Worship 8/23/20

Call to Worship/Psalm 96 (NRSV)

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it.

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

Opening Prayer

Gracious and loving God, source of every blessing, giver of every good gift, we worship and adore you.  We praise you for the revelation of yourself in our Lord Jesus Christ and the glimpses of you we discover in the people and the creation around us.  May our love and worship of you so fill our lives that others are drawn to your light and healing through us.  We praise you for all the joys life offers and we give thanks for your persistent presence that holds us through life’s challenges and frustrations.  In this time of worship, may we become part of the outpouring of your mercies upon your world, that hope might blossom and love might flourish all to the glory of your holy name.  Amen.

Scripture Lesson/John 14:18-24 (NRSV)

18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.  20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”  22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”  23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.”

Message/Jude

Questions.  We encounter questions wherever we go—from advertising to classic literature, film and television, music and pop culture.  There are those timeless, existential questions that have haunted human beings from the very beginning: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is the meaning of life?”  Plato, in his book The Republic, inquired about “what is justice?”  We find questions in the classic plays of Shakespeare: In his most famous soliloquy Hamlet queries— “To be or not to be.”  Juliet, perched upon her balcony, lifts her heart’s desire— “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” and from the lips of the dying, gasping Julius Caesar we hear— “Et tu, Brute?”

Of course, there are other questions that are much less meaningful and more about getting us to remember and to persuade us to purchase certain products.  Who of us doesn’t remember these classic questions: “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?”  “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”  “How do you spell relief?” “Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?” and the quintessential favorite, “Where’s the beef?”  Singers and songwriters have frequently offered us questions.  In 1958, The Monotones asked: “who wrote the book of love?”  Ten years later, Dionne Warwick wanted to see if we “knew the way to San Jose?”  And in 1969, the Chicago Transit Authority threw up their hands and asked the rhetorical question, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”  Two questions I distinctly remember from my own childhood come from the medium of television—the legendary Mel Blanc voicing one of them— “What’s up, Doc?” and the other coming from an evening drama, the great enigma of the 1980’s that even appeared on the cover of Time magazine, “Who shot J.R.?”

Scripture is also replete with questions.  From the early pages of Genesis, we hear Cain’s frustrated query, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”.  Later, in the third chapter of Exodus, we encounter Moses asking God, who has been speaking from a burning bush on Mt. Horeb, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, “What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”  With God offering a rather cryptic, almost untranslatable answer “I will be who I will be.”  Further on, the anxious and heartbroken Psalmist will approach God with a series of burning questions: “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?  How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).  And of course, the dying Jesus crying out from the cross, quoting the 22nd Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We know almost nothing about the apostle Jude except for a question that he asked Jesus around the table in the upper room.  The basin had been lifted and the towel had been donned.  With clean feet, Jesus and the disciples shared their last meal together before his death.  The plotting Judas Iscariot had taken his leave from the table, the disciples puzzled and questioning what was to happen next.  Here, Jesus moves into what is often called his “farewell discourse,” offering words of comfort to those who had followed him.  He attempted to prepare them for what was going to happen over the next few hours and days and remind them of his great love for them, about how God would be with them through his suffering and in their grief.  We meet Jude in John 14 verse 22: “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not the world?’”  With this, we never hear his voice again.  He, like Simon the Zealot and James the Lesser, simply become names in the various lists of disciples. 

According to scholar Margaret Williams, Judas with its derivative, Jude, was an immensely popular name for boys in first-century Palestine.  As we find in the text, there are two Judas’ among the twelve, Jude and Judas Iscariot, with Jesus himself having a brother named Judas who most likely authored the brief book that we find in the later part of the New Testament.  The name itself means “God be praised.”  And, as we have discovered from our previous times together throughout this series, the stories behind persons of the same name are often conflated and intermingled.  Remember that we had James the Greater who was a son of Zebedee and then James the Lesser who was the son of Alphaeus and then another James who was Jesus’ brother and a leader of the church in Jerusalem.  We find similar issues with the various Judas’ that were in Jesus’ orbit.

Additionally, the gospels often share either the Hebrew or the Greek name for the same disciple or even both the Hebrew and Greek name.  In the case of Jude, we find him listed as Thaddaeus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.  The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts refer to Jude as “Judas the son of James.”  Most likely, Judas is shortened to Jude to keep him from being confused with Judas Iscariot and bears the Hebrew name of Judas and the Greek name of Thaddaeus.  Our text for this morning includes the parenthetical reference (not Iscariot) to help us see that this is another distinct disciple and not the one who went to betray Jesus.

