Today we remember two of Jesus’ lesser known disciples. Simon and Jude. Known more perhaps for who they weren’t rather than who they were. Simon, is referred to sometimes as Simon the lesser – to distinguish him from Simon-Peter the greater. He is not Simon-Peter , but rather Simon the zealot – the politically passioned activist of whom we know not a lot really.
Then there is Jude, a shortened version of his actual name Judas, not Judas Iscariot, rather an apostle sometimes referred to as Thaddeus, possibly his surname.
Scripture doesn’t reveal a great deal about them. We have a letter of Jude as our shortest epistle totaling 25 verses, which names him as the brother of James, although Luke refers to him as the son of James. Legend has it that Simon and Jude travelled together to Persia where they
were both martyred. Their remains are said to be buried under St Peter’s basilica in Rome.
But in their obscurity Jude in particular has developed a specialized role. Over the years, Christians who may pray to certain apostles for help or guidance, have avoided poor Jude. After all his Greek name of Judas made people reticent that perhaps they may find themselves offering prayers to Judas Iscariot by mistake. So Jude was really only turned to in prayer as a very last resort. For this reason he became known as the Patron Saint of lost causes. If you had a problem that the other apostles seemed too busy to deal with, you could, as a last resort bring it to Jude – because poor neglected Jude was really hanging around waiting for business and so would perhaps make more of an effort.
But although that sounds a little sad and almost comical, I think Jude’s role reminds us of something rather wonderful. The patron saint of lost causes I think speaks of something central about God’s grace and our faith; that despite what outward circumstances look like, despite how we may feel, despite being sometimes at our lowest ebb, hope, through Christ, never disappears. There is nothing that we cannot bring before him
And that got me thinking a little bit about the things we do bring to God in prayer and in service and I wanted to think a little about one very particular type of lost cause – and that is ourselves – or indeed the bits of ourselves that we have given up on. There are all sorts of situations in the world, in our lives, that we may feel are lost causes but actually I think that can be as much true about the wrestling of our inner lives as much as it is about the battles in the wider world.
It may be the seemingly small things – our bad habits, that couple of stone we never seem to be able to lose, our desire to stop moaning or gossiping or bickering and yet we never seem to manage it – or it may be bigger internal and physical struggles such as the grip of addiction or feelings of shame, things we’ve kept secret or weaknesses we’ve lived with so many years that we hold them as part of us and think they always will be. Perhaps particularly we hold them as part of us that is not yet fit enough to be brought before God because, we believe, we need to somehow fix them or make them better or sort them out before we can present ourselves to him.
And that so often is the problem in our spiritual lives. That somehow the bits we think God want us to offer him are somehow our best bits, the acceptable bits – our gifts, our compassion for others, our resources, abilities, the parts of us which are faithful, hardworking, good intentioned – these are the pieces we bring before him, and that is good, but really God wants all of us – every bit, the good stuff and the rubbish, the beautiful parts and the dark, ugly hidden places, the able, useful hardworking bits and the broken, tired and worn out pieces too. The parts of ourselves that we have deemed ages ago are no good, are lost causes – those are as important, as wanted, as needed as anything else in our lives.
The poet and musician Leonard Cohen phrases it beautifully in the lyrics from his song ‘Anthem’:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in. That little phrase gives us a wonderful insight into the workings of God, that it is through the offering of our brokenness, those cracks in us, the things we struggle to mend, the parts of us we’ve given up on, that we discover his workings in our lives.
There’s a BBC TV show called Money for Nothing where the presenter hangs arounddumps waiting for people to unload their car boots of unwanted junk. People arrive with broken chairs, bits of old carpet or a radio which no longer works. The format of each episode is that the presenter persuades the disposers to let her take that broken,
discarded object and then in her workshop or with the help of another craftsperson the object is transformed into something new. The ragged bit of carpet is cut, and sew and with brass attachments becomes a bag, the radio is dismantled and reworked, mixed with other broken electrical items and turned into rather strange, but wonderful sculpture, the broken chair is mended and polished, painted and unrecognizably upholstered.
And perhaps that programme is a useful image of the things we would give up on within ourselves, the parts of us that we think are beyond hope or will never come to any good, yet with his creative grace and mercy God can take our brokenness and transform it into something new.
Our reading from Ephesians this morning reminds us of why we celebrate saints such as Simon and Jude. It gives that wonderful picture of what it means to belong to Christ. It means we belong together – with every saint and citizen of heaven. ‘In him’, writes St Paul, (that is in Christ) ‘the whole structure is joined together, and grows into a temple for the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God’. Belonging to Jesus means belonging to one another, no longer separated by our sin and failings but rather united in our humanity and need for Christ – and, most importantly, through this being brought together, we share in his glory. We become, this passage tells us, a dwelling place for God. Imagine that, you and I as a church community become a place where Christ dwells, where he makes his home. And it is for this reason that there is no lost cause in us, because deep in the darkest parts, the bits we hide, the bits we have long given up on, Christ makes his home. He does not shy from them. We might remember those words of Leonard Cohen: There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
And this morning that indwelling of God is revealed as tangible, as tastable – as bread and wine.
In the Eucharistic prayer we will hear again the story of Christ’s own brokenness, we will remember that long grief-filled night of sorrow in Gethsemane and that afternoon on the cross – the ultimate lost cause – when friends turned their back, when the sun hid its face, when it seemed as if evil had triumphed as God lay dead and hope packed up her bags, hung her head in utter shame for us all and walked away, not once looking back.
But as we come to the altar this morning with our own brokenness, and gingerly reach out our hands offering ourselves and recognizing our need for himself, we can trust there is no part of us that he will turn away, we can trust there is no cause that is ultimately, eternally lost.
So we experience, once again, as that ragged-edged broken bread is placed into our hands that, with the saints in glory, with every shining citizen in heaven, through the unstoppable dawn of resurrection that shattered the lost cause of the cross – that it is through receiving Christ’s own brokenness that the light gets in.