The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r085.htm
 

s085e12   St Simon and St Jude  28/10/2012

'I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.'  Jude 3

'In the last time there will be scoffers'  Jude 18

St Jude has always been significant for me as my 'home church' was the Church of St Jude's Brighton, South Australia.   http://www.stjudesbrighton.org.au/    Nevertheless St Jude has always been a shadowy figure .. and the patron saint of lost causes.   And I begin to wonder if christianity itself is a bit of a lost cause.

Today, as every day, we are concerned with the true nature of the faith.    In my own spiritual journey, beginning last century, I offered myself for ordination in order to find out what my own faith was.   After three years of ordination training and 35 years of ministry I am beginning to find out that answer.   My faith has grown as I have grown.   My faith is not what was delivered to me in religious instruction, sunday school, church and theological college so long ago, even though these seemed to be the 'faith once delivered to the saints'.   I have mentioned before that my growth in faith has come from regularly preparing sermons and preaching them, enabling me to explore and move on.   One of the sadnesses of the church is that one has to be ordained to do this.   Is it any wonder that the world has given up on a church which keeps the world from growing in faith?

I believe that today is the only time we read the epistle of Jude in the normal round of Sunday and Saints day readings and so only when the feast of St Simon and St Jude falls on a Sunday, perhaps once in six or seven years.   Yet these two passages are pivotal for many conservative evangelicals.   A scan of websites labelled 'traditional' and 'anglican' will show these passages at their core.   Conservative evangelicals want to stick with faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints without any contemporary insights.    The conservative evangelical therefore sets him or herself against society.   Jude talks of scoffers, and the conservative evangelical I suspect immediately thinks of the secular atheists and those who do not believe in God or the Authorised Version of the Bible.  But we need to be careful for the conservative evangelical also scoffs, scoffs at the suggestion that God might love the unbeliever, the gay and lesbian person, the alpha-female.   The gospel tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus associated with the tax-collectors, the prostitutes and the sinners, scandalising the devout and the orthodox.

The conservative evangelical essentially knows it all already, there is no need or room for growth in faith.   Their task is ever to return to the cross and resurrection and how that saves them and condemns others.   The conservative anglo-catholic knows it already, there is no room for growth in faith.  Their task is ever to return to the sacrament of Holy Communion, weekly, even daily.

So Jude reminds us that the same paradigm continued then and continues now.   And so we too do need to contend for that faith that will be appropriated by the conservative evangelical and the conservative anglo-catholic, claiming it for their own and marginalising, alienating and condemning anyone who is different.   The debates raging over human sexuality throughout society and the churches is all part of this contending. 

We have just returned from some time with family in New England and I am grateful to brother Bob and sister Peg for inviting us to the UCC at Granby CT to worship with them.   http://www.firstchurchgranby.org/    This is an open, affirming and non-credal congregation, but it was also a Sunday when the Holy Communion was celebrated and Mary and I were invited to share in the presiding.   And it came to me powerfully that here it was people who were sacred rather than the sacrament, a rather different and more refreshing emphasis than that of my episcopalian roots.   And while I might rail at conservative evangelicals for whom the words of scripture are more sacred than people it is clear that the Holy Communion and the Creeds can be viewed likewise, especially in my Anglican / Episcopal tradition. 

And thinking about this, I thought how good Anglicans from the Diocese of Sydney would scoff at such an open, affirming and non-credal church; how many of my good AngloCatholic colleagues of the past would scoff at such an open, affirming and non-credal church, though some might welcome the open and affirming aspects.

The faith once delivered to the saints is, at it's core, the openness to other people, other faiths and people of no faith.   Actually scripture, tradition, sacrament and creeds all do testify to this but they equally can be used as instruments of exclusion rather than inclusion.   There will be scoffers, as the devout and the orthodox scoffed at the suggestion that the divine could associate with anyone other than themselves.   The suggestion that the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners are admitted to the kingdom before them was so scandalous as to provoke murder.

Those who have no need or room for growth in faith continually return to their particular version of a holy huddle.   It is only in communion with others who are different that growth in faith becomes possible.   Growth in faith comes as we express our own faith to others and hear others as they express their faith to us.   Growth in faith comes with real, rather than pretend, communion, and this is true both personally and corporately.   I suspect that the modern crisis of faith amongst people who go to church is because the churches themselves are not in communion with anyone who expresses their faith differently.

Our faith is incarnational, where we are in real relationship with others whose only point of similarity with us is that they are human.   Any sort of ‘christianity’ which is complete unto itself in opposition to society is indeed a lost cause and deservedly so.