Today is the feast of St.James the apostle, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples but beyond that what do we know of him and why are we keeping his feast day today?
James is often known as ‘The Great’ to distinguish him from the other disciple also called James (the son of Alphaeus Matt 10:3 often referred to as James-the-Less whose feast day is the 1st May). He was a Galilean fisherman, who with his brother John was called by Jesus to ‘follow him’:
“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee … he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” Matthew 3:18a, 21-22
With Peter and John he was one of the three disciples that Jesus took up the mountain with him when he was transfigured and he annoyed the other disciples by asking if he and John could sit at Jesus’ left and right hands when he came into his glory. He was martyred by Herod Agrippa in about the Year 44 in a campaign to destroy the leaders of the church in the hope that it would stem its growth:
“It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church intending to persecute them. He had James the brother of John put to death by the sword.” Acts 12:1-2
It is not a lot to go on, to give us an idea of what James was like except for the fact that in Mark’s Gospel James and John are given the nickname ‘Sons of Boanerges’ or ’Sons of Thunder’ (Mark 3:17)
Which would seem to imply that they were boys with a fiery temper and it is this reference that for me is probably the most important piece of information we have about James. Important because it tells us that James was no super human hero, but a very human man. A man with all his faults, just like us and it is because of his humanity that we are remembering him today.
All of us, in our humanity, are called to be saints. Our whole lives are supposed to be a journey, a pilgrimage towards sainthood or sanctification. That is to say as we grow up and grow older we should aim to grow ‘holy’ in God. That sounds rather pious but it is what we are actually trying to do. Everyday is a step closer back to God. We are ‘made in God’s image’ and as such contain something of the divine within us and it is that spark of the divine that longs to return to the Creator. It is that desire to be one with God again that drives us to become more ‘holy’ as we grow older.
None of us can, however, become truly holy, until we are reunited with God and enter fully into God’s presence for ever. Once we enter into God’s eternal presence we become fully a part of God - fully holy because God is all holiness.
This is not, however, an excuse for us to skive off trying to be good and to do good. It is not an easy thing to be kind, loving and good all the time. St.James obviously, was not, as his nick-name suggests. I suspect that he often lost his temper and ranted. What we are called to do is to try to live a good life. A life in which we seek to love and help others without being selfish or malicious. Living a life like this is not easy though; there will always be those whom we do not get on with but whom we are called to love despite who they may be - the nuisances, the difficult, the smelly, the bigots, the hateful - even them we are called to help if they need us.
The saints, like James are example and an encouragement for us to follow. I am not suggesting that we aim to get our heads chopped off but I am saying that it is right to stick to what you believe to be right and try to love those who may persecute you because of it.
Today’s collect says:
whose holy apostle Saint James,
leaving his father and all that he had,
was obedient to the calling of your Son Jesus Christ
and followed him even to death:
help us, forsaking the false attractions of the world,
to be ready at all times to answer your call without delay …”
and it gives us further clues as to why we should try to ape the example of St.James and all the saints. If we truly love Christ then we must be prepared to give up all we hold dear and follow him.
But, are you? Am I, willing to give up the things we hold dear? Are we willing to open ourselves fully to the Holy Spirit and to follow Jesus, without thinking twice?
How often do the affairs of the world stop you worshipping on a Sunday or saying your prayers?
Quite often if you are anything like me! There are always the times when it is impossible to pray or that the busy-ness of life demands our attention elsewhere. I say to you do not worry about them, because there will be the times when we can pray and come to church and reach out to help our neighbour. It is these times that we should not neglect, and we might need to counter a spirit of laziness or materialism in order to do so. Whenever we have the opportunity to pray or to do unto to others that which we would wish done unto ourselves, we should take it and not worry about the occasions when we do not have that opportunity or time.
St.James was prepared to give up everything for an unknown life, following in the steps of an unknown Galilean preacher. When James and John gave up everything to go after Jesus, their family and friends must have thought them mad. James, however, knew in his heart (as we can too) that he had to take a chance on Jesus, to take a risk and leap into the future - a future unknown.
That is scary - but all of us are called to take such risks, to make such leaps of faith and to go into unknown situations, for the sake of the Gospel. Scary, yes but exciting too.
A bishop I knew in England never told anyone to ‘take care’ he always left from them telling them to ‘take risks’. Risks for the Gospel, to do what you believe God is calling you to do and what you believe to be true and right.
The example of St.James can give us hope. He was by no means perfect, he was no plaster saint, but he never gave up following the path he believed to be right. Life was not easy for him as it is not for us either but hold on to the example of St.James and be encouraged for by following the path you believe to be right you may discover that you have been able to change to world, to have had a profound effect upon it, no matter how small.