St. James, 2021 – Sermon

(Modified 2021-07-26: Added audio recording of this sermon)

St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Feast of St. James, July 25, 2021
Revd. Canon Claude Schroeder

Audio recording of sermon

So today is very happy and joyful day for us at St. Mary’s. We have come to celebrate Gunnar’s baptism. It was just about two years ago that we celebrated Steve and Karen’s wedding at the church, where I recall praying that they would receive the gift and heritage of children and that they would see their children Christianly and virtuously brought up to thy praise and honour. So I would say prayers are being answered!

Now we have, gosh,  4 generations of Maupins, and 3 generations of Perssons in church today, with great- grandmother Irene, grand-parents Karen and Kelley, and Art and Marion, and great aunts, and aunts and uncles and cousins. This is really wonderful because the way in which the Word of God is handed on through the generations, always seeking to become flesh in us, as it did in Jesus Christ.

In the calendar that governs the worship of the church, today is a red-letter day, hence the colour of church and robes.  Red Letter days are days set aside to honor and celebrate the Saints of the Church, and today, July 25this the Feast of St. James the Apostle and Martyr. Ordinarily, on Sunday we come to church to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his victory over Satan, sin, and death in the service of Holy Communion. And so when a Saint’s Day falls on a Sunday, it gets moved to the Monday. First things first.

But today we are going to make an exception, celebrating St. James on a Sunday, because not only is the celebration and veneration of the saints a vital part of traditional Christianity, but today we are celebrating baptism, and the readings assigned for St. James, turns out, are all about baptism.

Now, before he became a saint, James together with his brother John, and their father Zebedee, had a family fishing business on the Sea of Galilee. But one day Jesus shows up and said to James and John, “Follow me.” And that was it. They dropped their nets, quit their jobs and became followers or disciples of Jesus.  

You would not believe how many men, and for that matter, how many women, desperate to do something new and different, would quit their jobs in a heartbeat given half a chance!  Wash, rinse, repeat. Isn’t that pretty much what the career amounts to? When we were kids, they asked us, “So what do you want to be when you grow up? “As if the meaning of your life is established by your place in the economy. 

There is more to life than having a career. So where is enduring meaning and purpose in life to be found? 

What the story of James and John shows us is that it’s to be found in following Jesus Christ.

Today in the service of Holy Baptism, we are going to mark Gunnar out as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Never mind that we are not going to ask his opinion. As Paul wrote in his Letter to the Roman, the gifts and call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11.29) and has happened with James and John, the gifts and the call always precedes the response, which we believe will come in good order.

Unlike Gunnar, I’m not sure James and John were easy babies. Judging from their appearance in the Gospels, James and John were a couple of explosive characters, which explains why Jesus gave them the nickname, Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder!” 

James and John, these two sons of thunder, together with Peter formed the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. In addition to hearing all that Jesus preached and taught and seeing all that Jesus did, forgiving sins, healing the sick, performing miracles, these three men were all present at key moments in Jesus’ ministry. They were the only ones to witness his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Similarly, they were the only ones to witness Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane when on the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed “Oh, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26.39) These three men were also there in the upper room when Jesus appeared to his disciples after He rose from the dead.

If believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is what makes us Christians, on what grounds do we make this claim? Because we read it somewhere in the Bible. Not quite. The claim rests on the testimony of credible eye-witnesses, such as St. James and all the apostles. And what makes the testimony these men especially credible, is that they were willing to be martyred, that is to suffer death because this faith in Jesus Christ.

In the baptism service this morning I am going to invite all of you to join me in confessing, “The Apostles Creed.” Then I am then going to ask Karen and Steve, and Ernie and Sally, Gunnar’s godparents, a question: Do you in the name of this child, seek Baptism into this faith?”

To which they will answer “I do.”

We live in time and place that tends to think Christian faith is something of a joke, and the baptism of children laughable.

But this is no joke.  The baptism we are conducting this morning is in the Name of the Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When, as the Scriptures teach, you by faith and in prayer invoke the name of God, God has promised to take action. 

This morning we are going to witness a miracle, a mighty act of God.

Of course, if you don’t believe, you are not going to see what is going on. 

