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St James the Apostle, 27.5.93, All Saintsí, Stechford (1127 words) - ASB
Summary: The good news is that all the saints, including James, like us, are walking-wounded who walk by grace.We are gathered here this morning as members of the Body of Christ to break the Bread of the Lord together on the Feast of Saint James the Apostle. And I think it is quite reasonable to ask a couple of questions, namely, why do we have saintsí days - and what are they good for?
At least one reason why the Christian Church from as early as the second century AD has especially commemorated certain Christians is that they hold up before us examples of faithfulness in the life in Christ, a fellowship of faithfulness, the Communion of Saints. And from these examples we can take heart in the sense of knowing that it is possible so to follow Christ that we too, as those called to be saints, may show forth in our own lives the same light of Christ that we have seen in the lives of those whose feasts we keep.
And the very variety of those whom Christians have acknowledged as saints is also encouraging, from scholars like Saint Jerome to simple peasants like Saint Bernadette, from great missionaries like Saint Francis Xavier to spiritual leaders and reformers like Saint Catherine of Siena. The wide range of the saints encourages us to follow Christ in our own way, in our own time and place, be it exalted or humble or simply humdrum.
But if our knowledge of almost any saint becomes more than merely knowing the
name, then almost always we find another reason for keeping the memory of that
saint before us. And this is the good news that the saints have feet of clay,
just like us.
Put quite simply, we look at the saints and say, "How wonderful they are". The saints, however, look at God and say, "What a sinner I am". We see how far they have progressed relative to the rest of us; they see how far they still are from fully being conformed to Christ.
Some years ago a school girl, writing an essay ion her favourite saint, said that Saint Peter was her favourite for the simple reason that he kept failing just as she did.
It is that same kind of failure that we find in Saint James as we follow him through the Gospel according to Mark. When called by Jesus at the Sea of Galilee, he and his brother, John, the two sons of Zebedee, are said to follow Jesus immediately, leaving their father in the boat with the hired hands. Well and good, so far. And James, along with his brother, is one that innermost band among the twelve who accompany Jesus at special times in the gospel narrative. He is at Simon Peterís house when Jesus raises Peterís mother-in-law to new health after her fever. When Jesus appoints the twelve to be with him, James is second only to Peter in the list. James, with Peter and John, is one of the only three that Jesus allows to go with him to the house of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, where Jesus raises Jairusí twelve-year old daughter to life. He and the other two are taken by Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration, with its vision of glory and the command to heed Jesus as Godís beloved Son. As we approach Jesusí passion in Mark, it is Peter, James, John and Andrew who privately talk with Jesus about the fate of the temple. And finally, it is Peter, James and John, who are taken apart form the others by Jesus in Gethsemane, and promptly fall asleep and repeatedly fail to keep watch with Jesus.
Earlier n the Gosepl, when they were at Caesarea Philippi, Peter had rightly said that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, but had immediately objected strenuously when Jesus said that Godís Anointed One was called to suffer rather than to be a glorious conquering hero, and that each of his disciples was called to take up his cross and follow him. A short time later Jesus again calls the disciples to recognize the necessity of the way of the cross in how they care for the little ones in their fellowship.
And so, as we come to todayís gospel concerning the request that James and John make of Jesus, you might have reasonably expected, that with all this special closeness to Jesus that they have had, and with the strong clues in the previous stories, that they might have some real insight into what Jesus is calling them to. But no, at least on the surface of it, they flunk the test completely, for they want to be top dogs, sitting either side of Jesus in his glory, glory seen in splendiferous terms of light, power, majesty and authority. This is why the other ten are so indignant at them.
But Jesus says that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and he holds out to James and John the promise that they will drink the cup that he drinks and be baptized with the baptism that he undergoes, for that cup is the cup of Gethsemane and that baptism is the bringing of Jesus back from the deep waters of death. But top be on his left hand hand and his right hand in his glory is for those for whom it has been prepared, and the only other time in Markís Gospel that we have the mention of the right hand and the left, it is the two bandits who are crucifies with Jesus, one at his right hand and one at his left. For the glory of God is seen precisely in the cross. It is as Jesus places himself wholly in the Fatherís hands from Gethsemane onward that he is in his glory. And it is that same glory that you and I are called to share.
But we shall enter into that glory only as we grow in deeper dependence upon Godís all-sustaining love in Christ, which picks us up time and time again, every time we ask him to.
In the words of Saint Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, when he requested that the thorn be removed from his side, the answer he received was: "My strength is made perfect in weakness."
We are all walking-wounded. We walk by grace. And that is all that any saint has ever done. And you and I, by the grace of God, can do it, too,
So let us now proclaim the Lordís death until he comes in our midst as our host that we may break the Bread and share the Cup of the Lord to the end that we may become what he has called us to be: the Communion of saints.