Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sermon: St. Jude: An Icon of Hope

A sermon by Rev. Karen Siegfriedt of St. Jude the Apostle Episcopal Church, Cupertino, California, U.S.A., given October 29, 2000 (source link here)

Without hope, the human heart would break.

Today we are celebrating the feast of St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of St. Jude the Apostle Episcopal Church in Cupertino. St. Jude is known as a symbol of hope; the patron saint of desperate causes. When you talk about St. Jude, you talk about the world in despair because Jude is the last stop. That is why so many sanctuaries of hope (such as homes for troubled children, cancer hospitals, and hospices) are named after Jude. Hope is an openness to the future of new possibilities, even in the face of darkness, despair, and evil. It is based on the conviction that with God, all things are possible even in the face of impossible odds. If having a patron saint is to have any meaning, then there needs to be a connection between a church's mission and its patron saint. So if Saint Jude is an icon of hope, then we as a parish must carry out that virtue of hope in our lives and in our own community of faith. If St. Jude is an icon of hope, then we who claim his patronage, must offer this place as a sanctuary of hope to those who are outside our community. How can we as a parish be faithful to our namesake? This is the topic of today's sermon on hope.

Michael Downey was a young man who was experiencing a lot of grief in his life. His father died much too young. His grandmother outlived her mind by 20 years. His cousin was left to die of a drug overdose while his buddies slept in the same room of a crack house. In addition to his personal losses, his sense of darkness was fed by the many losses and tragedies of so many of his friends and their families. And in that darkness, in that depression, questions poured out of his heart, such as: "What happens when what you once believed no longer seems believable? What happens when what you have staked your life on, no longer seems reliable? What happens to hope, when a person can no longer believe? Can you have hope, hope in God, when faith in God is gone?"

The answer is "yes". "When you can no longer believe, that is precisely when hope begins." It is when faith crumbles and love grows dim, that hope begins. For we do not hope for what we already have. We do not hope for what is already possible. Rather, we hope for what we do not have and cannot see. Hope is the willingness not to give up when our faith is shaky or absent. Hope does not try to determine how God's ways will be shown. Rather hope remains open to new and astonishing manifestations of God. It allows something to come into life that is not self-generated. So in other words, a person can lose her faith and continue on. A person can be bereft of love, and still exist. But without hope, a person usually does not survive long. For without hope, the human heart will break.

As I was preparing this sermon, someone asked me to address the desperate situation in the Middle East. Now there is a place that needs St. Jude. For centuries, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, have been fighting viciously for their right to the Holy Land. Years of hurt, shame, violence, disrespect, power struggles, and different value systems have plagued this area. Dialogue, forgiveness, compromise, kindness, and respect are absent. Is there a reason to hope? The answer is, YES. For without hope, the human heart will break.

Hope is an openness to a future of new possibilities. As Christians, we are to be mediators and ambassadors of hope. We need to keep hope alive in a world where evil challenges our capacity to hope; where evil paralyzes even the strongest among us. We keep hope alive by refusing to believe that either the death of people or the death of dreams is the last word. Now on what basis do we do that? Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we hold a different script in our hands. In spite of the crucifixion, when there seemed to be no hope, the story of God in Christ did not end on the cross. In fact, it was a new beginning. The death of Jesus and the continuation of his story, kicked into the universe an incredible spirit of God. This spirit of God in Christ became more powerful and far-reaching than when Jesus was alive. We are here today in this Christian Church, not because a terrible death ended a story, but because a terrible death began a new consciousness in humanity. Without hope, the human heart would break. Hope is different from wishful thinking. Wishing means to place before one's mind, a desired object or goal, and waiting for a favorable outcome. But hope is to remember what God has already done in history and what God has promised to do in the future. Hope is the realization that the love of God has permanently affected humankind and that the whole creation will eventually be lifted up to God and be made new.

Although little is known about our patron saint, Jude was believed to have been an apostle to Persia, now known as Iran. King Abgar of Persia, was dying from a terrible physical disorder which no doctor could heal. After examining the kings' faith in the healing power of Jesus, Jude laid his hands on the king and healed him of his infirmities. Because of this act of healing, King Abgar instructed his citizens to assemble and to hear the preaching of the Good News by Jude Thaddeus. It was in this manner that the gospel was spread to that area of Northern Iran.

So how do we as parishioners of St. Jude the Apostle Church preach the good news to the people of Santa Clara County and offer a vision of hope? Yesterday, the evangelism committee met with interested parishioners to talk about how we might further spread the "Good News" in Christ. Some reflected on the history of St. Jude's parish and spoke about its healing and outreach ministries. Some told personal stories of how this community welcomed them into a new or deeper relationship with God. This is evangelism at its best. We need to continue this tradition of welcoming, healing, and praying with others in a very intentional way. The challenge before us now, is to open our arms wider and embrace all those who need to hear a word of hope. Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.

You are the bearers of hope to this broken world. You hold a different script in your hand; a script of healing and wholeness; a script of hope. May the healing power of Christ which was incarnate in St. Jude as he healed and spread God's love, also fill your mind, body and soul, as you go out and spread the gospel of hope. For without hope, the human heart will break.

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