Framework for Sermon at St James’ Church, Colwall, Trinity 8, 2015 at 11.00am
Acts 11: 27 – 12:2; Matthew 20: 20-28
Theme: The Feast of St James the Apostle
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of St James the Apostle. Today we celebrate the Feast wholeheartedly as the theme for our morning service.
We have a couple of readings from the Bible that refer to St James – there are a handful more but not many; James is not a high profile figure in the New Testament.
If James had been enrolled in the School for Saints I wonder how his end of year reports may have read.
“A late developer…” Jesus called James and his brother John to be His disciples in Matthew 4: 21. James was part of the family fishing business in partnership with his father and brother. This was the first inclination he’d shown for thing spiritual.
“is capable of misunderstanding the situation…” In Luke 9: 51-56 we read that the brothers offer to call down fire on a village that rejects the message of Jesus. This is probably why they were known as “the sons of thunder”. While they may be complimented for their enthusiasm and commitment they had really missed the point. Perhaps James wasn’t the brightest bear in the forest…
“Pushy parents…” in Matthew 20 we find Mrs Zebedee at her least subtle. Her aspirations for her sons had blinded her (and them) to the central principle of the Gospel. He asked Jesus to give her sons the tops jobs and places of honour in his kingdom. That would give the neighbours something to talk about… she was so focused on her sons’ career paths that she never heard Jesus talking about his coming death. A poor sense of timing!
If you were writing James’ epitaph, what could you say – after a short, but promising career… he died; his untimely death meant that he never fulfilled his potential… In Acts 11 and 12 Luke mentions the execution of James in passing. He’s so focused on telling the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison that the murder of James by Herod is almost a throw-away line. We can deduce that James was one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church (if you want to smash a newly formed organisation you take out its leaders – this is just what Herod did). After his unpromising start, we don’t know how he’d risen to the top in this way.
An unremarkable start and a life cut short… Why do we name our churches after James? Why do we remember and celebrate him?
One of the reasons we do this is that Jesus recognised James. As well as calling him to be one of his disciples, Jesus called James to be one of his special lieutenants, along with his brother John and Peter. Only these 3 accompanied Jesus to the room where the body of Jairus’ daughter lay (Matt 5: 37). He saw her come back to life when Jesus spoke to her. Only these 3 accompanied Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17:1). James saw the awesome splendour of the divine nature shine from Jesus. Only these 3 accompanied Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. James saw Jesus crushed by the enormity of the suffering he faced; struggling in his broken humanity to find another way to restore the whole of creation to his Father and then failing again as sleep overcame him.
It was as if Jesus singled out the three disciples to take the reins of ministry after he’d returned to heaven. We don’t know what qualities and skills he possessed, that marked him out in the eyes of Jesus and caused him to be valued by his fellow believers in the church in Jerusalem, so that they made him one of their leaders.
St James is an example and an encouragement to us. We share his humanity – capable of misunderstanding the situation, making the wrong decision and then watching it all go horribly wrong. We are capable of thinking what we can get out of the Gospel, out of Church and other people, rather than thinking about what we can bring and give to Him who gives us everything.
Like James we are all called by Jesus to be his followers. Like James our qualities and skill are noticed and recognised by God; he values us; he invests in us and builds us up; he uses us to build and lead his church.
Like James we are called to die daily. For James it was literal, physical death, but before that he had learned how to set ambition aside and listen to the voice of Jesus calling and directing. Like James, this is our call too.
[This text is just an outline. For the full sermon, listen to the recording, using the controls on the Sermons page.]