Sermon preached at Mattins on the Feast of Simon and Jude (28 October 2018) by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean

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Sermon preached at Mattins on the Feast of Simon and Jude (28 October 2018) by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean

The Dean reflects on how we make decisions, and specifically how Jesus chose his twelve disciples. 

How good are you at making decisions? Do you find it easy, or agonising? Do you want to make a decision quickly, or do you spend lots of time weighing up the pros and cons, wondering what you’ve missed?

I’m regularly involved in appointment processes, where we have to make a decision about who to appoint to a job. I was in one interview recently with a candidate who was talking about all they hoped to do if they got the job, and I said to them, ‘There’s a lot of hard work in all this: how do you manage to sustain yourself?’ His answer was simple – too simple, I thought. He said: ‘Long periods of silence.’ And I said, ‘Yes, and what else?’ Back came the answer: ‘Long periods of silence...’

Today is the day the church remembers two of Jesus’ apostles, Simon and Jude. In our New Testament reading they’re listed among the twelve who Jesus chose to be his special group of close disciples. They were to be the representatives of the twelve sons of Jacob from whom came the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus is setting up a new beginning for the Jewish people.

But, as with appointing to jobs, choosing the twelve must have been hard...

One of the key questions we look at in appointing people is whether or not they’re competent to do the job – do they have what’s needed? And so the question about the twelve was: what really was the job that Jesus wanted his disciples to do?

On one level it was obvious: they were to represent him, to work and learn alongside him so that when he left they would be able to carry on his work and preach the gospel to the nations.

But on another level, the twelve apostles weren’t there to represent Jesus, but to represent Israel, the Jewish people. They were appointed to show that there was a place for every kind of Jewish person in God’s new kingdom which Jesus was proclaiming.

And if you’re looking for representative people, you don’t just go for the entrepreneurs and the salesmen and the organisers and those who are really gifted and competent. Oh, you’d have some like them. But you’d also have to have someone who was incompetent, and another who was dubious, the not very bright one and the ones who just didn’t get it.

And indeed, that seems to have been a majority of the disciples, certainly to begin with.

So how was Jesus to be clear what the job specification for his disciples was, and then who was right to do it?

Nowadays he’d have spent lots of time analysing personality profiles and application forms, trying to work out who would get on with whom, and form a balanced team. It would be a big task.

Instead of which, Jesus went off for a long period of silence....

He spent the night in prayer to God; and then he called and named the twelve disciples who were to be his apostles. The word ‘apostle’ means ‘one who is sent’ - and Jesus is going to send them out.

But that sending isn’t only to tell others about God’s kingdom in Jesus, and then about the cross and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The apostles also went out to show the world that all different sorts of people could be disciples of Jesus; that being loved by God doesn’t depend on being able and gifted, but that anyone at all can find and follow the love of God for them.

Just take a look at Simon and Jude. They were two of the most obscure of Jesus’ apostles. Simon was called the Zealot, the jealous one – he was probably linked with the nationalist Jews who wanted to get rid of the Romans – nowadays he might well be called a terrorist suspect and be on the MI5 watch list.

Jude, also called Thaddeus or son of James (to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot), is indeed Jude the obscure, the patron saint of lost causes and last resorts, of whom we know nothing except that there’s a letter named after him in the New Testament.

Simon and Jude were shadowy characters in the supporting cast, rather than leading lights among the twelve apostles. We remember them today, not because of what they did, but because they were chosen by Jesus to represent him and to bring in others like them – the zealous and obscure and unknown, and people like you and me. And they were chosen, not on merit, or by process, but through a long period of silence: the silence of Jesus with God alone in the wilderness.

How are we to sustain life when it’s all too busy, and hard decisions have to be made? How can we know we’ve got things right when we have so many things to take into account in our decisions?

We can’t. All we can do, after we’ve thought and agonised, is to listen. For it’s through being silent and still that God has a chance to speak to us and act through us and our decisions.

Martin Luther the great reformer said: ‘I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.’

How are we at making decisions? and how might we begin and end our decisions with God’s help? by long periods of silence…..

Let us pray.

In silence we offer to God any decisions we have to make, any difficult things weighing on us….

Come Holy Spirit of Jesus, and in all we are and all we bring, open our hearts to hear you, our minds to serve you, and our lives to represent you to the world – and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.