Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Reformation, Sts. Simon and Jude

CONFESSING WITNESSES

This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 196
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Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:22-23

It is a little known fact that The Lutheran Hymnal makes provision for the celebration of a number of saint's days. Unlike the Roman church we do not ask the saints to pray for us, but we do honor their memory and learn from their example. Those whom the church calls saints were, for the first three centuries of her existence, Christians who chose to suffer torment and death rather than renounce their faith. Churches were built in their honor, and their feasts were remembered each year from earliest Christian times. It is to our poverty that we have ignored their memory and their story, but that is now changing. After a century and a half of laboring under the shackles of protestant practice in America, Lutherans are once again discovering their catholicity. We are learning anew that Luther started a reformation, not a revolution; that his intention was to correct the church's many and serious abuses, not to start a competing church. This being the case we should think of the Reformation as the re-birth, or renewal of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and never fail to remember the date, October 31, 1517, and the events it inspired.

Martin Luther (after whom no boulevards are named) was not a martyr, but he was what the church called from early on a confessor. That is someone who suffered for his faith, but lived to tell about it. Within three years of posting The Ninety-Five Theses Luther was excommunicated from the Roman church and became a wanted man, and were it not for his guardian angel he would have been a martyr as well.

Though he did not bleed for the faith, Luther suffered much. Among his crosses was the pain of overwhelming personal sorrow because what he meant for good, produced so many unintended consequences. His Reformation tore the church apart; and radicals began to crawl out of the woodwork, who did turn the Reformation into a Revolution. These are the forebears of all those who call themselves Protestants today, who know plenty about the Law, but precious little about the Gospel.

Luther's Reformation also tore the empire apart, and at the worst possible moment, because the Muslims were about to take Vienna and put an end to the holy Christian faith in Europe. Of course Europe has since taken care of that all on its own. According to Professor John Pless of our Fort Wayne seminary: on any given Sunday there are more Lutherans at worship on the African continent than in all of Europe and North America combined. What hath God wrought! Yet however disconcerting that fact may be we need not work ourselves into an evangelistic frenzy. There is nothing our Lord commands us to do about it except what we have always done, which is to baptize, teach, absolve sinners and to celebrate the Holy Sacrament of our Lord's body and blood, the very thing we are engaged in at this time. An indispensible part of that celebration for 1400 years has been to do so in accordance with the Church Year. On the church's calendar today, October 28th, is the feast of Sts. Simon and Jude.

The traditions regarding these two saints are as plentiful as they are contradictory. We know that they were both disciples of Jesus, two of the twelve who launched the church into the world. We know that Simon was a Zealot, a man who believed that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews and that He meant it to be theirs for as long as the world stood. He was a man who was willing to take up the sword against the Roman empire which then ruled over it, in order to make that dream a reality. Now there's nothing wrong with men taking up political causes and overthrowing tyrannical governments when things become intolerable. If that did not happen the world would be in a permanent state of oppression, but Jesus had something different in mind for Simon. He would exchange the sword of steel for the Sword of the Spirit and preach an eternal kingdom.

After Pentecost it is believed that Simon and Jude, who were brothers, traveled east to Persia and preached the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, only to meet with death for doing so, but their work was not without fruit. For the next one thousand two hundred years, the Gospel of Jesus Christ flourished in the area of what is today known as Iraq.

And what about us? We are the fortunate recipients of the great sacrifices made by Sts. Simon, Jude and Martin. By these men, and countless, nameless others, Jesus has manifested Himself to us. At high personal cost they preserved the gospel, and the sacraments which are the means of salvation; so that today we too bless the holy name of Jesus; we are at peace with God through Christ, and we are filled with all joy and peace in believing. Of all the souls on earth God's people in Christ are part of something truly great, the eternal and glorious Kingdom of God! No other cause or human aspiration matches this one, or even comes close. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth made so by Jesus, who manifests Himself to us in the flesh, in the Eucharist, and who manifests Himself to the world through us.

We may not be asked to shed our blood for the cause, or to suffer persecution as do the Assyrian Christians in Iraq today, but then again one never knows. We are called to put our Sinful Nature to death each day, to take up our cross and to follow Jesus who is our Life, not only by holy living, but also by each doing his part, so that the catholic gospel of the Reformation may be heard and believed by future generations. Amen.


~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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