St James Patronal SERMON (28.7.19)
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St James Patronal SERMON (28.7.19)
For us, celebrating the feast day of St. James is an occasion for a party, a festive celebration, a good time. But the fact that we are named St. James’ Church, that St. James the Apostle is our patron saint, probably doesn’t mean a great deal to us. I doubt many of us pray to James for guidance or help in times of trouble. So far as I know, no one has baptised their son James, or daughter Jamie, because of the connection with St. James.
That’s not the way it worked with saints in the past. Christians perceived a direct relationship between themselves and their patron saint. Their patron saint was their go-to guy, the person in heaven who would listen more attentively to their prayers, and intervene more readily on their behalf with the almighty.
In order to make sure that would happen, people cultivated the relationship with the saint on earth, offering special devotions, painting images or designing chapels in churches, perhaps keeping a logo, like a scallop shell…….
Because the saints were often regarded as benefactors, as patrons, even as friends or family members, pious Christians tended to develop elaborate legends about the saints’ lives. These were collected, told, and handed down over the years.
One of the most prominent legends was that James traveled to Spain and preached the gospel. Though the apostle died in Jerusalem, legend has it that his body was taken back to Spain.
They came ashore in Finistaire, North West Spain, as it was carried through the shallow waters to the beach, was said to become covered in scallop shells. The scallop shell therefore became the main symbol of St James .
One of the greatest pilgrimages followed by hundreds of thousands of people is called El Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James. And at the Cathedral of St James’ in Compesta, tradition has it that the remains of St James the Apostle are buried, and thousands of people visit his shrine each year.
Is there any other relevance of the Shell to the pilgrims, or indeed our fath? Well, its useful to pilgrims carrying it for scooping up water, or using it as an eating bowl. In our faith – pergaps there is a symbolim of our growing faith - radiating out from a point (see…) And that’s the link I use in our baptisms - especially in our four churches. Here’s my shell - bought from Santiago Del Compelsta a few years ago. Maybe I will go back and walk it at somepoint.
Legend aside, in today’s gospel we are reminded of both sides of James, his brashness which led Jesus to call him and his brother John “sons of thunder.” But here Jesus turns aside the very human, and very political request of the two brothers, and predicts their martyrdom.
It provides an occasion for Jesus to teach them, and us about discipleship, about what it means to follow Jesus.
It is a lesson Jesus taught his disciples dramatically at the last supper, when he washed the feet of his disciples. It is a lesson James no doubt learned in the years leading up to his martyrdom. It is also a lesson we need to learn.
Gospel accounts tell us that James was a Galilean fisherman, probably from the same village as Peter and Andrew – Bethsaida. James and his brother John were in their boat mending their nets when Jesus came by and called them to follow him. And just as with Simon and Andrew, they immediately left their nets, left their Father Zebedee, and followed him. Just like that!
I don’t know if that strikes you as quite extraordinary, as it does me, to respond so immediately and decisively to the call of a stranger. I have often wondered how I might have reacted had I been a fisherman in that boat and Jesus had called me?
I may have said in response to Jesus: “how very kind of you. What an honour it would be and I’m sure I’d really love to come with you- yes it would be most interesting. But obviously I can’t just leave right now; I’ve also got the family to think about- you know bills to pay, make sure there’s someone around to stop the girls arguing and be here to look after my aging mother in law. So I‟ll come when I can, you know, pop along to your meetings when you’re in the area. Thanks for the invite though!”
And that’s if I was having a good day. I might have been much blunter and even rude: “Who on earth are you? Expecting me to leave everything and follow you, a complete stranger. No way!”
But what the gospel doesn’t really show us is that James and the other apostles had probably come across Jesus quite a bit before this incident is recorded. They may well have begun to know of his reputation in the area as a religious teacher, even a prophet. So when it came to this final call they were prepared.
What is certain and important is that they recognized the voice of God in this man Jesus and were willing to listen and obey.
And I think that is our inspiration and challenge.
Are we aware of the voice of God, the word of God, calling us, guiding us, today, individually and as a church?
How do we hear God speak today? Do we even expect to hear him?
How are we to hear the word of God in our busy 21st century lives so far removed from 1st century Galilee?
And if we hear how are we to respond?
I’m sure, like me, these are questions you’ve asked many times. The first thing to say is that recognizing God speaking isn’t easy;
We have all, in one way or other, heard God speak to us and responded. We might have been touched by God through the services we have attended, recognising in hymns, prayer, scripture and sacrament the real presence of God in Jesus.
We might have recognised God in one another – in what someone said or, more likely in how someone lives and loves.
It might have been when we were alone that we heard a still small voice speaking – the Holy Spirit urging and inspiring us.
It is by all these means, and others, that our initial and ongoing call to faith and discipleship came to us and continue to come to us, reassuring us of God’s love and presence, his forgiveness and healing.
And occasionally there may be more specific calls or guidance from God that emerge as a strong feeling over time. Follow Me.
We should expect God to continue to speak to us today individually and corporately. Through prayer and worship, discussion with others, and stillness, God wants to urge and guide us in what we say and what we do.
So our challenge is: do we listen and look out for his speaking? And are we willing to respond in obedience as St James did all those years ago?
Sometimes it’s that other challenge which I think is harder.
We hear it OK, but are just not willing, able or ready to respond completely.
It took me 10 years from knowing I was being called to ordination to finally go and do something about it!!..so don‟t look to me as someone who finds this easy!
We may be afraid of the consequences of speaking out for God into the context in which we live today?
It’s fine if what he’s urging is something we find easy and is within our comfort zone.
But what happens when God wants us to speak out against an injustice we come across, maybe in the workplace.
What do we do in the face of immorality or hatred?
What happens when God wants us to do something that will be quite uncomfortable and costly to ourselves and our loved ones?
That is when we need to learn to share God’s call on us with others in the church; and to support one another in the mission and ministry we all share.
Because God needs us; he relies on us to be his messengers in our generation.
We can’t leave that up to a few individuals.
We are all called, by word and example, to be missionaries of the gospel, and like St James did - to walk in his way, whatever the cost. But we can be assured that God promises to equip us with all we need for whatever lies ahead.
Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. AMEN