25th July 2021 Matthew 20:20-28 & Acts 11:27-12:2 - Rev. Tim Calow


Matthew 20:20-28 & Acts 11:27-12:2

Rev. Tim Calow – 25th July 2021

Today I’d like us to think a little about the life and the example of the apostle, James. Before I begin – a point of clarification. James, it seems, was quite a common name. I am talking about James, the Great, and son of Zebedee (Magic Roundabout connection?). There was a second apostle James – who was not so tall (James the Less, son of Alphaeus). Then there was Jesus brother (or half-brother?) James who was a leader of the church in Jerusalem in its early days – but who wasn’t an apostle! The Letter of James (the New Testament book) is attributed to this James, Jesus’ brother. Marion will be testing you on your James’s afterwards – perhaps!

We know only limited details of all of these characters from the bible – they briefly come into focus – then slip away into the background again. 

Both Matthew and Mark’s gospel record the calling of James. In Mark’s gospel (Mark 1:19-20) Jesus has just started to proclaim the gospel and is wandering along the shore of Galilee. First he meets Andrew and Simon and calls them – then a few yards on he meets James and John who were mending their fishing nets, with their father. Jesus called them – and they left their father and followed Jesus. Matthew (4:21-22) tells the same story – in very similar words.

Of their lives before they met Jesus we know nothing – probably they were ordinary children of these fisher people in rural Israel but it is all conjecture. Why Jesus asked them to join him – there is no indication. Why they chose to follow Jesus, we do not know, we can only guess.  

Further on – and in all three synoptic gospels – James and John – (with Peter) are the three apostles who went up the mountain and saw Jesus transfigured. 

We then have the story which we heard earlier – of how James’ (and John’s) mother asked that her sons might have a special place in heaven, sat either side of Jesus. After all they had been with Jesus from the beginning. They had given up so much – surely they deserved a reward. The two brothers were there and Jesus addresses them – can you go through the pain and suffering which I will endure (“drink the cup that I am about to drink”)? “Whoever is to be first among you must be your slave” (just before our reading Jesus had declared that the first will be last – and the last first).

Our reading from Acts (which we heard first) comes chronologically – a few years later. We find James amongst the believers in Jerusalem – a small group of followers who shared everything as they preached the gospel – a small group who by their radical way of living came to the attention of Herod Agrippa. Herod had James killed – no doubt hoping that he could bring an end to this disruptive church. We all know that he failed.

Not only did the word spread – but so did the stories of James. There is a legend in which James body was taken up by angels, sailed in an unmanned and rudderless boat to Iria Flavia in Spain where a massive rock closed around his remains. These were later removed to Compostella. To this day pilgrims travel to Santiago de Compostela as they seek God’s guidance. Every five or six or eleven years when the feast day falls on a Sunday (as today) we are in a Holy Year (Ano Santo Jacobeo) and there are major festivities. The east door to the cathedral is flung open to enable pilgrims to enter the cathedral. So James lives on.

As we think today about our own vocations – I believe each one of us has vocations – different ways in which we are called to serve God – what can we learn from James? 

Firstly there is a mystery in our calling. We do not know why we have been called, what God has seen in us. We are called to trust, to learn and to follow wherever that leads us.                                                                                                                                                Secondly our calling is not for an easy life – and for the purpose of benefits which we might receive. We are called to serve. James’ mother clearly thought that there should be something in it for the family. She was after some certain rewards for the commitment of her sons.                                                                                                       Thirdly our calling is much wider than we can imagine. It is a calling not just to look after our own family – those whom we live with. It is a calling not just to serve our friends who meet in church. It is a calling to serve all those whom we meet – and even don’t meet. James story has lived on in the lives of pilgrims from across the world – and across the centuries.

For us in our times our faith has to extend to caring for our planet – with its wonderful and varied environments, with the wonderful range of creatures who live on it. We are responsible (as humans) for a frightening amount of damage and we need to change our ways.

I have just been reading a book on a scientific approach to parenting by Emma Byrne. She has some interesting things to say about science – which are relevant to how science is presented – or misrepresented in a pandemic. I believe the words are equally relevant to how we think about our faith. She says “Science as it is done is very different from science as it is written….science looks like a neat rack of answers when it is actually a writhing mass of questions. Science is less about control and more about curiosity…It is mainly the art of getting comfortable with uncertainty, of learning not to panic”

Try replacing science with faith

“Faith as it is done is very different from faith as it is written….faith looks like a neat rack of answers when it is actually a writhing mass of questions. Faith is less about control and more about curiosity…It is mainly the art of getting comfortable with uncertainty, of learning not to panic”

James lived with that uncertainty. He left the certainties of his home life. He bravely – with his brother – followed Jesus. He took a journey away from his family, learning from Jesus as he travelled to Jerusalem. He continued that journey even after Jesus had been crucified and he died himself for his faith. He lives on in the lives of pilgrims as they journey to Santiago de Compostella. His story can inspire us too.