Tag Archives: James

Saint James of Jerusalem

Faith and Works

James, brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, and author of the Epistle of James is still speaking to the Church today. Are we listening?

How important was James to the Early Church? The Apostle Paul writes about the people whom Jesus personally appeared to after His resurrection:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.   (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

It would be an understatement to say that James has not always been understood or appreciated. He is almost like a Rorschach test. People often project on him their own theology. We may be familiar with Martin Luther’s statement about the Epistle of James being an “epistle of straw.” Luther’s theology did not agree with the tone and tenor of James’ Epistle. At the risk of oversimplification, Luther emphasizes sola fide, “faith alone” whereas James states that “good works” demonstrates a genuine faith. James was writing from wisdom and experience and he did not want to make allowances for an easy grace without accountability.

James was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. A dispute broke out in the Early Church concerning whether or not Gentile converts to the Faith needed to follow Judaic Law. This dispute had the potential of dividing the Church. Accordingly, a council met at Jerusalem to consider what rules Gentile Christians should be required to keep. James formulated the final consensus as to what the requirements for Gentiles should be:

Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:19-21)

Without this vital agreement the work of the Gentile Church would have been gravely hindered. We see that James was not locked in ideology or his own peculiar theology. He was a traditionalist when it came to interpreting the Mosaic Law. Yet he was open and flexible. He sets the proper tone for the Church today. Are we divided over many doctrines or have we identified the crucial matters of the faith as did James?

A Spirit lead ecumenical movement is once again emphasizing what is important (not the false spirit that wants to harmonize all religions). This ecumenical movement does not reduce the Church to the lowest common denominator. Rather, it stresses a need for agreement by leaders who will come together in prayer.

What James has taught us is that faith without works is dead. The Church needs to work together, trusting in the leading of the Holy Spirit. We must arise and take up the challenges that lie ahead of us.

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Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 24B

Track 1: Approaching God

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

How do we approach God in our prayers? Job prayed to God. When God answered him, he discovered that he was not on the same footing with God:

The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.   (Job 38:1-4)

The psalmist praised of God for his splendor and majesty:

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!
you are clothed with majesty and splendor.

You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak
and spread out the heavens like a curtain.   (Psalm 104:1-2)

God is creator and we are his creation. As we approach God, perhaps we should keep this in mind and show him great reverence and respect.

James and John approached Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading:

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”   (Mark 10:35-38)

Did James and John really know who Jesus is? They approached him as their friend. Later, John, in the preamble to his Gospel wrote this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.   (John 1:1-4)

If we are to approach God the Father we will do well to understand the cup which God the Son drank for us. From today’s reading from Hebrews:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.   (Hebrews 5:)

Our high priest is the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father is too Holy to look upon sin. Therefore, he has offered up his Son to take our sins from us. Those sins were placed on him who bore them on a cruel cross. He bore them once and for all. But what about the sins we continue to commit, unwittingly and, in many cases, on purpose? That is where we need a high priest who continually intercedes for us.

Let us read further in Hebrews. From chapter 10;

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:19-27

How do we approach God the Father? We approach him through Jesus. If we CONTINUE to sin, we must confess our sins. That is paramount in our prayers before God. The Apostle of John wrote:

 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:6-9)

 

 

 

венецTrack 2: Bound to Jesus in Love

Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Who is Jesus to us? Is he our Lord? Yes, he is. He is Lord of all. But is he our servant? From Mark’s Gospel we read:

Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”   (Mark 10:42-45)

To receive the lordship of Jesus we must receive his servanthood.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;

yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,

and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:4-12)

Jesus was and is the suffering servant of Isaiah. How we respond to his suffering defines us as Christian disciples. Do we love him for what he did? If so, we must be devoted to him. We must be bound to him. The psalmist wrote:

Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

With long life will I satisfy him,
and show him my salvation.   (Psalm 91:14-16)

If we are bound to this world we cannot be bound to Jesus. If we are bound to our things we cannot be bound to Jesus. If we are bound to proving ourselves as worthy of anything we cannot be bound to Jesus. Now is the time of deliverance. Though great trouble lies ahead, Jesus will protect us. Though Satan has set many traps for us, Jesus will deliver us. Though many in the Church are falling away, Jesus will rescue us. He will do all these things when we are bound to him in love.

