Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Homily for St. James of Jerusalem 2012

The epistle of James in the Bible will make any Lutheran squirm in their seats.  For St. James opens up his letter with these words “For what good is it, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them “Go in peace, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith, by itself, if it does not have works is dead.

It is as though he has the words of Jesus in mind when he says that a tree that does not bear fruit must be cut down and thrown into the fire.  It is Jesus who says to ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’  We are called to be the light of the world.  A city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.  It is Jesus who calls you to be the salt of the earth. 

When people think of us, do they think of Jesus?  When we speak do we speak the words of Jesus?  Do our lives bear witness to Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light?  It is important to observe Saint days in the Lutheran Church calendar.  Article 21 in the Augsburg Confession states “Our Lutheran Churches teach that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to our calling.”

St. James of Jerusalem (also known as James the Just) is referred to by St. Paul as “The Lord’s brother.”  Some believe that James was actually a son of Joseph and Mary, and therefore a biological brother of Jesus.  But throughout much of the history of the church, it can be interpreted that the word ‘brother’ is understood as “cousin” and perhaps James might be the son of a sister of Mary or Joseph.

I hold to the view that James is Jesus’ biological brother.  Although I suppose it doesn’t so much matter.  For there is a bond among us that goes deeper than our immediate family.  And therefore perhaps it makes little difference whether James was brother or not.  There is a bond that goes deeper than our family name.  It is the bond of peace, in which Christ calls us, he calls us friends.  He calls us family.  For Christ is our truest of all brothers.            

When the Lord appeared to James on the other side of the grave, He called him from unbelief. And James was willing to let it go – willing to be given to by the Lord. In that moment James went from being a foster brother of Jesus to being His servant and His apostle. 

St. James was a sinner.  His friends knew some gossip about him, just as others have some inside information on you.  Perhaps it’s not all true, but most of it probably is.  We are all hypocrites when exposed before God.  And this, in a way is good, because only sinners can actually become saints.  We cannot stand in His presence for a moment if our brother Jesus does not stand in our place for us – with his righteous life and holiness.

Saint James urges us in tonight’s reading to be steadfast in our faith, particularly under trial, that we too will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  St. James was violently stoned to death as he sang a hymn to His brother and Lord.  Let us too press on in our trials knowing that we belong to the family of God, being assured by His Word that we will never be tested beyond that which we can withstand.

After all, just like James, we have a big brother, who stands by our side.  A blood brother – who laid down his life that we might live.  A brother who became weak that we might forever be strong.  A brother whose already defended us from all the evil bullies on the playground.  Like James, our older Brother has showed for us a way of serving each other in love – a love that endures all – all the world’s unpleasantness and indeed hell itself.  All so that us spiritual orphans – we lost children – can find our home.  And rejoice with all the family of God.       

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