Sermon by Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR, Chaplain to the CR Companions, given at St Olave's Church, York on the occasion of the 2010 Northern Companions Day

JUDE

Life is full of surprises, if you will pardon the cliché. My surprise this week was the little letter of Jude which we heard read from today. I have hardly ever noticed the little epistle of Jude but when I looked at it for today's homily I found in it what seemed to me a perfect description of a CR Companion:

But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;  keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

I want to look at that in some detail but, before I do that, we need to think for a moment about why Jude has written this letter. Apparently there were Christians abroad who were preaching strange versions of the faith, versions which were drawing people away from the Gospel they had learned. Quite what these heresies were we do not know. It doesn't matter. What matters is that then, as now, and probably as in every period of Christian history, there were ideas circulating in the church which destroyed faith, undermined truth and drew people away from a proper service of God and Christ. The same is true today. Now is not the time to go into details. Let's just say that some of the heresies are well known perennials which surface from time to time in different forms. Those who teach them think they have found something very new; in fact they are just repeating an error from the past. Other heresies come from the secular society in which we live. Inevitably that creeps into the life of the church. That is not always bad. Some insights and values of the secular world have been very good for us in the Church but some are bad. It is very important to tell the difference.

So we come back to Jude: build yourselves up on your most holy faith.  It is part of our Companions rule to read, to study, to learn about the faith. In that, Companions are part of the CR charism. We are expected to be intelligent Christians. We must know the teachings of our church; we must be at home in Scripture; we must be in touch with modern ideas, yet we must always be seeking the truth as God sees it. This is what it means 'to build ourselves up in our most holy faith'. The faith given to us by the fathers is a precious gift, given to us by God. We need to explore it, to get to know it, to enjoy it and to use it. It's not a gift to be ignored.

Then Jude tells us: pray in the Holy Spirit. Praying is part of our Companions rule, as it is for any serious Christian. All of us try to pray every day. Sometimes it is easy and we enjoy it. sometimes it is hard and we skip it, or cut it short. Most times we do it but perhaps find it a bit of a routine, a bit dull. It helps to remember that all prayer, actually, is in the Holy Spirit. It can't not be. We have the Holy Spirit in us; the spirit is constantly with us. So whether we feel it or not we need to remember he is around. Particularly when we pray the Spirit will be there inspiring our prayer. If we think of that before we pray, we will very likely find it makes a difference to our prayer. In a quiet way we may suddenly notice the Spirit really is there. From the Spirit's presence in prayer we move to the Love of God himself: keep yourselves in the love of God. It is interesting he does not say 'keep on loving God'. Telling people to love God is counter-productive. It just makes them feel guilty because they feel they don't. However, thinking of how much God loves us has the opposite effect. Then we are moved with joy and gratitude and find we really do love God in return.

So Jude moves to the third person of the Trinity: look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. That poses an interesting question. Do I really feel I need the mercy of God? Am I not really quite a good chap? I have my sins but I really live quite a good life and have followed Christ pretty faithfully for 60 years now. Isn't it pretty sure I will walk into eternal life when the time comes? Then we remember the parable of the vineyard and several other sayings of Jesus. We can never be complacent. We can never assume we have made it. We need always to remember we need the mercy of Christ and actually that is good. It will be much nicer to find ourselves entering the Kingdom of God because of Christ's mercy and love and longing for us to be there, than walking in on the strength of our own goodness.

We do look forward to that eternal life which Jude promises us. There are lots of good things on this earth and lots of work that we must do as Christians in God's world. Yet, in the end, we are children of the Resurrection. We are not afraid to look forward to the joy of the life to come and let that joy of being with the Risen Christ, eternally, change our lives now. Amen.

 

Nicolas Stebbing CR