Tag Archives: Saint Paul

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 proclaim 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 helped formulate a 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 an 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?

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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Conversion of Saint Paul

the-conversion-of-saint-paul-bartolome-esteban-murilloA Conversion Experience

Saul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. While in route he experienced one of the most dramatic conversions recorded in the Bible. In his own words:

“I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, `Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, `I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ”  (Acts 26:12-18)

Well, that was Saul. He was persecuting Christians. Do we have any zealous people in the Church today who are persecuting their fellow parishioners? Well, that is another story.

What about those who have grown-up in the Church? Do they need a conversion experience? We need to understand that the Apostle Paul did grow-up in the Church. He grew up in Judaism which was the only church in his day. The rest of the world was pagan. He was living by the rules. He was educated in the best rabbinic tradition. Here is how he described himself:

circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.  (Philippians 3:5-6)

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  (Galatians 1:14)

We understand, of course, that this was the way Saul described himself before his conversion. How did he describe himself after his conversion?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  (Romans 7:15-19)

Paul goes on to say:

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!   (Romans 7:24-25)

Conversion opened Saul’s eyes to reality. His religion had failed him. He needed more than religion. His Lord Jesus Christ did not fail him:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  (Philippians 3:7-11)

Saul became the great Apostle Paul who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. Does his testimony speak to us today? What is our testimony? Are we merely rules enforcers or are we ambassadors for Christ? The lost in this world is counting on us give witness to the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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