Sermon for July 25, 2010
Feast of St. James
Today we honour Saint James the Apostle, usually described in the Gospels as “the brother of John”, but also known as James the greater in order to distinguish him from other New Testament figures of the same name. He was a Galilean fisherman and with his brother John, he left his home and his trade in obedience to the call of Jesus. With Peter and John, he belonged to an especially privileged group of disciples whom Jesus chose to be witnesses of the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
But, we also know that James’ willingness to act was not always seen as a good thing. Jesus gave James and John the nickname “Boanerges”, which translated into “Sons of the Thunder.” While James and John were always ready to act, sometimes their plans weren’t always thought all the way through.
In Luke’s gospel, James asks for Jesus’ permission to call down a rain of fire on a Samaritan village, after they had refused to receive Jesus and his disciples. We don’t get to hear what Jesus’ response was, but I suppose we would like to think that He turned quietly and calmly to him and patiently explained why he wouldn’t do that. However it is easy to create a picture in our head of Jesus looking at James with a dumbfounded look on his face that seems to say, “Have you not been listening to a word that I’ve been saying all this time? Of course I’m not going to rain down fire on these people. Whatever were you thinking?” And this seems to be another theme with James. He doesn’t always seem to grasp what he is being told.
James and John, once expressed a willingness to share the cup of Christ’s sufferings, and in the case of James, this was realized very soon after the Resurrection. According to the Book of
Acts, King Herod began a persecution of the Church and had James beheaded .
There are many legends centred around James, as is often the case of a saint. Some of these legends have James going to Spain to preach the good news of Jesus Christ there. Some biblical scholars believe there might have been some truth to this legend, citing Paul’s reluctance to go somewhere where a church had already been established.
One legend states that James came back to Jerusalem after being in Spain. He was arrested after an accuser had turned him in for being a Christian. Being an Apostle he did not recount his faith, but rather started preaching faith in Jesus Christ right then and there. He was ordered to be killed by beheading and his guards and accuser marched him to the place where he was to die. On his way there, the accuser heard something that touched his heart and James converted him. As James knelt waiting for the death blow, his accuser knelt beside him, confessed that he too now believed that Jesus was the Son of God and kissed him on the cheek. The guard then killed both of them.
Another legend claims that the body of James was miraculously lifted by angels across the Mediterranean in a stone coffin, and came to rest in Compostela in Spain. It is believed that a large crevice opened in and the angels gently laid his coffin to rest.
We like James are called to serve our God. We are called to preach the good news both in word and in action, something that James can serve as a great example for us to follow. James attained greatness because he served and as we read in the gospel:
“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.”
Greatness is meant for all God’s children. As we allow God to work in and through us we will experience the greatness of God flowing through us, just as it did with James. Encountering God in a daily practice will help us to discover God’s greatness. Jesus is inviting us into his great kingdom. With that invitation may we be ever mindful that we are called to serve. And so as we go forth this day, may we remember the example of James and remember that it is us who are called to do the work of Christ in the world, now and always.