Jude is singled out from the other disciples by the one question he asked on the night of Jesus’ betrayal.  We know from experience that asking questions is how we learn.  Very early in life, we learn the lesson of cause and effect.  If I touch the light switch the light goes off and if I touch it again, it comes back on.  And if you’ve ever spent anytime around a toddler, you see them repeating this time and time again, switching the light on and off with both fascination and delight at the new thing they have discovered, much to the chagrin of the parents who are trying to read or clean up the dinner table or chase them down for a bath or whatever.  As the child grows and abstract thought begins to develop, they begin to ask questions about the world around them and begin to see that there is more than just cause and effect.  Things are often more complicated than they seem.  They begin to question about what is behind the switch is that causes the light to come on.  They wonder about how the bulb is able to project light and about the origin of the electricity that powers it.  Which leads them then to also inquire about how many United Methodists it takes to change one, the answer of which is three:  one to change it and the other two to admire just how effective the old one was and establish a memorial fund in its honor.

Not only do questions reveal answers however, they also reveal something about the sense of humility in the person asking those questions.  Asking questions requires humility.  Questions reveal that we don’t have all the answers and that we are attempting to gain knowledge.  It says something about his nature that Jude wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable in front of the other disciples and in front of Jesus by asking his question.  “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”  This profound question prompts Jesus to explain God’s love, the abiding presence of the Son, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, assurances greatly needed by those disoriented disciples. 

Perhaps Jude was wondering about why the message about Jesus had not gone farther already.  They had left everything to follow him and saw his miraculous deeds and heard his teachings about the inclusive love of God.  He, and the other, disciples I suspect, were wondering if this was all there was.  What we need is a press conference, a full-court media blitz.  Bring in the lights and cameras.  Set up a podcast, schedule interviews, get announcements out on social media.  Rather than spending time in this quiet place, why aren’t we out on the streets putting up banners, holding signs, spray painting graffiti on the walls about this new kingdom that has arrived?  Surely everyone would want to hear this message, wouldn’t they?  It’s good news, after all.  Why would anyone want to betray you, given how good this news is?  Why would anyone deny knowing you, given all you have done—healing the sick, curing the blind, raising the dead?  They should be giving you a medal or some sort of humanitarian award, maybe even a state dinner.  Why would anyone want to kill you if love is really the core message?  Who doesn’t want to hear that they are loved, especially by the God who created all things?  If you are taken away from us, how will your teachings go on?  How will we go on?  And what’s with all this defeatist talk anyway?  Aren’t you representing the all-powerful God who could sweep in and clear out these pagan Roman influencers in the blink of an eye and then establish this kingdom you’ve been talking about since we first knew you?  If, as some of the more popular traditions suggest, Jude was a Zealot along with the other disciple, Simon the Zealot, this question, and the many other questions lying behind it, would be more than logical.  Jude seems to be completely bewildered by the moment and by Jesus’ words of farewell.  This is just baffling to me!  I don’t get it!  I can imagine that the other disciples, too, were pondering similar questions and were glad that Jude had the courage to ask it.

There is something about Jude that strikes me as someone who wants to understand by asking a question but is not ready to receive the answer.  How many times does this happen to us?  We ask questions about our life or our vocation or our faith and, when the answers arrive, they seem to confuse us rather than inform us, often bringing about even more questions than we had to begin with.  It can be so frustrating.  The idea that God brings about new life out of death seems completely illogical.  This is what leads the apostle Paul to declare in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  Along with all previous generations of believers, we are both confronted and confounded by this story.  We are puzzled that God would even love us, much less that God would reveal God’s power through a tragic story where Love is crucified on an instrument of capital punishment and sealed away in a cold, dark tomb.  It’s as if God were doing it backwards and upside down from the way we would have done it had we been writing the story.  And yet, God’s grace is sufficient…. for power is indeed made perfect in weakness.

Fortunately, as with the other apostles, Jude would learn and grow from his experiences with Jesus, moving out into the world, propelled by the power of the Holy Spirit to testify to what he had seen, to what he finally had begun to understand.  While different traditions abound about his missionary activities, it is believed that Jude was often found in the presence of Simon the Zealot, working in ministry together in Syria, Armenia, and Persia.  Jude has been known as “the exorcist” whose ministry would often require him to cast out evil spirits from persons and places so that the word of God could take root and grow.  Jude’s symbols include the saw, a club, a falchion, which is a short, curved sword, and a spear, all possible instruments of his death.  Another symbol often used to represent Jude is a boat, signifying his work to journey upon the storm-tossed seas of life to share the Gospel.  In much of the art portraying him, Jude is pictured bearing a scroll or a book, perhaps, I like to think at least, signifying his readiness to learn.  Jude shares the feast day of October 28th along with Simon the Zealot as tradition holds that they were martyred together.  Since the eighteenth century, Jude has been recognized as the patron saint of lost causes.  Along these lines, author and pastor J. Ellsworth Kalas refers to him as the “Saint of Last Resorts.”

