Category Archives: Holy Day

Saint James, Apostle

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_James_the_Greater_-_Google_Art_ProjectAble to Drink the Cup

Today we look at one of the “Sons of Thunder.” He was quite ambiguous, or was it his mother?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  (Matthew 20:20-23)

James and John were among the first disciples called by Jesus. They were with their father Zebedee by the seashore when Jesus called them and they immediately followed Him. Along with Peter they were chosen by Jesus to bear witness to his Transfiguration. Thus, they were significant to Jesus’ ministry. Their mother thought they were significant enough to request a special place for them in Jesus’ kingdom, but she did not understand what this might mean as many in the church seem to misunderstand today. James was chosen for greatness in ways his mother did not expect, nor did James.

What was the cup to which Jesus referred in answering the mother? It was the cup that Jesus understood too well. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed this prayer:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

James, indeed, drank the cup that Jesus drank. James is traditionally believed to be the first of the twelve apostles who was martyred for the faith. We read about it in the Book of Acts:

Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  (Acts 12:1-3)

The Festival of Unleavened Bread was the Jewish Passover. Jesus has become the Passover for those who believe in Him. Because James was faithful in preaching the Passover of Christ he was privileged to join his Lord in laying down his life for the Church. James went from being a big-shot to hero of the faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Where would the Christian Church be today without the faith and testimonies of the martyrs? If the Early Church were preaching today’s “Gospel” message the Church would probably not even exist. So many today are seeking a higher place and a greater prosperity for themselves. Such seeking only causes envy and division within the Church. Jesus attempted to put a stop to it with His disciples:

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:24-28)

Having just celebrated Mary Magdalene as a true servant leader of God, we now celebrate James, the first apostle martyred for the sake of the Gospel. He was able to drink the cup. Let us pray for the grace and courage that more Church servant leaders will step forward in our day. Perhaps we may be included among them.

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Filed under Feast Day, Holy Day, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, St. James, Year B

Saint Mary Magdalene

The Resurrection’s First Witness

The Gospel of Luke made it clear that the roles of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ were significant:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  (Luke 8:1-3)

When we think of Jesus’ disciples we may primarily be thinking of the twelve that Jesus personally chose to follow Him. They were not alone, however. They were supported by many faithful women of which Mary Magdalene was included. She was not only included. She was prominent. She was the courageous and faithful one. When Jesus’ disciples deserted Him at the cross she was there:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  (John 19:25)

Jesus could have chosen any one of the twelve disciples to reveal Himself to after His resurrection. He chose a woman – Mary Magdalene:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  (Mark 16:9-10)

Why did Jesus choose her? The testimonies of women were often considered unreliable. In fact, the disciples did not believer Mary’s testimony:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed the order of things. Jesus attempted to explain this new order to His disciples before His crucifixion, but they had trouble understanding what He was telling them:

But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.  (Mark 9:34-35)

Mary Magdalene was a primary example of the servant leader who was faithful in her duties, following in the footsteps of her LORD. We remember her today as the resurrection’s first witness.

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Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us also look at another nation which, in biblical times, was given a great promise and covenant from God. The founders of these nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause and purpose than themselves. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of the Declaration, they made this pledge also:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing what the pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Whether realizing it or not, they were following the example of Abraham and his descendents. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship not only for the promise which God had made to him. He did so for the benefit of all the generations who would him.

Those who followed Abraham endured great hardships as well. Again, from Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a purpose. Israel was chose by God for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

This struggle, however, did not nullify the promise which God made to Moses at Mount Sinai on behalf of the children of Israel.

America has not yet become the land which God has called it to be. And Israel has not yet become a holy nation and a royal priesthood. What is impossible for humankind is possible with God

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who  wish to destroy America as we know it in order to rebuild their Utopia. While they tear down our institutions and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us if we follow them.

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before perfection comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. We must return to our heritage and, once again, seek to be a nation whose God is the Lord.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

Amen.

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