We believe that in Baptism, God grants us new birth through water and the spirit. He washes us clean from all sin. He anoints and illuminates us with His Holy Spirit. He adopts us into the family of the Church as His beloved sons and daughters. He makes as heirs of eternal life through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  The blessings, gifts and promises of Baptism are to be received by faith. “Grace is increased and faith is confirmed by virtue of prayer unto God.” ( BCP p. 709)

But on this Feast Day of St. James, the Apostle and Martyr we are reminded of the serious and costly side to baptism. In our reading from Acts, we heard how “Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword.” (Acts 12.1)

And so, it might be helpful for you to imagine somebody standing next to you with a gun to your head, as I ask you the question, “Do you in the name of this Child seek baptism into this faith?” in the knowledge of what would happen if you said, “I do…” In this world, there lethal threats to being a human being, that hold us in fear, and I’m not just talking about COVID.

To come to baptism is to consent to dying in union with Jesus Christ, and not being afraid. 

Jesus said to James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Mark 10.38)

What cup was Jesus referring to here? It was the cup of his suffering. 

And the baptism? It was the baptism of His death on the Cross. 

In their youthful enthusiasm and bravado, James and John replied, confidently, “We are!”  Lead on Lord, Jesus! We will go to death for you. Of course, when push came to shove, and the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, and take him away to be crucified, James and John along with all the rest of the apostles were nowhere to be seen…

And yet, when King Herod laid violent hands upon the Church, James made good on his earlier promise, and fulfilled the prophetic word of Christ, “You will drink my cup, you will share my baptism,” and met his death by the sword for the sake of this faith in Jesus Christ.

So what is my point here? 

To come to baptism is to consent to dying in union with Jesus Christ, and not being afraid.  But this consent takes a life-time of practice that will include many failures, for which…there is forgiveness. 

This is what the testimony of St. James shows us. 

I don’t know if you have ever had the unfortunate experience of being accosted by an overzealous Christian, who asked you, “Have you been saved?” I guess a lot depends on what being saved consist of.

Our Gospel lesson for today shows is that salvation is fundamentally about communion with Jesus Christ, where we drink his cup and share his baptism.   The cup that we drink is the cup not only of His suffering, but the cup of His forgiveness, and the cup of His joy. The baptism of his death was not only bodily, but a death to sin.  The death that Jesus died, he died unto sin once for all. The life he lives He lives. In the same we are to reckon ourselves as dead to sin, and alive to God in Jesus Christ.  (Roman 6.9) “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6.4). So it is that Jesus lives in us, and we live in Him, and that we share in the life of God Himself, and become  partakers of the Divine Nature, understood as self-emptying love. In and through this life of Communion we enter into a process whereby, as St. Paul wrote,  we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3.18) that really knows no end.

God is not stingy with His Divinity, but is intent on sharing it with us.                                                        

God is also not stingy with His Glory, but is intent on sharing it with us. 

The evidence we have for this is St. James and all the saints, who were divinized and glorified by God in this life. 

According to Christian legend, after his murder, the bodily remains of Saint James  were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.  Starting in the 9th century, a pilgrimage route, from France to Santiago, was established known as The Way of St. James, also known the Camino de Compostela, which after Rome and Jerusalem was the third most important pilgrimage route. In 2010, the film “The Way” came out in which Martin Sheen plays an American doctor who ends up walking the Camino after his son was killed during a storm while en route in the Pyrenees. In 2019, something like 300,000 pilgrims took to the Way of St. James. Apparently, it’s a life changing experience, because its in the walking and the praying that you process all the sin and sadness of your life. 

In the Middle Ages, it became customary for pilgrims returning from the Camino  to carry back with them a scallop shell, from the seashore as proof of their having completed the pilgrimage. If you take a look at the icon on our bulletin today, you will see in the top frames pilgrims en route, and in the middle St. James with his walking stick, and in the bottom right hand corner, a sign post with the symbol of a scallop shell marking the way of St. James, which you see on sign posts to this very day.

In time the scallop shell came to symbolize Christian pilgrimage, whether an actual pilgrimage to some ancient Christian shrine, or the more general pilgrimage that we are on as Christians that leads the way to heaven. 

Now why am I telling you this?

I’m not sure if you can all see what I am holding in my hand… That’s right. Its’ a scallop shell to which a cross has been attached, which I am going to use to baptize Gunnar  this morning.

Baptism, you see marks, the beginning of a pilgrimage, a journey of faith, in which we take up our Cross and follow Jesus. ON this pilgrimage, we have many travelling companions in the form of our family and friends, and fellow Christians, but also St. James, and in the Communion of  Saints, who have gone before us.

Here is how the author of the Letter of the Hebrews put it, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11. 13-16)