"When the Music Gets Out of Hand"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 6/24/2018
“When the Music Gets Out of Hand”
June 24, 2018
            The text of my sermon this morning is the book of Jude.  I know what’s going through everyone’s head, so let’s just sing it quickly and then set it aside, okay?  “Na-na-na…”  There you go.  Now let’s get back to business.  We’ll come back to the Beatles later.
            Jude is a very short and very odd book.  It’s a letter, but we do not know whom it’s addressed to; it seems to pertain to a particular church but its location is not mentioned and no people are named to help us pin it down.  The author calls himself
“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” [1:1]
but if that James is the brother of Jesus, as some suggest, why doesn’t Jude mention that?  If he’s the brother of James the disciple, then why doesn’t he call himself brother of James and John or the third son of Zebedee?  Furthermore, he never refers to himself as an apostle, which the leaders of the first generation of Christians tended to do. 
            The letter of Jude quotes the apocryphal books of Enoch and The Assumption of Moses, which is where it gets the odd reference to the archangel Michael and the devil arguing over Moses’ body.  If you thought that section sounded weird, you are in good company because each of those books was rejected by both the rabbis and the Church when the point came where they were deciding which books should be considered holy scripture and which should not.  That made Jude itself a somewhat questionable item and it wasn’t always included in the earliest forms of the New Testament.  On the other hand, the concerns the letter addresses are similar to some of the concerns in II Peter, and they use similar language, but whether or not one depends on the other, or which way they influence goes, is up in the air.
            Maybe some of it is familiar.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever.  Amen.” [1:24-25]
That is sometimes used as a benediction at the end of worship.  I’ll be using it today, in fact. 
And then there is this verse, which encapsulates what the letter seems to have been written for:
“I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” [1:3]
Here “faith” suggests a system of belief, a framework of thought as well as of action, which is why some scholars put the time of its writing pretty late for a New Testament book, at the edge of a time when the Church was leaving its infancy and beginning to define its beliefs over and against those that might have a Christian-ish sound but were going too far in one direction or another and losing their anchor.  So Jude becomes downright condemnatory:
“Woe to them!  For they go the way of Cain and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion.  These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves.  They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.” [1:11-13]
We don’t know what they were teaching, but Jude is not happy about it.
            Now, let’s think about the Beatles song again.  It starts out with Paul McCartney singing the melody pretty clearly.  By the time you get toward the end, the music and the voices are a little more crowded (if that’s the word).  Everybody is singing the na-na-na parts together, but the instruments are going off in different directions, and it starts to sound like it might fall apart.  Then, out of nowhere, comes the part where you hear,
                        “Hey, Jude, now!  Judie!  Judie! Judie!  Judie!”
I’d suggest an analogy between this song and the development of the Christian faith, in two ways, one individual and one applying to the group.
           Individually, Jude suggests that if someone’s thinking about faith is mistaken, their life will also turn out to exhibit some of the chaos that he describes.  It’s like when someone says, “If I’m forgiven, it doesn’t matter what I have done in the past.”  No, real repentance means wanting to undo any harm you may have done.  Maybe you can and maybe you cannot, but the sense of real regret will always be there and when the opportunity to make amends comes up, it brings a sense of relief.  Whoever the people were that Jude warned about, they took Christian freedom as a blank check rather than a clean slate, and this letter clearly says that is a mistake and that bad theology can lead to an unholy life.
           That’s why, very early on, the Church developed a series of statements about the faith that we call the creeds, from the Latin word “credo”, “I believe”.  They developed out of a series of crises when one teacher or another would be the voice that just didn’t match with all the others in the chorus.  It isn’t that all voices always sang the same note, but that there were some singers who threw the others off and threatened the whole song.
           There were people like Marcion, who said that the God described in the Old Testament was not the same God as in the New Testament (and you hear people say that sometimes today).  There was Arius, who said that God the Son was a creation of God, not a part of the Father from all eternity.  That meant that it wasn’t the eternal God who suffered on the cross, and it wasn’t God himself taking the consequence of our sin.  There was Pelagius, who said that sin doesn’t totally mess us up, but that we can fix ourselves once salvation has lifted the weight of sin from our shoulders.  There were the Donatists, who said that God’s grace cannot come to one sinner through another, but only through someone already made holy by the Spirit.  It goes on and on.
           What the Church did was produce the creeds that outlined the content of belief as statements about the points that are non-negotiable.  They don’t say anything about some of the points where Christians have varied over the centuries.  They say nothing about what we mean when we say Jesus is present in communion or at what age someone may be baptized.  They don’t talk about what it means for the scriptures to be inspired by God, or even specify which books are to be included in the Bible.  (“Bible” is a word the creeds never use at all.)  They don’t lay out how the Church should be organized or conduct worship.
           What they talk about is who God is, as Creator and as a human being named Jesus and as a Spirit that does some very specific things in people’s lives, like pulling people together into the communion of saints (or the community of the holy), declaring the forgiveness of sins, and preparing both body and soul for eternity with God.
           The letter of Jude shows us what the beginning of that process looked like – and, no, it wasn’t pretty all the time.  But if we are made in the image of God, then how we talk about God is also in some way how we talk about who we ourselves are.  God didn’t ever stand apart from creation, so we cannot stay aloof from the people around us, even when love means the risk of rejection.  So
                    “anytime you feel the pain, hey [you], refrain;
                     don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.
                    For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
                    by making his world a little colder.”
See, the gospel is about someone who carried the world upon his shoulders for us.  He sang our sad song and made it better.  He let us into God’s heart, and that’s he started to make it better.


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