Where do we stand today? It has little to do with our past actions. It has little to do with our past declarations. Today, are we bound to Jesus in love? Jesus said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”   (John 14:16)

Are we able to love the one, and follow the one, who loved us and gave himself entirely to us?

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,

and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:6)

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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 19B

Track 1: Wisdom Calls Us

Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we look at the wisdom of God. One of the first things we should notice from reading in Proverbs is that God wants to impart his wisdom to us:

Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.

At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?

Give heed to my reproof;

I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.

The wisdom of God cries out to us. Do we cry out to the wisdom of God? We do if we understand that we need his wisdom. The author of the Book of James writes:

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.   (James 1:5)

One of the ways in which God implants his wisdom in us is by our reading of the scriptures. The psalmist writes:

The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:7-8)

When I was in seminary I asked the Lord for a mentor. I felt that I needed someone to help me understand and interpret God’s word. I had a certain minister in mind, but he did not seem all that interested in helping me. I complained to the Lord about this. Several years later I realized that this esteemed pastor and preacher had turned away from the truth of God’s word.

James warned us about some teachers:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.   (James 3:1)

If we had to say who is the best teacher of the word of God, who would that be? Perhaps the wisdom of God itself is our best teacher. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.   (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

If we are open to the Holy Spirit of God, he alone can lead us into all truth. Jesus said:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.   (John 16:12-14)

The wisdom of God has made provision for us. Are we ready to receive all the wonderful lessons which he wants to teach us. Wisdom is our primary source of understanding God’s word. He will give us that understanding through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Having a human mentor is not necessarily a bad idea, however. But we must choose very carefully. We must examine the fruit of their ministry. James writes:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.   (James 3:13-18)

We need the pure wisdom of God. Let us always pray that we receive this wisdom. If we seek this wisdom we will find it. God has given us his promise.

 

 

Track 2: Man and Ministry

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-8
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38

Today we once more examine the question for the ages. Jesus brings it up in today’s Gospel reading, From Marks Gospel:

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.   (Mark 8:27-30)

What other people say about Jesus is not as critical to us as what we say about Jesus. God is looking for a declaration from us about who Jesus is to us. Not only that, he also wants us to understand what that might mean. Jesus explained to his disciples:

The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”   (Mark 8:31-33)

What was Peter missing? He correctly identified who Jesus was and is, but he failed to understand what that might mean. Our Christology must include both the person and purpose of Jesus. The Apostle wrote to the Church in Rome:

But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:8-10

In today’s Gospel reading Peter does declare that “Jesus is Lord.” Paul implies that, not only must we declare who Jesus is, we must understand in our hearts what his ministry is about. Peter failed to understand the part about the cross and resurrection which Jesus was attempting to explain to his disciples. Later, Peter would understand after the resurrection.

The psalmist had an understand of the underlying ministry of God, even in his day. For that reason he called upon the name of the Lord:

The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me;
I came to grief and sorrow.

Then I called upon the Name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”

Gracious is the Lord and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.

The Lord watches over the innocent;
I was brought very low, and he helped me.

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,
for the Lord has treated you well.

For you have rescued my life from death,
my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.   (Psalm 116:2-8)

Have we called upon the Lord Jesus? Can we say, as did the psalmist?:

I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.   (Psalm 116:8)

Jesus’ ministry is about life and life eternal. Let us live continually in the presence of the Lord. His blood washes away all of our sins. He is the only way to God the Father. That is the confession which we must make and that is the confession in which we must live. Jesus said:

Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”   (Mark 8:38)

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