and into the world to testify to Christ.

Whether this comes in the form of prayer, words or actions…perhaps it would be good to ask ourselves occasionally “When was I last uncomfortable for Christ?”

So as we sit comfortably we also pray…

Lord our God send us comfort, but not too much. In this place disturb us from our comfortableness and send us into our broken world to love and serve for the sake of Christ who died for us. Amen.

 

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