A Sermon for
the Feast of

St. James, Apostle & Martyr

By Dr. Robert Crouse



"But whoever would be great among you must be your servant." (Mark 10).


Today we keep the festival of St. James, Apostle and Martyr. This St. James is sometimes referred to as St. James the Greater, as distinguished from the other Apostle named St. James, the author of the Epistle, whom we celebrate along with St. Philip on May 1st.

Of St. James the Greater, we know really very little from Holy Scripture, except that, called with his brother St. John, and with St. Andrew and St. Peter, he became one of the specially chosen three, who were particularly close to Jesus, the three who were present with Jesus on many crucial occasions, for instance, at the raising of Jairus' daughter, on the mount of the Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus' agony.

St. James and his brother St. John were nicknamed Boanerges - Sons of Thunder - implying an ardent and impulsive zeal, such as they showed by their indignation against the inhospitable Samaritan village. The people would not receive Jesus: "and when James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?'". But he turned and rebuked them (St. Luke 12.51-56). Perhaps because of his evident zeal, St. James was singled out by Herod Agrippa to be the first martyr among the twelve apostles, thus obtaining one of those places of honour in the kingdom of God which he and his brother had desired and hoped for; drinking the cup of Christ's suffering and being baptized with the baptism of Christ's death.

The Apostles are princes of the Church, princes in the kingdom of God - enthroned as judges in the reconstituted Israel of God:

For they the Church's princes are,
Triumphant leaders in the war,
In heavenly courts a warrior band,
True lights to lighten every land.

(from the hymn Aeterna Christi munera)

And it is about the character of their Princedom, their warfare and their triumph, that I particularly want to speak today, especially in terms of the incident recorded in the Gospel for today, from the 10th chapter of St. Mark (verses 32-40). In that lesson, Jesus announces to the twelve the final journey to Jerusalem and foretells his passion and resurrection.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying, "Master we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire....Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in the glory.".
"You do not know what you are asking" says Jesus. "Can you drink of the cup of my suffering, and be baptized with the baptism of my blood?" Their answer is confident - "We can." They are ready and even zealous to pay the price of glory.

"Ye know not what ye ask." They are zealous to pay the price of glory, and indeed they are destined to pay it: but they do not understand what that glory is. The assumptions behind their request are wrong, as Jesus explains in the passage which follows immediately upon this lesson in the 10th chapter of St. Mark. The disciples had begun to argue about precedence in the kingdom of God. And Jesus called them unto him, and said to them:

You know that the Princes of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10.42-45).
"The princes of the Gentiles lord it over them....But it shall not be so among you." The ways of God's kingdom are very different - its princedom and authority are of a very different kind. Its kingship is the kingship of a servant: its liberty is found in willing obedience. Its warfare is not with clash of arms and noise of battle. Its struggles and its conflicts are much deeper and more crucial than that, for its battles are the battles of the human spirit; and its enemies are the subtle and deadly demons of greed and vain ambition, and pride and envy, and hypocrisy and all such perversities of spirit. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who took upon himself the form of a servant, and became obedient even unto death." Its triumphs are e the souls of its saints. Its triumph is a renewal of spirit - a renewal of mind: "Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind", "for you have not received the spirit of servitude."

In his words, and in his passion, Jesus proclaims that liberty is not to be found in worldly power, worldly pride and ambition and the satiety of worldly desires - but rather, in the denial of all these. "My kingdom", he says, "is not from hence". The signs of his glory are the signs of his humility, of his suffering, of his passion. The signs of his glory are the signs of body broken and blood poured out. "He reigns and triumphs from the tree." And that is the glory which we set forth day by day in the liturgy of the Church, as we break the bread and drink the cup, showing forth his death until he come. "Imitate what you celebrate" says the ancient wisdom of the Church. We break the bread and drink the cup, imitate what you celebrate. "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?"

What a hard lesson that is! - and how hardly do we learn it! At the font of our baptism we are pledged to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil: we are pledged to renounce the vain pomps and glories of this wicked world. And surely it is evident enough that those pomps and glories are vain, and that our trust in them is ruinous. Yet over and over again, every day - in a thousand little ways, in our relations with one another; in the things that we wish for; and the things we rebel against - we are tempted, and deluded, and taken in by them. Over and over again we must be recalled by the passion of our Saviour and the witness of the saints: "it shall not be so among you....Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."

Our being born again - not from this world, but from above - is an ongoing travail; and our place for the coming of God's kingdom in us must be new every morning. Thy kingdom come, in me, here and now, in this particular situation , in this particular moment. And thus is our salvation worked out in fear and trembling.... The natural man, by a strange perversity, finds it so easy to trust the powers that ruin - so hard to trust the powers that bless.

Today we keep the festival of an Apostle and Martyr. An Apostle is one who is sent; and a Martyr is one who witnessed: "As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you", and "Ye shall be my witnesses". To celebrate such a festival is to recall that we too have our apostleship and our martyrdom - for we too are sent - sent to witness to that new life which is God's kingdom within us. Sent to contradict this world in which the Princes of the Gentiles lord is over them.

It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant; and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
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