Sunday 25th July – James the Apostle.
Jeremiah 45: 1-5. Jeremiah prophesies disaster for the Jewish people because of their inability to represent God’s love and justice in the land. That raises an interesting point of whether God actively “breaks down and plucks up” or simply withdraws his protection of the Jewish people from the attentions of powerful and malign nations. The Hebrew scriptures strongly suggest the former. The Christian revelation says that while God is involved at every level of pain, suffering and disaster, free will dictates that there are lines and constraints that cannot be transgressed in this life, even for God.
Acts 11:27 – 12:2. This reading mentions the murder of James almost in passing by King Herod who must have been feeling very threatened by this new movement that followed another “King of the Jews”. A famine is also predicted and as I have said before, while we have no control over what happens to us we have choices over how we react. The churches subsequently and effectively rallied around to support the impoverished churches in the Holy Land where the church was born.
Mark 6: 14-28. We’ll never know whether this was the sole action of a proud and pushy mother or whether James and John put her up to it. Jesus’ reaction to the brothers suggest the latter and anyway it provides a wonderful introduction for Jesus to express the nature of true Christian ministry which is one of service and not lording it over the church. “Servant leadership” as it is known in the church is however a difficult balancing act to achieve convincingly.
To be honest the most enduring visible legacy to St. James in Europe is undoubtedly the Way of St James across Northern Spain to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela which traditionally houses his remains. Known as the Camino, this is on our bucket list for when we retire
Of course, Santiago simply means St. James in Spanish and I remember visiting the cathedral under acres of scaffolding and the iconic incense burner (Thurible) was out of commission.
How his remains got to Spain from the Holy Land after James was put to death by the sword is another matter but sometimes, I think it is better to give in to romance and mystery.
But, for modern Christianity it is in that little exchange between Jesus and James and John’s mother that introduces a quite profound insight into how Christian leaders are required to relate to their flock that is the most important thing.
On their behalf their mother is asking for a seat at the high table, security and position, and from that place can then Lord it over all the other disciples which understandably upset everyone.
I would summarise the reply that Jesus gave as saying that the first quality needed in leadership in the church is humility and collegiality. Listening to others with respect, acknowledging that they may have something vital to contribute to the discussion and that all of us are never too old to learn.
A “first amongst equals” if you will.
That may still lead to respectful disagreement, but you must be able to listen all the same.
Advancement and the pursuit of prestige and power for its own sake are not hallmarks of Christian ministry.
You work for the good of your community, the best you can, with the gifts that God has given you, and hope that people trust and follow you, if for no other reason, because they realise that you are not in this for yourself or for money.
This also accounts for the way that Kings in the Hebrew scriptures are also routinely referred to as shepherds.
Shepherds are necessary and there to guide and protect their flock, so while they occupy that position in society the role is softened, with the message that the king is there for your collective benefit.
How this is worked out in the three biggest apostolic churches of the world, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican is interesting.
The Anglican model of synods with separate houses of clergy and laity and , all starting with the PCC as the first rung on that ladder in its modern form has both strengths and weaknesses, but the prime mover for that system is trying to balance the need for leadership with the need to show that we are humbly going forward together, listening to each other, noting our differences with respect.
As our joint PCC’s start again after a difficult year in September lets be mindful that we are one community – a community of equals – with designated and assigned roles within that community of equals and to keep the show on the road we need lashings of grace and patience with others that we may disagree with, always mindful that we are only here at all because we are members of one family – the universal church – the one Holy, catholic and apostolic church and in the eyes of Christ we are all viewed equally, loved passionately, and no matter who you are, if you were the last person alive on earth, Jesus Christ would and did lay down his life for you.