Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sermon: St. James the Apostle

25 July 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 10:35-45 (Acts 11:27-12:5, Rom 8:28-39)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Sts. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were part of our Lord’s inner circle – along with St. Peter. They were among the first disciples called. They were with Jesus on the Holy Mount of Transfiguration. These three disciples were also our Lord’s sleepy guards at Gethsemane.

St. James, whom the Church commemorates on this day, along with his brother John, wanted to have a special place in the Lord’s kingdom. They sought to be great. They wanted a place at the head of the table and the front of the line.

St. James received his wish. But as often happens in Lord’s kingdom, he received it in a way that he could not have imagined when he asked.

James and John wanted to bask in the glow of King Jesus, to be his right-hand men in the political kingdom they expected our Lord to establish. They sought to be important. They wanted the attention of the king, and the glory that goes along with it. “Grant us to sit,” they asked, “one at Your right hand and one at Your left in Your glory.”

Our blessed Lord said to them in a gentle way that they don’t know what they are asking for. Even though Jesus had repeatedly explained that His was a different kind of kingdom, that He was to die and rise again, and that those who follow Him are to take up their crosses, deny themselves, and be servants – the “sons of thunder” still had stars in their eyes.

Can you “drink the cup that I drink?” asks Jesus, or “be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” –
referring to His suffering and death. And they were most eager to reply: “We are able!” Like their fellow disciple Peter, their enthusiasm was more of the spirit than the flesh. For they were not even able to remain vigilant in the garden for a single hour.

The other disciples became angry at the sons of Zebadee. Our Lord took them all aside and ended their squabbling, teaching them about the kingdom, and about what it means to be a Christian. If you want worldly glory, you won’t find it here. To be a Christian is to be a servant, a lowly slave, to be scorned by the world and treated with contempt. For this is how our Blessed Lord was treated, dear brothers and sisters. And thanks be to God that He was, for in His passion and death, we have forgiveness and life. In His cross we find the love of God and the ransom for our very souls.

St. James was indeed to have his glory. He was to be at the top of the heap, at the front of the line, at the head of the table, the very first of the twelve, in fact, to die as a martyr in the service of the Lord Jesus. What a change in priority! No more was James selfishly seeking the praise of men, rather in praising His Lord, he was willing to be arrested, humiliated, and put to death. Truly, he did drink the Lord’s cup and was baptized with the Lord’s baptism. By God’s grace, he was able.

For “whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”

Indeed, “Herod the king” – the false impostor king – “laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword.” For even as St. James had earlier wanted the attention of the king, and the glory that goes along with it, he now received scorn from the worldly, political king, while truly being glorified by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, whose kingdom is not of this world. James received glory in giving all glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Jesus shed His blood and laid down His life for James, and James offered His own life up in return as a thank offering to God, a thanksgiving for his life that will have no end.

It is unlikely that any one of us will be threatened with the sword for the sake of our Christian faith. But nevertheless, dear brothers and sisters, our lives are not our own. We are slaves of Him who ransomed us and saved us. We can offer ourselves as living sacrifices in His service, having been redeemed and saved by the His boundless grace and mercy!

For we also have been baptized with the Lord’s baptism. And we too share in the Lord’s cup. And in that Holy Baptism we have been buried with Him. And we too shall rise with Him in glory. And in that Lord’s cup, that Holy Communion, we too proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

And how liberating this new life in Christ is, dear friends! For we know that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Having been called, we have been justified, that is, made righteous. And having been justified, we have been glorified.

And this glory, given to us by the Lord’s grace, through the Lord’s cross, and delivered through the Lord’s merciful Word and miraculous sacraments, is greater than any passing worldly glory. It far exceeds being seen by the rich, powerful, and famous in this world. For we are not just seen with, but loved and redeemed by, the most powerful King in the universe!

Listen anew, dear brethren, to St. Paul’s proclamation of the glory we share in Christ Jesus: “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That glory shines forth in the witness of James the holy apostle and martyr. And it even shines forth in us, dear Christians, even as we struggle, like St. James, with our old Adam that seeks glory and yet cannot even stay awake for an hour. Thanks be to God that the Lord remains vigilant for us! And by His “blood and merit,” we are “at peace with God.”

Let us pray:

O Lord, for James we praise You,
Who fell to Herod’s sword;
He drank the cup of suff’ring
And thus fulfilled Your Word.
Lord, curb our vain impatience
For glory and for fame,
Equip us for such suff’rings
As glorify Your name.”

Now and even unto eternity. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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