Short Sermon at St James, Colwall, feast of St James 2015

Acts 11: 27 – 12:2; Matthew 20: 20-28

I think my parents set me up – in both senses of that phrase – when they named me. I have the names of three Christian saints – the first a Welsh hermit, the second a Roman deacon and the third is the first apostle to be martyred. Legend has it that Herod Agrippa murdered James personally, though we can never know the truth of that. The truth about James is shrouded in legends. Even his name is confusing. The New Testament calls him Iakōbos – Jacob, a name preserved today in the Latin Bible and in that of the Orthodox Church. But he is called all kinds of names elsewhere. In Castilian Spanish he is called Jaime (Hymie in European Jewish circles), but in Galician Spanish he is Iago or Jago, a name that survives in the cities of Santiago di Compostela and San Diego in California. Of course, the saint himself knows who he is, and he is with God. It is we who bend him to our circumstances. Thus it is, we have an embarrassing history of James the killer of Moroccans, the man who legend says helped drive the Moroccan Muslim rulers out of Spain, thus driving Islam out of Europe – a story which has a grim sequel in folk memories today.

What the gospel tells us, however, is a very different story. This man, Jacob, with his brother Ioannēs / John, left their father’s business to follow an itinerant preacher, a man they believed was and is the mashiach of God, God’s anointed one sent to set up God’s rule on earth. What these fiery and brave brothers expected is not recorded, but we heard in the gospel this morning that their mother, for one, had quite the wrong idea about what God’s rule / God’s kingdom would be like. For a start, their leader was not a warrior who would lead an armed revolt, not a person who would kill to establish God’s rule, though he was himself killed. The leadership to which in the end Jacob / James and all the apostles submitted was something utterly unexpected. “Whoever wishes to be great must be your servant.”

Our General Synod has been embroiled in an important debate about leadership. On the one hand, Lord Green, former chairman of HSBC, has submitted a report recommending talent spotting and management training for future church leaders, especially potential diocesan bishops. A priest himself, Lord Green believes that church leadership has a good deal to learn from business. Much of the criticism of his report is about a perceived lack of theological reflection, a lack of understanding about servant leaders – in other words, ministers – people who minister to others. You must judge for yourselves whether or not your own ordained ministers serve you or else seek to manage you and rule you. In the same way, we all have to judge how much our government ministers and opposition shadow ministers seek to serve us, or else default into leading us by domination and manipulative management – an issue still less than clear in the current Labour leadership debates.

But the life of our Church and the life of our civil parish, our county and our country are not just about appointed or elected leaders. It is up to all of us – in church and in society – to be ready ourselves to give a lead, by serving our fellow church members and by serving our fellow citizens. In that way, we are following in the footsteps of our mashiach, our Christ, and so building the rule of our God.