As you know, there is a very famous medical institution in Memphis, Tennessee that bears the name of St. Jude.  There is a wonderful story behind its founding.  As a young man, Lebanese-American Danny Thomas had a simple goal: to entertain people and be successful enough at it to provide for his wife and family.  But work wasn’t easy to come by.  As he and his family struggled, his despair grew.  He wondered if he should give up on his dreams of acting or find a steady job.  He turned to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes.  “Show me my way in life,” he vowed to the saint one night in a Detroit church, “and I will build you a shrine.”

That prayer to St. Jude marked a pivotal moment in his life.  Soon after, he began finding work, eventually becoming one of the biggest stars of radio, film, and television in his day.  And as one of the world’s biggest celebrities, Danny used his fame to fulfill his vow to St. Jude and to change the lives of thousands of children and families.  Danny’s shrine to St. Jude was originally to be a general children’s hospital located somewhere in the south.  Danny’s mentor, Cardinal Samuel Stritch, recommended he look to Memphis, Tennessee, the cardinal’s hometown.

By 1955 Danny and a group of Memphis businessmen he’d rallied to build the hospital decided it should be more than a general children’s hospital.  At the time, the survival rate for childhood cancers was 20%, and for those with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) — the most common form of childhood cancer — only 4% of children would live.  They believed that St. Jude could help these families with nowhere else to turn.  St. Jude would become a unique research institution where the world’s best doctors and scientists would work together to cure childhood cancer, sickle cell, and other deadly diseases.

And for families with children battling these diseases, Danny wanted to remove the burden of treatment costs, so they were free to focus on their child.  The idea of his shrine to St. Jude set, Danny and his supporters focused on raising the funds to build and maintain it.  Danny began raising money for his vision in the early 1950s.  By 1955, the Memphis business leaders who’d joined his cause also began local fundraising efforts.  Danny also wanted to get the word out across the country about what he was doing and enlist the support of everyone he could.  Danny and his wife, Rose Marie, crisscrossed the United States, speaking about his dream build St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to any group that’d listen, asking for their support.

Along with the construction, Danny knew he had to find a way to fund the hospital’s annual operation.  He turned to his fellow Americans of Arabic-speaking descent.  Danny believed that by supporting St. Jude, this group of Americans could thank the United States for the gifts of freedom given their parents and also be a noble way of honoring their forefathers who’d immigrated to America.

Danny’s requests struck a responsive chord.  In 1957, 100 representatives of the Arab-American community met in Chicago to form ALSAC, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities with the sole purpose of raising funds for the support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Since that day in Chicago, ALSAC has been responsible for all the hospital’s fundraising efforts, raising hundreds of millions annually through benefits and solicitation drives among Americans of all ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds.  Today, ALSAC is the nation’s second largest health care charity and is supported by the generosity of 10 million donors and the efforts of more than 1 million volunteers nationwide.

Who would have thought that the life of a disciple of unknown origin who asked one simple question around a table in a small upper room in Jerusalem, would inspire the answers to modern research and medical questions that have led to saving the lives of thousands of children every year?  Now, that’s a question only God can answer…

Pastoral Prayer

O Lord our God,

You are the Love that infuses all of your creation;

You are the Light, that challenges and purifies our hearts;

You are the Peace, deep and unfathomable, that works through and beyond all pain and conflict;

We praise you for the gift of life itself;

We praise you for our fragile and beautiful planet;

We praise you for the richness and variety of the colors and cultures that live among us;

We praise you for human love and laughter;

When we look at the night sky and contemplate the vastness of the universe, we are amazed at how you not only notice, but also take delight in even the smallest of things.

We pray that you might make us vessels of blessing for all who find themselves in need:

For victims of famine and natural disaster…

For victims of human conflict, war, violence, and abuse…

For victims of hatred, prejudice, and injustice…

For those who are sick…

For those who find themselves alone and afraid…

For those who struggle with anxiety or addiction or grief…

For those who have no home or seem to have no one to turn to…

Risen Christ, breaking the bonds of sin and death, shine your healing light upon us and on those for whom we pray.  Give us eyes of compassion that we might see others as you see them.  Let your light flood the world’s darkness and make us bearers of your healing for those whom you have made in your image and your beloved creation that you called good. Let the hope and forgiveness that we find in Christ bind us to you and to one another.

May the power of the Holy Spirit, who brings forth new life out of death and destruction, propel us ever forward into the world as agents of your reconciliation and peace.

In the name of the One who suffered, died, and rose again, we pray with one voice and as one family, the prayer that he taught his disciples:

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

Benediction (based on Ephesians 3:17-19)

May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith;

and may you be rooted and grounded in love,

and comprehend, with the saints,

what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ,

so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Amen.